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This article was originally published in issue #28
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British amplifier manufacturer Ashdown Engineering is renowned not just for making great bass amps, but also instantly recognisable ones. The appearance factor shouldn't be underestimated. We're all influenced to some degree by what we see other players using and Ashdown's very recognisable amps are seen on stadium stages the world over.
Ashdown, of course, doesn't just cater for behemoth stadium rigs and is equally adept at providing mini rigs in the shape of the ABM 408 cabinets for example, or small practice amps, like the 'After Eight' and 'Perfect Ten' combos, or, for those on the move, the 'Tour Bus Fifteen' for backstage warm-ups. You might have noticed the names there. That's another Ashdown hallmark - the company picks clever names. And if you're never been to London, or never heard of the legendary Routemaster buses used there, you might have missed Ashdown's clever pun in the name of its new Rootmaster series. Root notes? Geddit?
Ashdown's new Rootmaster range is said to focus on players needing a 'best of all worlds' solution: tone, features, compact and volume but without the weight. The range comprises a pair of stand alone heads (rated at 220 and 420 Watts) with a range of Rootmaster cabinets, or as three differently configured combos one of which, the single 12” model we have on review here. They share essentially the same features and all feature Class D technology.
The combo range includes a single 15”, a 2x10” combo and 'our' 1x12”. The other two combos include the Mag 420 amplifier, whereas this has the 200W version. On with the show!
Left hand side next to the input jack is one of my favourite long standing features from Ashdown and one of the company's trademarks - the analogue 'Vu' meter, which reminds me of vintage studio and Hi-Fi gear and stirs up warm memories of old valve gear. It's very movement is mesmerising, keeping an eye on your signal level!
Next to the level meter are two tonal options. The first is a 'pre-shape' EQ that boosts different frequencies in a pre-programmed frequency response curve. I like to call it 'big cabinet sound' as it generally boosts the lows and some top end, but according to the manual doesn't cut mid frequencies like some pre-shapes do. Below that is a simple but nice inclusion - the ability to completely bypass the whole EQ section for a more 'amplifier neutral sound'.
On the subject of the EQ, I like how Ashdown has gone about describing how to use the EQ in the manual. Suggesting you start with just the three main controls marked Bass, Middle and Treble first to keep things simple then reaching for the other two controls only if you need more critical adjustments. Less fuss or confusion to get you to a good sound to begin with!
Moving on, we find an enable switch and control knob for an onboard compressor. I found the compressor very pleasing as it did a very good job of grabbing large note peaks and pulling them back under control on moderate settings. This is especially useful for slap bass playing styles for example. Moreover, I approved of the 'gain make up' aspect of this one knob compressor too. What can happen on a number of built-in compressors on bass amplifiers is that when you wind up the compressor control, (thus limiting more and more of your dynamic range), the natural effect is that your output level is pulled downwards. Not so with this handy control! As you progress the knob clockwise it makes up for the lost level by boosting the output of the compressor back up. This is great on higher settings that helps notes ping out of your speakers. Great for tappers and slappers alike!
Below the compressor switch, The RM-220 also includes a distortion section that has been remodelled for the Rootmaster range. It has a wide sweep that can deliver anything from a light grit to a searing distortion without even reaching for the input gain control that in itself interacts with the drive knob. I was really pleased to hear that as more distortion was piled on, you could still clearly hear the bass low end coming through too. A big plus for me as I use 'dirt' sounds in my own gear and often have to find ways of routing a clean bass signal through my system to add that low end back in.
If that wasn't already enough in the small amplifier package Ashdown has also included its 'sub harmonics' control that has featured on many of its models down the years. Essentially, it's an effect that adds in a note an octave below the note you are playing. It can add a fatness to your bass tone on subtle settings or give you a 'pseudo-Pino' sounds on higher settings.
Finally on the front panel, in conjunction with an input socket on the back, the line mix control allows you to set the volume of a device connected and to play along with backing tracks or say, a drum machine.
Round the back of the amplifier things are again nice and clear. There's an external speaker socket to chain an additional cabinet to the combo should you need to move a bit more air. Above that a socket gains you access to controlling the drive and sub effects via external foot switch. Over to the right hand side there's a 1/4” (note: not XLR type) DI, an effects loop and of course the previously mentioned audio line-in socket.
The combo features a 12” Ashdown bass speaker and a tweeter too, though I did wonder why the tweeter is half obscured by the framework that makes up the speaker grill on the top right hand corner in this review model. It seems a strange thing to have done.
To try to sum up the sound of this amplifier is actually rather difficult - which makes it all the better we have video to do it for me! It's such a feature rich device that it has the ability to be rather chameleonic (is that even a word? You know what I mean!) (No and probably. In that order - Ed)
Inevitably, 200 Watts into a small speaker (albeit with a tweeter) placed in a small cab is going to be a little limited and I would like to have tried it side by side with the 420 Watt 2x10” version, or maybe the 420W 15” model (these are the three combo options). I'd also like to have experimented with some of Ashdown's larger cabs. Which isn't to say the 1x12” is lacking - it isn't and it would be a good buy if a single 12 would do for home or recording use and you could plug in a larger cab for gigging.
It's certainly got a wide range of tones given the amount of equaliser sculpting available and demands a place on your 'audition' list if you are looking for a new, portable bass combo.