Review: API LLX Bass TranZformer Bass Pedal
API LLX Bass TranZformer Bass Pedal…
Very few companies in the audio world have the history and pedigree to match API. Since 1969, their name has been synonymous with the highest level of pro audio gear, and their recording consoles and outboard gear sit prominently in the finest recording studios all over the world. The list of famous studios and notable users is too big to even begin to mention, but suffice to say, API gear is widely considered must-have engineering tools for some of the finest bands, record producers, and engineers on the planet.
In 2017, API launched the TranZformer series of guitar and bass pedals.
Their Bass TranZformer LX from that line continues to be a highwater mark for bass pedalboard preamp-ery. With a studio-quality compressor based on the venerable API 525, featuring a bass-optimized 3-band EQ, and incorporating a transformer-driven XLR DI output, the Bass TranZformer LX delivered on par with the brand’s lineage. The downside, if there was any, was a large size and external 18V 500mA power supply, making the LX not the most pedalboard-friendly offering out there.
This year, API reimagined the TranZformer series, releasing the TranZformer LLX Bass Pedal: an updated API bass preamp pedal that is smaller/more pedalboard sized, is isolated multi-power supply friendly (9-18v @100mA), and more affordable than its LX predecessor. The LLX ditches the compressor for a slew of bass-specific options, like a variable overdrive circuit, a high shelving/high pass switch for the treble EQ, and a 20dB output pad. The chassis, knob feel, and finish are nothing short of impeccable. The enclosure feels robust and high quality and there is just no hating those classic API knobs (off-the-chart vibes). Paint and graphics are also perfectly executed.
Looking under the hood, the heart of the LLX is API’s 2510 OpAmp and signature output transformer.
The LLX features a bass optimized 3 band EQ with center frequencies of 100Hz, 400Hz, and 2Khz. These are very well voiced to complement the classic API sound, which I will poorly describe as “quick and firm, slightly aggressive and crunchy but somehow still vintage-y/warm, and undeniably hi-fi”. Personally, I tend to gravitate towards lower bass and higher treble EQ points, but I have to admit that the LLX EQ just works beautifully for its design goal. In addition, the treble control includes a switch to select either shelving (everything at 2k and above) vs a peaking (at 2k, gently sloping off on both sides) style EQ. With my preferences toward higher treble EQ, I was able to get the “air” I like from upper treble boost with the shelving control, plus the addition of that vintage-y 2k sheen.
The LLX also includes a fabulous overdrive circuit, selectable via a mini toggle switch.
In overdrive mode, the gain knob adds distortion by overdriving the API 2510 input preamp stage. Everything from subtle creamy overdrive to full-blown distortion is easily dialed up with the LLX, and the unit’s EQ is great for shaping ones preferred drive quality.
This is a great time to mention the unit’s 20 dB output pad. Their literature states that this is useful if going into a bass amp input, but I also found it to be very useful for taming high output levels that resulted from high-gain overdrive settings. I found the output suitable for my amps front end in the 0dB setting, so I only used the input pad to bring my volume levels back to a reasonable output level when using saturated distortion sounds. Without a master volume output though, I did find myself a bit hamstrung due to the distortion level being tethered to the units output volume in either 0 or -20dB mode. A separate master output volume control might have fixed this issue and given a bit more flexibility in gain staging.
As for the sound quality of the LLX, it is fair to say that my expectations were high going in.
Having used API preamps in the studio for recording bass, I am very familiar with how great an API mic preamp or channel strip sounds. The LLX 100% captures the API sonic vibe, and really nails the classic sound I was expecting: Direct, fast, slightly aggressive but not edgy (let’s call it “assertive”), the LLX imparted a quickness and weight to my sound that made my basslines sit big and proud. With the EQ flat and the gain at 0 dB, there isn’t a whole lot of coloration, but bringing up the gain and engaging the EQ resulted in some lovely “modern vintage” bass tones. I was pleasantly impressed with how well the EQ points and slopes complement the tone of the unit overall and found my happy place with a little bit of boost in each band, and the treble in shelving mode. I’m not a huge distortion buff, but even I was super impressed with the usable range and flexibility of the overdrive mode.
If I could make any suggestions for how to make the LLX better?
Top mounted jacks: I am becoming more and more of a stickler for top mounted jacks these days, with all the pedalboard Tetris I find myself doing to fit pedals on my board. A soft click switch: Although, to be fair (and complementary), if ever there was an “always on” pedal, this could be it. It just sounds great and made all my basses sound rock solid. A master volume: As I mentioned above, a separate master volume would allow for distortion levels to be dialed in without the unit’s output level being tied to the gain knob. Again though, I never quite found myself up against the wall in that regard, with the 20dB pad, but it did come to mind. Lastly and knowing how great the API output transformers are, I wish It had an XLR DI output, however, the small size and affordability of the pedal undoubtedly speak to its streamlined componentry.
Overall, the API is a winner, it sounds great, looks sharp, and is wonderfully voiced in a way that those familiar with API will recognize as a wonderful branch of an illustrious family tree.
Whether using it as a bass preamp, a wonderfully flexible overdrive pedal, an EQ, or all of the above, the TranZformer LLX is sure to satisfy a wide range of players looking to up their tone game. The LLX retails for $295, and more info can be found on API’s website.