Review of the Mesa/Boogie Subway WD-800 Head and Subway 2X12 Vertical Cabinet
Mesa Engineering long ago earned its reputation as one of the industry leaders in the bass amp world, from their monster D180 and 400+ tube amps of the early to mid 80’s, to some of their killer heads in the 90’s and early 00’s like the Mpulse 600, M-2000 and M6/M9 series. Their current class D killers, the D800 and D800+ have become instant classics in that crowded field of lightweight contenders.
Mesa fans have good reason to expect that when the company releases a new product, it will be smartly engineered, reliable, and will excel at doing what it was designed to do.
Well, hot on the heels of their successful D800 and D800+ amplifiers, Mesa has most recently released its new addition to the Subway line: the WD-800.
The 800 watt, 2 ohm stable WD-800 is no doubt reminiscent of one of Mesa’s most iconic and timeless amps, the Walkabout. It has a similar 3 band semi-parametric EQ and knob layout, and although it’s not exactly meant to be a “Walkabout with a class D power amp” the company says “the goal of the WD-800 was to incorporate the voice and feel aspects of the Walkabout while avoiding the limitations that the Walkabout platform bumped up against (lack of power, headroom, low end bloom, squishiness when driven hard, 2 ohm operation, and the noise level of the fan.”The result is a great sounding, versatile bass head with lots of clarity and a stout class D power section.
Like all Mesa products, the WD-800 feels solid and substantial, without seeming overbuilt or bulky.
It’s not the smallest class-D head on the market, but its numerous features more than makes up for its size. I was particularly impressed with the amp’s EQ capabilities, boasting 3 bands of semi parametric EQ control in addition to a dedicated Bass, Passive Mid (which notably is cut-only), and Treble knob. Between all of these EQ controls, I was able to get the amp superbly dialed in, pretty much nailing any tone shaping requirement for great tone on stage and in the studio. It’s probably a good time to say that I’m what’s known as a “picky bastard” when it comes to EQ and tone in general. I usually roll with a dedicated parametric EQ pedal (my trusty Empress Para EQ) for precise EQ adjustments, as most amps EQ control feels limited. The WD-800 let me abandon my beloved EQ pedal, offering up pretty much everything I felt I needed.
I particularly LOVE the inclusion of a dedicated Variable High Pass Filter on the control layout. This is one of the smartest additions to the WD-800 and D-800+.
The electric bass can produce inaudibly low frequencies that A: our amps work really hard trying to reproduce at the expense of usable low end, B: get really muddy and murky on stage, and C: can exist well below a given cabinets usable low frequency threshold. What does this mean? Simply that you can tighten up the low end and clean up boomy stage mud if you’re hearing it by rolling up the HPF just until you hear the boom subside. This leaves a fat, tight low end firmly in place and cuts the mud, while increasing your amps headroom capacity in the process.
Moving along, the other front panel feature I want to highlight is the “Damping Factor” control.
This unique and innovative tone shaping tool is really cool, albeit subtle. According to Mesa’s manual, the Damping Control offers 3 settings to “loosen up the inherent tightness of the power amp which gives more bounce and makes the amp a little bit more interactive with the speakers. High damping means that there is very little impedance between the amplifier’s output circuitry and the speaker, the feel will be tighter and more controlled. Low damping means that there is more impedance between the amplifier’s output circuitry and the speaker, the feel will be looser and less controlled. Because a speaker is a complex impedance, this “lower damping” interaction can be responsible for a bit more “bloomy”, organic feel.”
I found the Damping control to be more noticeable the louder the amp was operating, which makes perfect sense, since it’s manipulating the function of the power amplifier. I spent most of my time with it in the middle setting, but I liked the “high” setting for more precision and articulation, and the low setting for more bloom and note envelope, like for fretless bass or songs with lots of whole notes or long tones.
The Back panel of the WD800 is similarly flush with all the right details and features.
Dual Speakon outputs, and a bank of ¼” jacks for headphone outputs, an optional footswitch (for Tuner Mute and EQ Bypass), an Effects Loop, Aux input, and Tuner output are all present, as is a mini toggle for 4/8 or 2 ohm operation. A fully featured DI with switches for pre or post EQ , mic or line level, and a ground lift switch is always nice to see. A pet peeve of mine is an amp DI that is “post EQ” only, meaning that anything you change on your amp for your stage monitoring is going out to the front of house signal as well, often to the soundman’s chagrin. Honorable mention/serious bonus points for a rear panel USB jack, for keeping devices powered up and charging on the gig.
Along with the WD-800, Mesa sent over its Subway 2×12 cabinet to check out, and it proved to be an admirable companion to the WD.
A 4-ohm cab rated at 800w, the 52 lb. vertically-oriented 2×12 is very portable, and its tone and high volume handling delivered the goods on a number of gigs. Mesa’s build quality is always on point, and the Subway 2×12 was beefy but still manageable. I liked its tough “Rhino Hide” covering and high quality handles and feet. While some 2×12’s can (in my opinion) sometimes sound boxy or honky and midrange heavy, the Mesa was well balanced and quick and had a rock solid tone, turning out very compelling lows and mids. Its adjustable tweeter provided a present and clear top end without sounding shrill.
I had a great time testing the Mesa Rig on some gigs, both with and without PA support.
Its intuitive layout and no nonsense aesthetic made it pretty easy to make quick adjustments on dark stages, and all of its controls felt user friendly and straightforward. Because of its extensive tone shaping capabilities, it was easy to dial up great bass tone in pretty much every situation, and I was darn impressed by the rig’s overall volume output. A couple times while hammering away on an octave pedal (at what I consider quite high volume-enough to piss off my guitar player anyways), I was very pleased to turn around and not see any activity from the Clip indicator light. Turning the input gain up above noon, I was rewarded with some pretty awesome overdrive and grit from the little amp. I’m not the biggest user or aficionado of distortion, but I liked the musical sound and feel of pushing the WD-800 ‘into the red’ when the situation called for it, and could easily see using that setting for certain gigs and sounds. I loved the fact that it operates safely at 2 ohm’s, which offers a lot of versatility for multiple cab setups.
All in all, it’s pretty hard not to love the WD-800.
It feels very roadworthy and sounds great, and has all the features a working bassist needs for pro performance. I was super impressed with the rig and could easily see adding it to my ‘not nearly comprehensive enough’ arsenal of gig-ready equipment. I asked Mesa’s bass amp guru Andy Field what was next for the company, and he replied: “I can’t address future projects directly, but I can say that I am always working on R&D projects, including basic circuit development that may not be used directly in a new product but may lead to additional circuitry or approaches in future products. This basic R&D allows me to explore things that might lead to exciting new ways of doing things, something that appeals to both the scientist and artist sides of my passion.” Well then, based on my experience with the WD800 and Subway 212, I offer a hearty “giddyup”.
The Mesa WD-800 sells for $999 and includes a handsome and well-padded gig bag/case. The Subway 2×12 sells for $1199 (slipcover included).
For more info, visit www.mesaboogie.com