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This article was originally published in issue #27
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Finding the perfect combination of aggressive and saturated high gain tones matched with a fantastic clean channel in an amplifier has always been a difficult task as the two don’t necessarily match in terms of design and circuit requirements. With the Archon amplifier, PRS is attempting to deliver these two tonal requirements providing a crushingly high gain overdrive channel and a dynamic, sparkly clean channel with lots of headroom and power.
The Archon is certainly a striking and good looking 100 Watt head thanks to its impressive fascia, sporting an upper metal grill and flame maple panel above the controls. The control panel is clean and uncluttered thanks to PRS’s decision to go with a ‘no frills’ approach to the design. It features two independent channels with five gain stages, provided by no less than six 12ax7 preamp tubes, matched with four 6L6 power tubes giving 100 W of output power. The choice of 6L6 power tubes offers a glassy clean channel with lots of headroom, and a rich, overdrive channel with a ton of tight bottom end thunk.
Each channel has its own EQ section with Treble, Middle and Bass controls, a bright switch and volume/gain control for setting the overall drive level of the preamp stage. The amp also features global Presence and Depth controls for the power amp and independent Master Volumes for each channel. There are no hidden pull out dials, trick switches or multi-voicing controls here, assuring that this is a ‘no-nonsense’ design that just aims to provide you with two great sounding channels and nothing else to worry about. The only other controls are a single power/standby switch (a nice feature since you can’t accidentally power down the amp without engaging the standby first), a half power switch on the back of the amp for 50W operation and a 16/8/4 Ohm selection switch. This is definitely an amp that you can just plug into and go, no need to read a lengthy manual or have a degree in electrical engineering to understand this one! PRS has also included a series effects loop, two speaker outputs and a high quality metal footswitch for operating channel selection and the effects loop.
Build quality is exactly what you’d expect from a company renowned for making such high class instruments. The aluminium chassis and wooden head shell are superbly well made and solid as a rock with flawless construction both internally and externally. Some internal shots from the PRS website show the use of PCBs combined with hand-wired components for all the benefits of PCB reliability but with hand-wired tonal quality. Tube access is easy thanks to a back grill with just four screws and the tech-minded will love the inclusion of bias jacks on the back panel for easy power tube biasing. The top mounted handle is very strong, matching the rest of the construction, resulting in a head that should easily stand up to extensive road use in the back of a van.
Aimed at high gain players, the Archon certainly doesn’t disappoint when it comes to its overdrive channel. There is a huge amount of gain on offer here, more than most players would ever need, but at no point does the tone become muddy or unfocussed, thanks to those 6L6 power tubes and powerful Depth and Presence controls. The tone is rich and smooth with fantastic note separation, even on higher gain settings and the EQ controls do a very musical job of sculpting the tone from mid-scooped thrash all the way to thick, singing, saturated lead tones for cutting through the mix.
On lower gain settings you can achieve very musical and responsive crunch tones that retain their girth and depth surprisingly well. The real surprise is just how great the clean channel is. Thanks to those 6L6 tubes, the Archon has a definite American flavour on the clean channel with a fantastic, glassy tone and beautiful dynamic response. With the gain up to half way the tone is clean as clean can get, with no hint of breakup using single coils. This channel takes pedals extremely well and is a great match for overdrive pedals should you wish to create a three channel solution with clean, crunch and lead tones. With the gain increased above this halfway point things start to break up in a stunning way with amazing pick response, producing easily some of the best ‘edge of breakup’ tones this reviewer has ever heard from a ‘high-gain’ head. This channel alone would be worth the price of admission for the Archon, but combined with the overdrive channel, this PRS head represents superb tonal versatility with seriously impressive tones in every direction.
The Archon may seem like an expensive head compared with some other high-gain, 100W amps on the market, but considering the incredible tones on offer, and the fact that boutique amps can go for more than double this price for heads that only offer one of these channels, it actually seems like pretty reasonable value for money. Given the superb build quality and awesome tones here, the Archon seems like a no brainer for those in the market for a ‘do-it-all’ head. Highly recommended.