Saturday, January 4, 2014

tc electronic BG250 1 x 15 Bass Combo Amplifier Review


Bassists are always looking for more power out of their amps, but also want them to be as light as humanly possible. It used to be that these things did not go well together, but since the GK 400RB came out, the proliferation of solid-state amps has been impressive. Today we are looking at one of the fruits of these efforts, the entry level tc electronic BG250 1 x15 bass combo amplifier.

The BG250 combo is reasonably sized, measuring around 29” tall by 23” wide by 19” deep. It is covered in black Tolex over a plywood cabinet with a black metal grille on the front. It weighs in at a sprightly 35 pounds, so it definitely meets my lightweight criteria. There is a single rubbery carry handle on the top, but it is so light that it is good enough for the job. By the way, the ugly BG250 Toneprint logo on the front is a static-cling sticker that peels off easily enough.

As you probably guessed from the name, this combo contains is a 250-watt amp (Class D). It does not matter how many ohms we are talking about as there are no speakers outs, meaning you are stuck with the 15-inch driver and 1-inch tweeter that the BG250 comes with. By the way, BG250 is also available in 1 x 12, 2 x 8 and 2 x 10 configurations…

With just a power switch and IEC power cable socket on the back, everything you are looking for is going to be on top of the amplifer. And there is a lot going on!

There is a single input with a gain control and a 3-band equalizer. You will also find TubeDrive and TonePrint controls (each with their own ON/OFF switches) and a master volume control. The expected footswitch input, mute switch and balanced XLR out are provided, and extras include a 5-string bass tuner, an 1/8-inch headphone out and an 1/8-inch auxiliary input. Ah yes, and a mini USB port, which we will talk more about later.

I really like that they included the auxiliary input and headphone jacks, as this allows a player to plug in a CD or MP3 player and practice silently. A blessing for parents everywhere! Also if you purchase the optional tc electronic Switch 3 footswitch (street price $50), you can turn the TubeDrive, TonePrint or tuner ON or OFF, which would be really useful.

I guess this brings up the question of what TubeDrive and TonePrint are, doesn’t it?

TubeDrive is the simpler of the two features: it is a tube pre-amplifier and amplifier emulation. That it simulate both stages makes it different than other amps that have tube emulation. The more the knob is cranked, the more tube overdrive you get. As I said, it is footswitch controllable.

TonePrint is a lot more complicated. It allows the user to choose the type of effect that is installed on the amp, and new effects can be downloaded from the tc electronic website for free. Download is accomplished through an included (really short) USB cable or with a smart phone via the TonePrint iOS or Android app. The phone will actually communicate the new effect via its speaker to the amp through the pickups of your bass. Amazing! Only one effect can be on the amp at a time, and the default is the CF Chorus. There are also five other stock effects, including flanger, vibrato, octaver, SpectraComp, and Bass Drive. There are also custom TonePrints from popular bassists including Mark King, Duff McKagan, Roscoe Beck and others. That is a lot of technology for what is supposed to be an entry-level amplifier.

I tried out the BG250 with a few different basses tosee how it would work. This included a passive Precision Bass, an active Jaguar bass, and a Musicman Bongo 4H. With TonePrint and TubeDrive OFF, I thought that this did a very good job of reproducing the normal tones of these instruments, and the typical tc electronic clean sound that I have found on their other amps. I had to dial back the gain quite a bit for the Bongo, thanks to its 18-volt preamp. The tone controls are very useable, and I like that they designed these circuits with cut and boost at different frequencies.

Power-wise, this amp can hold its own, and the speakers are able to take most everything that it can put out. I would say that the volume is louder than last month’s Fender Rumble 350, and the overall sound and presence is quite impressive for its 250-watt output. It would work well for garage practices and small gigs.

The most impressive feature for me is the TubeDrive. It really can do the tube sound, and it was fun to crank in progressively more of this effect until I had a gnarly buzz saw tone!

I have no complaints about the TonePrint feature or its interface. I used both the iPhone app and the plug-in with the USB cable and they both worked as advertised. The 3-foot USB cable is a bit unnerving, as I do not like getting my computer that close to a big speaker magnet. The effects are really pretty neat, though I have to wonder how many people in the real world are going to go to the trouble to download these effects, and I would have been just as happy to not have this feature, and have a simpler (cheaper) amplifier. You have to admire tc electronic for thinking outside the box, though! The XLR output worked well when I put the amp through my PA, and I ever tried out the practice mode by plugging in my iPod and playing through my headphones. This worked nicely, and the headphone output was strong enough to drive some pretty high-impedance cans.

There were a few bummers about the BG250, though. It has perhaps the most fragile Tolex I have ever seen, and setting another head on top of it resulted in a neat circular cut in the top. And the on-board tuner is terrible -- it had a hard time holding a tone, and is pretty much useless.

So, the tc electronic BG250 is a great entry-level combo amp with decent power and excellent portability, but I think the Toneprint software is not necessary at this price point. These amps have a list price of $599 and a street price of $399 but I have seen retailers closing these out at around 300 bucks. You would be hard pressed to find a better amplifier for that kind of money.

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