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This article was originally published in issue #19
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Any bass amp carrying the name of the great Jeff Berlin has to be good, doesn't it? Dan Veall just wanted to make sure....
Another super 'cube' combo in for review, this time with a big name in bass endorsing. Here is the 'JB Players School' CMD 151 combo that takes its name from Jeff Berlin's own 'Player School Of Music' located in Florida and founded by Jeff in 1996.
The combo itself is a wonderfully simple idea. Take one of Markbass's most popular bass heads and put it in a no-nonsense and easy to carry ported cabinet featuring a light weight and efficient 15" bass speaker. Markbass was careful, where possible, to keep the combo competitively priced the company says and accessible to the market it's aimed at, namely students.
The neat and tidy box is covered in the usual black Markbass carpeting and features a nice big carry handle on the top. Students of a smaller stature may prefer side located handles but being only 15Kg, it's not a huge lift for an adult.
The combo has a front facing 15" speaker that is protected behind a metal grill easily capable of withstanding everyday knocks and bangs, the sort of thing expected from rehearsals and gigging.
I like the fact that Markbass didn't just squeeze the large speaker in to the smallest cabinet they could, but moved the big bass ports round the back of the cabinet to at least keep the dimensions as manageable as possible. The speaker itself is a 200 Watt 8 Ohm unit that has a surprisingly smooth and sweet top end. No, it doesn't, and couldn't possibly, reach up in to the sparkling top end of a Markbass cabinet including a tweeter (which of course, would be more expensive), but that's not to say it sounded in anyway muffled. Frequency response is said to roll off at about 5Khz which is more than enough for the average bass player to gets those plucks and pops ringing out! Harmonics too for that matter - as I found when I used the Markbass to review the Tech 21 pedals elsewhere in this issue.
The amplifier in the combo package is a Markbass Little Mark 250, just one of the superb 'Little Mark' bass amplifier range. Markbass was one of the first manufacturers to set the trend of light weight 'super amps' and the Little Mark range now includes models all the way up to 800 Watts, including valve pre-amplifiers, as well as a special SD1200 model with a 1,200 Watt output in a mere 4Kg box. Impressive stuff, eh? The output volume vs. weight saving benefits isn't the only thing that has brought countless bass players to Markbass, though. The super clean reproduction of bass tones has made Markbass a huge hit, along with the inclusion of those highly musical equaliser sections.
You will find two knobs on pretty much all of the Markbass heads labelled 'VLE' and 'VPF'. I have often heard bass players leave the EQ section at zero settings on these amplifier heads (i.e. what is usually called 12 o'clock position) preferring the use of these two additional controls alone to set their preferred stage sound. The first knob, 'VLE' is the 'vintage loudspeaker emulation', a variable filter centred at 250 that progressively cuts top-end as the knob is advanced, thus giving a more vintage vibe to your bass sound. This control is also handy for using distortion, helping to soften a fizzy top end. Next to that is the 'VPF' or 'Variable Pre-Shape Filter', a control that has three actions. Firstly as the control is advanced, two separate frequencies are boosted. The very deep lows at around 35 Hz as well as sparkling, airy top end frequencies at 10Khz. A third middle frequency of 380Hz is cut and scooped out at the same time, giving you a deeper, wider bass sound. The control is absolutely brilliant for making smaller combos sound much bigger. I think this ability will be a big hit in such a combo as this with its 15" speaker.
Round the back of the amplifier there are a number of useful connections. The line-up starts with a standard a 1/4" speaker output socket, next to that is a Speakon connector that you could use to plug in an additional cabinet. As the internal speaker in this combo is rated at 8 Ohms, you'd be able to connect another 8 Ohm cabinet to the amplifier at the same time. The rear panel also features an effects loop, a tuner output and DI for connecting to PA or recording equipment. There is a 'pre/post' EQ patch point switch for the DI, as well as a ground lift switch on the far right hand side.
Getting to the connections around the back is a bit of a struggle in certain environments, even for the power socket. It's not a major problem as you can lean the combo forward to get enough light in to see where you need to connect your cables - however, if you have stacked additional kit on top of the nice, flat and stable surface that this combo makes (for example a guitarist's amp!) then unfortunately, you'll have to feel your way around a bit. I appreciate that it's a downside to using a standard amplifier head mounted vertically into a cabinet, but I suspect that many would prefer the amplifier mounted in a horizontal slot on top of the cabinet for ease of access. That said, having the controls facing upward is brilliant, as is colouring the gain, line level and master volume controls yellow, so they stand out on a dark stage. Good work Markbass.
Tonally this is a great sounding combo and it comes at an attractive price, too. Even without the endorsement of a big star like Jeff Berlin it would be bound to score well with players as it's a fine product at a fine price. It's aimed at a pretty specific market but don't let that sway you too far. You wouldn't have to be a beginner to find this a very appealing purchase. If all you want is a small, affordable, highly portable, bass combo with a fabulous sound, this should definitely be on your 'ones to try' list.