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This article was originally published in issue #32
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Trying to bottle the classic Ampeg SVT tone in a small combo is no easy task but that's what the company says it has done with these two new models both dubbed 'V2' to differentiate them from earlier versions. If Ampeg has succeeded it's no small feat. But has it? Dan Veall rocks out.
Let's get straight down to business with the bigger of these two newcomers from Ampeg, the BA-115v2. This 150W model features a 15” bass speaker in a ported cabinet and a 1” tweeter for the high frequency content. You'll have spotted already that both of these units are of the 'angled monitor' variety, which I feel is very useful. Being able to hear yourself in a band situation is often a struggle. Normal cabinets facing your legs and knees do a great job of letting you feel your notes, whereas being able to angle the cabinet up towards your ears means the sound coming out of the amplifier is that much clearer and in many cases you won't need to turn up so loud either. (Happy PA engineer!)
The all black Tolex covered shells of both combos have an unusual quirk to their angled cabinets. Usually you'd expect the cabinet to lean back from an upright position however, interestingly, these two have to lay on their sides to get them to kick back to a 60 degree angle. It does mean that when kicked back you'll need to view the top panel on the vertical to read the controls. Not that this is difficult because the black front panel with white text is uncluttered and easy to understand.
Essential to maintaining the Ampeg house style is the ability to make it grind and get gnarly! So on the BA-115v2, you engage the 'Scrambler' circuit to add anything from a mild grit to a medium dirt distortion, (The original Ampeg Scrambler from 1969 was a fuzz effect that in my mind isn't the same as the effect here, though we didn't have one to hand to make a direct comparison. I feel this is more of a bass distortion.) However, Ampeg hasn't forgotten the key ingredient that could well have made this inclusion a let down: a wet/dry blend knob. It is so important for us bass players to be able to retain our low end when we kick in dirt pedals and the blend control here is a superb way to ensure that despite how much grit we dial in, the clean low end bass can stay pounding through. Very good and we've barely gotten started!
No Ampeg bass amp would be complete without it's signature Ultra High and Ultra Low boost buttons and the BA-115V2 doesn't disappoint. With a simple to use Bass, Middle and Treble three band EQ on board to boot, tone shaping is a breeze. All five controls together are nothing but musical to use yet whatever setting you choose, this combo definitely has a very specific voice. It's not a flat response studio monitor by any means, it has a mid focussed creamy tone to it that certainly suits its Rock heritage. Grab a Precision, hype the mids and punch the scrambler in and you'll be reminded why the combination is so revered - but here you can get 'that' sound without having a massive 810cl cabinet to shift around!
Also on the front panel you'll find a pair of Auxiliary inputs and related level control so you can jam along to your MP3 device or drum machine. A headphones output for silent rehearsal and a D.I output for connecting to a PA completes the outputs on the front panel. The BA-115v2 also includes an effects loops for all of your outboard processor needs. Round the back there's just a power input keeping things simple and tidy.
As you'd expect, the BA-110 is a much smaller and at 40 Watts output its 15Kg weight will suit those practising or teaching more than say gigging with a Rock band but it's not a lot less capable in the Ampeg tone department and comes complete with the Scrambler, as found on its big brother. That said, there are inherent limitations and while its 10” speaker alone delivers a nice rounded tone, it's a little bit boxy sounding in comparison to the larger 15”, which is to be expected from smaller proportioned cabinets. Sharing the same three band EQ, The BA-110v2 also features the set of auxiliary inputs - incidentally one socket is a stereo mini plug and the other is a mono guitar lead 1/4” that both feed a stereo headphones socket. A nice idea there for silent rehearsal.
Given the current trend towards making smaller combos fuller in sound and more 'flat response', Ampeg is sticking to its guns and musical identity with these two. It's not a tone that suits everyone but certainly the BA-115 v2, for me, in certain settings does a great job of what I identify as 'The Ampeg Sound'. The Scrambler effect is brilliant with careful adjustments and helps to serve up that all important aggressive Rock sound but at the other end of the scale, bypassed (using the a foot switch or button on the front,) the combo is more than capable of clean dub like smooth sounds. Sounds great either way and I had lots of fun doing pseudo Sheehan/Entwhistle/Squire impressions with the Scrambler effect engaged! Of the two, the 15” version is the one to go for if you can handle the extra weight (and price, of course) but even if you can't, or if all you really need is a portable practise amp that will deliver a proper Rock bass sound, the BA-110v2 will definitely do the job.
These two newcomers also come in 8” and 12” versions which may fill in the gaps or smooth out some of the compromises you might feel forced to make if choosing between the the 10” and 15” options. Given the two we were loaned to try, all four are going to be worth adding to your 'audition this' list.