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This article was originally published in issue #7
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The bass playing fraternity has been poised for what must seem like an eternity, waiting for Hartke to finally finish developing the Kilo bass head. After an initial public unveiling in January 2009, Hartke withdrew the Kilo more or less immediately, apparently going back to the drawing board to address some issues regarding reducing the amp's weight. During the interim period new technology came along that enabled Hartke to also incorporate more revisions that improved its tonal flexibility whilst also making sure that the amp remained affordable. Hartke also used the opportunity to include the same 'Shape' pre-set EQ curve found on its Bass Attack stomp box.
The Kilo's combination of enormous power and maximum flexibility are major selling points that Hartke has surely developed with an eye on the needs of the professional and busy semi-pro bassist. A switchable 10-band graphic equalizer and conventional three-band passive EQ are included along with a built-in compressor, tube-driven overdrive circuit, a remote selectable effects loop, an adjustable mid-cut Shape control and adjustable DI whose switchable signal path completely bypasses the built-in effects and EQ or else can be configured to allow the user to insert the compressor, graphic EQ and the effects loop into the DI'd signal before it is sent to the front of house. With all this hardware at their fingertips, it's difficult to imagine what bassist wouldn't be tempted by the Kilo? It may fly in the face of the current vogue for tiny yet super-powerful bass amplifiers yet there is something reassuringly old-school and rugged about this Hartke behemoth, not forgetting that it is also seems very competitively priced given its impressive specs.
Fully enclosed in a 3U-size chassis fronted by a milled aluminium faceplate and flanked by a massive pair of oversize carrying handles the Kilo feels very solidly constructed. The oversized handles aren't merely for show, either. Weighing in at 40lbs (18 kilos) the Kilo is a bit of a big old lump to lug about but with 1000 watts rumbling away under the hood, anything less substantial mightn't pull off the air of indestructible roadworthiness quite so convincingly as the Kilo does.
Hefty though it may be, this is still a very smart looking amp with plenty of nice brightly illuminated push buttons and sliders that will no doubt look very impressive when the amp is set up on a darkened stage. In practical terms, the Kilo's clean control layout also works well; its array of multiple tone-shaping tools are all laid out readily to hand so that everything feels very logical and easy to navigate whilst the amp is in use. A row of eight illuminated push buttons provides easy access to a pad that compensates for the higher signal level from active basses, preventing the preamp from overloading, plus there is also a handy Tuner Mute function that can also be selected remotely via a footswitch for discreet onstage tuning. Independent Deep and Brite switches help to boost the low end and treble frequencies, which could be deemed useful for enhancing the extra frequency range of five or six string basses, for example. The rear-mounted effects loop send and returns are also footswitchable, with a dedicated push button on the front panel that activates the EFX circuit in the absence of a footswitch.
The Kilo packs a pretty impressive 1000 watts in bridge mode with the further option to run at 500 watts per side in stereo mode at a minimum of two ohms per channel, enabling the bassist to harness the full extent of the Kilo's formidable power whilst also being able to employ their preferred choice of speaker enclosures. To further help exploit this, the front panel Balance knob allows the bassist to choose which speaker cabinet they want to drive the hardest by shifting the emphasis of the output between the left or right channel, or 50/50 if they prefer. The Kilo is a hybrid design whose solid state output stage is mated to a tube-driven preamp loaded with a trio of 12AX7 tubes that help the Kilo deliver a broad range of authentic vintage-style warmth adjustable over a broad range from a barely perceptible sizzle to a very aggressive overloaded distortion. The overdriven sound can certainly get pretty filthy but a footswitch jack also offers the player the facility to choose the appropriate moment when to kick-in the overdrive circuit.
The onboard compressor uses a pair of rotary knobs to adjust the compression ratio and Gain over a very wide dynamic range, which can have quite a significant bearing on the amp's tone. The compression is quite powerful and the amp can therefore sound very squashy even at fairly modest levels but slap or funk bassists who routinely push their amp's dynamics to the limit by virtue of their hard-hitting technique will be able to really spank their strings with little fear of either their speakers or high-end tweeters being launched across the room! The Kilo's comprehensive EQ section includes the enigmatically titled 'Shape' control which kicks-in a preset EQ curve with fractionally boosted low and treble frequencies and a subtle degree of midrange cut. Imagine a built-in 'smiley face' EQ curve that can be shifted around to have more emphasis towards either bottom or high-end frequencies and you've basically nailed what the Shape control does. It's not quite 'instant funk' but it nevertheless does still offer a fairly fast way to nail that 'scooped' EQ curve beloved by slap bassists without having to fiddle with the standard three-way passive EQ.
The 10-band graphic equalizer isn't essential but it is nonetheless handy when, say, switching between different basses with very distinctive sounds. It can also come in handy for helping to balance the amp's EQ in venues with somewhat unruly acoustics; boomy-sounding rooms with low ceilings or venues with brightly reflective wooden floors should no longer present a problem, for example. Generally, we found that we liked the Hartke Kilo's crisp delivery and user-friendly design. Certainly it should be equally as effective harnessed to a single 115 or 410 enclosure in a club, as it surely will when coupled to a Mount Rushmore-sized wall of speaker stacks in a major stadium gig.
The Hartke Kilo delivers a very convincing all round performance. Yes, it is big and heavy but this feels like pro-quality gear that delivers precise, well-balanced tones and impressive versatility. In the grand scheme of things - no pun intended - the Kilo isn't even particularly expensive either, especially when you start shopping around and take into account most stores margin for a slight discount. It's been a long wait but we think you'll find it's been worth it in the long run.