Read the full article
This article was originally published in issue #8
To read the article in its entirety, view the digital magazine
In through the doors at iGuitar Towers came this beefy, half-stack sized gig rig from veteran bass amplification manufacturer Trace Elliot. Since its humble beginnings producing PA gear from a shop in Essex, UK back in 1979, the company, these days owned by the mighty Peavey, has been relentlessly delivering bass gear seen the world over with the now famous green and black livery. The kit we unboxed showed off it's distinct identity and standing tall in the had an air of business about it. Loud business!
Trace Elliot's current gear line-up features a wide range of kit for us bass players. Listed on the Trace Elliot website are three different amplifier head specifications, three combos and eight different cabinets. There is certainly a range of choice when it comes to configurations that will cover everything from bedroom rehearsal to club gigs and even stadium show big rigs. For this review we received the AH600-12 head, an amplifier with a massive amount of features crammed in to it for your every tonal option requirement and the BFC's younger cousin, the 1015H speaker cabinet. The former we shall begin looking at first.
I'll start by saying that despite the clearly laid out front panel there are so many tonal options available - especially when you take in to account all of the connections featured on the rear panel too - that I actually found it difficult attempting to skim through the details in the video, as I would have had to have talked for a great deal of time if I delved any deeper. I'll address some of that extra functionality here and now.
The AH600-12 is, as the name suggests, a 600 Watt RMS mono output amplifier driven by MOSFET technology and will deliver in to a 4 Ohm minimum load. How loud is the rig? Certainly in the studio the video shows that the volume never went over '2' on the dial - this was certainly loud enough for a clear review. I found out earlier on that when we turned the dial up to see what the amp could do, the iGuitar team could hear the stack upstairs, on the other side of the studio's soundproof doors! (he enjoyed that - Ed)
Inside the steel chassis, the power amplifier is mated with a pre-amplifier design that includes a valve and dedicated valve drive circuit. It doesn't end there. A Trace Elliot voicing 'pre-shape' control, a full 12-band graphic, a dual band compressor and a multi function effects loop with a built in crossover for hi pass, low pass and full range outputs completes the on board features. The amplifier also includes the ability to daisy chain to another amplifier for full stereo operation using the included stereo effect returns. The effects loop itself is also able to run in series or parallel mode, the latter is useful as the 'dry' signal from the pre-amplifier is always present in the signal as well as that being fed from the send to the return sockets. On the subject of the effects loop, the built in crossover is also very useful. It's possible to separately apply effects to the low and high portions of the bass signal, or to send a high frequency effected signal to one amplifier and a low non effected signal to another, amongst the myriad of user configurations available .
If that wasn't enough, the AH600 has not one, but three electronically balanced DI outputs. The first is a 'pre-eq' output, the other two are for the separate left and right outputs (the left being used separately for mono applications). Finally topping off the specification is the stereo line outputs for hooking up to external equipment (such as another power amplifier) all crammed in to one unit weighing in at a substantial 17Kg.
All of the main user functions of the amplifier are controllable by the included footswitch. No plastic here, a tough metal casing housing the buttons and LEDs for Preshape, Valve Drive, Graphic EQ, Compressor, Effects Loops and a Mute switch. The rear of the amplifier similarly neatly designed is home to the Speakon and Jack output sockets, power input and on/off switch, footswitch sockets and the previously mentioned effects loop and crossover.
In use it was easy to dial in a selection of very usable tones. The footswitch with its bright and clear LEDs made jumping through sounds a breeze. I set the valve section up for some mid drive and the compressor with some low end compression and effortlessly moved between slap sounds and raspy pick passages without a hitch. I like that the effects loop can be switched out of the signal path completely from the same pedal board too. This would allow you to put, for example, an envelope filter in the loop, but leave it on top of the amp. No leads trailing across the stage for guitarists and singers to trip over and you still have the ability to switch the effect on and off from just one pedal board.
Moving on to the little beast underneath the AH600-12 head; the stocky 1015H cabinet is solidly built and made of plywood. It features a single 15" Celestion made speaker in a ported cabinet and two 10" Celestion speakers sharing a separate compartment with a single centre mounted tweeter. All of the hardware is made of metal, including all corners and handles giving the cabinet a rugged look whilst wrapped in 'pimple finish' tolex type covering. Taking care of protecting the speakers is a large metal grill in black that is of a heavy gauge and will no doubt shrug off the majority of abuse received whilst on the road. This particular example did rattle a little at high volume, but I think it would have been easy to remedy by tightening the grill. The only other niggle we had was that the fan seemed quite noisy on our sample. This may be an individual fault or it may be a characteristic of the amp, we'd no way of telling, but it could prove irritating in some situations.
Speaking of volume - the 1015H delivers by the truck load! I left the tweeter set at 50 per cent by the control on the back of the cabinet and was greeted with a clear tone with great mids and top end. Pushing the low end on the graphic allowed the 15" speaker to deliver too and I am pleased to say that we could dial up some really nice punchy, mellow, aggressive or Hi-Fi tones easily with the AH600 head. With a massive amount of headroom, I think the 800W RMS cabinet (at 4 Ohms) is more than capable of being a 'one cab solution' - I'd have loved to have heard this set up at a gig. I'm sure the mids from this cabinet will have cut through guitar half stacks easily.
Time to sum up. In operation there was something immediately familiar about the stack and there are two ways you can look at that. On the one hand, if you were to buy, say, an Ampeg SVT and it sounded like anything other than an Ampeg SVT, you'd probably feel aggrieved. Well, that's how it is with the Trace Elliot. You know what it's going to do - and it does it. In spades. But if you were looking for anything different, any significant advances on the Trace Elliots of yore, then this probably isn't going to be your thing. For those who are upgrading from a lower powered Trace Elliot system to a feature rich stack, they may well be looking for that same identity that they can relate to. As I said, it's familiar - you could go from an older 'Series 6' head or 'Hexavalve' amplifier and not even have to open the manual to use any of the new series.
We had some lengthy discussions about this. I would like to have seen some signs of changing with the times, but other voices suggested that there's nothing wrong with offering exactly what people expect. As the saying goes: 'people who like this sort of thing will find this the sort of thing they like'.
Either way, The AH head and cabinet are more than capable and can really deliver a wide range of tons in a substantial package that will suit the vast majority of live situations for the owner. On the subject of substantial, by the way, the head weighs-in at 17Kg is about average for a MOSFET amplifier of this power. The 1015H cabinet, although a robust 42Kg, does feature handles on the side and top, big rubber wheels and a kick plate allowing for easy manoeuvrability but for those of a small stature, a lift up the stairs at the local venue may require a hand.