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Review – Arkham Abyss Tube Bass Preamp

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In the midst of today’s rapid-fire onslaught of newest and greatest products, it’s hard to stand out.

As is often the case, the way a new product cuts through the chatter is not with hyperbole and slick marketing, but when someone you know and trust to have great ears says “man, you gotta hear this thing”.   That’s how I got hip to a tiny shop in Maine called Arkham Sound. And so of course, the unabashed tone hound in me was curious.  When I contacted Micah Smaldone, owner and builder of Arkham, he was kind enough to not only put up with my excessive questions on the phone but send his Abyss preamp in the mail. What arrived was a handsome and robust looking tabletop preamp unit whose feature set and build quality had me interested from the moment I unboxed it.

A little about Arkham Sound:

Micah Smaldone is one of those guys who has been tinkering and experimenting with tube amps and audio equipment since he was a teenager. Originally an acoustic guitarist who in his youth, played in a punk rock band in Boston, Smaldone settled in Maine. “I built a preamp for myself around 10 years ago. I’d been recording an album and was having difficulty with the bass tracks. I cloned a B-15 in a tiny chassis and immediately had the right tone. I felt it worked so well as a standalone unit, I built a few and put them on Reverb or eBay … It took off when someone posted on TalkBass, and I began building them for people. The first one was called the Octling.”

Fast forward to the current state of Arkham Sound.

Micah is busy hand building a line of “Ampeg inspired” preamps for the needs of modern players. I put quotes around “Ampeg inspired” partly because they’re his words, and partly because I find the Abyss to be capable of a wider range of tones and sonic palettes. He may be using Ampeg’s footprint as a starting point, but a couple knob turns jumps the Arkham in to a much broader sonic pool.   The Arkham line consists of 3 preamps, the flagship Zephyr which is a 1u rack preamp which has all of the features of the Abyss, with the addition of a “DI level out” control, a “Pre-out” master volume control, and a Mute switch.  The Bullet pre is the no-frills version of the Arkham line, housed in a slick ammunition case, and features a 2 band EQ with boost switches for “lo”, “mid” and “hi” bands.

When I unboxed the Abyss, I was immediately impressed by its super robust build quality and industrial/military clean and no-nonsense aesthetic.

It is somehow elegant and utilitarian at the same time. All of the knobs have that smooth resistance I love, and the hefty baseball bat switches have a high-quality feel.   The 12ax7 based preamp can be used as a tabletop unit or mounted in a ½ rack with rack ears.

Looking at the feature set, the Abyss has some familiar items and a few unique touches.

The input gain is about what you’d expect. Run it on the low end for clean gain, crank it up above 3 o’clock and you get into overdriven tones.   Running into a power amp with a master volume control, I was able to set it right at the threshold where playing with a light touch was clean and clear, and digging in yielded some very smooth and desirable breakup.    The James Tonestack is essentially a passive Baxandall style tone control circuit and has a very familiar and musical sound to its range.   The treble and bass knob are exceptionally well placed for musicality and versatility.  The hi switch adds a “bright cap” to open up the highs, and the lo switch adds a meaty bump around 80hz, while the mid switch offers a broad bump around 250 Hz, perfect for helping the bass pop through a busy mix.

The last two controls are where things get interesting.  The Abyss features something called a “Range” control.   At first, it’s pretty subtle, but the more I listen to it, the more ingenious I find it. Essentially, it shifts the “tone stack midpoint”, moving the preamps sonic fingerprint up or down to the frequency spectrum to taste, from 150Hz to 1KHz.  I found the sweet spot to be somewhere around 2 o’clock with my rig and according to my tastes, but there is a lot to unpack in that little knob and its relationship to the bass and treble EQ settings, and it’s safe to say that most people will hone in on their happy place pretty quick, and find a great starting point for any additional tone shaping.

The last feature I’ll go over from the front panel is the HPF or “High Pass Filter”.

High pass filters are nothing new, but in the last few years, bass players have started to really get hip to what they do. At their best, they remove subsonic low-frequency rumble which cleans up your stage sound, pockets the low end in a usable way, and reduces the workload on your amp, since it cuts the unnecessary subsonic low frequencies that can hog the power in amplifiers.  I have been using an HPF on my pedalboard for years, and it’s become a “cold dead hands” device for my live rig.   But I digress. Anyways, the HPF on the Arkham is set kind of high on first listen. With a steep cutoff around 150Hz, it does tend to thin out the low end quite a bit.  However, the Arkham seems to be made for a favorite trick of producers and players: using an HPF in combination with bass boost.   By sharply cutting the lows with an HPF and adding them back in with large amounts of EQ (via the bass knob and bass boost switch), you get a less linear and somewhat more energized low end to the sound, which can sound more like a tube power amp being pushed, than a clean tube preamp.  Personally, I preferred the non-HPF’d sound, opting for the leaner, cleaner yet big low end.   But very cool to have these different flavors in one relatively simple box. (Arkham responds:  the cutoff point for the HPF can be set lower if a customer prefers)

The output section of the Abyss is fairly straightforward.

There is a line level ¼” output for connecting to an amplifier, as well as a DI output, which features a “hefty Edcor transformer for full frequency response”.   I had good success plugging the ¼” output into the front end of a bass amp, as well as a power amp input.  The Arkham provides plenty of output and delivers its signature vintage-inspired tone in spades.  I like to think of it as “vintage and then some”

As they always say, the proof is in the pudding.   Great looking, well designed and handsomely outfitted doesn’t really mean much if it doesn’t sound great too.   I took the Abyss to a handful of gigs, including a rock power trio brewery gig, and the Abyss not only delivered, it excelled.  I loved its plump and massive yet firm low end and the full-throated and commanding midrange that sounded like a wall of thickness, but somehow magically didn’t get peaky, bloated or unbalanced.  Sometimes when I hear a piece of gear with a thick low midrange, it can create some buildup around those frequencies resulting in a bloated or boggy low mid profile, but the Arkham seems to be voiced just right, without any of those undesired characteristics.   What’s more, the Range knob allows you to move the tone stacks profile up or down in frequency range, to tailor the Abyss’s luscious sonic footprint for the particular needs of your bass, cabinet, room, or taste.

In addition to my own sense of auditory satisfaction, I was surprised by how other people responded to it.

Band members that I’ve played dozens of gigs with remarked at how great the bass sounded on stage, and asked about what kind of magic box I’m using.  Audience members, known to be painfully oblivious to good bass tone, came up to me asking about my rig and remarking how good the bass sounded in the room.  I take that as a strong indicator, as their obliviousness can be a good reference point for an unbiased opinion.

All in all, it’s easy to see that I was very impressed with the Arkham.

While there is really no shortage of cool pre-amplification and DI options on the market right now, there are always standouts.  I have a short list of tube DI’s/preamps that I think are the bee’s knees, and the Arkham is firmly planted on that small pedestal.  It is easy to use, well built, sounds fantastic and is reasonably priced for what it is and what it does.   At $700, it competes strongly with some of the popular and hip tube preamps du jour.  And the best news?  Arkham is in the process of designing an integrated head, combining all the features and tones of the Abyss with an ultra-high-powered, lightweight, state of the art class D power section.  Also on the bench is an Arkham preamp in pedal format.

For more information on sales and lots of interesting technical info, visit Arkham’s website and follow them on Facebook

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Bass Videos

Review: Minuendo Lossless Earplugs Live 17dB

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Review: Minuendo Lossless Earplugs Live 17dB

Minuendo Lossless Earplugs Live 17dB…

Minuendo Lossless Earplugs Live 17dB – Hearing protection has always been front and center on my mind because I love music so much, I cannot imagine my life if I were unable to hear.

You might remember back in 2021, we had a good look at the Minuendo Lossless Earplugs featuring adjustable protection. This system has a lot of very good features but there was always the question of how much sound attenuation to choose.

Now, the great folks at Minuendo have come up with a new version of their earplugs that has a set 17dB noise reduction. You still get a lot of the great features of the adjustables but you just don’t have to think about the specific sound level. In addition, this new version of earplugs comes at a very attractive price point.

For more information, visit online at Minuendo.com

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Gear Reviews

Review: Joyo Tidal Wave Preamp

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Review: Joyo Tidal Wave Preamp

Joyo Tidal Wave Preamp: A Tribute to 90’s Iconic Sounds

Disclaimer: This pedal was kindly provided by Joyo for the purpose of this review. However, this does not influence our opinion or the content of our review. We strive to provide honest, unbiased, and accurate assessments to ensure that our readers receive truthful and helpful information.

In the realm of bass preamp/DI pedals, capturing the essence of iconic tones from the 90s can often feel like an elusive pursuit. However, the Joyo Tidal Wave Preamp emerges as a great option for bass players seeking to replicate the signature sounds of that era, particularly the revered tech21 SansAmp. With its robust feature set and compact design, the Tidal Wave offers a faithful homage to classic rock tones and low-gain distortions, all while providing modern conveniences for today’s bassist. Let’s delve into why the Joyo Tidal Wave stands out as a versatile and budget-friendly tool for both stage and studio.

Specs:

Measuring at 130 * 110 * 50 mm and weighing 442g, the Joyo Tidal Wave strikes a balance between portability and durability, making it ideal for gigging musicians and studio enthusiasts alike. With a power consumption of just 100 mA and a working voltage of DC 9V, the Tidal Wave ensures reliable performance in a variety of settings.

Controls:

At the heart of the Tidal Wave’s versatility lies its comprehensive control set, allowing bass players to sculpt their tone with precision. Key features include:

– Level: Sets the overall output volume of the pedal.

– Blend: Blends the dry signal with the cab-emulated signal, offering seamless integration of the pedal into any setup.

– Presence: Controls the dynamics of the high upper-mids, crucial for shaping drive tones.

– Drive: Introduces low-gain distortions and classic rock sounds into the clean tone.

– Treble, Middle, and Bass: Provides a 3-band EQ with frequency selectors for bass (40Hz – 80Hz) and mids (500Hz – 1KHz), offering ample control over tonal shaping.

– Middle Shift and Bass Shift: Allows for further fine-tuning of midrange and bass frequencies.

– Ground Lift: Helps eliminate ground loop noise in certain setups.

– DI Attenuation Switch: Adjusts the level of the DI output signal.

– LED Light Switch Control: Allows users to customize the ambient lighting of the pedal.

Performance:

True to its inspiration, the Joyo Tidal Wave excels in delivering classic rock tones and low-gain distortions reminiscent of the tech21 SansAmp. Whether you’re seeking gritty overdriven sounds or pristine clean tones, the Tidal Wave offers unparalleled flexibility and sonic versatility. The inclusion of a headphone out, XLR DI out with cab simulation, and throughout for the original bass sound make the Tidal Wave a versatile tool for both stage and studio applications. From practicing silently with headphones to crafting quality recordings in an ampless setup, the Tidal Wave delivers on all fronts with clarity, definition, and unmistakable character.

Pros:

The Tidal Wave boasts an array of advantages that set it apart from its direct competitors:

– Headphone Out: Transforms the pedal into a convenient practice tool.

– Size and Weight: Compact and lightweight design for easy transportation and setup.

– Rugged Construction: Durable build quality ensures longevity and reliability.

– DI and CabSim: Offers professional-grade direct recording capabilities with authentic cab simulation.

– Familiar Tones: Faithfully replicates the classic rock sounds of the tech21 SansAmp.

Cons:

While the Tidal Wave excels in many aspects, it does have a few drawbacks:

– Plastic Knobs: Knobs may feel less premium compared to pedals with metal controls.

– Cab Simulation Only on XLR Output: Limited cab simulation functionality may require additional routing for certain setups.

Conclusion:

In conclusion, the Joyo Tidal Wave Preamp stands as a testament to the enduring legacy of classic rock tones from the 90s. With its faithful homage to the tech21 SansAmp, comprehensive control set, and modern conveniences like headphone out and XLR DI with cab simulation, the Tidal Wave offers bassists a versatile  tool for sculpting their sound with precision and finesse. Whether you’re seeking to replicate iconic tones from the past or forge new sonic territories, the Joyo Tidal Wave Preamp is sure to inspire creativity and elevate your playing to new heights.

Available online at Amazon.com

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Gear Reviews

Review: Joyo Scylla Compressor

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Review: Joyo Scylla Compressor

Joyo Scylla Compressor: When Quality meets Budget-Friendly

Disclaimer: This pedal was kindly provided by Joyo for the purpose of this review. However, this does not influence our opinion or the content of our review. We strive to provide honest, unbiased, and accurate assessments to ensure that our readers receive truthful and helpful information.

In the diverse landscape of effects pedals for bass guitar, finding a compressor that strikes the balance between performance, versatility, and affordability can often feel like a daunting task. 

However, amidst the sea of options, one pedal stood out as a true diamond in the rough – the Joyo Scylla compressor. Despite its wallet-friendly price tag, the Scylla boasts a great array of features and controls typically reserved for pedals with much higher costs. Let’s take a closer look at why the Joyo Scylla is turning heads and earning praise among bassists on a budget.

Specs: The Joyo Scylla compressor measures in at 109 * 72 * 48 mm and weighs a mere 234g, making it both compact and lightweight – perfect for gigs or studio sessions where space is at a premium. With a power consumption of just 100 mA and a working voltage of DC 9V, the Scylla is efficient and versatile, compatible with a wide range of pedalboard setups.

Controls: What sets the Scylla apart from its direct competitors is its comprehensive control set, offering bassists a good amount of flexibility in shaping their sound. With six knobs, the Scylla allows for a very precise adjustment of key parameters:

  • Input Gain: Adjusts the amount of signal being fed into the compressor.
  • Output Volume: Controls the makeup gain after compression, ensuring consistent output levels.
  • Compression Ratio: Unlike traditional compressor pedals with preset ratio options, the Scylla features a continuous knob, allowing for seamless adjustment from subtle compression to limiter-like effects.
  • Attack and Release: Determine how quickly the compression engages and releases, offering a range of tonal possibilities from punchy and aggressive to smooth and subtle.
  • Output Tone Control: A unique feature not commonly found in compressor pedals, the tone knob adjusts the coloration of the compressed signal, adding warmth or brightness to your bass tone.
  • LED Light Switch Control: Allows users to customize the ambient lighting of the pedal, adding a touch of visual flair to their setup.
  • Performance: In practice, the Joyo Scylla delivers where it matters most – in sound quality and performance. Whether you’re aiming for a tight, punchy bass sound or smooth, sustained notes, the Scylla excels in providing transparent compression that enhances your playing without sacrificing dynamics. The granular control offered by its knobs allows for precise tailoring of compression settings to suit a wide range of playing styles and musical genres.
  • Pros: The Scylla’s strengths lie in its granular control, versatility, and compact design. Its sturdy build quality and diminutive size make it a welcome addition to any pedalboard, occupying minimal real estate without compromising on functionality. However, perhaps the most impressive aspect of the Scylla is its price point. Despite offering professional-grade features, the Scylla remains accessible to bassists of all budgets.
  • Cons: While the Joyo Scylla excels in many areas, it’s not without its drawbacks. One notable omission is the lack of metering, which may pose a challenge for users seeking visual feedback on compression levels. Additionally, the plastic knobs, while functional, may feel somewhat less premium compared to other pedals. 
  • Conclusion: In conclusion, the Joyo Scylla compressor emerges as a great option in the world of budget-friendly effects pedals for bass guitar. Its comprehensive control set, transparent compression, and compact design make it a compelling choice for bassists seeking professional-grade performance without breaking the bank. From its intuitive interface to its thoughtful touches like the tone knob and customizable LED lighting, the Scylla delivers a level of versatility and functionality that belies its modest price tag. For bassists looking to elevate their tone without compromising on quality or affordability, the Joyo Scylla compressor is a clear standout.

For more information, visit online at joyoaudio.com/product/265.html

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Bass Videos

String Instrument Humidifiers

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String Instrument Humidifiers

String Instrument Humidifiers

After living in some very humid parts of the country for decades, we moved to a dryer, much sunnier location. As a result, I started noticing some fret sprout on my string instruments and recently did a video on fret sprout correction.

It occurred to me that I should take a more preventative approach to string instrument humidification. Of course, I turned to my instrument maintenance experts, Music Nomad Equipment Care, for a solution and they suggested their Humitar series. (Note: They sent two press samples and I purchased the remainder online.)

Join me as I look at these useful tools for keeping my string instruments in tip-top condition.

The Humitar series is available online at Music Nomad Equipment Care, as well as Amazon.com

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Bass Videos

Review: CrystalBright Rombo Picks

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Review: CrystalBright Rombo Picks

CrystalBright Rombo Picks

PR Sample

Playing bass with a pick is still a touchy subject in our community. I believe you should be able to use whatever you need to get your sound. Even though I mostly play with my fingers, I like to check out innovative new picks that might have something new to offer, sonically speaking.

Judith and Carlos from Rombo recently contacted me about a new material called CrystalBright that they have been researching for the last 12 months and offered to send some prototype picks. After trying them out, I put together this video with my findings.

For more info check out @rombopicks

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