AMP SHOOTOUT: Mesa Walkabout VS. Aguilar TH500 VS. Orange TB500
This month, I picked up a (2nd) Mesa Walkabout, Aguilar Tone Hammer 500 and an Orange Terror Bass 500 for review. FYI, it's my intention here to discover a good backup for my underpowered Mesa Walkabout head. There are many bassists out there that share the walkabout love but loathe its lack of power. I have had this A/B/C set up in my office for a couple days now and I have been pounding on these cabs pretty good. Keep in mind, I'm not a surgeon when it comes to describing tone (or playing bass) so I'll be laying it down in general terms. I'm also working on audio clips and should have them up in a few days. Also worth noting - I pretty much only play fingerstyle and always set my amp for a fairly clean source that feels good and projects well in the mix. For any OD sounds... I use always use my Tronographic Rusty Box. (which I have not tried with either the Aggie or Orange)
So, let's begin!
Reverend BH5 (Brad Houser signature) with Villex soapbars and Nordy pre. >> Radial ABY amp switcher >> amp >> TC Electronic RS210's (8 ohm)
First, I'd like to talk about the ORANGE:
To me.. the Orange is CRUSHING with it's 500 watt rating into 8 or 4 ohms. I am shocked how effortlessly loud this amp can get and it lends the feeling that it could easily blow my cabs. It's gloriously fat and warm throughout the lows and upper mids with gobs of headroom to spare. I would never need all its wattage at a gig which is a bonus, because that would allow me to take advantage of using it's clean headroom.
The clean sound from the Orange is truly great. Its got a nice Bloomy but focused 3D sound that makes me feel like it could sound amazing in many situations I would not have thought; more delicate work like jazz trio's or solo bass. It's got a really nice response in the Upper-Mids and Highs that really sounds good soloing or whatever. Again, the Orange kind of surprised me how non-digital it sounds... very natural, smooth and effortless delivery of the preamp tubes sound (type unkown, probably chinese EH). I would recommend this head to anyone that calls themself a "tube lover". It sounds like a transparent power amp, saturated with a really high quality tube pre.
As you turn the gain up on this Little Terror, it starts to break up nicely about 10:00-11:00. The OD sounds from the gain section are pretty usable for me up to about 1-2:00. The cool thing about the OD on the Terror is that it is actually fairly mild tasteful IMO, which gives it a more realistic feel. Best gain driven OD on a digital I have heard for sure... perhaps is tube driven? And then theres the EQ... 'thank god it sounds so damn good flat'. Realistically, the tone stack on the Orange it what it is... and you need more flexibilyity you should be looking at adding and Empress EQ to your board. :D
In conclusion, the Terror Bass was a breath of fresh air for me because it really was not what I expected! It's not nearly as aggressive and gnarly as it's name or 'people' might suggest. It's not a 'one trick pony' by any means either. This amp has gorgeous tube tone in spades, great sounding OD on the gain... and really friggin powerful! My gripes are that its a little dark sounding overall and that it lacks a few nice features like a DI level etc. and, why the ohm selector switch on the back?
Now, for the Tone Hammer:
The TH500 is also a VERY loud amp, but still about 10-20% quieter than the Orange. The Aguilar also feels and sounds quite a bit different... it is FAR more up front, 'in your face' and agressive. It's brighter and woolier accross the board IMO, it sounds very much like the walkabout with its gain at 12:00. (KJung calls it chewy-good word for it!) Sure, it has that 'aguilar' sound, but with that comes this 'purity' to it... a kind of 'clean yet aggressive' sound to me, with a quick and punchy delivery. Still, effortless and fat sounding in the bass and really punchy in the Low-Mids with lots of definition. I can hear now why some people have called it 'sterile' after A/Bing it with the Orange or other amps. However, with some tweaking, I was able to get the TH500 to sound virtually identical to the WA! (I will post more on this later) which we all know is not a 'sterile' sounding amp by any means.
The OD sounds on the TH500 are pretty good but, I'm not the right guy to be commenting on this. As I've mentioned, I don't much care for OD at the front end of my micro, so not what I would be using the TH for really. I would have appreciated a little more clean headroom at the gain stage but hey... I guess there are folks using these heads for distorted tones too :) And since there is gobs of volume on tap... it's kind of a non issue. The EQ on the TH has lots of boost, and the drive knob does some pretty cool stuff. There's not a world of tone's in there, but it's all I would need on most gigs for sure.
In conclusion, I think so far, the TH500 is a real winner for me because I was able to tweak it to sound nearly identical to the WA (set flat)! So close in fact, that I had to unplug the one heads to re-discover which was which. There's a lot to like about the TH... Great Aguilar sound in a reliable and well built small and light package. I don't care for the laser beam LEDs or front panel DI (with no vol) but those are kind of aguilar trade-marks. All-in-all... a very nice amp indeed made right in the USA.
Then there was the Walkabout:
By comparision... the volume of the WA is quite pathetic at 8 ohms really. I had the WA at 85-90% max volume (gain - 12:00 master 2:00 with input pad off) to compete with the others in a low gain master at 12:00 setting. However, the WA will come alive with more speakers and will do a 2 ohm load so while it may no be practical for some gigs, it will still make an appearance often. The legendary tone of this little beauty is what keeps me coming back for more. It's big sounding through the lows and mids and goes right up into the stratosphere... very 'full-range' compared to a lot of todays offerings IMO. The WA has a nice 'bouncy' feel to it which I hear and attribute to it's MOSFET power section. It and sounds slightly warmer than the TH, while also being more natural, much brighter and more present. The WA has so much tonal control between it's passive tone controls and Para EQ... that I was able make it sound close to both the Orange and the TH500. The WA is nice and flexible tonally.
The OD on the WA is my favorite of the bunch. The preamp cuircit is really well designed IMO... and it sure sounds that way. The gain knob on the WA has just the right taper or whatever... at 12:00 it's perfectly usable for me. That leaves lots of room for adjustment either way... it's just to bad the Master vol dies at 1:00-2:00 :hmm: I like and use all the features on the WA and it all really well laid out IMO. If Mesa ever found a way to put 600-900 watts into this chassis... they would have created a monster of an amp!
So, since I'm really looking for something similar to my WA... it's looking like I will be hanging onto the TH500. I feel like its my best bet for getting more volume on the gig and stay in the same tonal camp as the WA. The fact that I was able to get the TH to sound so similar to the WA came to me as a bit of a shock. I will post up on the settings later on... and add some audio clips for comparison.
I would love to also hang onto the Orange, because it really surprised me with what it can do, and its so different than the other two. It really sounds fantastic and would make a great addition to the stable for that fat tube tone... and it's just a beast of an amp! I would also, highly recommend this amp to anyone with the right tone goals.
That's it for now folks! Thanks for stopping by... :bassist:
Great reviews! My sentiments exactly. :)
Nice! Great review.
As a side note, that Reverend is killer, and those RS210's are among my favorite small cabs. You are loaded for bear!
Nice review; thanks.
Is the tone stack on the Orange cut only ala Fender or is it a more modern flat at noon and boost/cut as you would expect?
Even though I JUST got a TH500, it's great to know that the Orange does clean in case the Aggie falls from favor.
Edit: The Orange site finally opened; it is boost/cut but there are very few details including the approx. frequency for these knobs.
I'm beginning to think the bass freq. is too low on the TH500.
Thanks for the fascinating review and shootout.
I owned a gigged a WA for several years and I now have an Orange Bass Terror TB500h. I too did a Direct A-B comparison between the Orange Bass Terror and Augilar TH500.
Your conclusions are EXACTLY the same as my findings! Excellent report! I was not trying to Mirror or mimic a Walkabout however, so that mindset was not part of my personal criteria. Due to the power / headroom constraints of the Mesa Walkabout, I sold it and don't really miss it. I just wanted a great sounding, musical amp that had plenty of power along with harmonic complexity that would suit many different styles of music.
My TB friend and I both preferred the Orange to the TH500. I think the reason we preferred the Orange Bass Terror was the mid-forward signature Aguilar tone was a bit too 'in your face.' I also felt the Orange offered more harmonic complexity and was more three Dimensional. But don't take this out of context. I am positive I could gig with the TH500 and be very happy. And I am equally confident the Aggie TH500 sits great in the band mix!
I gigged last night with a loud dance band using my Orange Bass Terror and my Bergantino AE410. when I was tuning up and sound checking, I walked out into the room (I was wireless with a Line6 G50). I was not entirely happy with the tone and I was scratching my head. But as soon as the band started, it was Pure Unadulterated MAGIC. I conclude that may very well speak to the volume of players who use and love the Aguilar TH500. I fully expect it is exceptional "in the mix!"
This is why when I do shoot outs, I feel the testing is never complete until you take the amp to a GIG ...or several!
GREAT review! One of the best I've seen! Thanks!
Thanks for the review! What is interesting is that my "needed" volume is going down, so I just traded for a Mesa Walkabout, and just sold my Aguilar TH500...the exact one you are using! Truly liked the Aguilar, can't wait the tryout the Walkabout, and I guess I need to plan for a future Orange!
Also didn't you have a recent post where you said you run that thing more or less flat with no drive and low gain? I think I'm coming around to your way of thinking. Still got a ton of work to do to find "my sound."
Nice review. I always enjoy the more non-technical reviews, as players can actually relate these to real world experience. I thought I would offer some insight for future reference. Class D amps aren't really digital. Think of digital as what's happening when you plug your bass into a computer interface such as an Apogee Jam. That device takes your analog signal and converts it into digital information (1's and 0's) for your computer to process. At this point, your signal is now truly digital. Class D is, for the most part, is just another name. The D doesn't actually stand for digital.
Also, when comparing amps, you can't really use knob position as any indication of how loud the amp is. How loud two different amps are at 11:00, has little to do with the output of the amps and more to do with the taper on the volume pot. Let's say you have two amps with identical output wattage but one amp is using a linear taper volume pot and one amp is using an audio taper volume pot. The amp with the linear taper will get louder at lower settings, but both amps will still achieve the same overall output with the knobs at max. In theory, a linear taper achieves 50% volume at 50% of the knobs rotation, where an audio taper may only be putting out 10% - 20% volume at 50% knob rotation. When ordering pots, there are many taper variations to choose form, so you can't really use how loud an amp is at 11:00 as any indication of how loud the amp really is. (Check out the last page on the attached link for an example of how pot tapers vary. Audio tapers are type A, Linear tapers are type B)
Also, Ken's is right.. I need to buy a pair of your cabs! :D
Nice review. I agree that it's nice to get a real player's perspective rather than a techie's! Anyway, I too have played all three of these amps and my favourite is the Markbass TTE500! ;-)
It's pretty interesting (as that mag always is);)
Craig; I'm back to the gain at 11:00 - 12:00 only because the sustain and touch sensitivity is so alive and addicting (as opposed to gain at 9:00 and master dimed)
Ken; I'm back to using the drive at about 9:00; since I don't really like to much wool, it has become more of a tone control. Does anyone know exactly what the interaction is?
Rod; I did read that review when the mag came out but wasn't amp shopping then :D
So after your trial with the Terror as well as time spent with a SVT and 7-Pro what is your favorite of the day?
WA doesn't count due to not enough juice and the SVT intended as the tone benchmark.
So far, have most preferred the Terror to the TH500 (assuming clean, clear, loud, light, and warm?
Its primary purpose is kind of like a combined hi pass/lo pass filter. As you turn in up, it reduces deep bass and upper treble. So, it really shouldn't be called drive. It is more like the VLE (vintage loudspeaker emulation) on the Markbass heads. It is just more powerful since it acts again kind of like a combined lo pass/hi pass, reducing both ends of the spectrum to 'old school up' a more modern cab.
As you really crank it (past noon) it will also add some gain, and to my ear, will actually start to boost the mid mids. So, if you start to crank it with the gain relatively high, it will enhance that midrange growl and really start to snarl. Of course, if you then boost the midrange, it will go into all out screaming grind.
With deep, modern cabs, used moderately, it is a wonderful way to tighten up the response.
I really dig it. LOTS of clean tones in there. The only thing it really doesn't do is totally clean, wide, modern sparkle. I have the Glock for that:p
One more bit of info (since the OP decided to keep this amp), is that the gain really doesn't work like a normal solid state preamp gain. Thanks to other TBer's posts, I realized that there is a sort of 'unity signal' hitting the power amp when the gain is totally turned off. In other words, it is almost like the preamp is bypassed.
So, unlike the gain control on most amps like the Markbass, GK, etc. that is more designed to get the optimum nonclipped level hitting the preamp, the gain control really is a 'tone control' in a way. So, a different gain/drive ratio has a massive impact on tone.
Kind of cool. Very different design, I guess somewhat due to the front end being based on the TH pedal, which really is a kind of 'effects pedal'.
Also, one of the most slammin' power sections per rated wattage that I've experience. Finally, the clip light is a 'total preamp' clip signal, including the master volume. Strange design, and I still don't know quite what it means. Technically, it means that the signal hitting the power amp is clipped due to something:p It is not a 'first gain stage' clip indicator, nor is it a power amp indicator. Aguilar pretty much says 'ignore it', and it does not in any way indicate something wrong. I've only had it come on once, and that was on the loudest gig I did all year:D
Tough question Jim- 7 pro v TB500:confused:
The Ampeg is surely more like a tube SVT tonally, but I feel the Orange is more a "tube amp" feel. A bit more "give" to each note.
& I'll have to take others word for it that the Orange will go both loud AND clean, as I couldn't help but take my Traynor YBA300 to a "loud" gig last night:o
So, 2 WA's have more power than either the TH or TB, so doesn't the second solve your problem? :p
Cool review, glad to see the Orange head is still popular. It's a slamming little head, that I felt had it bit more heft than the Aggie (maybe only slightly) and has a lot going for it. It's funny, I would describe the two almost exactly opposite of you in many ways. At the end of the day, there's a lot of tonal overlap. The TH has a much higher learning curve, though, as you're finding out.
The Orange EQ is a Fender stack, with fully ccw-cw-ccw (0-10-0) H-M-B being flat. So noon is scooped. (Not that there's anything wrong with that! It does sounds GREAT.)
As for the ohm switch, I think it's a cool little feature. It adjusts the limiter on the power amp to put out essentially double power, so like a tube head you can get full power independent of whether your cabs are 4 or 8 ohms. You can think of it as an instant TB1000 switch :D
So, when are the TH headcases coming out ;)
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