Gear Impressions and Luthier Spotlight With Jake Wolf: Markbass LMtube800 Head and NY604 Cabs
To say that the folks at Markbass are on a roll might be putting it mildly. They’ve been busy churning out a dizzying array of new innovative products for bassists, as well as thoughtful revisions and updates for their most popular models. Recently, they sent me their new LMtube800 head along with a pair of NY604 cabs to check out, and I was as impressed by its dwarfish footprint as I was by the glorious tone emanating from this small wonder.
The LMtube800 is a descendant of the Little Mark II, one of the most popular bass heads of recent years, due to its attractive combination of low weight, modest price, and great tone. The 6.5 lb, 500 watt, $600 LMII swept through the US market selling like hot cakes, and Markbass has responded by giving birth to a handful of LM inspired heads, like the LMtube800, the flagship of the Little Mark product line.
When I unpacked the tube800, I noted the differences between the LMtube800 and the LMII. For starters, the tube800 has two input channels with independent gain controls. Channel 1 features a combo ¼ and XLR input jack for increased connectivity- very handy for anyone who brings two different basses to their gigs (or upright players looking to blend a mic with a pickup). The 2 channels do however share eq, tone filters, and master volume controls. Other notable front panel differences from the LMII include a dedicated DI line out volume control (the LMII DI send was controlled by the amp’s input gain: Effective, but limited), a master volume “pull-to-mute” function, and of course, the tube blend control. Run the knob at 0 and its pure solid state, but as you turn it clockwise you introduce the 12ax7 based tube circuit. When the knob is at noon, theoretically the two circuits are blended equally. More on that in a bit. Moving right along on the front panel, it seems Markbass has responded to customer feedback in the aesthetics department, by switching up the color scheme. Markbass softened the bumble bee look by using a dark metallic green for the faceplate, and color coded some of the knobs, which helps differentiate controls on a dark stage and looks pretty sweet. The back panel is more similar to the LMII, but noteworthy features include pre/post and ground lift switches for its DI; very handy for working pro’s who encounter weird/bad sound systems or “less than gifted” soundguys.
Under the hood is where we see most of the distinction between the LMtube800 and LMII. Whereas the LMII utilized class A/B amplifier technology to achieve its signature tone, feather weight, and power, the 800 utilizes class D technology to achieve even higher wattage and clarity from the head. The tube channel adds versatility and increases options for tone shaping. This would be a good time to bring up the functionality of this control. I have been keeping up with people’s assessment of the LMtube800, and many have said that they don’t hear a real difference between the tube and solid state settings. I will say that in my testing, I was able to discern a difference, but it was by no means night and day. If I had to classify one vs. the other, I would say that the tube setting felt a tad fuller in the low mids, and had a stronger leading edge note attack. In comparison, the solid state setting performed more evenly, had a more refined and level tonal and dynamic response. In truth they both sounded great, and without the A/B comparison, I never would have felt it lacking in either setting. I did find it a bit frustrating that the overall volume increased dramatically when the knob was set at noon (blending the two evenly). It made master volume adjustments necessary when the tube settings were changed.
Sound wise, I have to admit that I was a little surprised by the tone from the LMtube800 out of the box. I have become accustomed to the syrupy sweet midrange, and round bottom on my LMII. By contrast (in SS mode), the 800 sounded quicker, had more upper midrange articulation, and had a tighter low end. My sense is that this difference is courtesy of the class D power section. I was quickly able to adjust and find my tone with the ever intuitive eq/filter section, and the amp performed beautifully with a number of different cabs and basses. To my ears, the 800 didn’t sound that much louder than the 500, but where I did notice the extra power was with cabs that felt underpowered by the LMII. Again, this may be due to the voicing of the head, but a couple of my large cabs seemed to “open up” a bit more with the 800 than with the LMII.
Overall the tube800 is a wonderful amp. It addresses some of the improvements I felt the LMII needed, and in typical Markbass fashion, everything is intuitively packaged in a great form factor. Price-wise, the LMtube800 comes in at $799, the tubeless LM800 is 50 bucks less, and the new LMIII (replacing the LMII) stays put at $599. In my opinion, the 800 is a great deal for what you get. Power packed, feature laden, and of course, great tone!
Markbass NY 604 cabs
Marketed primarily to big city bassists who use public transit, the little cube shaped NY 604 cabs feature four custom B&C 6″ drivers and a 1″ compression horn in a rear ported cabinet. A top mounted tweeter attenuator puts the control in a more player friendly position. Like all of the Markbass cabs I’ve checked out, the 604 seemed very solid and well built, with high quality hardware and carpeting. Both cabs were rattle free. One snag: The 604 only has one handle which is top mounted (a nice one at that, but still, I would like to see another option for loading or carrying it). When you put an amp on top, it obscures the sole handle, and it’s hard to maneuver or reposition it.
The cabs sounded impressive, especially given their size and weight. It’s hard not to be impressed by a 33 pound 17″ cube that doles out a substantial amount of volume and low end. I wasn’t expecting arena rattling sub-bass from these guys, but I was pleasantly surprised by how they did perform. Buttery and smooth sounding, they produced a sweet full range tone that extended quite nicely down low, although it was easy to push them to their limits. The rear ported design helped to fill the stage with juicy thickness, but as purely a matter of personal taste, I’m not a huge fan of rear ported designs. They send a lot of the energy to the back wall increasing boom on stage, but not projecting as well out front. Not a big deal if you regularly use front of house sound, but for those gigs where the bass cab needs to carry the room, it’s less than ideal. I didn’t get a chance to audition the 604 with an upright, but given my impressions with electric basses, I would really like to try it out with a doghouse. I think it would sound pretty stellar. The 604 excelled the most in smaller, more intimate settings. The natural tone and warm bottom blended perfectly with a handful of acoustic instruments, as it did in rehearsal settings at lower volumes with electric instruments.
The 604 cabs absolutely achieve their goal of providing great solid tone and reasonable volume for their size. I could definitely see picking one or two up if size was a real issue for me. In the tone dept, it’s not necessarily the cab I would pick for a rock gig, although I did bring it to a blues jam and it held its own quite nicely. The 604’s run about $799 a piece, which seems a bit on the high side given the price points of their other cabinets, but then again, there’s a lot packed into these guys, and they sound great. If space is an issue and you’re after a warm, natural tone, I highly recommend putting a 604 on your list of cabs to audition.
For more info, check out www.markbass.it
Jake Wolf welcomes your comments and questions… drop him a line