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Avalon U5 1st gig report

Discussion in 'Amps and Cabs [BG]' started by PB+J, Feb 11, 2005.


  1. PB+J

    PB+J

    Mar 9, 2000
    arlington va
    I got this unit on ebay for $418: it normally goes new for around $540. My thinking was get a simple, really good sound and do more bass playing and less knob twiddling. I was very impressed with it at home, and tried it for the first time on a gig last night. The gig was in a bar where we've played twice a month for the last three years, so I know the room really well.

    I plugged my passive jbass into the avalon and then the avalon into a qsc plx 1202 feeding a genz-benz neox 2x12 cab. My usual rig is the same except a sansamp RBI for the preamp. I've always liked sansamps for bass--practical, useful, good sounding gear at a great price.

    Right away, the Avalon sounded MUCH MUCH better, with way more fundamental. Stronger, deeper, richer bass, but also sweeter top end. Often the sansamp gives you a gritty, grindy, "grainy" tone (which can be good, although it sometimes gets on my nerves and I usually have both the presence and the treble dialed way back)--none of that with the Avalon. Instead, there was this warm, very fat bass presence. It was missing the tube-ish compression of the sansamp, and at times I thought it produced too much bass--it was never muddy, but the bass seemed to kind of overwhelm the tune a little. But other than that it was far superior to the sansamp. I'm used to producing a more focused set of frequencies: the Avalon puts out a much flatter eq curve (the presets are mostly pretty subtle, but effective, more later) and so I was hearing more of my playing, and was finding the high end especially much more pleasing. The Avalon picked up subtleties in my playing (such as they are!) much more readily--it just felt like a more musical experience to play through it--it conveyed exactly what i played. Plucking closer to the neck had a much more pronounced effect than usual, as did moving down to the bridge, and dynamics were easier to produce, etc.

    The obvious shortcoming is the limited eq: the six presets don't change the basic "sound" of the unit, very different from the sansamp, which has very powerful active tone shaping and can get a lot of very different sounds. A quarter twist of the sansamp's bass knob makes a huge difference, which is what I'm used to. The avalon's presets are all passive filters and mostly involve relatively slight cuts in the mids at different frequencies. The word I'd use for these is "tasteful." Very musical, but they don't hugely alter the basic tone. They do add more "fat" or more "punch;" they were obviously designed by people with studio experience. It had me rethinking my playing a little--instead of just twiddling knobs, I was focused on bass playing instead of playing the amp, which is what I wanted.

    It sounded great, and very different--everyone in the band remarked on how good the bass sounded, the leader raved about the tone, and a local full time bass player who was in the bar all night said the tone was extremely good, fat, punchy and "traveled well:" that it worked as well in the front of the room as in the back. I don't know if i'll keep it though. I really, really love the tone, it's much more musical; it will be very hard to give that feeling up. It just may not be as practical. The sansamp is the swiss army knife of bassdom. The U5 is like a really really good chef's knife. In good hands the chef's knife can do just about anything--but the swiss army knife has a screwdriver, a canopener, etc. They just aren't as good. Tonight I have a gig in a different bar, completely different room with a different set of problems--we'll see how it goes

    Upsides:
    Great--really great--basic tone: warm, rich, detailed, musical, sweet
    simplicity--I like simplicity
    extremely solid build quality
    a great preamp and a great DI

    Downsides
    the limited eq options,
    the size (it's big and pretty heavy for what it is)
    no mute switch
    no effects loop (in never use effects, so don't care)
     
  2. IvanMike

    IvanMike Player Characters fear me... Staff Member Supporting Member

    Nov 10, 2002
    Middletown CT, USA
    cool review - one thought

    everyone raved about your tone - maybe active eq flexibility isn't something you/we need as much as you/we think. ;)
     
  3. PB+J

    PB+J

    Mar 9, 2000
    arlington va
    IvanMike:
    My thinking exactly. A lot of the time active eq is about getting a sound that imitates something else, and we spend a lot of time twiddling, imagining a sound that's more like this or that familiar tone. I liked the idea of just going for a really good basic tone and shaping it myself

    The leader raved about it, but he's biased towards avalon gear as he has a fancy avalon channel strip in his home recording studio. Everyone else remarked that it sounded really good
     
  4. IvanMike

    IvanMike Player Characters fear me... Staff Member Supporting Member

    Nov 10, 2002
    Middletown CT, USA
    forget what the leader said.....see what people who have no clue what you're using think .

    i agree with the minimal tone knob thing although i'm not anthony jackson. :p
    i've graduated from being a tone twiddler to using the subtle controls on my demeter, and even those i only turn a few clicks either way. The active eq on my bass helps when i "need" it, but even then i usually keep everything flat. If i really need a "raunch" tone i step on a sans amp BDDI. Other than that, It's all about the fingers. That's why i've been intrigued by the U5
     
  5. I loved my using U5 as part of my rig. Don't know why I sold it ... Reading your review makes me want another one.
     
  6. Eric Moesle

    Eric Moesle Supporting Member

    Sep 21, 2001
    Columbus OH
    Bingo. I call it the "new haircut" syndrome. Ever ask a woman what she thinks when you get a new haircut??? "l *LOVE* your new haircut!!!" Every time. It can make you look like a dufus, and they'll say they love it.

    Same for new gear. Tell your bandmates you got a great new expensive toy, and they'll likely comment favorably on your tone on break. You want a real opinion? Hide the fact that you have new gear, and see if they say anything . . .

    Though ultimately, IMO, the opinion that matters most is YOURS.
     
  7. PB+J

    PB+J

    Mar 9, 2000
    arlington va
    well I just got back from a second gig with the U5 and man, i'm impressed--what a great tone this thing has, and what a joy it is to play. It has such a deep, smooth, rich bass presence but plenty of high end bite if you want it. It's put my sansamp into retirement--it's a keeper
     
  8. IvanMike

    IvanMike Player Characters fear me... Staff Member Supporting Member

    Nov 10, 2002
    Middletown CT, USA
    just what a broke guy like me needs to hear :rolleyes:

    congrats. glad it's working out for ya.
     
  9. jobu3

    jobu3 Artist formerly known as Big Joe

    Feb 17, 2002
    Mountain Top, PA
    I absolutely LOVED the tone of my U5. I plan to get another one at some time. The top end on it was perfect. The bass was big, open, and deep. Flat was excellent, IMO. The only presets I really liked were 4 and I think 5. Recorded it was incredible. In one particular setting that I played, there was a little too much boom out of the box, which I was able to control with the bass's controls/p-up selection and technique.

    My concerns with the U5 weren't tone or flexibility or even reliability in the typical sense of the word. I know the construction and attention to detail were top-notch as anything would be from Avalon. My concerns were playing it in smoke-filled rooms... i.e. Bars and in practice spaces where my drummer at that time resembled the drummer from Cheap Trick with a smoke lit in his mouth almost at all times. I thought of it more as a studio piece rather than something I want to subject to mass quantities of airborne impurities. I'd be interested to hear from someone who has been using theirs more in smokey situations than anything to see how it held up.

    Other than that, my only gripes were the fact that it was two rack spaces and not just one, but that's my gripe with all two-RU preamps.
     
  10. Munjibunga

    Munjibunga Total Hyper-Elite Member Gold Supporting Member

    May 6, 2000
    San Diego (when not at Groom Lake)
    Independent Contractor to Bass San Diego
    I find that the EQ on the U5 does give me satisfactory tonal variation. I think it's important that the EQ on your bass is set pretty flat, though, so the U5 has something to work with. If you send a signal to it that's already bass- or treble-heavy, it can't give you the full range of tones.
     
  11. jokerjkny

    jokerjkny

    Jan 19, 2002
    NY / NJ / PA
    i love my U5. been in my main rig for a few weeks now. no EQ problems with my sadowsky onboard...
     
  12. SteveC

    SteveC Supporting Member

    Nov 12, 2004
    North Dakota
    I 'm on my second U5. I had one, sold it because I didn't think I needed such a "high end" preamp for my little gigs. Screw that, I have one again and love it.

    I also have a BDDI that I use with the Avalon when I want a Tube or SVT type sound.
     
  13. PB+J

    PB+J

    Mar 9, 2000
    arlington va
    I've played a bunch more gigs with it, electric and upright, into an amp and into the PA, and i just like it more and more. it just sounds good. And without the fancy eq controls i spend less time trying to dial in an imitation of someone else and more time playing bass as myself, if that makes any sense. I'm selling my RBI
     
  14. Fuzzbass

    Fuzzbass P5 with overdrive Supporting Member

    As you noted, the RBI and Avalon are two different animals: the former is intended to change your sound, the latter is not. I alternated between my RBI and a Read Purity. The Purity is a tube pre, but is designed to be transparent so I put it in the same ballpark as the Avalon.

    This year I've stuck with the Read for gigging, and when I feel the need for more edge I use a SABDDI in front of it. That's something for you to consider: I've learned to "never say never" WRT to that SansAmp tone.
     
  15. tombowlus

    tombowlus If it sounds good, it is good Gold Supporting Member

    Apr 3, 2003
    North central Ohio
    Editor-in-Chief, Bass Gear Magazine
    In terms of using one as a direct box, has anyone compared the U5 to the Aguilar DB 900? I'd like to get a really nice DI, and both of these are on my list. The Ampeg looks attractive, too.

    Tom.
     
  16. PB+J

    PB+J

    Mar 9, 2000
    arlington va
    selling the rbi, keeping the sabddi
     
  17. jokerjkny

    jokerjkny

    Jan 19, 2002
    NY / NJ / PA
    nowhere near what you're talking about, but with my Sadowsky, i have compared my Demeter tube DI to the Avalon.

    found that they were two very different boxes. the Dem's literally adds a warm glow to everything you put thru it. the U5 seems to add a magic dust'ish quality, and at the same time, allllllmmost sounds "woodier". no matter the settings, cant quite mimic the Dem with the U5. but again, two different sounds, IMHO.
     
  18. tombowlus

    tombowlus If it sounds good, it is good Gold Supporting Member

    Apr 3, 2003
    North central Ohio
    Editor-in-Chief, Bass Gear Magazine
    Thanks, that is very helpful, actually, as I forgot to mention that I have considered the Demeter as well.

    I'm mainly looking for something to use as a seperate DI box for my Walter Woods, but which might also work well in the front end of a rig.
     
  19. Tom
    I'm very happy with my Radial JDI using it with my WWU. Nice package and I get glowing tones from the House PA. I've gone through the WWU and also Bass straight into the house and then the WWU for the stage. Nice unit and it's passive and some cool little ditties you might want to check. This DI has a Jensen in it too.
     
  20. tombowlus

    tombowlus If it sounds good, it is good Gold Supporting Member

    Apr 3, 2003
    North central Ohio
    Editor-in-Chief, Bass Gear Magazine
    Ah yes, the Radial. That unit has also seemed quite appealing to me for some time. I need someone to do an Avalon/Aguilar/Ampeg/Demeter/Radial DI shootout for me! :D