Review of the Aguilar Tone Hammer 500 and DB212

Discussion in 'Amps [BG]' started by Green Lantern, Nov 19, 2012.


  1. Green Lantern

    Green Lantern

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    Nov 3, 2011
    I just received my Tone Hammer 500 and cabinet today. After playing through it for several hours, I will give my review.

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  2. Green Lantern

    Green Lantern

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    Nov 3, 2011
    I used to have a Mesa Boogie 400+ with a Boogie 410 cabinet. It was awesome! But the weight of the cabinet and depth made it too difficult for my needs. So I traded it in for a Boogie Buster wedge which was the little brother of the 400 which I played for over 8 years. I like a warmer sound and thought tube amps sounded better for my taste which is R&B and jazz. It has 210 EV speakers and it weight 95 pounds. Though it was much smaller than the 400+ it still weighed a ton.

    Tone Hammer 500: These class D amps are small and light. The TH500 has a air intake on the left and right side and a outtake in the back. After having the amp on for 10 min the fans kick on. It does not seem to have variable speeds...only on or off. I was surprised with just low volume the fan kicks on. It sounds like a fan in your car when the fan speed is on speed 1. I don't anticipate this being a problem for live use, or even in the studio if you wanted to mic the cabinet.

    All the controls are easy to grab and with its simplistic EQ. The status button is a bright blue light and there is a stand by switch that also turns blue when activated. There is also a clip light if you push the amp hard. You normally see stand by switches on tube amps but not as much on solid state amps. What is not present is a headphone jack. It does have a lift ground button as well as a -10db button. There is an output in the back for a bass tuner. So you can hit the standby switch and tune on stage without any sound coming out of the amp.

    With my G&L 2500 I had to use the -10 button as the signal was too hot going in and the bass would distort. With my Fender active J bass I did not have an issue with the normal setting. The gain knob allows you to have more of a laid back sound if turned to the left. Moving it to the right moves the bass forward out of your speakers. The drive when used with the gain can add distortion if they is what your looking for. It would have been nice if they had a foot pedal to activate more drive like the Tone Hammer pedal has with the AGS button. Having mid frequency sweep provides more control to sculpt your sound. However the treble knob only affects 4kHz. With so many amps out there with graphic EQ, I found this a little limiting. Since I have an active bass, I could dial more high end with the controls on my bass. If you have a passive bass you will find the high end control not as powerful as a Carvin, or SWR bass.

    There is a balanced XLR out in the front with a post-pre button. Aguilar told me you could bring the Tone Hammer 500 into the studio and use it without an amp as it will not damage the unit even if there is no signal going to a speaker cabinet. On the back there are two speakon outputs on the back. The amp feels like qualty workmanship was used in construction of the amp.

    The DB212 cabinet: The DB series has more of a mid range character compared to the GS line. The SL speakers are very light but they lack the low end of the DB and GS line though they still have bass. The grill on the DB standard grill reminds me of the Fender grills. Very classic looking. I played the DB 410 cabinet and was very pleased with it. However the 98 pound weight moved me to look at the DB112 and DB212 cabinets. Though there is added flexibility with having two DB112 cabinets, they cost more than a DB212 and of course they lack the casters that come with the DB212. Construction of the cabinet is what you would expect from a quality unit, and the adjustable tweeter control a big plus. At 70 pounds it is not a light cabinet but much easier than the 410 cabinet.

    Sound: What you have heard on this forum about its tone is pretty accurate. It has a wonderful low end, with good mid's and relaxed high's. It is the nicest soundings solid state amp I have heard if you want a rich tone that reminds you of a tube amp. With the active EQ on my bass, I can add more frequency control to get any sound I really want. The amp has a elegant sound that my Boogie lacked. Is the bass amp and speaker right for you? That depends on your bass and the style you play. When I played my G&L 2500 through this combo, this would not be my first choice as the full sound of the bass would benefit more with a brighter amp if you play jazz. For rock though, it would be a great choice. With a J bass, this setup for my sound is perfect.

    The Tone Hammer 500 lacks some EQ control some other brands have and a headphone jack. But it makes up for this with the overall tone which excells over many other solid state amps I have played. Though no amp is perfect, I have not found a more enjoyable sound from any other amp I have played. The price for the amp is reasonable for the quality you get. The cabinet cost more than some other units but is comparable to company's like Mesa /Boogie. Is the cabinet worth the extra money......in my book the answer is passionate Yes. :hyper:

    Aguilar Tone Hammer 500 and DB cabinets highly recommended! :bassist:
  3. obimark

    obimark

    Joined:
    Sep 1, 2011
    Love my tonehammer 500, haven't ever had to turn master volume past 4 or 5 yet.
  4. rodl2005

    rodl2005

    Joined:
    Jun 1, 2005
    Location:
    Tasmania, Australia
    Nice review, thanx.
    I've not noticed the fan, noise-wise. I've run mine pretty hard & had the clip light flashing fairly constantly, but had no issues.
    Agree, it sounds very "vintage-ey" & is very sweet thru a couple of 15"s
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  6. Green Lantern

    Green Lantern

    Joined:
    Nov 3, 2011
    I wanted to mention the Tone Hammer pedal my son has gives the same sound as the Tone Hammer 500 which of course is not surprising. But if you already have an amp or two and want the Aguilar sound without spending a lot of money, you could look at their pedal. :D
  7. KJung

    KJung Supporting Member

    Joined:
    Apr 9, 2005
    Location:
    Wisconsin and Upper Michigan
    Nice review. GREAT rig you have there. +1 that the fan (there are two I believe) is 'moderately loud', but not a problem. I've CRANKED this head for hours into a relatively low efficiency 'super 15' at 4ohms (my Thunderchild 115), and it never even got remotely warm to the touch. Totally rock solid.

    A couple of things in addition to your great review for others reading this. 1) While the pedal and amp do sound (not surprisingly) very similar, the addition of the variable drive control on the amp opens up quite a bit of subtle tweaking that allows for a more vintage type tone without all out distortion. That 'infinite ratio' capability of gain and drive is very cool. 2) The 'clip' light on the TH500 is a bit different than other power amp clip lights in that it is kind of a 'general preamp clip' indicator, not necessarily a 'reaching the limit of the power section. That is, I believe, the reason that the Aguilar guys say you can run the amp with the clip light flashing all night with no issue.

    I'll say again that the DB cab with TH500 is one of the great 'match-ups' if you want it warm, fat and punchy.

    Enjoy!!!!
  8. CL400Peavey

    CL400Peavey Supporting Member

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    The variable drive is the only thing I really miss on my TH pedal.
  9. GRoberts

    GRoberts Supporting Member

    Joined:
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    Location:
    Tucson, AZ USA
    I would LOVE to Ty a TH500 with a DB cab! Awesome review and nice filling in more details by Kung.
  10. Green Lantern

    Green Lantern

    Joined:
    Nov 3, 2011
    I recorded my bass through the DI on the TH. Though I do not hear any difference through the cabinet I found through the DI into my Portico pre a little hum. With a push of the ground button, the sound went away. With the pre/post button, it was also a little quieter in the pre setting. I found the recording of my bass into Cubase to be stellar through the DI which is now my favorite DI for my bass. What a great amp!
  11. GRoberts

    GRoberts Supporting Member

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    GREAT Point! The TH500 is an awesome / Flexible DI box for recording!
  12. SJan3

    SJan3

    Joined:
    Dec 8, 2010
    Well, I'm very glad you're so pleased with the Tonehammer 500/DB cab. Mine arrives tomorrow!! I'm anxious to put it up against my LM3. So, you felt the SL speakers a little lacking in the lows compared to GS and DBs? I've wondered if the weight savings are worth any sacrifice in tone. Anyone like to weigh in on that??
  13. GRoberts

    GRoberts Supporting Member

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    A pro bass player friend who I trust as we share similar tonal preferences said he thought the SL112 sounded a bit lightweight, bordering on scooped or hollow in contrast to the DB112. I forget exactly how he put it. But that was the essence.

    I also think the Aguilar TH500 is gonna kill the LMIII.
  14. KJung

    KJung Supporting Member

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    That LMIII is still an amazing box. The Aguilar has a much more open low end, and will generate more volume and 'meat' down there. The clarity of the top end.... not so much. Different things, and both are IMO at the top of the list for 'doing what they do'.
  15. GRoberts

    GRoberts Supporting Member

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    Location:
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    I hear ya. Maybe it wasn't fair to compare the head section of my Markbass CMD121 combo (which I believe is an LMII/III. I did a brief in home demo / comparison of my friends TH500 to the head section of the MB head from the combo (into my Berg AE410 cab to keep things equal)

    For me, the Aguilar was way punchier and truly had more meat. I noted what sounds like significant limiting going on the LMII amp. Maybe there is a difference in the head that comes in the combo to prevent from blowing out the speaker in the combo. Not sure. But my friend B String also commented that he felt the LMII/III had some internal limiting going on. Whatever the case is, the Aguilar TH500 sounded great using my Nordy VJ5 Jazz style bass. Plenty of high end for me, though not quite as solid state or sparkly as the highs in the MB head. This was just my observation on a 30 minute comparison. Side-by-side in my home, into a 4 ohm Berg AE410.
  16. KJung

    KJung Supporting Member

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    +1 in that, again, the TH500 has a bigger, more open low end. The key strength of the LMII/III is the very even tone. The TH500 is STRONGLY voiced to the low end, just like the DB750 it emulates.

    +1 That if you are playing at 'full blast', the TH500 will outperform the LMIII in 'noncompressed low end'. Very impressive. Whether one prefers the VERY different tone of those two heads is another matter.

    Our buddy B String is unfortunately running all these heads at 8ohms, often into single small cabinets that IMO are not really up to the requirements of the gig. If you are slapping an LMII/III at 8ohms into a single 210, you are going to hit the soft limiting all the way. At 4ohms, into a 212 or 2 x 112, not so much IMO.

    That being said, 'maximum uncompressed volume' was not necessarily the LMII/III's strength, and for those with aggressive playing styles who push a small rig to its absolute limits, there are better options.

    All good stuff, and no free lunch.:)
  17. GRoberts

    GRoberts Supporting Member

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    Understood, although I am not entirely talking about maximum volume. But I was however pushing the amps to simulate playing with a loud drummer in a band setting. (LMII/III Master Vol at 11 o'clock) ...which is truly fairly loud. I've been told to turn down on stage when my LMII was set there. Then again, that's usually my personal 'max vol'. So your point stands perhaps.

    Yes both amps have their strengths and I truly Dig my MB CMD121p combo with the LMII head. It is quite valid, yet as you said, very different from the TH500. Having heard both side by side however, if I could only have one, I would choose ....
    .......
    ..........
    The TH500. :D

    But I like options and the TH500 is affordable enough, as is the LMII, (CMD121p in my case) ...to have both! ...I just need to get my own TH500 at some point in the near future. I love it's signature "Aguilar sound". Extremely valid! :D
  18. KJung

    KJung Supporting Member

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    Again, I LOVE my TH500 for my more vintage, rough sort of tone needs (I replaced my Streamliner900 with it). I am not particularly happy with it for when I am going for a more clean, modern, J tone, which is why I still gig my F500 regularly. For me, the TH500 is in the class of the RH450, the Streamliner, the Walkabout, the Orange hybrids, etc... that sort of 'vintage meets modern' 'older school' fat, warm, rougher tone that just speaks with a P Bass to me.

    Of course, when I really want to hammer it home cleanly with a J at high volumes, I use the Glockenklang Blue Soul... that would be a whole different discussion:D

    The TH500 is definitely my 'tube amp emulation' (for lack of a better descriptor) head of choice at the moment:bassist:
  19. GRoberts

    GRoberts Supporting Member

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    'vintage meets modern' 'older school' fat, warm, rougher tone that just speaks ....Yeah! That's what I am getting from the Orange TB500H I am using now ...and that's some of why I liked the Aguiltar TH500.

    Yet I don;'t believe audience members at my shows would identify the bass tone coming from a TH500 or even the Orange TB500 H as Vintage yet modern. I think they would just hear 'punchy bass' that sits well in the band mix. In fact, I gigged with my Orange twice last weekend and both nights I got compliments on my bass tone. I expect the same would be true with the Aguilar Tonehammer TH500.
  20. KJung

    KJung Supporting Member

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    +1 Nice to have that sort of vibe in the 'toolbox' when you feel like it. I definitely play a bit differently when using the TH500 versus the F500. Different experience, with the TH500 being FAT and a bit 'blurry' in note definition, really pushing you into staying below the 5th fret and playing totally for the groove (which is a good thing!), and the F500 (or LMII or various other more 'solid state' voiced heads) really bringing out more nuance, and that 'winding on the B string tone and note separation' that pushes to you open up a bit technique-wise (IMO and IME).

    I guess I'd say the same thing about the P versus J. So, the TH500 with my P Bass and the F500 with my J base combinations tend to 'multiply' the above.

    Whether the audience notices or not is beyond my control, but the 'feel of the band' definitely changes, which is cool.
  21. GRoberts

    GRoberts Supporting Member

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    Man, Ken! The way you describe things in terms of tone and performance is almost always DEAD-ON for me as a general rule! I totally get your description; 'fat and a little blurry'. Yet I still think you can hear the 'windings' with the TH500 and other amps. Just not quite as much as the more solid state sounding MB heads and others.

    I spent years gravitating to "clean and clear/bordering on modern" only to discover that once I got there, it was a bit too pristine for rock, blues, top40 dance/hip Hop etc. I was missing 'fat, grindy, a bit blurry' Old school magic. LOL As much as my tonal center has always been toward a mix of Marcus' slap tone and Jaco's "burpy growl", the music I play doesn't call for that at all.

    So now I'm really digging the fat, punchy, grindy old school 'kick-you-in-the-chest' bump that I get from amps like the TH500 and my current Orange TB500h. (even from my Nordy VJ5 basses!)

    The Orange Terror TB500h has a bit of built-in distortion in the mids. (Hence the blurry description fitting quite well) Yet the mids are still nicely complex, harmonically rich, chewy, yet focused and articulate at the same time. ..and I heard that articulate, well voiced midrange complexity from the Aguilar Tonehammer TH500 as well. I thought the Tonehammer TH500 was a bit more midrangey than the Orange Terror TB500h actually. Yet the Tonehammer 500 mids could be dialed up or down with more flexibility. But there was more inherent low-end bump, punch in a focused way from the Orange. (Sorry for all the Orange references). But having compared it directly to the Tonehammer TH500, they are somewhat similar. Yet dare I say, the Orange feels more like it has an iron transformer. There was just a touch more 'authority' in its delivery. I should start an Orange Terror TB500h versus Aguilar Tonehammer TH500 thread come to think of it!

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