EDIT Jan 25 : live MP3 clip here in post #80 http://www.talkbass.com/forum/showpost.php?p=2668935&postcount=80 EDIT June: studio MP3 clip here in post #118http://www.talkbass.com/forum/showpost.php?p=2991167&postcount=118 EDIT August: new live clip - http://www.talkbass.com/forum/showpost.php?p=3270280&postcount=122 also Blues Cat's DI'd MP3 in post #102 - http://www.talkbass.com/forum/showpost.php?p=2730852&postcount=102 http://www.carvin.com/products/single.php?ItemNumber=B1500&CID=BA As of the most recent edit in August 2006, I've had the amp for seven months and gigged it many different ways, used it in studio, and am still very pleasantly surprised, more so amazed, by it and stand by what's in my initial and follow-up reviews wholly. ======= I will go on at length here because there's little been said about these (though everything I've read has been positive - search for the few previous reviews, some of the positives echo'd by respected TBers and Bass Player magazine), because I believe it represents a phenominal value given the price ergo could be a blessing for a lot of bassists, and you can't just try these at the local music store. Direct sales = great pricing, but also some leap of faith. For me the price is immaterial in my views so when reading this, unless I make the caveat specifically, keep in mind I'd say the same thing if I'd paid 3x as much since in many key categories it surpasses amps I've used which far more. A bit about me, to clarify where I'm coming from and why I make reference to certain other amps in my review. I've owned/used/gigged a lot of gear and not just for bass. But as far as bass amps go, I've had Aguilar, Peavey, Traynor, Yorkville, Aguilar, iAMP, Gibson, Phil Jones Bass, Thunderfunk, Mesa Boogie, Carvin, Music Man, Ashdown, SWR, Trace Elliot, SUNN, Fender, and in some cases several different models of a given brand, and I'm sure I'm forgetting a few. These are all gigged with, not store demos, and most I've also recorded with (I also have an Audio Engineering diploma - lol - and have logged some studio time here and there). I've done (and still do) time in bands ranging from technical proggy metal to funk/soul/reggae originals and covers. I hope my past writings, if they are to serve any use to anyone, reveal I'm not the kind to just rave about new gear - in fact I can and will go out of my way to nitpick and find faults, and will do so here. While I concede a review without at least weeks of gigging [more recent edits done after 7 months of gigging] is not to be taken very seriously, I have at least already used it at volume in a band mix in a very large room, and I stand about 20 ft. away from the rig in that situation so I get a good listen. I A/B gear and record it in the mix there often ergo I know the room, so with all else equal I can quickly determine what will and won't work for me and I can effectively know how it'll sound on a gig. That said, I will post follow-up reviews (yeah, I'm keeping it) and clips as time goes on. Prelude - Carvin customer service (toll free number!) was exemplary and they shipped to me for a very reasonable price *inclusive* of my importing taxes & fees. It arrived quickly, and the box was very solid - like the Aguilar boxes if any of you have seen those, very thick and with those heavy giant staples + tape. Inside the amp was held in place by form-fitting heavy cardboard inserts, all recyclable and no damn foam. By the way, they'll give you a free dvd if you just call and ask for it - includes factory tour, promos, and I've heard there's a scene of them throwing one of these amps onto concrete then firing it up just like Traynor used to do! A 10-day no hassle return period means you've got nothing but return shipping to lose for trying one of these out. The 10-day period starts when you receive it. Build - this thing is as solid as is reasonably possible. Details on that via their site and the user manual if you care to download it. Mil spec glass epoxy boards, thick casing, sealed pots mounted on the metal casing rather than the internal works (hooray!), metal knobs, top-notch jacks, solid toggles and switch, they make their own torroidals in-house, etc. Flawlessly made, knobs feel extremely solid, looks swank, check out the pics below of the interior - just what I like to see in an amp, a huge transformer and little else. Just like my fave amp the Traynor Mono Block II, of which you'll hear much more about in this post, the inside is spartan. The sticker on top of the rear assembly reads "power module patent pending" and that section is kinda hidden from examination, everything inside seems to work and serve a useful purpose. Nice touch of felt lining along the edges where the top easy-to-remove panel sits. You cannot expect that kind of quality and attention to detail in this price range, yet here it is. The build quality, in re: solid feel and inspiring confidence in case of an accident, blows away some "boutique" amps I've had with plastic parts and exposed knobs on the face. It's more in league with the old Peaveys like the Mark III or something, which I mean as high praise. To be fair it's also twice the weight of the "boutique" stuff, but touches like large sealed solid metal knobs/pots attached to metal casing vs. plastic knobs and small pots attached to circuit board has more to do with quality than weight, IMO. This is effectively on par with the best quality I've seen in music instrument aplification, and dare I say it's likely more solid in feel (the parts you move) than my Traynor Block II but if you fired both into each other from cannons the Traynor should come out ahead as its casing is much thicker/stronger (it's over an inch thick on the sides, yes really - I've dropped that Traynor on concrete many times, and only the cement has been damaged thus far). I was planning on complaining of the chicklet buttons on the back for pre/post and ground/lift but those are solid too, more solid than the Ashdown (if you know their buttons, which IMO are very good), and far more solid than some very expensive "boutique" stufff I've seen. I have to complain about something. Well, even though no other amp that I know of has 'em, it'd be nice to have LEDs on the back so you can see in the dark if you're pre/post or ground/lift. Or toggles such as those on the front of the amp might have made it easier to tell than the push-buttons around back. The DI out has a level control and that's also very solid and not likely to be moved by accident while you're doing other things back there. I suggest the front toggles could be bigger/thicker like the on/off on Mesa or PJB amps, not that it's at all necessary but they could be more heavy-duty. The claimed 35lb weight is accurate, and with Gator rack bag we're talking about 40lbs. Not bad since I work out daily with 35lb bells, but it's no fun to walk awhile with it hanging from your shoulder as I did to rehearsal. I can imagine the db750 being over the line of comfort for walking, but that's another thread and I have a Mesa Walkabout amp if I need an easy carry on foot. Oh, here's a gripe - the amp comes with stick-on feet which you have to put on yourself. To their credit, they're big rubbery feet and they stick on very well. Screw-on big rubber feet would be preferable, but I guess this amp meant to be racked, which I did, so it's almost a moot point but I'm trying my best to find some fault for the sake of balance. As seeen pictured below the inside is very tidy, uncluttered, and pro. You'd almost think Nino Valenti worked there. The included power cord is thick and fairly long - best I've ever gotten with an amp outside of PJB. No big deal I guess 'cause no one ever throws cymbals behind the bass rig, and everywhere you set up to play there's always several free outlets within inches even if the guitarists have already set up ... gotta hate it when amps come with those thin little short cords eh? Looks - OK ... the "Carvin" logo isn't very exciting compared to, say, the "Aguilar" logo. They could use some better font for that for sure. Cool blue lights on the front, but not the blinding kind (thank you!) - more of a smoky blue that blends well with the black facing. Clearly labelled knobs. Smoked chrome handles, rust-resistant black paint chassis. All very nice and serious looking. Oh ... har, har "serious did I say? no one serious plays Carvin!" Well, a bass hero of mine does (Redline series of some kind, which I also had briefly and dismissed as lifeless and having way too many knobs), and with his Roscoe Beck 5 and two 4x10 cabs (Eden and Carvin) stacked he sounds great. Guy tours pro and can play circles around most of us, so save your cracks about the brand being for kids or whatever. Also the girl from Cirlce Takes The Square has a B1500 I'm told, and that wins big points with me. I regularly play a loaner of an old Carvin (pre pointy headstock) LB50 bass and it's fantastic even after three decades of abuse including all the electroincs ripped out and the headstock broken in two and glued back together (there's one now on eBay, and IMO you'll seldom find a better bass for rockin' like Clutch, Mike Watt, - it has that Gibson vibe - or punking with a big punchy pick tone). So, my Redline experience aside, I've got nothing against Carvin but I was still bemused to look across the room in rehearsal and see one atop my stack tonight. I expected it to fall down in a loud mix, but it didn't, in fact it was even more impressive than it was at home ... but that's in re: sound so on we go ... EQ - Good EQ points. I'd have preferred 50 Hz than 30 Hz for "Sub Bass", while "Bass" at 100 Hz suits me as does "Low Mid" at 300hz though I'd choose 250 Hz. "Mid" at 1 kHz is fine as is "High Mid" at 3 kHz. Treble at 10 kHz ... sure, why not? You can crank that treble and it adds very little hiss (no more than my TF or Aguilar and far less than iAMP). There's a "drive" knob which thankfully even when cranked doesn't make any horrible bumble bee sounds. In fact it's quite subtle, mostly just boosts the gain and adds a roundness to the tone. I don't use it at home, but live it's that and the master vol. are the only knobs I really need. It sounds best to me with the EQ knobs all set to the same, or very nearly the same, level. More on that in the "volume" section below. Makes it simple to dial "my" tone in, as opposed to amps where you might like the "Enhance" on 7, Bass on 5, Treble on 3 ... etc. Of course that also depends largely on the room, but my home room and rehearsal room/situation (and live - see later posts) are radically different and I used the same settings save for volume. Nice. Con - knob settings not so easy to see on a dark stage, compared to the amps that have a white line on black knob as position indicator. [EDIT - after 7 months, I like the EQ points fine and never even read the knobs anymore when making the very subtle EQ changes I need for different rooms and mixes.] Noise - Large fan in back is fairly quiet. Whew! I was planning on complaining about that because I love complaining about the noise most fans make, but I can't this time. I was similatly expecting a lot of hiss/hum from the amp because for this price the thing has to be noisy and with a bogus power rating, right? Wrong again! It's far more quiet than the iAMP800 I had (newest model), quieter than my Aguilar ag500sc, quieter than my Thunderfunk (TFB420), maybe as quiet as my Gibson GB440 (almost dead silent, really) or old Traynor Block II (again, practically dead silent). Even if you nearly crank the "Drive" and "Master", which is scary so I didn't do it for long, you're hard pressed to hear much hiss and it's still less than the other noiser amps I mentioned when they're still at much lower volumes. That's with all EQ flat on the Carvin and the tweeter on the Schroeder 1212 at 50% as well. That lack of noise is a very nice and welcome surprise. Let me take a moment to clear up some controvery about Carvin's ratings. While their "THD .03% at 90% power" on the site seems designed to mislead as some have said, their rating (per manual) of "<1% at full power 8 Ohm, 4 Ohm, and 2 Ohm" seems plausible to me. Note that doesn't say "<.01%" (note decimal), it says "<1%". Not bad, IMO. I have no way of measuring it, but per the above bit about lack of audible noise, this sure doesn't reek of cheap parts and power to me. [EDIT - the Carvin DVD has an engineer in it claiming that all the parts they use are spec'd above necessary tolerances.] Volume - Are these ratings for real? B1500 Power: 8Ω: 700w, 4Ω: 1250w, 2Ω: 1900w Hard to say. I used it mostly with everything flat (at "5") except for at times putting the "Sub Bass" (30 Hz) and "Bass" (100 Hz) to "6". Drive at "5". On those settings, with the Master on 3 I'm at the same volumes in the band mix as I get with the Aguilar ag500sc at "6" pre and master with EQ flat and "deep" engaged, or the Gibson/TF set similarly, or the Mesa Walkabout on about "4" pre and "4" master. Boosting the master on the Carvin to "5" put me into Traynor territory, and the Carvin was still plenty clean even on slapping, even when I boosted all EQ to about "7" and the Drive creeping higher. It could go louder than I, or the cab, (Crate 2x15 in this test, which actually sounds quite good and can take a lot of power) could stand. I'll go so far to say it can compete with the SUNN (now "Bassman pro" 1200s), which is stupendously in for me intolerably loud if you're not careful. To reiterate, everything on "5" is really, really loud and unlike many amps that are starting to break up around "5+" this amp showed no signs of it. Very Thunderfunk or Block II like, in that regard - amps that can stay clean and tight nearly all the way up. So, maybe those ratings are true. Who knows? But IMO they're certainly no more BSing, and perhaps likely less so, than most other amps whose ratings are commonly grossly inflated. IMO, IMO, IMO. [EDIT - I've played soome too-loud rock gigs with it, and never had everything above "5".] I notice that the amp sounds the same, only quieter even if you put all the EQ knobs nearly all the way down, or nearly all cranked. On some amps, if you do this it seems you're either not feeding the power section enough input to bloom or you're potentially overdriving it and you've gotta find a sweet spot. I think it's different here because of the headroom on tap, so short of going too weak or too hard for your cab, you can use the EQ levels this way to mitigate the power at the master vol. level. So too the "Drive" knob. My point is that while some amps with a lot of power are useless (too loud) for all but big gigs (my SUNN 1200s was this way, I could only put it on about "1" tops for home use) this one can actually be used at home or in a cafe setting if you like. I'm using this technique at home today to mitigate the volume going into my 1212 cab, as it doesn't sound quite as good if I threaten it with the volume as the big 2x15 cab did last night. Not that it sounds bad, I really love the 1212, just that it results in a harsher punch with the amp EQ'd flat than the creamier punch that the 2x15 had. I can change this via rolling off the "Mid" a bit and adding a bit of "Sub Bass" too. So far, it's all killer no filler. But how's it sound? Sound - I love it. I was literally giggling when initially playing it, set flat. I have a lot of gear, and have gone through a lot of gear. Beyond the amusement of tinkering with it I don't give a toss about any of it either, by which I mean I make no pretense that the biggest difference doesn't come from the player. Jaded as I am, I still felt a bit like a kid on Xmas morning. Good big clean punchy tone, via my Lakland DJ5 with ss strings. Kinda reminded me of Kai Eckhardt playing his giant Glockenklang actually. I guess that's just how big clean class OS (old-school) power sounds. With my active Ibanez BTB405QM, it was more creamy but so is that bass by default. I could crank the active bass (18v) into the passive setting and the Carvin didn't clip, but I've found the Ibanez even with its 18v preamp not to have a very hot output. The Lakland in series had some good low-mid heft and mid grind. I didn't bother with any other basses yet (see later live reviews for more basses used). The amp is said by many to be colourless. Maybe so. Some might say it's "sterile" when flat with the "Drive" down, but if you have a good bass, a good right hand, and a good cab I really don't think so. Boost the drive and maybe the Sub Bass a notch and it can get very rich & tubey. Tonight we played some slap, some finger funk, some reggae, some Santana-style rock, and a ballad and it sounded big and strong set flat through that 2x15 . I found it to have a good kick even when playing up high, so the treble is not brittle - with the right settings for fingerstyle, I could get a good round slap tone I liked too (I don't like it too hi-fi, but still want the highs to ring). Good balance across the spectrum. I preferred it with just a notch of "+1" past flat on the low EQ. At higher volumes as in rehearsal that was maybe too much boost as cabs bloom in the lows with good volume eh? So, I didn't fiddle with EQ much 'cause I really liked it flat and the more I went away from there the less I was inspired to keep twiddling. I experimented with the "Drive" some. As I said, it doesn't do any kind of bumble bee cheap distorto sound as I had feared. It's basically a gain. Adds some nice grind to the mids and overall harmonics which sits well in a mix, but even at 3/4 settings it isn't over-the-top. Very nice. Talking about tone is like dancing about architecture, to paraphrase Frank Zappa so I won't go on much about that. It's all very subjective which is why I left that for last. 10-day no hassle return policy, so if the above interests you along with the low price then try it yourself. I still plan to A/B against the db750 soonish, and I am open-minded that somehow this amp can be blown away, but at this price, or even double, I'll bet nothing comes close in terms of quality and quiet operation with big volume. [EDIT - after having the gigging the DB750, I'm now always using the Carvin.] ... continued in post 4 below due to problems editing.