SWR Headlite vs Markbass F1

Discussion in 'Amps [BG]' started by vin*tone, Jan 16, 2013.


  1. vin*tone

    vin*tone

    Joined:
    Oct 19, 2008
    Location:
    Ballaarat, Ostraya
    Hey folks. I'm wondering if any of you out there have been able to A/B the SWR Headlite to the MB F1 - very similar-ish heads. Both true teeny gig baggers, 1RU, transparent, 400/500W, good reviews on both. Cost is not an issue. The 2 used ones that have popped up are nearly the same.

    Looking for your thoughts....

    Tx, Vin
  2. B String

    B String Supporting Member

    Joined:
    Apr 11, 2002
    Location:
    Los Angeles
    I think a more even match up would be the F500 versus the Headlight. Almost the same features.
    The Markbass F500 would probably have more headroom and real world power. I think the F500 has a more neutral sound out of the box too. The SWR has that baked in "SWR" sound.

    I hate that the Markbass heads have parallel effects loops, which means everything goes through the preamp. The SWR has series effects loops, so its more useful. (in my opinion)
    I could use a different preamp maybe for an upright bass through the power supply. Also......I loved the F1 when it came out, but the eq points really bugged me. Mainly the low mids. The sweepable mids make a huge difference for me.
  3. BassmanPaul

    BassmanPaul Gold Supporting Member

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    Aug 25, 2007
    Location:
    Toronto Ontario Canada
    IIRC SWR is no longer in production. In my mind that tilts the scale dramatically.
  4. vin*tone

    vin*tone

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    Oct 19, 2008
    Location:
    Ballaarat, Ostraya
    Well I think they're both out of production now. But both these units are on the used market so is not a concern.
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  6. Jeff Scott

    Jeff Scott Don't just TalkBass - PlayBass! Supporting Member

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    NE Ohio
    What Paul is saying that ALL SWR product is no longer being made, I think.

    I have only tried the Headlite once and found it rather bright sounding compared to the F1 I used to own. What kind of "baked-in" sound are you looking for?
  7. vin*tone

    vin*tone

    Joined:
    Oct 19, 2008
    Location:
    Ballaarat, Ostraya
    I've held back describing my tonal goals bc people would immediately tell me to grab a TH500 or Streamliner. I go for a "vintage" tone BUT I've been tending towards more transparent amps lately - and letting the vintage tone of the bass do all the work. I much prefer the Baby Blue combo to the Mesa WA and Ampeg B15.

    I don't really get it when people talk about the "SWR sound"....This is a gospel recording through the BB DI and mic on the cab.


    .
    Last edited by a moderator: Apr 16, 2014
  8. B String

    B String Supporting Member

    Joined:
    Apr 11, 2002
    Location:
    Los Angeles
    I agree with Kjung, (again) I think the F500 is one of the best amps Markbass has made. Feels like more headroom than the other Markbass 300/500 watt heads with better eq.
  9. DWBass

    DWBass The Funkfather Supporting Member

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    Disclosures:
    Kohlman Bassworks
    Still befuddled why Markbass discontinued that F500! :rollno:
  10. vin*tone

    vin*tone

    Joined:
    Oct 19, 2008
    Location:
    Ballaarat, Ostraya
    but I definitely dial out the very highs. I like tight but present lows, a solid low mid and clear mid.
  11. MuthaFunk

    MuthaFunk

    Joined:
    May 8, 2007
    Location:
    GTA Ontario Canada
    I have a few of the amps you mentioned. The Mesa WA, SWR BBII, and of course the SWR Headlite and Markbass F500.

    +1 to the Markbass effects loop being parallel negating it's use as just a straight power amp. I think there's an internal jumper where you can select series though but I've never tried it... Perhaps I'll crack it open tonight to find out.

    The F500 is a truly well built unit and it's sound is great. Very usable EQ. You should give the F1 a try first if you can as I know I often use the semi-parametric functions of the F500 and might feel the F1 a little limited. Especially since I know you own and use a SWR BBII with that sweet semi-para EQ.

    The Headlite is a fine amp too however, it is not a modern rendition of the BBII. I really wish it was but I find it rather different both in sound and feel. The EQ points seem to have a narrow Q which really limits the use of all three bands. It has the AE bypass which is a great feature (I performed this mod on my BBII and love it) and it also sports the new AE setting at 800 Hz? Marcus Miller helped define. I really like both the bypassed sound and the new AE range. The classic SWR sound and AE is still there if you like it.

    Much like all the class D heads I've tried the SWR's 400WRMS sounds more like 250WRMS lead sled to me. In the TB community I seem to be the minority in finding the micro's not delivering the same whump as their equally rated AB counterparts... Having said that, the F500 was the closest to real world rated power I've tried in the micro category. My goal with the F500 was to replace my 400 WRMS Eden WT400 and volume wise it was there, just not a similar enough tone.

    As for sound between the Headlite and F500.... tell you what, I'll lay down some short soundcloud files for you later tonight if you want. I'll set the F500's Semi-Parametric EQ at noon which should be the same as the F1's EQ if I'm not mistaken. The Headlite is capable of a lot of different sounds so I can do a quick clip of each of the 3 AE settings and sweep the EQ's while I'm in each. I think you'll find the Headlite more versatile.

    Let me know if you want me to do that or if you'd prefer I play a certain way or try to obtain a certain sound with both.... Slap? Finger funk? Jazzy smoothness... Just ask. I've appreciated reading vin*tone's opinions and experience here on TB and I'm more than happy to help out.

    I don't know why the SWR Headlite didn't really take off, perhaps it was the power rating vs it's price. The truth of the matter is that it makes a hell of a back up amp. It's the smallest size to power ratio micro out there with one of the lowest weights, has a slew of real useful studio features, a highly effective tube preamp that can go from very transparent to super SWR colored. It's all win for me. I think it's just SWR isn't "cool" anymore. I blame Fender's marketing for that as I find their amps more than capable for many pro level bassists.
  12. MuthaFunk

    MuthaFunk

    Joined:
    May 8, 2007
    Location:
    GTA Ontario Canada
    With this description, I think you'll really like the SWR Headlite with the AE Bypass engaged. The F1 / F500 doesn't seem to have the same extension down low.
  13. vin*tone

    vin*tone

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    Ballaarat, Ostraya
    Thanks MF, that would be awesome - if not too much bother.

    I'm a finger-styler through n through. Flatwound TIs on passive basses....Old school funk, jazz, ska, rocksteady is my bread n butter.

    Thanks all for your comments. I've actually got the opportunity to borrow an F1 tomorrow so I'll get to check it out in person.

    Funny you should mention the Eden. The amp I have is the WT550, which is awesome but maybe a little too ... "coloured". It's also quite heavy for a compact amp. If I could get by with a compact that would be a winner.
  14. jnewmark

    jnewmark Supporting Member

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    I'm hoping that the price of the Headlite continues to drop. There is a couple on Ebay right now for $499.
  15. MuthaFunk

    MuthaFunk

    Joined:
    May 8, 2007
    Location:
    GTA Ontario Canada
    These went on a little longer than I thought but the SWR has so many different options. I placed comments in the waves to describe what I was doing next with settings. I didn't put as much effort into the F500 because you'll get a good feel for it when you play it. I think you'll dig a little VPF and then sweep up the VLE until you get that vintage quality your looking for.

    https://soundcloud.com/muthafunk-1/swr-headlite-sound-samples-old

    https://soundcloud.com/muthafunk-1/markbass-f1-500-sound-samples

    The thing to keep in mind is these are DI signals. The respective poweramps do impart their own sound on the final product you'll be hearing and the F1 is more powerful both in ratings and in practical use IMO. The F1 seems to have a limiter built in that I hit and it's not to my liking. You can't bypass it. The SWR is no slouch in the sound department but it's output is a little lower than it's given rating IMO. It has a very good adjustable compressor on board that one can bypass.

    Good luck. Let us know how you fair.
  16. vin*tone

    vin*tone

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    Oct 19, 2008
    Location:
    Ballaarat, Ostraya
    [​IMG]

    Man that is entirely awesome.

    A/B ing the crap outta them now.

    Interesting how much better the SWR sounds than the dry DAW. One benefit I can see already is that the effects is before the EQ (??) on the amplite. The Eden does not. This would be real handy for ipad demo-ing.
  17. vin*tone

    vin*tone

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    Oct 19, 2008
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    MF how do find gigging SWR? I'm a little cautious about its "underpowered" rep. Note that I don't play in loud bands. A ska band with a brass section, but no Marshall stacks. I did find the Mesa WA thru 2 x 112's juuuuuuuuuuust a bees genital too quiet.
  18. Jheake

    Jheake

    Joined:
    Jan 21, 2010
    Location:
    Chandler az
    Alot of people say the Headlite is underpowered. I don't understand that myself. I think they should have never put the power amp clip light on the head. It throws people off it seems.

    That amp has the ability to really cut through the mix. For what they call 400 watts I have yet to find a situation where I had any trouble hearing myself.

    Yet in the same room I have had an svt7 pro cut out trying to be heard.
    I run a golight 4ohm cab with it.

    Granted I run it low mid heavy, but still that amp shines. It's too bad all people use is what is popular. It killed a great brand IMO.

    People are so quick to slam SWR. It really quite tragic IMO that the company is about to disappear.

    A SWR amp with an ash bodied maple neck jazz bass is an iconic tone IMO.
    The headlight may have been a bit overpriced but it's full of features.

    I've owned alot of smaller micros. I think it stomped them all.

    Gk mbfusion
    Ampeg PF 500
    Ampeg Svt 7pro

    Just to name a few.

    I've only touched a couple mark bass heads and while they were loud they didn't sound very organic to me. That was probably my lack of understanding their eq though.

    YMMV
  19. MuthaFunk

    MuthaFunk

    Joined:
    May 8, 2007
    Location:
    GTA Ontario Canada
    You know, I've never gigged it. I keep it in my case as a back up should whatever my main amp is that day kicks out on a gig. I've used it at practice and it's quite capable of hanging with a drummer in a small room. I have typically used it with a 410 cab. I would say as far as clean headroom goes you could compare it to the Mesa WA. I wouldn't say you'll get more clean bass out of the Headlite than the Walkabout though.

    +1 to the power amp clip light. I find it comes on a little early before audible distortion is heard. I think if Mesa put a clip light on the WA it wouldn't be favored quite so much either. I believe many people run the WA well into clipping most of the time. My Eden WTX500 is the same as the Headlite and I've come to get used to running it with the power amp clip light on often. It still sounds clean to me despite the light. Although I haven't tested it, I think the Headlite would be in the same boat.

    I'll run a little experiment today to see how they compare volume wise. I'll plug my VT Bass pedal into the Effects Return of both the Mesa WA and the Headlite and report back on how they do.
  20. KJung

    KJung Supporting Member

    Joined:
    Apr 9, 2005
    Location:
    Wisconsin and Upper Michigan
    I can't provide any info regarding the SWR. Like many others, just lost interest in that brand and had 'not great' experiences with previous SWR products.

    Regarding the F1, just FYI, but the direct replacement for that discontinued amp is the Markbass Big Bang. I have not tried one, but it is getting great reviews as being tonally right in the middle of the wonderful LMIII and the wonderful F1 (i.e., a bit warmer and fatter than the F1, and a bit more open wump and mid punch than the LMIII).

    The front end is identical to the LMIII/F1, with the addition of some extra features like aux in and headphone out. The form factor is more like a smaller LMIII.

    I assume the reason for the discontinuation of the F500 and the Headlite (the F1 was pretty much replaced by the F500) is that not enough people bought them. My guess for the reason is the general lack of 'comfort' with the SWR brand these days, and the price per perceived power. For the F500 (and this hit the Headlite also IMO) is ALL those knobs on that small piece of real-estate. I think that scared the typical bassist who isn't a TB tech wanker like us:p

    Edit: As some know, I LOVE to try new heads. After years of owning about every micro in existence (and quite a few 'full sized' heads), the F500 stays around as my primary gigging head. Shame that one is off the market. To me, a PERFECT combination of power, size, relatively neutral but not sterile tone, perfect voicing regarding hi passing (i.e., the nature of the deep low end), and a literally perfect feature set for me (mute switch, dual semiparametric mids, great full featured DI, usable filters), and a fantastic form factor, combined with uber reliability and (finally) a good US service and support network. Before the F500, I gigged the F1. The only two things I didn't dig with that head were 'fixed' by the F500.... the fixed low midrange voiced too high (useless IMO), and the 'fixed post EQ DI' (unless you popped the top and moved a jumper).
  21. MuthaFunk

    MuthaFunk

    Joined:
    May 8, 2007
    Location:
    GTA Ontario Canada
    Well I just A/B'd the Headlites power amp against the Walkabouts power amp with my Eden WTDI into each FX return. I thought I'd be better off using the WTDI because it's really clean sounding and I'm familiar with it's tone so I'd be able to recognize distortion breakup of each amp.

    I was surprised at how different they are tonally. The Mesa had a much thicker sound and with a little more punch. The SWR seemed to get just as loud but with much less bottom present.

    IMO if you found the Walkabout to be just shy of enough power for you, the Headlite will not satisfy your needs. It is most certainly not louder to my ears running at 5.3 ohm into a 610 cab.

    This is all very subjective of coarse so YMMV

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