Nick Jennison reviews the Baroni AFK150. A true 150 W RMS hybrid amplifier that offers a dual channel tube Preamp section and hi-voltage ECC82 tube. The clean channel is designed to recreate the warmth and brilliance of vintage amps, while the drive channel is designed after the award-winning GURUS Doubledecker MkII preamp pedal, which recreates the classic sound of Vintage British stack amps, from edge to hi-gain distortion.
I love amps. Big ones, for the most part. It's not just a volume thing, either. Big amps come with big transformers, which (usually) means a big transformer bump. Big headroom (usually) means fast transient response, punchy and expansive lows and clear projection in a live mix. Big amps also (usually) mean expense, bulk, weight and inconvenience. Which is why my big amp (usually) stays in my studio.
Luckily, there are folks like the engineers at Baroni, who are working hard to distill the essence of the "big amp" into a tiny format. Now, this is by no means a new concept. The "pedalboard amp" has been around for well over a decade… and until the last few years they've been pretty rubbish. Anaemic sounding little MXR-sized boxes with 24v wall warts bigger than the actual amp itself, putting out 20w of power with about 1w of clean headroom. Terrible, terrible, terrible.
Fortunately, times and tech have moved on, which leads us to the subject of this review - the Baroni AFK150. It's a two-channel amp that will take you from sweet high-headroom cleans through to mid-pushed high gain lead tones, with a staggering 150w of power. What separates this little amp from the pack is it's power stage. Rather than using an off-the-shelf class D power module and tuning the preamp to claw back the sound of a pushed set of EL34s, the AFK150's power section is designed from the ground up to sound like an old 100w Plexi. The result is a sound and feel that has a ton of "big amp" mojo and vibe without any of the weirdness that can come with a class D guitar amp.
Using the AFK150 is very simple, and very much like using a traditional amp. There's a volume, gain and three-band EQ for each channel, along with a master volume and a master presence control, and that's it. Even then, the gain control for the clean channel is fairly redundant, since there's no real drive or breakup to be had from this channel. What you do get is a rich, warm clean that's great with both humbuckers and single coils, and absolutely loves pedals. The gain channel, by contrast, has a huge range of gain on tap. Whether you're into JTM45 style breakup, 800 style grind or thick vocal leads sounds, you'll find it in this channel. That said, it's very much a "vintage" voiced channel, which may leave metal players wanting for a tighter response.
Other features include an effects loop for patching in reverb, delay and any other effects that you might want after the distortion stage, which can be configured in either series of parallel. There's also a line out with an analogue speaker sim that can be defeated if you'd prefer to run your own IRs, or to slave out to a secondary power amp for wet/dry applications. That said, the speaker sim is perfectly usable, and will absolutely get you out of a pinch if your cab goes down.
The Baroni AFK150 is a killer sounding two channel amp with a distinctly vintage character. It's also absolutely tiny and shockingly affordable. If you're looking for a great gigging amp that fits in the front pocket of your gig bag or mounts on your pedalboard, or even just a really great backup, it might be time for you to say "Si, Baroni!"…
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