Mesa Boogie Subway TT-800 Bass Amplifier review…
I have had the good fortune to review several of Mesa Boogie’s offerings in recent years, going back to their M6 Carbine head several years ago. More recently, I reviewed the WD-800 head, from the popular Subway series and Subway 2×12 cabinet. One thing is for sure, Mesa has been at it for a long time, and it shows. Every time I play one of their heads or cabinets, I think to myself, “yep, this is pretty much just what I hoped it would be.” I guess it’s reasonable to expect such results from a company that’s been at the forefront of the industry for as long as they have. With all of their products, there is just something about the form factor, build quality, and performance that feels like the cumulative outcome of decades of top-notch design and manufacturing. When I got the opportunity to check out their newest amp and flagship of the Subway Series, the TT-800, needless to say, I jumped at the chance.
The Subway TT-800 is an exciting amalgam of two of Mesa’s most iconic products, both modern-day and that of yesteryear.
It is a two-channel bass amp, and while channel 2’s preamplifier is based on the ever-popular and great sounding Subway D-800 amplifier, channel 1 borrows from the formidable and iconic Bass 400+ of the late ’80s. Long ago, the tank-like Bass 400+ was the pinnacle of cutting edge electric bass amplification, pairing a high power tube amplifier with sophisticated tone-shaping and EQ. It was seen on stage with countless bass icons and was lauded by players and techs alike for its killer tone, massive payload, and roadworthy dependability. When Mesa said they were building a Class D, two-channel amplifier that incorporates some of the design and tonal elements of the Bass 400+, I wondered how they could go wrong. The answer, of course, is that they haven’t—the TT-800 fires on all cylinders, delivering exceptional tone shaping, flexibility, and performance.
I will go over the controls and features of the amp here, but it should be noted that Mesa’s owner’s manual for the TT-800 is full of great information, including background info on the design goals of the amp and some excellent suggestions for best results. It is also well written and easy to digest, which is not something that you can say for many amplifier product manuals. The TT-800’s owner’s manual could, and should be the benchmark for bass gear owner manuals. You can find a copy online here.
On the front panel, from left to right, you’ll find a single ¼” input jack, a Mute switch, a High/Low Gain switch (for tailoring the input level to your desired gain preferences), along with Deep and Bright switches for global tone shaping. From there, the signal splits into channel 1 and channel 2, which you can select via the small switch on the far right-hand side (or the optional footswitch, which offers a Mute and Channel Select controls). Both channels provide independent Input Gain controls and Mesa’s Variable High Pass Filter (HPF), from their D-800+ head. The HPF allows you to dial out the deep, subsonic, rumbly lows that can muddy up your stage sound, and make your amp and cab work overtime to produce frequencies that are below the usable range for bass guitar. In the last ten or so years, bass players seem to have discovered what pro audio and live sound engineers have known for decades: that carving out unusably subsonic low end can drastically help make your bass sound tighter, fuller and punchier, in a mix. It’s great to see this essential tone shaping tool make it onto the front panel of an amplifier!
From there, the tone controls, while similar, depart from one another. Channel 1 (the 400+ channel) is designed as an “old school” sound, with an all-tube gain stage that feeds a traditional Mesa-style tone stack with Bass and Treble controls, and a Mid-control with “Mid-Shift” voicing knob, allowing for more broad midrange shaping. Channel 2 (The Subway channel) is inspired by the highly popular Subway series of amps (D-800, D-800+, and WD-800) and includes the High Pass Filtering control as well as traditional Bass and Treble and a semi-parametric midrange section that lets you boost/cut a user-selectable midrange frequency, for more precise midrange sculpting.
Both channels boast independent effects loops that can be used as “power amp inputs,” bypassing the amplifier’s preamps and tone controls for each channel on the TT-800, allowing the amplifier to function as a stripped-down power amp. Both channels feed the amp’s Master Section, which includes a two-way switch, to toggle between the “Boogie” channel and the “Subway” channel, and Mesa’s brand new Output Overdrive Symmetry control. This unique and super cool feature allows for fine tailoring of how the amp clips as it reaches the ceiling of its output capacity and is more noticeable at louder volume levels. Essentially, as you turn the knob clockwise from zero, you are decreasing the symmetry of the output overdrive, making it less tight and clean, with more tube-like reactivity. The TT-800 also incorporates Mesa’s Power Amp Damping technology that the WD-800 made popular, affecting how the amplifier behaves in its output section, resulting in a perception of “tighter vs. looser” tone. Amplifiers with higher damping factor are thought to have a more controlled and linear sound, akin to how we tend to think of solid-state amps. Lower damping factor makes the amplifier feel a little looser with more “bloom” to their sound, kind of how we’re used to thinking about most tube amps. On the WD-800, users have a 3 position knob to set the damping factor, but on the TT, the damping factor is set automatically by the position of the impedance selector on the back of the amp, which should be set according to the total impedance load (2, 4, or 8 ohms) of the cabs connected to the amplifier.
Moving on to the rear of the Subway TT-800, one is impressed by the sheer connectivity and signal routing flexibility.
Not one but two tube-driven XLR DI outputs are present, one that taps the signal after the bright and deep switches and the tube-driven gain stage, but before channel EQ. The other DI uses the finished signal with all of the bells and whistles, including the FX loops. The amp automatically switches the DI feed from Boogie to Subway, depending on which channel is in use. Both DI outputs feature switches for ground lift and mic/line level. Each channel has its own discrete ¼” effects loop, and the TT has ¼” jacks for headphone output, footswitch (optional), Aux-in, and Tuner output. Topping off the broad feature set is a super handy USB output for powering a device, which is handy if your tablet or phone is as old and always on its last couple percent as mine seem to be. The aforementioned 3-way impedance selector allows you to run the amp optimally at 2, 4, or 8 ohms.
All in all, the TT-800 is a LOT of amp in a small, well-designed package.
Not only is the build quality exemplary, with very high-end fit and finish, but it seems that Mesa was able to pack a ton of features and flexibility into the TT without it feeling cramped or claustrophobic. The two channels offer a lot of value; it’s kind of like having two amps in one. For someone like me, who more often than not brings more than 1 bass to the gig, I could see using the two channels to dial in two different basses. Then between songs, you grab the other bass, flip the channel switch (or stomp on the footswitch), and you’re good to go. I would be delighted to run my P bass through the warm, tubey Boogie channel, and running my 70’s Jazz through the Subway channel’s more direct and articulate voicing. For others, having the ability to switch on the fly between a clean channel and a dirty channel with great EQ may be highly enticing.
Overall I was more than impressed with the sound and performance of the TT-800. The amp’s voicings on either channel with everything set at noon is excellent, with a warm, articulate punch that sounded stellar, even at high volume. Once you start fiddling with the EQ, it opens up a world of versatility, and it’s hard to imagine someone not being able to find a sound they love from this amp. The Subway TT-800 comes with a fitted Mesa padded amp bag and retails for $1,099.00
Mesa Boogie Subway Ultra-Lite 2×15 Vertical Bass Cabinet
Mesa was kind enough to send their big dog, the Subway Ultra-Lite 2×15 Vertical Bass Cabinet, along with the TT-800 for review.
As always, I’m a big fan of Mesa’s fit and finish. Their gear exudes a high-quality feel and has a roadworthiness that a lot of other equipment doesn’t quite inspire. What really blew me away about the 2×15 Vertical was how light it is. I mean, I know “Ultra-Lite” is in the name, but remarkably, this is a 2×15 cab that I can lift with one hand. It does come with tilt-back casters for easy transport, but boy does it feel like a godsend when you’re hoisting it into the back of your SUV after a 4-hour gig. Sound-wise, the 2×15 sounds big, bold, and full, but not flabby or floppy whatsoever, as some 15″ loaded cabs can tend to sound. It stays firm and controlled even at high volume, and the tweeter offers plenty of snap and high end for when needed. On the back, dual combo jacks (Speakon that also accept ¼”) are a welcome sight, and an attenuator allows you to dial in or out the amount of tweeter in your sound. There’s not much to criticize about this cabinet; it’s lightweight and easy maneuverability make it a strong contender. I thought the 2×15 paired beautifully with the TT-800 and made for one impressive, versatile, and killer sounding rig. The Ultra-Lite 2×15 Vertical comes with a fitted slipcover and retails for $1,599.00.
For more information on the Subway TT-800 and Subway Ultra-Lite Bass Cab, visit online at mesaboogie.com