Darkglass Alpha Omega 900, not just for metal!

Discussion in 'Amps and Cabs [BG]' started by Mastodon2, Jul 21, 2021.

  1. Mastodon2


    Feb 27, 2008
    I thought I would share some of my thoughts on the Darkglass Alpha Omega 900 watt amp as I've now owned it for a few weeks. This will be a long one, but hopefully will be of use to anyone who decides to look up reviews on Google and wants real user opinions rather than magazine or website reviews.

    I was looking for something to compliment my trusty Markbass Ninja 1000 and some of the clips of the AO online caught my attention.

    Most people love the "Darkglass sound", that is to say the high gain sound with a crisp distortion that doesn't lose the bottom end like a lot of overdrives or distortions do. I like the sound enough, but it's not something I'd use often. So why would I consider the AO 900 when I am not a metal player and already have a great Markbass amp? Well, the AO does lot of cool things one box.

    First of all, I don't like pedals. I have a Darkglass Alpha Omega pedal that I mainly use as a clean boost to get a bit more bite from my sound. I have a Keeley compressor and a few other pieces, but I dislike running too many pedals. The AO 900 incorporates the AO distortion from the pedal, has a built-in compressor and a headphone function, which is handy as I wanted the ability to practice through the night without needing to buy a headphone amp.

    I liked the idea of the "all in one" approach and trusted that having all these parts in one box should mean they all gel very well together. For reference, I am running this amp through my Markbass Ninja NYC 2X12 cab with the tweeter on the 0Db +/- setting (flat).

    So what does the amp have on the front? Well, it has the gain, master volume, graphic EQ and the AO distortion circuit. The AO circuit is probably the main selling point for this amp, I'd guess for 95% of people who buy it. It's a dual distortion, the Alpha setting being a tight, focused high-gain sound and the Omega setting being a fuzzy, booming monster. There is a knob that allows you to blend between the two sounds. Then you've got drive and level controls to fine tune the amount of distortion and a blend knob to mix the distortion circuit signal with the main clean signal. There's an active / passive switch depending on the bass you are using too.

    This blend knob is the answer to retaining bottom while using an OD or distortion sound. A few manufacturers have realised this, EBS do the same with their Billy Sheehan OD pedal, by generating two streams of tone and mixing them, you can get the top end sizzle of drive without sucking the bass out. Awesome! The front of the amp also has "Bite" and "Growl" switches, which are a high mid boost (2.8KHz) and a shelving bass boost. Basically, they are like "more" switches that you just turn on because they sound so good and never go back.

    The graphic EQ on the front of the amp is a 6 band, with lows, highs and 4 mid controls (250, 500, 1.5K and 3KHz). The range on each slider isn't huge, you can't dial in some of the impossible, completely unusable sounds like you can on other amps but the selection of controls is very well-judged and it is easy to tweak the sliders to get any bass to sound good. The sliders have LEDs inside them so you can see them on stage in dark venues - a great touch.

    The real genius of this amp is in the compressor. It's one knob, the more you turn it up the more compression you get. This is basically the Hyperluminal compressor pedal that DG do, but stripped down and dropped in this amp. And boy, is this thing good. I run it at about the 1pm setting and it gives the sweetest, most musical compression I've heard, without any harsh cutoff and not draining the dynamics from my playing. It is head and shoulders better than my Keeley compressor and way easier to use too. I have such an appreciation for the compressor in this thing, it is the secret sauce here.

    On the back of the amp, you've got DI out, effects loop, ground lift etc. There is an output switch from 2 to 4 Ohms to allow you to use different cabs. There is also the headphone socket, headphone volume and the cab IR button. The head has 4 cab simulators built in, which effectively work as EQ modifiers on your headphone or DI signal. You can connect the amp via USB C to a computer and change the built-in cab sims via an app. If you want to get a pure DI, you can bypass the cab sims too so it should make for a very competent recording tool.

    So, it has loads of features, but what does it sound like? Surely, something with so much engineering in the distortion side of things must be totally geared for that style of music, right? Well yes, but also no.

    I don't use the distortion much, maybe one song out of 20, I use the light drive settings to add a bit of sizzle for fusion or rock and it sounds great, which I expected it to, but what really blows me away about this thing is the cleans. Yes, it's a modern sound, that is inescapable and if you want dull, dark, mud or vintage tones, you won't find them here no matter what you try, but it isn't a sterile or harsh amp at all.

    My main dislike with excessively "modern" sounding amps is that they can sound harsh, thin or brittle. This amp doesn't. It's definitely not as warm and coloured as my Markbass Ninja, but the tightness and punch the AO has is prodigious. I have never heard my basses sound so good*. I love my Ninja and have no reason to sell it, but I will be using my Darkglass probably 90% of the time now. I can see so many applications for it in all of the musical settings I find myself in. I am finding so much inspiration in this, it has given me the sound I always dreamed of, particularly with my Warwick and Spector basses, but could never quite achieve on my Markbass.

    Care must be taken with the AO circuit; it has a lot of distortion on tap and it is easy to make it sound like a crappy fuzz box - it's not a "plug in and sound awesome in 5 seconds" thing, you need to find the setting that works for your bass. I photograph my heads in settings that I like and store them on my phone so I can get back to them, what a dinosaur I am.

    It's not a "versatile" amp, though I have my own thoughts on that. It can do clean, it can do drive, it can do all-out distortion if you need it. The EQ is flexible. However, I am of the opinion that amps tend to have their own brand "sound" and no matter what, you can hear it. I hear it with the Darkglass, I hear it with my Markbass. If you have a Mesa, no amount of knob-twiddling will give it the characteristic sound of a Marshall and vice-versa. Certainly, it is flexible enough to perform in many settings, but it will always sound like what it is, a Darkglass.

    In terms of handling, it's small and light, but not the lightest class D amp by a long way, but it's obviously worlds apart from lugging a big old tube head around. It is loud too, it has plenty of headroom with 900 watts and it can be turned up as loud as you could reasonably need it to, until the point where you're playing venues so big that PA is the only way forward.

    Overall, I think this is a fantastic piece of kit and not just for rock or metal players. If you like a modern sound and have the chance to try one, you definitely should not pass on the opportunity. As the Covid situations eases and the UK starts to step out from the shadow of the pandemic, I am urging players I know to have a go on my amp because I know they will be impressed.

    If you made it this far, thanks for reading!

    *Caveat, my Ken Smith still sounds better on the Markbass Ninja. I guess because I tweaked the Ninja around my Smith, whereas I've spent a little while crafting the settings on my AO for my Warwick and Spector.

    Random pic from Google for visual representation:

    Last edited: Jul 21, 2021
  2. HanzoHamamura


    Apr 30, 2021
    Thank you so much for this review! This is exactly what I’ve been looking for - a review based on mostly clean use with the occasional grit.

    I’ve been looking to get a lightweight class D head and all signs have been pointing to the AO for a few weeks. I think this is the deciding factor for me, but hopefully I can play one in a shop very soon.
    J-Mags and Mastodon2 like this.
  3. J-Mags

    J-Mags Supporting Member

    Jun 18, 2018
    Durham NC
    I really like my Alpha Omega 500 V2, which has the same control layout as the 900, and I don't play metal. I bought it recently, A/B'd it endlessly with a Markbass Vintage 500 d2, almost went for the MB, and ultimately choose the Alpha Omega. It wasn't until I did some low-fi recordings of a couple of snippets for songwriting that I realized what I really like about the Alpha Omega, which is that there always seems to be a deceptive amount of very tight and controlled low end in the mix. I'd been looking for a way to make my low end tighter and more percussive without sucking too much out of it or having to alter my playing style too much.

    In addition to making gnarly tones, the A/O engine is great for adding small amounts of hair and density with the blend knob, however it works better at really low levels if you want to darken the sound rather than brighten it, which is the opposite of what the Microtubes engine does. There is no separate tone knob for the dirt on the 500. I put a Vintage Microtubes in front of the amp and use that for most overdrive sounds. Unsurprisingly it works really well with this amp. I'd have gotten a Microtubes 500 if didn't already have the pedal. The compressor is great. It doesn't necessarily sound better than my Keeley Bassist, but it sounds good enough that in the interest of simplicity, the Keeley is off my board.

    Ultimately, I'm quite happy with the A/O 500.

    Great clarity and low end.
    Lots of variety with two types of distortion and a blend knob.
    Great clean sounds
    Great dirty sounds
    Great in-between sounds if you're careful.
    If you're used to getting your sound with pedals, as I've always done on guitar, the A/O should be pretty intuitive for you. If not, the learning curve might be a little steeper.

    No separate tone control for the distortion.
    I don't love adjusting EQ with small graphic sliders.
    It's so small and dark-looking that it looks a little silly on top of any cabinet worthy of being powered by it.

    Overall, I'm loving it, because it's doing exactly what I bought it to do.
    Last edited: Sep 18, 2021
    gscroggin and Mastodon2 like this.
  4. J-Mags

    J-Mags Supporting Member

    Jun 18, 2018
    Durham NC
    While I'm here, does anyone have any suggested EQ settings for the Alpha/Omega or the Microtubes amps. I'm not looking for anything specific, however EQ section is physically small and very powerful and invites fussing, so I'm wondering if you have specific settings you use, and what you're trying to achieve. Because I'm always moving the sliders around by tiny amounts, etc.
  5. Mastodon2


    Feb 27, 2008
    I try to keep it simple on the settings for the EQ. Darkglass say in the manual that the character is all in the mids, hence you've got 4 mid sliders. I tend to run a low-mid hump for most things.

    For pick and finger, I tend to do a slight bass boost, heavy low mid boost and then taper it off from there. This gives me plenty of grunt and growl, the slight cut on treble helps avoid harshness from the tweeter - though I could also adjust the tweeter control on my cab to tame that.


    This sounds good for me, even for slap. I know a lot of players like a mid scoop for slap and it can work, but again I like the slight bass boost and the low mid sound, it's powerful and can really punch the big bass hit that you want when playing slap.

    I'm not a fan of thin, clicky slap sounds but I don't really like boomy, undefined sounds, I like a balance, thankfully modern equipment means this can be achieved.

    For reference, I leave the bite and growl switches on permanently.