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This article was originally published in issue #11
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Heavy Metal was born in the engineering heartland of the English West Midlands - and so was Laney Amplification. Now the maker of generations of searing valve guitar amps has decided to produce an ultimate valve bass rig. But how will it appeal to our master of all things lightweight, digital and modern, Dan Veall?
Here's a welcome entry to iGuitar towers! As you may already be well aware I am a huge fan of technology and think that the current influx of lightweight amps and boutique designed cabinets are fantastic and are paving the way forward. But you know, sometimes, you just want something spectacular and massive to come along to surprise you. When I say surprise, I of course mean rattle you off your feet.....
I walked in to the iGuitar studio to only to be stopped in my tracks by several large boxes marked 'Laney' in the doorway. In front of me stood the largest: a huge brown box, like the massive black monolith in the film '2001 - A Space Odyssey'. This was to be the NX810 cabinet we are reviewing here and next to it the not so massive box for the Nexus Tube head!
So, let's not mess about. Is this beast about to blow our minds?
We have here an all-tube British designed and built monster bass head capable of 400W RMS at 8, 4 or 2 Ohms. This amp is not for the timid! I only wish that it were possible to feel the recording we did, as well as hear it in the video clips, as the amp had gobs of endless power, really shifting the eight custom Celestion neodymium speakers in the sealed NX810 cabinet.
Looking closer at the Nexus head, eight TAD labelled KT88 valves are neatly arranged in the back half of the amplifier head shell. Eight!!!
I'm so happy to see a full valve amplifier using high quality valves! Cheap clone valves thrown in to keep prices down is really just cheating customers in my opinion. Why spend all that money in R&D to make a great sounding amplifier then drop some bog standard valves in it that make it sound flat and lifeless? - keeping costs down ultimately, I guess. But not here - this is serious engineering!
Anyway, I digress. One thing that wasn't obvious in the video review is that the Nexus head features sets of LEDs next to the valves to keep you informed of current amplifier status, including that of a possible failed valve. Nice! I'm all for these kind of indicators.
Setting up was a total breeze. I'll say this now - the front panel is so easy to use despite all the different switchable functions. It was quite obvious even without the manual that each switchable section had a button to enable it. If for any reason there was the slightest doubt, stomping on the all metal cased foot switch with its corresponding LEDs for each function clearly identified active modules.
I actually loved the amplifier without any tonal shaping options enabled and with just a bit of shelving bass boost. It's just a great sounding clean amplifier. However, the real fun came in turning on the valve stage and adding a bit of dirt. Wow! What a great, great, great drive sound! No stodgy bottom or fizzy treble. This tube circuit makes a complete mockery of many alleged 'drive' circuits I have heard in so many other amplifiers yet the low end stays tight. Especially as you have the option of running the clean FET channel at the same time!
The front panel of the amplifier features bass and treble shelving controls that are not switchable along with a master presence control on the far right hand side near the master volume. Everything in between can be controlled by the footswitch. The FET transistor channel and Tube channels can be operated either separately or together in parallel. Tone shaping comes in the form of a parametric midrange EQ covering low-mid frequencies and high-mid frequencies over four knobs, two per EQ range. If that's really not enough, there is also a graphic equaliser too!
Round the back of the Nexus Tube it's also a great show of features. An effects loop, a D.I output, pre-amp/ power amp patch points as well as a tuner output jack. Laney also chose a selection of output Speakon sockets for connecting cabinets, instead of a switch for impedance matching. You have a 4 Ohm cabinet, you plug it in to the 4 Ohms socket for example. Simple! You do need to pay attention to the correct impedance with valve amplification, so spend some time understanding this amplifier's manual as it describes what you can and can't hook up to the head!
Moving on to the Laney Nexus NX810 cabinet underneath...
The NX810 is a sealed cabinet (having no ports) for a super tight and punchy bass sound. The beast is split in to two sets of four Celestion speakers, essentially giving you two 4x10 cabinets. You can run the two completely independently in 'stereo' or 'dual-mono' if you use another amplifier in conjunction. The configuration gives you two cabinets rated at 8 Ohms each and a power handling of 800W RMS. Flick the switch from 'stereo' to 'mono' on the rear of the cabinet and the configuration changes to one mono 8x10 with a rating of 1,600W RMS at 4 Ohms. Again, with reference to the Laney Nexus Tube head, you'd connect the cabinet in mono to the 4 Ohm Speakon connector on the back of the amplifier.
So what's the bad news? Well I have to say there's only one. This rig isn't for the faint hearted. The head itself weighs in at 34Kg. I have to say that thanks to the huge handles on the top of the marine ply, wooden shell, it's much easier to lift than a certain other well known all valve classic bass head that I shan't name! It's still not amplifier-on-a-diet though as it's substantial in size and weight. You might wanna book a roadie if you suffer from a bad back!
You'll be pleased to know that the NX810 is a much easier schlep than cabinets that have speakers with ceramic magnets, weighing a mere 46Kg thanks to Neodymium speakers and thoughtful cabinet construction. I have to say Laney have done very well as there's another 8x10 cabinet I can think of that weighs in at well over 60Kg. OUCH!
So after looking at all the features it was time to give the head a good run for its money. Yes, we turned it up! I chose to drive both pre-amps quite hard in turn and could really feel a bit of that lovely valve compression start to make my playing rounded and fat in tone. Slap parts beefed out with a low kick and lighter passages seemed to ping from the speakers in comparison. Oh and that distortion break up - absolutely wonderful! I think if I were allowed to take the rig home, I'd have wanted to have gigged it a few times to really hear it shine. However, even with the amount of time we spent with the stack, I have to say it was brilliant. I'm thoroughly impressed with the attention to features and usable functions. Mainly though, how great this piece of serious quality engineering sounded when we pushed it up to 'gig volume'. Expensive? Not really, no - not for a British, handmade, professional class tube rig of awesome power and impeccable sound. Top marks!
Well done Laney, we liked this one so much we immediately called the company and asked to try the Nexus FET, NX410 and NX115 cabinets.