Are traditional class A/B solid state amps doomed?

Discussion in 'Amps and Cabs [BG]' started by dr0, Oct 17, 2016.

  1. dr0


    Oct 17, 2016
    Hi. First time poster. I'm a guitarist who is interested in bass amps, as I'd like to get one for my home studio for practice so my friends who play bass don't have to haul stuff to my place & up the stairs - all the time. (I already have a nice drum kit for same reason. It's great.)

    Having played in bands for many years I've been exposed to a bunch of different bass amps. For the last 7 or 8 years both guys I've played with used GK's. But previously have played with people with Ampegs, etc.

    As far as guitar amps go I favor 50 watt tube jobs and mostly use either a Fender Bassman combo (4x10) or Marshall 50 JCM 800. So, used to playing with bass players with pretty decent full sized rigs.

    Looking at the state of the bass amp market, and confining myself to standalone heads it seems to me there are really three main types and tiers of amps:

    Category 1. High end tube amps. Typically $1,200 to $2,200 and up. Ampeg SVTs, Orange AD-200, Fender Repos, Mesa, etc.

    Category 2. High end solid-state amps (some w/ Tube preamps): Gallien-Kruger, Trace Elliot are big here, many others... From about $700 up to and above $1200.

    Category 3. And now the Class D lightweight amps which almost all of the firms above have their own versions of, all of which are substantially smaller, lighter and less expensive than most of the Category 1 and 2 amps. Most under $800 or so.

    Obviously tube amps have their lovers (I'm one as far as guitar amps go) and so there will always be a market for these, despite the disadvantages of weight, expense and upkeep.

    And equally obvious Category 3 is here to stay. Small micro-amps putting out big power at a relatively low price will always be attractive for lots of reasons.

    Which leads to my question: are the days of the (now) conventional class A/B solid state bass amp waning?

    I know that in Hi Fi these are still the format for most of the super high end amps, but hi fi guys don't move their equipment around so a pair of 100 lb mono blocks from Bryston or ParaSound isn't a real inconvenience.

    If you look at at the companies that were the kings of A/B amps a lot of them seem to be fading. Others (like G/K) have jumped to the Category 3 with both feet.

    What's your thoughts on this? What would you buy as a guest amp in the situation I've described? (For maybe use w/ spare 4x12 cab.) Is there any real reason to favor Category 2 (what I would have been shopping for a couple years ago) over Category 3? (I'm thinking of buying new, as I get tired of taking my amps to the doctor. Vintage tube stuff is great, but needs a lot of TLC to keep sounding that way.)

    What's a minimum power rating you'd suggest? I see 4x the guitar amp, which would say 200 watts. There are some a lot of 200 watt amps from good makers (G/K) for $300 new. Would that be "under-gunned" for pushing a 4x12 half stack to keep up with a 50 watt tube guitar amp? (We try to play as low as we can, drummers as always set the volume threshold).

    Thanks much for your time and advice.
  2. As long as Russia keeps churning out tubes, the glass bottle amps will be alive and well.
    I jumped on the SS bandwagon in '67. All discrete and not much power.
    I say just go with a 500 Watt (350 Watts without extension cab) 2x10 combo like a GK or Fender and be done with it. This new SS Class D stuff is the bees knees for power, portability, ruggedness and range of tone.
    fretlessguy and JakobT like this.
  3. basscooker

    basscooker Commercial User

    Apr 11, 2010
    Northern KY
    Cab fan, hobbyist
    It's really hard to find benefits over the newer lightweight category for your situation. The Ampeg PF series solid state heads are sort of in between your category 2 and 3, and can satisfy some folks that like to be category 1 guys.

    I would recommend a combo like OGB stated above. A 412 guitar cab might go "pop" if you get a bit enthusiastic with the whole band raging. Lots of good stuff that fall into the range he suggested.

    If you do go for just a head, you'll need a proper bass cab too. Cabs have followed suit too, as far as losing weight. A good 212 bass cab these days can come in under 60 pounds. I'd say a Subway with the complimentary 12+15 mesa cabs would be beyond great for your needs. A 212 neo and a GK MB series 500 or 800 would be a great rig, too. There's a lot of love for the newest Kustom , (GC) Acoustic, Fender and Quilter offerings for a slightly lower priced option. The newest Peaveys look really good, too. So many options I'm a bit envious of anyone shopping for a new rig these days.

    As far as your category 2 stuff, the Hartke and GK rack sized amps are not going to disappoint, either, so like I said lots of excellent stuff these days for bass.

    Unless you really need to keep it, I'd definitely recommend losing the idea that the 412 cab will be a good way to go for a bass rig. It will very likely get blown up. It will probably sound great until it dies, but it will die an ugly death with a strong head on top pumping out a full range bass signal at band volume.

    I as well recommend skipping over the 200-350 watt (@4ohm) range with whatever purchase you make.

    Good luck, and post up a NAD thread and some shots of this band room, we love the jam-spot pron ;)
  4. Jeff Scott

    Jeff Scott Rickenbacker guru..........

    Apr 11, 2006
    Out there!
    I think of Krell, Mark Levinson, Classé, Cello, Threshold, etc. when I think of super high end home hi-fi solidstate amps (I was big into this stuff in the '80s and '90s). These amps invariably have super massive chassis, highly machined, thick face plates, huge heatsinks, etc. which is a big part of the appeal (and charm?) of this stuff. Myself, I saved a ton of money, and back muscles, by buying an Aragon 24k and 2004, and Maggies! Wonderful sound IME. :cool: A good friend of mine has a Bryston 4B ST that is a superb amp (I can only claim that I have a Bryston TF-1 :crying: :D that I occasionally use with the 24k, although its built-in MC preamp sounds just fine, thank you :)).

    As to Category 3, go with one of these great Class D/SMPS amps. They sound great, no excuses need be made for them. Choices that you should seriously consider are:

    Aguilar Tone Hammer 500
    Genzler Magellan 800
    Mesa S800/S800+

    All have very similar real world power and you will not be wanting anything with any of those amps; just add a suitable speaker cabinet, or two. If you do go with two cabs, make them identical, matching ones, such as two 1-15s, two 2-10s, two 2-12s, etc. :thumbsup:
    neal davis and Ewo like this.
  5. blubass


    Aug 3, 2007
    Modesto Ca
    Current: Blackstar, DR strings, Nady. Previous endorsements with: GK, Rotosound, Ernie Ball, Cleartone, EMG, Dean, Dava Picks, Rebel Straps, Dickies
    I don't think they're ever going to disappear in my lifetime. I do think some companies may lean more heavily on their class D products as they snowball in popularity. There's always unprecedented gains in technology advancement over time though. When or if class D amps are indistinguishable from valve amps, then it's a wrap.
    BrewsterRooster likes this.
  6. agedhorse

    agedhorse Supporting Member Commercial User

    Feb 12, 2006
    Davis, CA (USA)
    Development Engineer-Mesa Boogie, Development Engineer-Genzler (pedals), Product Support-Genz Benz
    Funny you mention Threshold. When I was about 1/2-way through my engineering program, I walked right into a part time service job that ultimately worked into a regional service manager position. The guy that I (and two others) replaced was Nelson Pass, founder of Threshold. He had gotten his degree a couple years earlier and needed to move on. I touched base with him a few years back, had a good chuckle at the people who came out of that job and were successful engineers in the industry. It's a pretty small world out there in audio land and for the most part there's plenty of respect for what each of us has accomplished. I am still friendly with the other two techs, I worked large production events with one for over 25 years, and the other is a video systems specialist. Funny that both of them went the video route and I stuck with audio.
  7. Jeff Scott

    Jeff Scott Rickenbacker guru..........

    Apr 11, 2006
    Out there!
    I don't recall, was there a period of time between Nelson leaving Threshold and starting Pass Labs?

    There was a time in my past where I craved a Threshold preamp, but the money wasn't there. I am quite happy with my Aragon components, as to me they are the poor man's Krell (Dan D'Agostino) I could also never afford.
  8. agedhorse

    agedhorse Supporting Member Commercial User

    Feb 12, 2006
    Davis, CA (USA)
    Development Engineer-Mesa Boogie, Development Engineer-Genzler (pedals), Product Support-Genz Benz
    IIRC, Threshold was kind of a soft shutdown/slowdown until he sold it. He had a couple of partners. I think he started Pass Labs well before the sale of Threshold but not sure. I do remember that he continued to work his day job in service after he graduated, I recall that he shared the service position just like we did.
  9. JimmyM

    JimmyM Supporting Member

    Apr 11, 2005
    Apopka, FL
    Endorsing: Yamaha, Ampeg, Line 6, EMG
    Are trad solid state amps going away? Well, they already have gone away in the pro sound business. Nobody wants to move giant racks full of 50 lb power amps. But they're still found in more permanent installations such as studios and venue-installed PA systems, so they haven't been displaced entirely in PA world yet, but definitely not as common.

    We musicians aren't forced to carry 10 amps in a single rack, though, and as long as there are musicians who don't like the sound of micros (and there are plenty out there), there will be musicians using traditional SS bass and guitar amps. In the 70's and 80's, they told us transistor amps would make tube amps obsolete, too, and 40 years later, nothing could be further from the truth.
    JOME77, Mik75, BassGreaser and 2 others like this.
  10. agedhorse

    agedhorse Supporting Member Commercial User

    Feb 12, 2006
    Davis, CA (USA)
    Development Engineer-Mesa Boogie, Development Engineer-Genzler (pedals), Product Support-Genz Benz
    The amps installed in any new venue are all class D unless the venue went cheap and bought a load of old boat anchors being unloaded like a ship full of dead fish. At the power levels being specified, better performance is possible with SMPS/class D, especially when you are talking about larger systems. Less AC power load is an immediate benefit, which improves performance by reducing voltage sag per watt delivered.

    Virtually all pro touring rigs these days are SMPS/class D, it just wouldn't be practical at these power levels. I recently serviced a large rig that was close to 250kW of audio power, that would be impractical with lead sled amps in terms of weight, size and power requirements.
  11. fdeck

    fdeck Supporting Member Commercial User

    Mar 20, 2004
    Madison WI
    HPF Technology LLC
    Nothing ever goes completely obsolete in music gear. One of my basses is a 250 year old design, that was doomed to be replaced by a little guitar shaped thingy in the 1950s. ;)

    But seriously, as a bassist who has used "house gear," my main concern is usually the speaker. I can make any amp work for me, so long as the speaker is workable. And many "speaker problems" turn out to really be acoustics problems.

    I'd get a lightweight, just in case it ever has to be moved around for any reason. On the other hand, if you find a lead sled bass amp that's kind of generic, not boutique, you can probably get it for pennies on the dollar from someone who's switching to a lightweight.
  12. Snaxster


    Nov 29, 2008
    Not yet. Especially not if in the analysis Class H qualifies as a type of Class A/B.
    Bob Lee (QSC) and Arthur U. Poon like this.
  13. buldog5151bass

    buldog5151bass Kibble, milkbones, and P Basses. And redheads.

    Oct 22, 2003
    You asked about power. For gigging in a rock band, I think 300 watts, and 2 15s, 2 12s, or 4 10s is the minimum.
  14. pbassjbass


    Jun 21, 2013
    This is for a home rehearsal studio? I'd be looking at the used market see what's there. If you get any of the tube or older SS stuff in good condition, it's going to last a long time if it is not being moved around. The micro stuff is good for the gig market, but you don't need either the power or light weight for home. Nobody can turn it up enough to ring out a real live tone.
  15. JimmyM

    JimmyM Supporting Member

    Apr 11, 2005
    Apopka, FL
    Endorsing: Yamaha, Ampeg, Line 6, EMG
    You say that like it never happens.

    I'm not talking large new theaters and arenas, BTW. I'm talking old smaller theaters that are perfectly happy with what they have and don't feel the need to upgrade, small bars powering small acts and not looking to provide massive PA for large loud acts, etc.

    And yet, pro tours did exactly that all through the 70's, 80's and 90's. Oh sure, the semi count went up exponentially but they all made it work and it would blow your head off, too.
    svtb15, tzohn, 40Hz and 1 other person like this.
  16. Joebone

    Joebone Supporting Member

    Oct 31, 2005
    California Republic
    Hey, I've lusted after those big faceplate hi-fi amps…some of them sound great! Cards on the table: Mark Levinson pre, ATC SCM50ASL self-powered speakers…state of the art….for 1998! Hey, my Denon TU-850 tuner is SOTA for 1980…ditto for my Technics SP10Mk.II turntable. Bought them all used within last 10 years, and happy as a pig in mud. Prior to that, all kinds of stuff, including a long run with Naim amps and Spendor speakers -again, almost always used, just as with my basses and bass amps...

    On Class A/B…I've had a bunch of Class D amps in the house and happy to use them for practice and rehearsal but have generally pulled out an A/B Thunderfunk for most gigs…but this may now be changing...
  17. OP if the 412 your thinking of using is an actual bass cabinet, like Aguilar's 412, that would be amazing. A guitar cab 412 won't have the low end authority and eventually would get ruined, blowing or creasing drivers.

    So assuming the cabinet is a bass cab, it probably is a 4 ohm box, so anything that provides 500 to 750 watts at 4 ohms will make a very solid rig. Since you don't plan on moving it, look for a classic A/B solid state amp, you could get one in decent shape used for very cheap. Note that the SS amps are not as fragile and maintenance intensive as the amps, so I think used would be the way to go.

    If you're set on a new amp, definitely a class D SMPS amp is the way to go as it will hold resale value much better.
    RaggaDruida likes this.
  18. We're all doomed, but other than that, no.
    jmattis, Pyrat and Old Garage-Bander like this.
  19. agedhorse

    agedhorse Supporting Member Commercial User

    Feb 12, 2006
    Davis, CA (USA)
    Development Engineer-Mesa Boogie, Development Engineer-Genzler (pedals), Product Support-Genz Benz
    For the most part, nowhere near this power level. In the 70's through 90's, 100kW was stadium level stuff. The 250kW rig I worked on last week was a mid sized arena system, stadium rigs fall into the 250-500kW range depending on music style. Remember that volume levels and low end extension has changed considerably since the 90's.

    Times have really changed, I started in the PA world in 1978 and designed my first PA amp in ~1982... A whopping 220 watts/channel!
  20. BogeyBass

    BogeyBass Inactive

    Sep 14, 2010
    well in the 90s you could buy used ampeg, acoustic, fender and sunn "lead sleds" dirt cheap used cause nobody wanted heavy amps and everybody was buying solid state.

    now those "lighter" amps apparently are heavy now. so you can pick up pretty powerful amplifiers dirt cheap. heck 810 goes for 400bucks now.
    I paid 400 bucks for my first svt head and it was more expensive buying a new 810 to put it on.

    for every 800 dollar class d head going into thermal shut down, crackle popping with dirty effects loops that never get used. there's a 150 dollar peavy firebass working just fine laughing at it. and every time a ampeg pro breaks there's a ampeg 450h that gets an extra watt from the watt fairy. lol.
    Last edited: Oct 17, 2016