Following in the footsteps of its predecessors, the second version of PRS's coveted Archon 50 tube amplifier delivers the full spectrum of saturated distortion that today's modern metal guitarists crave. Its 50-watt design conjures unabated sonic fury at bedroom and headroom levels, with master volumes on each channel to find the perfect level without affecting your tone. Nick Jennison Reviews.
Amongst high gain enthusiasts (like myself), the PRS Archon is rightly held in high esteem. Sitting somewhere between the two sonic "poles" of heavy guitar tone - the 5150 and the Dual Rectifier - but with perhaps a dash of Uberschall thrown in for good measure, its ferocious mid-focussed grind has found favour with metal guitar luminaries like Mark Tremonti, Jeff Loomis, Mark Holcomb and Jason Richardson.
You may be wondering, "if this amp is that good, how come it's not more popular then?". Well, as with all things PRS, quality comes with a price. For the 100w model with the flamed maple front, you wouldn't even get enough change out of £2000 to buy a beer, and the 50w model wasn't much cheaper. I say "wasn't" because these models have been discontinued for a while, so even if you could afford the hefty price tag, getting hold of one was a challenge in itself.
Enter the re-issued Archon 50. It's essentially the same amp as its predecessor, but you can pick one up for less than a grand. I know! It's nuts! If your first thought is, "well, it can't possibly be as good as the original for that price", I'd encourage you to check out some of the detailed comparisons of the old and new models online. There's literally no difference.
So what are we dealing with here? Well, the Archon 50 is a two channel, 50w amp available in both head and 1x12 combo formats - the inner workings of the amp are the same in both. Each channel sports a "volume" (read: gain) control, master volume, three-band EQ and bright switch, along with a shared presence and depth control. Power comes courtesy of a pair of 6CA7 power valves, with no less than SIX ECC83s in the preamp section for a frankly insane amount of gain.
Channel switching comes courtesy of a single TS footswitch, and thankfully PRS has done away with the custom DIN socket found on previous models. This not only means that if you lose the original footswitch you can replace it with any standard one-button footswitch, but it also means you can control the amp from your G3/ES-8/Helix etc, without having to use a custom cable. While I wish the bright switch was foot-switchable, too, this is a huge step in the right direction, in my opinion.
On to the sounds then, and the Archon 50 absolutely does not disappoint in this regard. The clean channel is broad, open and expansive with great note separation and a nice touch of compression, making for a really pleasant playing experience. Often these "cleaner than clean" sounds can feel a little stiff and anaemic, but not here. Flip on the bright switch, and you're presented with some beautiful high-end sparkle, but there isn't a huge gulf between the "bright" and "normal" sounds like you often find on older Fender amps. Each setting is beautifully balanced and works well with a variety of drive pedals. To be honest, the amp is worth the price for the clean channel alone.
The lead channel, by contrast, is positively furious. When I say there's a LOT of gain, that's not an understatement. In fact, I'm struggling to think of an amp with more distortion on tap. It's enough to take a low output single-coil pickup (like the Silver Sky featured in the video that accompanies this review) and turn it into an all-out, thickly saturated modern metal tone. Crucially however, even with the gain dimed and more filth than you could ever conceive of using, the Archon 50 remains tight, focussed and easy on the ears. With the bright switch disengaged, the tone is thick and buttery smooth with an incredible harmonic sustain, but flipping the bright switch on will reward you with a massively articulate and touch-responsive sound that cuts like a laser beam, but never sounds harsh or fatiguing even at extreme gain levels.
Interestingly, the combo version of the Archon 50 comes loaded with a Celestion V-Type as opposed to the industry standard Vintage 30s (like the ones in our studio 4x12). This does somewhat soften the attack of the amp's dirty channel and bring it into more "old school" territory, but for my money, the real magic happens when you run this amp through a larger, closed-back cab.
So yes, the Archon is back, and the new model is just as outrageously good as the originals - except now it's much easier to fit into your budget. If you're into high gain tones, you need this amp in your arsenal.
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