Monday, February 20, 2012

Ampeg SVT-CL Classic Bass Amplifier Review

Buenos dias, amigos!

Somehow I made it through 25 years of bass playing without ever owning an Ampeg tube amplifier. You see, I have always had lots of preconceived notions about Ampeg amps: they are heavy, unreliable and require too much maintenance. My opinions have changed, as I did not realize what I was missing out on all of these years, which is pure tube tone.

Today we are looking at a super-clean Ampeg SVT-CL Classic bass amplifier. The CL is a popular current iteration of the original SVT (Super Valve Technology) amplifier that was introduced in 1969. The SVT was the seminal high-powered bass amplifier that was developed for the loud rock concerts of the day.

The SVT-CL is a monstrous all-tube amp with two 12AX7 preamp tubes, two 12AU7 and one 12AX7 driver tubes and six 6550 power tubes. They are spring-mounted in the chassis for shock resistance along with a fan to keep them cool.

This amplifier has two inputs on the front: one normal and one padded (-15dB). You also find power and standby switches on the right side of the front panel; I hate it when the power switch is on the back. The tone controls include bass, mids, treble, an extra five way mid selector, and high/low boost switches. Of course there are gain and volume controls too.

The back of the amplifier has a polarity switch, two bias pots, a ¼-inch slave output, preamp out, power amp in, impedance selector (2ohm/4ohm), a balanced output, two ¼-inch speaker outs and a Speakon out. A panel comes off the back for access to the tube farm.

The SVT Classic puts out 300 watts of pure tube power into either 2 or 4 ohms. This does not sound like much in this day of solid state class D amps that weigh as much as a sandwich and put out 1000 watts of power. But the power ratings are deceptive. When cranking this pure tube power through my Ampeg 810 cabinet, it pushes just as much, if not more, air than my 600 watt Genz Benz amplifier.

One of the usual complaints about the SVT is its back-breaking weight, coming in at around 80 pounds. This is concentrated into a 24” wide enclosure that is 12” high and 13” deep. It is heavy, but the handles are well-positioned, and at least it is not heavy and really bulky, which could make it a total nightmare to move. Besides, that is why carts and dollys were invented.

Another complaint is that these amplifiers require too much maintenance and are unreliable. Although I have not had any problems with mine, I could see this point. Anything with lots of tubes is going to require work to stay performing at its best. It is like maintaining your car, if you keep up with maintenance, it will not crap out on you.

But any of these issues are negligible when you consider the tone that the Ampeg SVT cranks out. You can avoid a lot of searching for the perfect bass sound by trying one of these amplifiers first. I’ve found that my SVT through an 8x10 cabinet provides lots of bass (as expected), but also give super full and warm mids that really cut through the mix. And it accomplishes all of this without tons of work tending the knob farm – the controls are very simple.

Don’t get me wrong, I still love my Genz Benz Shuttle, but it has a more sterile sound when compared to the organic goodness of an all-tube Ampeg. I am addicted to the sound of this thing.

But the best things in life are not free, or even cheap. The Ampeg SVT-CL has a list price of $2379.99 and a street price of $1699.99. You can find them used for around $1000, but pay attention to where they are built. US-made amps have a price premium when compared to the Asian-built models.

Mahalo!

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