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This article was originally published in issue #37
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We've come a long way since even I started playing bass. The behemoth valve powered monsters of yesteryear and 'lead sled' solid state monsters that shaped my bass tones (and more recently chiropractor bills!) over the years are these days sharing the market with smaller, more portable amplifier heads that are paving the way for musicians to travel lighter and more cheaply than ever. The power outputs of these little lunch box sized parcels are going through the roof too as advancements in technology make solid state hardware more efficient and muscular.
Ashdown Engineering, based in the UK, has a long successful history when it comes to bass gear and has a product range that stands comparison with any other, encompassing both styles of bass amp - from the valve behemoths beloved of pro rockers, to the most advanced digital amps and it's in this second camp that the RootMaster falls.
Just in case you are suffering from deja vu, we have reviewed a RootMaster previously, but that was a combo version and here we have the RM800 head, weighing in at just 4.5kg, so definitely a lightweight - at least in the physical sense!
The RootMasters take their visual lead from the EVO and MAG models and, of course, retain that all-important analogue meter on the front that makes Ashdowns so instantly recognisable on stages the world over!
The EQ across the top line of knobs on the front is dead easy to get a handle on, offering cut and boost across five different frequencies. The lows to the left all the way up to high frequencies toward the master volume control. The EQ is actually switchable via a button near the input socket. That's great - you can bypass all functionality for a direct sound. Speaking of tone sculpting, Ashdown's ABM pre-shape function is onboard the RM800, instantly giving you a scooped 'big cab' sound at the push of a button.
Starting off where other amplifiers end in the feature list, the RM800 comes packed with yet more cool options. A 'one dial' compressor, again accessible by push switch, is actually a great effect. Watch my video to see how I'd make use of it. Harmonics and tapped passages come alive when the compressor control is pushed round, making the amplifier that much more touch sensitive to dynamic playing. Mid settings on the dial seemed to suit my bass mostly.
Despite all this, we're still not finished with the RootMaster's features. To the right of the compressor are two more knobs. We have a drive section for adding grit and distortion (without the loss of low end) and should that low end still not be enough, also found as standard on many Ashdown heads, there's an 'octave down' generator labeled 'Sub'. Progressing both of those controls clockwise adds more of their respective effects to your tone. Interestingly, you can switch the drive in and out using a front panel button but not the sub octave effect, yet both are controlled via a foot switch connected to a rear mounted socket.
So how do we describe the tone of the amplifier? Well it has to my ears an earthy tone. It's less toppy and bright than some models that are considered 'hi fi' but this gives the amplifier a perceived heft to the lows. That's not to say that it is bass-heavy, though. The EQ is more than capable of giving you the best of all worlds, yet the tone out of the box in to a 'monitor flat response' sounding cabinet is well balanced.
Round the back it's clean and simple - a Speakon output, and effects loop and a DI output for running your sound in to the PA. There's an input for connecting an external audio device too, such as a drum machine or MP3 player, the level of which is controlled by the 'line mix' knob on the front panel next to the master volume.
There's no doubt that this is a very capable bass amp and that it deserves to be on your road test list if you are looking for a lightweight, well priced, high power head packed with features. Just for fun, we tried it through another UK bass product, the Barefaced Big Twin II cabinet, and the pair worked really well together. I'm inclined to want to spend more time with this amplifier.