Friday, March 6, 2015

Hughes & Kettner TubeMeister 5 Tube Guitar Amplifier Review

Howdy!

For the past few years I have been working my way through the huge crop of micro tube guitar amplifiers that are on the market. There are so many I will never get through them all, but they all have a few things in common: they have less than five watts, are easily portable, and they sound pretty good. Also, most of them are combos and they are pretty cheap, which makes today’s selection a stand out from the crowd. The Hughes & Kettner TubeMeister 5 is a head-only amp that costs about twice what most of the combos do.

This amp exudes coolness just by the look of it. It is indeed small, measuring around 12 by 15 by 9 inches and weighing in at a mere 17 pounds. It is a single-channel all-tube amp with a 12BH7 power tune and a 12AX7 preamp tube. It has classic styling with a cool blue backlighting to the clear front panel when it is switched on.

Using the Tubemeister 5 is very straightforward as the controls are simple. On the front there is a power switch, a single ¼-inch input, a 3-band EQ, master volume and gain knobs, and a drive switch. The back has an IEC power socket, a single ¼-inch 8/16 ohm speaker out, a Red Tube balanced XLR direct out, and a power soak switch.

A few of these things bear further discussion:

- Drive switch: provides a lead amp sound with high gain potential; when it is activated, the switch glows red.

- Power soak switch: replaces the loudspeaker and converts the power-amp output to heat. This allows silent practice and recording via the XLR into a mixer. Power soak is activated automatically to protect the amp if nothing is plugged into the speaker out.

- Red Tube balanced XLR direct out: a Hughes & Kettner, guitar DI box with mic’d 4 x 12" speaker cabinet emulation. It converts the speaker line out signal, which is generated between the tube power-amp and the power soak, to a balanced, frequency corrected signal.

The Tubemeister 5 has plenty of volume (relatively speaking), and it has incredible tone. With the drive switch off, it has a very clean and glassy sound, and it goes full overdrive crunch when it is engaged. It does everything from Pink Floyd to GNR, and everything in between. The DI has amazing fidelity, and it really nails the overdriven speaker tone for recording.

I wish it had a headphone out, but I have a few small mixers that will work with the DI to provide a headphone channel. Also, it would be nice to have a footswitch for the drive switch. Other than these few minor quibbles, this amplifier really delivers the mail.

The Tubemeister 5 is the best of the mass-production small all-tube guitar amplifiers that I have found so far. Its versatility and tone make it a leader in its class!

If you do not need a ton of power, or if you are looking for pure tube tone for recording without half-hearted bells and whistles the Hughes & Kettner TubeMeister 5 would be the perfect amplifier for you. As I said earlier, it is not as cheap as its competition with a list price of $499 and a street price of $299 (included the padded gig bag), but in the end you get what you pay for.

Mahalo!

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