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Amp Comparison: Markbass F1 and LMIII, Ampeg SVT-7Pro and AI Ten2

Discussion in 'Amps and Cabs [BG]' started by Pat C., Apr 19, 2010.

  1. Pat C.

    Pat C. Supporting Member

    Jan 1, 2005
    Tuscaloosa, AL, USA
    I got a chance to try out all these amps this past weekend. Store demos only, not on a gig, but I feel like I got to hear their character and their individual capabilities.

    I was able to demo the Acoustic Image at New York Bass Works while I was there getting some repairs done. It was a Focus 2R head (a slightly older version with 600 watts vs. the new ones with 800 watts) along with the Ten2 Extension cab. Check out my mini review here. I tried the other amps out at Guitar Center using my NYBW 6-string into a Markbass 1x15" cab. My comparison categories are a bit odd, but when I test things out I look for specific traits. Hopefully my observations are helpful to someone else as well.

    Full disclosure - my regular rig is a Demeter Preamp, Crown Marcrotech Power amp rack setup. So my reference tone is a warm, open sound with a ton of headroom available. My main goal with these comparisons was to get an idea of how some of these micro heads may match up.

    • Best "plug in and play" tone: With all EQ set totally flat it is a toss-up between the Ampeg or Acoustic Image. I didn't hear these two side by side, but hours apart on the same day through different cabinets, so my comparison is very subjective. If pressed, I'd probably give the edge to the Ampeg. Both of the Markbass heads seemed a little dark, like the highs were tempered a bit (the VLE and VPF were off at this point). They didn't sound bad, just not as open as the other two.
    • Best "fiddle a little and get a lot" tone: The Markbass heads take this one. Turn that VLE knob about 2/3 the way up and you've got instant vintage. Very cool. Turn it back down and spin the VPF and you've got a very nice scooped tone which works for slap and a smooth, crisp fingerstyle. Both those controls work very well...much, much better than I was expecting. Well done, Markbass.
    • Most useful EQ, or the "fiddle a lot and get a lot" award: goes to the Ampeg. The Markbass EQs worked fine, but the Ampeg had the most versatility with the Ultra High and Low buttons, and the 5-way selector for the mids. A lot of sound manipulation at your disposal. The Ampeg also has a built in compressor, although I'm not likely to use it. The AI EQ is very basic (and the EQ centers seem inferior to the other heads), although the variable high pass is very useful.
    • Most "volume per pound" award: They all seem capable of pretty high volumes. The Markbass amps probably take this one because of their super light weight. The AI is right up there as well and really kicked with the Ten2 extension cab. The Ampeg has more power, but is the heaviest at a whopping 15lbs.
    • Most headroom: This was an eye opener, but the result was not totally surprising. One of my bigger concerns with these lighter amps is their ability to handle transient peaks: slap on the B string, digging in fingerstyle, etc. To test this out I did my best to set the perceived volume at the same level for all three amps. The Ampeg was the top performer here, followed closely by the AI, with the LMIII a little ways back from there. The F1 did not do well as it seemed to "chop off" the percussion attack of this playing style. The explanation for the differences I noted here is not necessarily amplifier brand, type or class, but that the Ampeg and AI put out more power than the other two (600watts for 300watts during these tests), and the additional headroom allows those peaks to be properly produced. Although, the LMIII clearly outperformed the F1 in this regard and that may have to due with amp class. Hmmmm. Either way, I don't doubt that some of the bigger Markbass heads would do better in this department. And for some players this transient capability is not crucial and the difference is irrelevant.

    I went into this comparison with the mindset of if I found anything that blew me away I was going to purchase it. Well, that didn't happen, but I was very, very impressed by all these amps. They all did several things well and I probably could use any of them on a gig and not have too many complaints. If I were forced to purchase one of these tomorrow, if I were picking by "best tone, most power" for the price I'd go with the Ampeg ($800). If price were no object and I wanted to be sure about reliability I'd go with the AI (~$1100). If price was the biggest concern I'd go with the LMIII ($600). The more expensive F1 ($800) did not perform as well as the LMIII, I'd probably leave it off my list because of that.
  2. Jimmy Stump

    Jimmy Stump

    Jan 27, 2010
    Nice review, thanks!
  3. Jim C

    Jim C Is that what you meant to play or is this jazz? Supporting Member

    Nov 29, 2008
    Bethesda, MD
    Thanks for your review; wonder how may will disagree?
  4. Kind of hard to agree or disagree since the head reviews were confounded with the different cabs used. The OP's results were surely not how I hear these heads (at least the MB and AI heads, which I've gigged a lot, not familiar with the Ampeg 7), but through the different cab combinations, I'm sure he 'heard what he heard'.

    Nice write-up though, as long as people interpret the findings as the full rigs, not the performance of the heads alone.
  5. Good review. Thanks.
    Ironically it is the SVT-7 that has its problems with peaks. So much for headroom.
    It goes stupid loud though, but a strong peak shuts it down for about 2 seconds. Too bad, I'd love to have this amp.
  6. Pat C.

    Pat C. Supporting Member

    Jan 1, 2005
    Tuscaloosa, AL, USA
    Why did you delete your other response?


    I compared three of the heads with the same cabinet (a Markbass 1x15") in a crowded Guitar Center Showroom. To the extent that I was able to test the amps' capabilities I think this was the best I could do (same bass, same cab, different heads). I had my speaker cabinets with me in the car, if any of the amps had blown me away I may have dragged the cabs into the store to get a more accurate impression with my complete rig.

    I did a "virtual comparison" with the AI stuff. That was the best I could do since the amps were not in the same room at the same time.

    Until an amp company or retailer will let me take a half dozen rigs out on a gig (or several gigs) for free, this is the only option I have - get the best impression I can get under the circumstances.

    Obviously none of this was very scientific. :meh: It's all based on my likes, my ears, my bass, my memory, etc. Plus, I didn't get to hear any of them on a gig, which is the only way the I could tell if an amp will suit my needs.

    Someone else's needs may be completely different, and they may get the completely opposite impression of the same product because of their personal taste, or testing circumstances, or "test validity", or whatever. Interpretation of all these varying opinions is up to the reader.

    People should take the reviews for what their worth, my small attempt to get a listen to gear I may be interested in. But when enough people post their personal impressions on TB, then it's easier for others to get a general impression of that product as well, enough of an impression to decide if it's worth them trying out for themselves. All a good thing, IMO.
  7. I felt my original post was too critical.... your review is a good one:).

    Having gigged the LMII and F1 for a long time now (years), most find the F1 having a bit more headroom, volume and brightness than the LMII/III. However, that comparison on my part was based on the LMII. They might have slightly modified the LMIII to be a little more open when pushed... not sure. Also, for some, the 8ohm operation of the smaller MB amps results in them being under the wattage threshold needed to really provide open, full tone when aggressively played. These amps really shine when run at 4ohms, but can be a bit unimpressive at 8ohms, especially compared to amps that have 8ohm wattage that is significantly higher.

    There is a comparison clip of the F1 and LMII with the wonderful Bergantino AE410 on my Youtube channel if you want to 'hear what I hear' between these two amps through a full range, relatively high SPL 4ohm cab.

    I also found the Focus (now the Clarus+) 'louder' in an absolute sense than my Markbass heads, but also darker and woolier, with very limited EQ.

    I have not tried the Ampeg 7Pro, but reports are that it can really kick out the wump!
  8. jnewmark

    jnewmark Just wanna play the groove. Supporting Member

    Aug 31, 2006
    Stax 1966
    Third St. Cigar Records staff musician.
    I have not tried the Ampeg or AI heads, but have tried the MB heads, and can definitely vouch for Ken's comments about them really opening up at 4 ohms. In fact, I would'nt even consider these heads at 8 ohms, scientific or not, they just sound more " in your face " at a 4 ohm load.

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