Roundup: 7 Micro Combo Amps

July 1, 2013
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GIVEN THE UBIQUITY OF GALAXIES, ANDROIDS, IPHONES, AND YOU-NAME-IT, IT’S EASY TO FORGET that just 10 or 12 years ago, the tools needed to execute the basic commands of a smartphone could easily gobble the surface area of your average credenza. In that same time span, the increased production of ultra-light Class D amplifiers and neodymium drivers has eased the burden of the weekend warrior’s dreaded schlep in a most welcome way. While future neodymium availability—due to the demand of that rare earth element as a component of said smartphones—remains to be seen, we’re hopefully optimisitic that in another decade, we’ll be reviewing pint-sized SVTs and 360s the size of soda cans. (A boy can dream. . . . ) Until then, we’ve rounded up a bevy of itty-bitty brutes for consideration. The increase in headroom, efficiency, and features in small combos has rendered the term “practice amp” all but moot; in the right setting and with the right support, a few of these shrimps could even hold their own on a proper gig. Dig.

 
 
 

ACOUSTIC B15

Astute BP Readers (as if there’s any other kind!) will recall from our May cover story on the Acoustic 360 that after relative dormancy through the ’80s and ’90s, Acoustic is back in a big way. While the 360 is built by Acoustic USA, Acoustic Amplification’s more widely available line of combos, heads, and cabs—including the Acoustic B200 MKII we reviewed in December ’12—is available through Guitar Center.

The 15-watt, 1x10 Acoustic B15 has a certain sonic similarity to its B200 big brother; both have a barky assertiveness that would speak well in a number of settings. While it was possible to get bogged down in the B200’s deep EQ capabilities—six bands of boost/cut and a notch filter made it a little hard to find a “flat” setting—not so with the more straightforward B15.

The three bands of boost/cut are well voiced for dialing in your desired sound, and the shape notch filter button carves a mid-scoop that’s especially hip when used with the B15’s onboard overdrive, which stays on just this side of useful, staying clear of the fuzzy territory that can suck the life out of a bass.

Bottom Line At 15 watts, the Acoustic B15 isn’t the loudest of the micro combos gathered here. But its ease of use and auxiliary capabilities (1/8" jacks for AUX inputs and headphones) make it a worthy contender in this increasingly competitive playing field.

 ACOUSTIC B15

STREET $110
CONFIGURATION 1x10
POWER RATING 15 watts
CONTROLS VOLUME, OVERDRIVE, OVERDRIVE LEVEL, SHAPE, LOW, MID, HIGH
AUX IN 1/8" stereo
AUX OUT 1/8" headphone
WEIGHT 22.6 lbs
DIMENSIONS 13.8" x 18.1" x 10.4"
OTHER N/A
MADE IN China
CONTACT acousticamplification.com

 
 
 
 

AMPEG BA-110

Though the brand was built around such iconic tube amps as the B-15 and the SVT, Ampeg has long had skin in the game of solid-state combos for those on a budget. Weighing in at 32 pounds, the BA-110 is the heaviest of the combos gathered here. But when it comes to booty and bite, a bit of girth can be a good thing. Though there is nothing quite like the throb of a heavily burdened SVT, at least a hint of that midrange grunt is present in this diminutive descendent. (Maybe next time around, we’ll daisy chain eight of these combos and stack it against our resident SVT. Yes, we’re that twisted!)

For aux connectivity, Ampeg opted for RCA ins and ¼" headphone outs. Though I’m personally partial to 1/8" jacks for both, it’s a choice that will no doubt appeal to many. The decision to have two instrument inputs—one with a 15dB pad—is most welcome. Plugging an especially hot (though passive) bass into the 0dB jack clipped the preamp when I cranked my bass, so the option of a -15dB input jack saved the day. Even in the “quiet” jack, it’s clear that the BA-110 is a brawler. An XLR DI would seal the deal, but I could certainly imagine a low-volume gig where the BA-110 could hold its own. The combo sounded killer when I was playing it, but it spit out a nasty pop when turned on and off , whether an instrument was plugged in or not. The amp had me in the zone when I was playing, so I was a litte bummed it would harsh my mellow on either side if that.

Bottom Line Despite its size, the BA-110 earns its place in the lofty Ampeg lineage. The pronounced pop when you turn the unit on and off is a bummer, but ultimately it’s what happens between those to moments that matters more.

AMPEG BA-110

STREET $180
CONFIGURATION 1x10
POWER RATING 35 watts
CONTROL VOLUME, TREBLE, MID, BASS, CD VOLUME S
AUX IN RCA
AUX OUT 1/4" line out, 1/4" headphone
WEIGHT 32.6 lbs
DIMENSIONS 16.3" x 16.3" x 12"
OTHER -15dB 1/4" input, 1/4" effects send/ return
MADE IN China
CONTACT ampeg.com

 
 
 
 
 

IBANEZ PROMETHEAN 3110

Rated at 300 watts and weighing a mere 21 pounds, the Ibanez Promethean is one of the most attractive options for players looking for a flyweight combo that can hold its own on a gig. Bolstered by the combo’s headroom, the Ibanez’ booty was among the biggest of the bunch, and additional features ranging from onboard XLR DI and ¼" extension speaker jacks to a switchable dome tweeter put the Promethean in a class all its own. A kickstand at the base of the combo allows you to tilt the combo back for better monitoring at close range. Those looking to put the Promethean through it paces in the bedroom will appreciate the Promethean’s 1/8" headphone jack, which automatically mutes the combo’s single 10" speaker, and it’s 1/8" AUX IN for CD/MP3 player playback.

It’s easy to get carried away with the Promethean; it’s a whole lotta amp, and though the single 10" speaker can certainly hold its own, it’s possible to push it too hard. Fortunately, the Promethean boasts an LED clip indicator light and a switchable onboard limiter. Set fl at, the Ibanez is mostly transparent; three bands of EQ offer a wide range of sounds, and the bass-and- treble-boosting PHAT control makes dialing up a deep and delicious slapstyle tone super easy.

Bottom Line Like its Greek Titan namesake, the Ibanez Promethean 3110 seeks to harness the most advanced technology of its day and make it available for us mere mortals. In terms of power, portability, and features, the Promethean delivers. For its design, features, and sound, the Promethean 3110 earns a BASS PLAYER Editor Award.

 

IBANEZ PROMETHEAN P3110

STREET $350
CONFIGURATION 1x10 with dome tweeter
POWER RATING 300 watts
CONTROLS GAIN, HIGH, MID, LOW, PHAT, MASTER, LIMITER
AUX IN 1/8" stereo
AUX OUT 1/8" headphone, XLR line out with -20dB pad and ground/lift, 1/4" external speaker
WEIGHT 21 lbs
DIMENSIONS 17.7" x 14.4" x 21.7"
OTHER N/A
MADE IN China
CONTACT ibanez.com

 
 
 
 
 
 

MARKBASS MICROMARK

With its Little Mark heads and New York series cabinets, Markbass has long lead the charge for the subway set— those wanting a proper rig portable enough to schlep on a bus, in a cab, or on any other form of public transportation. The 11-pound, 50-watt, 1x6 Micromark takes that trip to a terminus just this side of absurd. With just two knobs—VOLUME and Markbass’ trademark VPF (Variable Pre-shape Filter) control—the Micromark is a vision of simplicity. The combo’s 50 watts might not move enough air to cover the average club gig, but paired with an acoustic bass guitar or upright bass, the Micromark could be an acoustic bassist’s best friend. Other features on the Micromark include 1/8" AUX IN and PHONES out jacks, a balanced XLR DI out, and an on/off switch for the combo’s single 6" speaker.

Like its bigger Markbass brethren, the Micromark has a lot of heart. The single VPF tone control is simple and effective, acting essentially like a midrange boost/ cut; at low settings, the Micromark has a deeper, darker character, whereas cranking the VPF bumps midrange for a more aggressive bark.

Bottom Line With a street price of $480, the 11-pound Micromark has a price tag in inverse proportion to its size and footprint. But especially in semi-acoustic settings, the Micromark earns its keep. Did we mention it weighs 11 pounds?

 
MARKBASS MICROMARK

STREET $480
CONFIGURATION 1x6
POWER RATING 50 watts
CONTROLS VOLUME, VARIABLE PRE-SHAPE FILTER
AUX IN 1/8" stereo
AUX OUT 1/8" headphone, XLR line out with ground/lift, 1/4" external speaker
WEIGHT 11 lbs
DIMENSIONS 8.9" x 8.9" x 8.6"
OTHER Speaker mute switch
MADE IN Italy
CONTACT markbass.it

 
 
 
 
 
 
 

ORANGE CRUSH 25BX

Orange amps have long been the go-to for guitarists seeking the signature tone—and eponymous hue—so beloved in the stoner/doom/metal set. But with rock bass gods like Geddy Lee and Glenn Hughes adding Orange to their backlines, the company is winning kudos from the bass community, as well. Orange’s flagship AD200B KM 3 head is a 200-watt, all-tube affair, but its smaller sibling, the Crush 25BX, is touted as the brand’s perfect practice amp.

Like its fellow Oranges, the Crush 25BX has a character all its own—rather than the midrange-forward Ampeg-like grunt or the clean-and-clear transparency of a Gallien-Krueger, Oranges evoke a guitar-like presence that’s a little light in the low end, but righteous in its own right. Cranking the GAIN on the Crush 25BX didn’t yeild the harsh clipping of an overdriven solid-state preamp, but rather doled out a tone with a deliciously tube-like, throb-y latency. 1/8" aux and ¼" headphone jacks add to make the Crush 25BX a perfectly appointed practice amp. Low end can be had by boosting the low control, but the fun of this combo is copping aggressive, Lemmy-like tones without inflicting the attendant hearing loss.

Bottom Line The Orange Crush 25BX may lack the juice of its larger, louder counterparts, but it’s a fun way to get that heavy clang in a lightweight, practice-friendly package.

 
 

ORANGE CRUSH 25BX

STREET $180
CONFIGURATION 1x8
POWER RATING 25 watts
CONTROLS VOLUME, HIGH, MID, LOW, GAIN
AUX IN 1/8" stereo
AUX OUT 1/4" headphone, 1/4" line out
WEIGHT 19.2 lbs
DIMENSIONS 12.4" x 13.5" x 9"
OTHER N/A MADE IN China
CONTACT orangeamps.com

 
 
 
 

ROLAND MICRO CUBE BASS RX

Roland’s Micro Cube Bass RX is a jack-of-all-trades—a 5-watt, battery-operable, 4x4 combo with built-it amp models, effects, tuner, and drum machine, it’s hard to know where to start in assessing this multi-faceted practice tool. Plugging in, step one is to select an amp model; the RX has eight to choose from, each based at least loosely on iconic amps such as the Ampeg B-15, the Acoustic 360, and the Fender Bassman. Between its models and effects (octave, chorus, fl anger, delay, reverb, and compression), it’s a little tricky finding a zeroed-out “fl at” setting on the amp. But this combo is less about transparent precision than it is about having fun, whether it’s in the privacy of your bedroom or the open air of a public space (permits not included).

The Roland’s RHYTHM GUIDE is essentially a drum machine with 10 different patterns and tap-tempo programmability. On their own, the drum tracks sound a little anemic, but playing along with them reveals the Cube’s profound potential as a groove-improving practice pal, especially when it comes to clave-based bass lines. Similarly, the amp’s onboard effects aren’t as deep and nuanced as the stompboxes Roland/Boss is famous for. But for the busker bassist looking to take a few grooves (and loops?) to the street, the fact that all these features lived in a one, small, battery-powered box is truly remarkable.

Bottom Line The battery-operable Roland Micro Cube Bass RX is a bass busker’s best friend, and its RHYTHM GUIDE drum machine is a powerful practice tool for those seeking groove improvement.

 

ROLAND MICRO CUBE BASS RX

STREET $280
CONFIGURATION 4x4
POWER RATING 5 watts
CONTROLS GAIN, VOLUME, BASS, MIDDLE, TREBLE, EFX (CHORUS/FLANGER/ T-WAH), DELAY/ REVERB, RHYTHM GUIDE (PATTERN AND VOLUME), AMP MODE AUX IN 1/8" stereo, 1/4" mono, 1/4" footswitch
AUX OUT 1/4" headphone
WEIGHT 14.2 lbs
DIMENSIONS 11.6" x 11.7" x 8.2"
OTHER Optional battery-powered operation, onboard tuner and compressor
MADE IN China
CONTACT rolandus.com

 
 

WARWICK BC20

The 1x15, 150-watt Warwick BC150 received high marks (and an Editors Award) when we reviewed it in the December ’12 issue, so we had high expectations for its 1x8, 20-watt baby bro. While we found a few things puzzling about the larger BC150—the control array, the power-switch placement—there was no head scratching when it came to the BC20, which was dead-simple and elegant. Certainly, the BC20 can’t move quite as much air as its 1x15 counterpart, but due in part to its ported cabinet construction, the BC20’s single 8" speaker pumped out a serious amount of low end. The speaker’s HF horn complement lent high-end clarity, with little of the hiss that so often plagues horns. The BC20 features 1/8" jacks for aux in and headphone out.

Bottom Line The BC20 may be the smallest and lightest of Warwick’s BC series of combos, but it retains much of the line’s depth and clarity.

 

WARWICK BC20

STREET $150
CONFIGURATION 1x8 with tweeter
POWER RATING 20 watts
CONTROLS BASS, MIDDLE, TREBLE, VOLUME
AUX IN 1/8" stereo
AUX OUT 1/8" headphone
WEIGHT 21.9 lbs
DIMENSIONS 13" x 16" x 15"
OTHER N/A
MADE IN China
CONTACT warwick.de

 

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