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This article was originally published in issue #50
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In summing up, this amplifier isn’t pretending to be a super light weight D Class amplifier, in fact to me it seems like a 'Cure For The Common Groove.'
Built for the road
Great EQ section design
Orange Four Stroke 500
Orange is one of those relatively rare amp makers whose products have found favour with both guitarists and bass players. Can the new Four Stroke 500 bass head maintain the UK company's strike rate? Dan Veall revs up.
This newcomer from veteran builder Orange offers a different take on bass than the OB1s that we've looked at previously in the Bassment. The all-analogue Class AB ‘Four-Stroke’ (that I understand is being used by Steve Harris of Iron Maiden, looking at the Orange website), is essentially in the same shell as the OB-1, coming in a 9Kg rack mount type case with the same clear labelled icons which we recognise as an Orange feature, but what it delivers is quite different. It's about a return to a traditional all-analogue bass sound.
In the video I have gone into detail about the front panel, so as a quick run through here, we have only two main sections despite seeing lots of controls. On the left hand side there's a master volume control and next to that a ‘one knob’ compressor. The compressor onboard is a little different I would say than standard optical limiters that eat away at the bass attack on heavy settings, offering a fattening effect by leaving initial attack alone (to my ears anyway) yet increasing the level on the dial, Level is brought up across the board of the decaying signal. It's hard to explain (we could tell - Ed), but it feels a bit like parallel compression, where I didn’t feel that I was getting as much squash in my bass tone, but in lighter passages, quiet bass lines were louder and jumped from the speakers more. Orange says that the compressor uses a carefully developed side chain to control the action of the compressor. I’m not sure what exactly has gone it to it, but it’s a handy ‘add more’ effect rather than wringing out the dynamics through rudimentary limiting of the signal. Finally, with regard to the input and volume control, your bass tone is handled by a Class A input buffer stage keeping things clean, clear and dynamic.
Moving on to the right hand side, you find a semi-parametric EQ. The top row of white knobs is a typical four band EQ with centres for low, low-mid, high-mid and treble frequencies. The bottom row of white controls gives access to adjustment of those equaliser band centres. It’s quite a wide adjustment too. In use, there's plenty of gain on each band and I could easily dial in a big scooped rock or slap tone. A tweak of the midrange and finger style bass is rounded with a nice ‘burp’ to the sound, plenty of volume on tap and the amp, with the compressor down, remained clean.
Round the back, like the OB1 we are greeted with a pair of Speakon connectors, the standard IEC mains input socket with a voltage switch depending on where you are using the amp in the world. There's also a DI output for connection to your PA or recording devices. Keeping things cool, a fan ejects unwanted heat.
The Four Stroke is available in two versions - 300 Watt and 500 Watt. I have to say personally, I’d go straight for the 500W version - not that the 300W would be a slouch. The cabinets I tend to use for gigging purposes would happily accommodate the output levels capable and I’d rather have too much available than risk running out of steam.
In summing up, this amplifier isn’t pretending to be a super light weight D Class amplifier, in fact to me it seems like a 'Cure For The Common Groove' (if I may quote an old album lyric). You must have seen those Internet discussions pondering the question ‘did you go back to non- D Class amplifiers?’, well, I suspect that's exactly what this amp is designed to satisfy and it does so very well indeed. This amplifier will certainly find its home in many a rig and if you are starting to feel those Class-D blues and are hankering for the full-fat analogue bass sound, you have to give this newcomer a try!