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This article was originally published in issue #43
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For quite some time now there has been a significant gap in Marshall’s amp line up in an area that has seen a lot of activity from other companies in the market, namely affordable digital amp modelling technology, with in-built effects with a companion mobile/tablet app. It's clearly a very lucrative section of the market that has been exploited well by the likes of Line 6, Peavey and Blackstar in particular. Finally, Marshall has released its CODE amplifier range in response, combining all the features mentioned into a very affordable series of amps that should give the competition something to think about. The range is available as a 25W combo all the way up to a 100W head - Marshall sent us the mid-range 50W 1x12 combo for our review.
To develop the CODE technology, Marshall teamed up with renowned audio plugin developers, Softube to produce accurate MST (Marshall-Softube) models of fourteen classic and modern Marshall pre-amps, four power amps and eight Marshall cabs. Softube is extremely respected in the industry for its accurate amp modelling skills, having worked with Marshall before to produce superb amp models for Universal Audio’s DSP platform. On top of the amp models, Marshall has built in 24 effect types including Compressors, Reverbs, Delays, Distortion and Overdrive pedals, Phaser, Flanger, Wah, Chorus and more. Up to five of these effects can be run simultaneously, giving users a complete rig with hugely versatile tonal possibilities in a compact and highly affordable product.
In line with other manufacturers' products in this area, Marshall has included Bluetooth connectivity for connecting a smartphone or tablet (both iOS and Android) to their excellent ‘Gateway’ app for controlling all features of the amp remotely and for streaming music though the onboard speaker. Marshall has gone for a mid-focussed, ‘guitar-type’ speaker here, rather than a full-range one, so music sounds a little boomy and aggressive, but it’s a nice feature to have for practice, even if you probably wouldn’t use this in your living room or at a party to play tunes through. Also included is a mini USB port that allows the CODE50 to function as an audio interface within your DAW for recording and playback and for firmware updates. An AUX in and headphone socket are present too.
Marshall has built the CODE50 to be as user friendly as possible, even when using the front panel, and the layout is extremely familiar thanks to its traditional amp controls for Gain, Bass, Mid, Treble, Volume and Master in the classic gold topped black dials. Eight soft-push buttons with LEDs allow for pre-amp, effects, power amp and cab selection and editing with the effects divided into Modulation, Delay, Reverb and Pre FX categories, plus a preset storage button to save edited sounds. Editing a parameter is as simple as pushing the relevant button, followed pushing the edit dial down until you find the desired parameter before using the edit knob dial in the sound you need. Each of the effects has multiple variations such as Hall, Plate and Room reverbs, Tape, Digital and Analogue delays and all manner of modulations. The unit is a breeze to use without ever reading the manual and the small LCD screen more than adequately displays what you need in order to develop your tones with the minimum of fuss. Using the free ‘Gateway’ app is even easier with the app laid out in a very logical manner that shouldn’t require more than a minute or so to become familiar with for all but the most technology challenged.
The amp is well built for this price point and wonderfully light in weight thanks to its digital front end and solid state power section. The rubbery handle feels like it might need careful treatment over the years, but all of the controls feel very solid indeed and there is very little else on the amp that could break or fail. It’s a little dull looking from the front with its all black finish, but it wouldn’t look out of place in a living room or bedroom and doesn’t take up too much space as a practice or rehearsal amp or even for gigging (it’s certainly loud enough).
In terms of the sounds available, things are pretty impressive at this price point. The CODE range certainly keeps up with the competition and all of the amp models feel very touch responsive and realistic, and more importantly are great fun to play with. The range of pre-amps is superb, with a wide offering of classic and modern Marshall amps to play with and, thanks to the mid-focussed speaker setup, they always feel like the proper ‘amp-in-the-room’ sounds that can be hard to achieve with a full range speaker. The effects are also excellent - a far cry from what was available at this price even a few years ago, and can really be termed studio quality, especially the delays and reverbs. For once, the presets are actually usable too with a range of vintage and modern tones setup for right out of the box (plus the obligatory ‘lost in space’ tones too of course). To make the most of the 100 presets in a live scenario the footswitch is recommended and this costs extra, but it’s a very reasonable price and makes the CODE50 a real contender for use in band situations.
Marshall has ticked all the boxes here with the CODE50. Excellent tones at this price point with hugely versatile applications for all those on board amp models and effects. The app is excellent and Marshall has really nailed the ease of use that is required with this level of potential complexity. It doesn’t quite fit the bill in terms of a music listening device, but as an affordable modelling amplifier it is very good indeed and everything we might have hoped for in its class.