Nick Jennison reviews Hiwatt's Super-Hi 50. Classic Hiwatt at its core, the Super-Hi 50 is a hot-rodded, extreme hi-gain firebreather designed by heavy-metal Mike Fortin. Clarity, punch, string definition, and tight low-end are at the focus of this amp's design making it especially suited for drop tunings and extended-range instruments.
When you think of classic British amplifier brands, there are undoubtedly a few your mind immediately goes to. The gold-and-black stacks of Milton Keynes, the diamond-clothed combos of Dartford, or maybe even the brutally loud Brummie powerhouses that powered early heavy metal. These brands all played a pivotal role in shaping the way the guitar sounds today, but so did another iconic British amplifier brand - Hiwatt.
Perhaps the most "refined" of all the classic British designs, Hiwatt amps have become synonymous with beautiful, rounded clean sounds with enough volume to melt the front row of even the largest of audiences. Well, as far as the Super-Hi 50 is concerned, that's half true. Built in Hiwatt's custom shop, the Super-Hi 50 is what happens when you let Mike Fortin loose on the legendary DR504 circuit. The result is an absolute monster of a high gain amp, with enough distortion to make even the most seasoned of metalheads sweat through their corpse paint, and enough power to level small buildings.
In essence, this is a two channel head, but one that heaps scorn on the idea of clean and dirty channels in favour of "dirty and also dirty". To my ear, the two channels are practically indistinguishable (aside from the usual tiny variance you'd expect from a hand-wired amp), and both offer crushing gain that is simultaneously massive and highly articulate - a tough trick to pull off! There's a distinctly old school "three-dimensionality" to the tone, which is more spread out and enveloping than many modern "focussed" sounding high gain amps, but as expansive as the low end is, it's still crazy punchy and responsive and will track your riffs with punishing detail.
Both channels share a powerful three band EQ and master presence control, and there's a shared footswitchable boost that takes the gain from ferocious to world-destroying. Perfectly voiced for both aggressive riffing and searing solos, this boost does all the the things we traditionally reach for a little green overdrive to do, but in a more organic and musical way. It tightens up the low end, pushes the mids and upper mids and slightly rounds out the very high end for an addictive blend of percussive attack and vocal sustain.
While this amp is perfectly voiced for any standard Vintage 30 loaded cab, it really shines with the accompanying Super-Hi cabinet. Sporting a pair of Vintage 30s in the top and a single 15" English-made Fane speaker in the bottom, this cabinet has to be heard to be believed. The V30s snarl and growl just like you'd expect, but the 15 provides a smooth, almost EVM-like bed of midrange punch and low end authority that rounds out the tone in a way that's hard to put into words. It's a little like using a two-amp rig, but with the clarity and focus of a single amp. It's outrageous.
The Hiwatt Super-Hi is an absolute triumph of high gain ferocity. It does one thing, and does it astoundingly well. If you need shimmering cleans, "bedroom" volume modes or silent operation, look elsewhere, and know that the Super-Hi scoffs at your weakness. If you need devastating high gain, and the same only louder, look no further - but be prepared to pony up for the matching cab, too!
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