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This article was originally published in issue #31
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All new from TC Electronic, two bass amplifier heads that build on the already strong foundations of the BH250, an amp that itself has won many hearts in the bass world thanks to its big sounds, 'TonePrint' effects and 'amp in your pocket' diminutive proportions.
What was left for TC to do to improve on such an already successful amp? The only natural way for the new BH heads was up - and that means MORE POWER! So the BH550 and BH800 heads we have in for review here are visually identical to each other but they come in two flavours; and in comparison to the BH250 that's Louder and More Louder! Ha!
As usual I'll walk through the features with my thoughts and to give you an idea what these machines have on offer.
So, it's Input jack on the left hand side and then we are into the EQ section but not before we have set our instrument input level with the gain control that features a red 'peak' LED to let us know when we are over-cooking our level going in to the pre-amplifier circuitry. Both heads feature TC Electronic's 'Interactive Equaliser' - a feature I really like. Essentially, unlike the more usual graphic equaliser that allows you to boost or cut levels around a specific frequency centre, this system will boost a different frequency (80hz) to the one that it cuts when you back the dial off the other way (50hz). It's something you have to hear but to give you an idea of its benefits, boosting this control allows you to hone that 'kick drum' punch - just what we need! Meanwhile, backing the control off would be equally great for getting rid of those 'woofy subs' in difficult rooms, while the centre frequency is low enough to not mess with the tone of the instrument too much. Clever! This 'two frequency cut and boost' idea continues throughout the four band equaliser as TC deals up the most likely frequency centres that usually get boosted. Naturally, the same theory is applied for frequencies that tend to get cut.
Above the four band EQ is a super simple and accurate tuner that can handle six string basses. Each red LED applies to a separate string on your bass, however the high C string is identified by the D and G LEDs lighting up together. I'm unsure why the tuner wasn't just six LEDs, one for each string, but no bother. The two green LEDs on the right hand side serve to let you know if you are too high, too low or right on in tune for that identified string note. Another thought about the tuner is that it can't 'do' chromatic tuning, which would have been useful if you drop tune a semi-tone.
Let us move on! The BH550 and BH800 feature TC Electronic's clever TonePrint onboard effects. To put it simply - they have the ability to store two separate 'effects blocks', one in each Tone Print 'slot' (1 and 2 as seen on the front panel) and the knob assigned to each TonePrint is programmed in the TonePrint effect itself to adjust a parameter within that effect. So, for example, the speed of a chorus effect, the amount of drive on a distortion effect or the mix in an octaver effect. That's not the whole story though! Armed with a smartphone app or your computer, you can send new effects settings from an online library to your amp head so it's preprogrammed ready for your next performance. The App is so easy to use, you could even reprogramme the head between sets!
A three way switch on the front selects either tone print or in the centre position allows the effects to be muted. This functionality can also be carried out on a TC three way foot switch available separately.
All of the effects have been carefully tweaked for bass guitar so not only useful to the seasoned knob twiddler but a welcoming hand for those who are looking to try out bass effects without the worry of buying the wrong thing.
Round the back of these sub 3kg amplifiers, TC Electronic offers useful facilities rather than overcrowding them with bells and whistles. Firstly, I love that you can pretty much plug in the power anywhere in the world and this amplifier will auto-sense the mains supply from 100-240v. No messing around with slide switches and forgetting to flip it back when you get home. Job done!
The BH heads have a single Speakon socket as an output and although I'd like to see two personally, this is in no way a limitation as most bass guitar cabinets feature daisy chain ins and outs for connecting more than one to the head. A massive thumbs up for TC is that it clearly says on the back that this head can be used without a cabinet - ideal for practising with head phones or using it as a recording pre-amp connected to the D.I. output. The fact that it clearly says on the amplifier relieves any worry when you are away from the user manual. And your cabinets! The three-way pedal socket, USB connector, auxiliary input (for connecting an MP3 player for example) and a headphone socket for silent practice are neatly lined up and clearly marked also. This leaves us with the aforementioned D.I. out connector and its selector switch for sending a pre or post EQ signal out of this socket. It should be noted that on the 'pre' setting, you will not hear any EQ settings or tone print, just the clean bass signal. So use the post setting to hear any adjustments you have made on the front panel EQ and TonePrints.
This is another great amplifier from TC Electronic - well, pair of amplifiers! They're different beasts to the RH450 and RH750 amplifier heads that are tailored differently. The RH series were designed to give the user an organic 'valve-like' playing experience. These made use of TC's proprietary APM circuitry to shape the amplifier's operating characteristics. The BH heads here have a more modern slant and thus do not feature the APM circuitry. If you are undecided about which to choose, it's down to trying both out as the features vary greatly. Both are very capable and you will not be disappointed with the new BH heads. I really like the clarity and low end punch with the BH heads that demonstrate TC's commitment to offering up a wide range of quality amplification for all tastes and needs.
For once again being able to crowd so much into such small boxes it has to be top marks - especially at these prices!