Welcome to the first installation of The Top Shelf. For this column, I have the enviable task of playing, testing, and gathering opinions from my clientele on bass gear selected from the very top ranks. My goal is to get a feel for the gear, rather than pick it apart or simply restate specs easily found on manufacturers’ websites. The gear will primarily be the sort of gear that is tantalizing but difficult to lay hands on. I hope to build interest in these pieces and help point players in the right direction for their specific needs and preferences.
The first piece I received was a Basslab Soul IV. The moment I picked up the Soul, I realized that this is a very modern, very well-conceived take on the basic Fender Jazz design, and so made me feel comfortable. The bass has a monocoque construction, meaning that it is one piece and, in this case, hollow (as opposed to having a neck-through-body design constructed of many materials glued together). It weighed in the 5-6 lb. range. The purity of the proprietary composite material—which the makers researched extensively over a period of years—and the hollow structure spoke with a lively voice.
The best word for the physicality of the bass is sleek. It feels seamless and, with low-profile hardware and the height of the fingerboard off of the body, it almost plays like it has a ramp. This encourages economy of motion and consistency from one right hand position to another. The sound of the bass matches its clean design: not foreign, but also not derivative. The overall impression is high-fi and defined, with a nice roundness on the bottom. The real magic is in the mid control. This is a two-part affair with a gain control and a frequency sweep that can truly refine the personality of the instrument. There are very few filter-based, on-board preamps, and this one is quite intuitive. The treble is also unique in that it cuts a different frequency than it boosts.
My clients were able to demo this acoustically as well as through the house Demeter VTB-1/Bergantino IP 2×12 rig. We also had a variety of Bag End cabs and pre/power combinations for rigs with more color. The consensus was the Basslab Soul IV gave you the best of both worlds: a time-tested look and basic design coupled with truly cutting-edge materials and components. Visit the Basslab website (www.basslabusa.com) to get your fill of scientifically intense graphs, charts, and studies, if you wish.
The second piece we tested is the Hevos 800D, a class D stereo powered bass head. One of our favorite shop expressions is, “It sure is a good time to be a bass player!”, and this amp drew that comment immediately. This professionally featured amplifier can be run in stereo at 400w per side or bridged to pound out 800w. Amazingly, it takes up only one rack space. This is a remarkable feat. As I read through the manual I was struck by something else which made me very happy. Hevos states that in almost all normal acoustical environments, the eq is superfluous. They give you three bands of mid control just in case things get weird, but they are very confident in the flat sound of their amp. The eq was warm and the frequency points were very logical, so if use your amp eq a lot you will be pleased.
The amp is laid out to make life easy. The left side of the front panel is loaded with features, with an active jack and a passive jack with a switch to shuttle between them. A switch-able mute/tuner out, headphone jack, and input volume control complete this section. On the right are the five bands of eq and output volume controls for the two power amps. The master for channel one serves as the master in bridged mode. The rear panel is equally helpful. Three Neutrik jacks for power amp out—labeled 1, 2, and bridged—are provided, along with a mode switch. There is a variable-effects loop which is footswitch-able as well.
We demoed the amp through a Bergantino HT12 and various Bag End and Ampeg boxes, and a range of four-, five-, and six-string basses in a many different hands. The general take was that the Hevos 800D did indeed sound very much like the bass being played, and had a very nice body to it. The three bands of mids got big thumbs up (no pun intended) as they allowed for a lot of subtle sculpting. The Hevos website (see www.ghservices.com) is thorough with regard to understanding class D power and the Hevos design philosophy.
Both of these pieces were a joy to have in the store, and represent just how far we have come of late. First, a less-than-six-pound J style bass constructed from one piece of a material designed to combine the best aspects of wood and previous composites—wow! And then a pro-featured 800w stereo pre-amp, power amp combination that takes up only one rack space. It really is a good time to be a bass player!