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Mesa/Boogie Subway WD-800 Head and Subway 2X12 Vertical Cabinet Review

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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

Gear Reviews

Gear Review: Origin Effects Cali76 Compact Bass

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Gear Review: Origin Effects Cali76 Compact Bass

Origin Effects Cali76 Compact Bass Review…

Throughout the evolution of music, bass players have sought tools to sculpt and enhance their sonic landscapes, and one indispensable ally in this pursuit has been compression. Origin Effects, a name synonymous with premium audio craftsmanship, introduces the Cali76 Compact Bass Compressor, a pedal that pays homage to the legacy of compression and brings forth a new chapter in bass sonic mastery.

As we delve into the world of the Cali76 Compact Bass Compressor, we’ll explore how Origin Effects seamlessly weaves together the heritage of compression and contemporary bass demands, promising a pedal that not only honors the past but propels your bass playing into the future. Join us on this sonic expedition as we dissect the nuances of the Cali76 Compact and uncover the secrets it holds for bass players seeking the perfect blend of vintage warmth and modern versatility.

For Starters, the Cali76 is a studio-grade FET compressor pedal, based on the classic Urei 1176, but with some features optimized for bass guitar. For those of you who are not familiar with it, a FET (Field Effect Transistor) compressor is essentially a solid-state tube compressor emulation that allows for fast and precise control over the attack and the release parameters; allows for extreme compression ratios; and finally adds the typical 1176 color and character to the sound.

Together with the common controls we see in most compressor pedals – Ratio, Attack/Release, input (just like the original 1176, the threshold in this pedal is fixed), and output (makeup gain). The Cali76 offers two more controls dedicated to us bass players.

A Dry control – This allows us to mix in our dry, uncompressed signal to the pedal output. This is great for when we want to add back some of our playing dynamics to the compressed sound or for when you want some volume back in situations where the compression starts taking away the volume.

A High Pass Filter control – Low frequencies on a bass guitar signal normally overwhelm compressors. This high pass filter allows the compressor to only react to higher frequencies, which helps preserve the natural dynamics of our playing while keeping the low end intact.

Metering on this pedal can be a bit hard to get used to at first. There’s a single LED light on the pedal, that not only serves as an On/Off light, but it’s also our meter. It glows red when no compression is applied and orange for active compression. The brighter the light, the greater the amount of gain reduction. Yellow signifies that the gain reduction reached 27dB and maximum reduction occurs around 38 dB.

In practical terms, it’s all about working with the input and the LED to find the sweet spot (turn the input to zero, start playing and slowly increase the input level until you start seeing the LED glowing orange, which means there’s reduction going on).

With 6 highly interactive knob controls, this pedal implies some degree of compressor knowledge and also some amount of tweaking and experimentation to find the perfect settings. The good news is that it is very hard to make this pedal sound bad…

It can go from very subtle compression settings to very extreme, and it can do everything in between. Also, the team at Origin has been kind enough to add a couple of sample settings in the manual to get players started and to help us understand better how the pedal works.

Origin Effects Cali76 Compact Bass

Dynamic Control is a setting that provides natural compression, balancing dynamics between various playing techniques. It is a subtle compression that will work almost out of the box almost all the time. Having a medium setting for the High Pass Filter ensures an honest translation of the lower string dynamics.

Origin Effects Cali76 Compact Bass

Parallel compression is a popular studio technique, where both compressed and natural signals are blended. We get the sound and feel of hard compression while retaining the natural playing dynamics.

Origin Effects Cali76 Compact Bass

Percussive, lively & Fat is a setting that uses a slower attack time to accentuate the start of any note. Then using a fast release allows the compressor to recover between notes so that the phrases sound more percussive. Ideal for slapping and other percussive techniques.

Finally, I would like to mention the classic 1176 tonal coloration. It’s not a secret that engineers all around would sometimes use the 1176 compressor, without applying any compression, just to get the tonal coloration into the instrument sound.

And the Cali76 compressor is no different, it has such a rich, warm, and full coloration that’s super pleasing to the ear and makes you want to have it ON all the time. So be aware, that if you want a transparent compressor, this pedal is not for you!

All in all, it is easy to understand why this pedal became a favorite of so many bass players around the world. The Cali76 Compact stands as a testament to the meticulous craftsmanship and thoughtful engineering that Origin Effects is renowned for. It seamlessly navigates through the rich history of compression, offering bass players a gateway to the soulful resonance of the past while empowering them to sculpt a contemporary sonic future.

Whether you’re a seasoned bass maestro or a budding virtuoso, the Cali76 Compact invites you to embark on a sonic journey where every note is held in a delicate balance between tradition and innovation. As we bid farewell to our exploration, we do so with the realization that the Cali76 Compact is more than just a pedal; it’s a sonic companion that elevates the artistry of bass playing

For more information, visit online at origineffects.com

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Gear Reviews

Spector NS Ethos HP 4 Bass Review

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Spector NS Ethos HP 4 Bass Review

Spector NS Ethos HP 4 Bass Review…

Not long ago, I did a review of the Spector NS Dimension HP 5 Bass and I have just been given the honor and privilege of reviewing the Spector NS Ethos HP 4 Bass. I have to say, another great bass from Spector that is hard to put down! While there are some similarities between both basses, there are also some noticeable differences which is why I believe having both is essential to any bass arsenal.

Spector, widely used by many rock and metal bassists like Ian Hill, Alex Webster, Colin Edwin, Doug Wimbish, and many more, just to name a few, has a long-standing in these genres. Well, that’s about to change! The bass I used for the review, didn’t see any of those genres, matter of fact, I used it on a few classic country gigs and at church too! However, when at home in the studio, I let the funk out. The NS Ethos HP 4 Bass is an all-around great bass for any genre and will not disappoint.

Let’s get into the specs about the bass, and here we will find the differences between the HP 5 Bass and the HP 4.

Forget that one is a 5 string, while the other is a 4, while that is a difference, that’s not one that I feel needs to be noted as both models are available as 4 and 5 strings. The Spector NS Ethos HP 4 Bass has a 34” scale, 24 fret, 3 piece maple neck through construction with solid alder wings, ebony fingerboard along with centered and side dots and the 12th fret Spector logo inlay with a brass nut.

While the pickups are different as the NS Dimension HP 5 Bass uses the EMG 45DC and the NS Ethos HP 4 Bass sports the EMG 35DC pickups, they are the same pickup configurations, the difference being, one for 4 string, the other for 5 string. The electronics are the same, consisting of a Darkglass Tone Capsule preamp which consists of +-12dB @70Hz for Bass, +-12dB @500Hz for Mids, and +-12dB @2.8kHz for Hi Mids. Controls for Spector NS Dimension HP 5 Bass consist of Master Volume, Blend, Bass, Mid, and Hi Mid controls. The electronics are powered by a 9-volt battery.

The bridge is a Hi-Mass locking bridge with intonation screws and the tuners are sealed die-cast. All hardware is black. Same as the Spector NS Dimension HP 5 Bass, the HP 4 Bass is available in 4 different finishes, White Sparkle Gloss, Gunmetal Gloss, Plum Crazy Gloss & Black Gloss. The bass also comes with a very nice and well-padded gig bag.

Check out the Spector NS Ethos HP 4 Bass at a Spector Music Retailer today near you or visit online at spectorbass.com/product/ns-ethos-hp-4/

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Gear Reviews

Review: Italia Leather Straps

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Review: Italia Leather Straps

Italia Leather Straps…

Whenever I get a new bass, I like to get a new strap to christen it and I also like to find one that is “color coordinated” to my new instrument. I recently had a 6-string fretless bass created by a local luthier named Frank Brocklehurst, which started my search for a new strap.

There are a few points that I always look for when searching for a new strap. 

1-Comfort 
2-Width
3-Great color
4-Price

My most recent quest put me in touch with “Italia Leather Straps.” Italia has been in business in California for about 20 years and has been selling factory direct for the past 18 years.

When you order your strap it begins its “made to order” build process and after shipping more than 50,000 straps they certainly have it well in hand!

To answer my 4 questions regarding comfort, Italia uses some of the most comfortable and luxurious leather in a wide variety of colors. I was able to match almost perfectly the color of my bass and the color of the leather.

You can order it in either a 2.5” or 4” width as well as a standard and long model for tall players. I prefer the 4” for all of my basses. 

I received my strap and I must tell you, the leather was soft, supple, and truly comfortable when I attached it to my bass.

I must commend Italia Leather Straps for their attention to detail and beautiful selection of leather. I would say that when you go looking for a new strap, these guys should be on your shortlist.

Call or visit Italia Leather Straps online:
831-324-4277
www.italiastraps.com

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Bass Videos

Review: The Fuchs FBT-700 Bass Amps

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Review: The Fuchs FBT-300 and FBT-700 Bass Amps

Fuchs FBT-700 Bass Amps…

Much like our original ODS amps were initially inspired by the legendary Dumble amps, the new Fuchs FBS-1 bass amps have found their inspiration from the iconic Walter Woods © bass amps, but with Andy’s own enhancements.

Andy tapped his years of experience as a working musician, as well as servicing and tweaking guitar and bass amps for many famous clients as diverse as Carlos Santana through jammers like Jimmy Herring, including jazz legends like Dave Stryker for over 40 years as inspiration for our new bass amps. Fuchs’ 20-year list of reviews and endorsers is truly impressive to say the least.

Not unlike the iconic Walter Woods © amps the FBS-300 and FBS-700 amps are designed for maximum power at minimal size and weight. For years, the rare and coveted Woods amps have built a following amongst industry professionals. They were literally the first switch mode class-D style lightweight bass amps ever. Due to Walter being reclusive and now retired, these amps found their way to Andy’s shop to be repaired. While servicing them Andy was able to reverse engineer the preamp and power supply. Mated to a modern lightweight ICE power digital power module we have produced an amp that Woods owners agree, is equal (if not better) than their predecessors.

The FBS-1 bass amps (and our FBT tube bass amps) share identical panels and chassis and are available in 300 and 700-watt models, they feature a solid-state preamp inspired by the infamous Walter Woods © amps, but with improvements like a steep-slope subsonic filter and a DI output using high-speed audiophile op amps and a regulated power supply. The DI output is electrically balanced pre/post switch, ground lift, DI Phase, and a global mute switch.

Small and light, (downright diminutive) at less than 5-lbs and 12 x 3 x 9, they are loud and clean. Want some dirt? Raise the input gain and lower the master volume. Want total clean, lower the input gain and raise the master. They are super easy to operate, and the FBS-1  amps will easily fit in a gig bag, run ice-cold, and feature a well-thought-out, simple configuration for the working musician. A Fuchs gig bag designed for all models is coming soon.

These amps feature an input gain control allowing both passive and active bass use, Baxandall (shelving eq) high and low controls, a parametric rotary midrange control with level and frequency control and an output master volume. With the midrange pot in the ‘0’ position the circuit is flat. In this mode the bass and treble pots emulate the classic Woods and B-15 style amps we know and love. Use the mid circuit for boost and cut of up to 20 db at a fully adjustable frequency.

All models use the industry-standard Ice power modules, which are known for their rock-solid reliability and excellent cool-running, audio performance. These amps feature a buffered patch loop between the preamp and power amp. All amps offer worldwide automatic line voltage selection. Wherever you are, they automatically set their own line voltage. All amps are CE and RoHs compliant.

FBT-300 6 lbs 12 x 3 x 9 chassis. FBT-700 6 lbs 12 x 3 x 9 chassis.

FBT-300: 300W at 1% THD+N, 4Ohm • 260W at 0.1% THD+N, 4Ohm • 380W at 10% THD+N, 4Ohm • 450W at 1% THD+N, 2.7Ohm (Approximately ½ half this value at 8-ohms).

For more information, visit online at fuchsaudiotechnology.com

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Bass Videos

Review: Ampeg V12 Bass Amp & VB 115 Cab

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Review: Ampeg V12 Bass Amp & VB 115 Cab

A video review of the Ampeg V12 Bass Amp & VB-115 Cab from the new Venture Series.

For more on the Venture series, visit online at ampeg.com

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