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Genz Benz Shuttle 3.0 vs. Ampeg Micro-VR -- A Test

Discussion in 'Amps and Cabs [BG]' started by clark_cda, Sep 29, 2009.

  1. clark_cda


    Feb 22, 2008
    Coeur d'Alene
    Genz Benz Shuttle 3.0 vs. Ampeg Micro-VR

    I got both of these—the Ampeg Micro-VR head and the matching Ampeg 2x10 cab as well as the Genz Benz Shuttle 3.0 head (not the cab). I took turns running both heads into the Ampeg cab.

    Why? I’m a relatively new bassist. I’ve been a guitarist for, geez, about 25 years now and I've finally found the light and switched to bass. I can't believe it took me this long. I'm loving it. I’ve played in a bar band “back in the day.” I know what it takes to play live and I know that sound I want from a bass. So I have been doing my research on a small amp that could serve me well at low volumes practicing and, should the opportunity arise, get me through practices with a band and small gigs as a bassist. So the amp I got couldn’t just be a bedroom amp. It also has to be able to at least handle a small gig. But I didn’t want to break the bank.

    So based on lots of reading here, it really came down to two rigs for me: the Ampeg Micro-VR and the Shuttle 3.0. I figured either way I would use the Ampeg 2x10 cab. In the end, I only was going to keep one of the two heads. I couldn’t really justify the extra head. But more about that in a minute. Here is the comparison:

    The GB is an amazing amp. The GB Shuttle is without a doubt a better amp than the Ampeg in all areas—its built better, louder, clearer, crisper, translates the sound of your bass beautifully, more professional features (mute, dedicated tuner out, Speakon connection, better EQing, great sound shaping options, quality components as opposed to cheap knobs, better chassis construction, great indents on the knobs, better options on the rear line out)—all areas, that is, except for one: the Micro-VR has “that SVT sound” and the GB doesn’t. Period.

    Now in singing the praises of the Shuttle I don’t mean to say that the Micro-VR is poorly built. It’s not. But it isn’t as amazing as that Shuttle. The knobs are cheaper on the Ampeg. The tolex wrap is good, but not great. It’s nowhere near as bullet-proof as the Shuttle seems to be.

    In fact, I am blown away by the Shuttle. If you want perfect recreation of your bass without much color at all, just pure, professional amplification of your bass sound then I would be hard pressed to imagine something better for the price. My P/J snarled like a P when I used that, and snapped like a J (with a bit less volume) when I used it. My soapbars on my Ibby showed a super-wide array of sounds and the sound of the bass came through punchy and tight. The low B on my 5 string sounded great. And the ways I could shape the sound were fantastic. I see why the Shuttle is so loved on these boards. Very little amp color, beautiful sound reproduction and shaping. Very professional.

    The Ampeg, on the other hand, is ALL color. While I can tell the difference between my bases through the Ampeg, the difference is not as clear as with the Shuttle. The purpose of the Ampeg is, without doubt, to sound like an SVT.

    I came to realize something about the Micro-VR as a result of my test. The Ampeg Micro-VR isn’t actually an amp. Well, OK, it is an amp in the sense that you plug your instrument into it and it connects to a speaker and sound comes out (thus it’s an “amp”). Maybe I am splitting hairs. The Micro-VR is actually an SVT simulator disguised as an amp with a solid state power amp wrapped up in a head. It recreates that classic rock SVT sound in a mini-head with a 2x10 that looks like a little SVT. It seems to me someone at Ampeg said “why let Tech21 have all the fun simulating an SVT, why not make an SVT simulator of our own, give it a power section, wrap it in classic styling and sell it!” Well, that is what the Ampeg Micro-VR is, if you ask me. Which is just fine with me. Because that is what I’m going for.

    In the end, I am keeping the Ampeg head and returning the Shuttle and boy oh boy was that a hard decision. Why? Because I am looking for a small amp that gives me “that sound.” That late 70s classic rock sound. I picked a few classic FM hits and put them on. I played them through both heads. The Ampeg NAILS that sound. My SansAmp doesn’t even come close to the Ampeg (and I love that Tech21 thing). Under Pressure by Queen with Bowie? Check. New Year’s Day (God I can’t tell you how “like the record” this thing sounds), old AC/DC, whatever. It nails it. With barely a tweak of the knob. Seriously, I run this head at Gain at 1:00-2:00, Bass 1:00, Mid 1:00, Treble 12:00, Master 12:00.

    Someone said this head is actually better used as a preamp. I’m not sure that person is correct though the idea made sense to me. If the Ampeg head gives “that sound” and you can run it into a more professional piece of equipment, why not? So I tried it. I plugged my bass into the Ampeg head and ran it effects out from the Micro-VR head to the Receive of the Shuttle. Somehow it just didn’t capture what the Ampeg had playing it straight. I tried it back and forth over and over. I think it has to do with how the Shuttle clips (which I don’t care for, I don’t think its as musical as it should be). I fiddled with this setup for some time because that struck me as the only way I could justify keeping the Shuttle and the Ampeg. Or at least that way I could explain it to the wife: “no, honey, you see I have to run THIS one into THAT one, it’s the only way to get the great sound!” But though the idea made sense, it didn’t work for me in practice. My guess is the guy who said it made a good preamp has the same experience as me but didn’t actually try it out like I did. Maybe I’m wrong on that. I’d love to hear.

    I tried everything. I wanted to find a way to prefer the Shuttle, just because it is clearly a more quality piece of equipment and in general I prefer to buy better built products and ones of obvious quality. I also felt I would grow more into the GB as I got better as a bassist. It is also clearly better for gigging. The Ampeg will get you by, but the Shuttle is way more flexible and way more professional piece of gear.

    But despite giving the Shuttle every chance, for me the sound the Ampeg generated just made me want to play bass. It hit—and I don’t mean came close, I mean freaking HIT—that sound that I hear on records and on the radio (or, I guess these days on CD and Satellite radio).

    Maybe I am just not that good of a bassist and not good enough at tweaking amps. Maybe the Shuttle has that sound in it. I couldn’t find it and lord knows I tried. If someone was able to find that sound in the Shuttle, post quick because I haven’t sent the head back yet and I’d love to check it out.

    I hope this post helps people understand the Ampeg Micro-VR a bit better, at least based on my test and my limited experience as a bassist. I am happy to be told I don’t know what I am talking about by the many more experienced bassists here. I sure don’t pretend to be the "bassmasta".

    Limitations on my test/this review
    • My inexperience.
    • I only ran both heads into the Ampeg cab. Perhaps different results would be obtained with the GB through its own cab.
    • I didn’t try the Shuttle 6.0 and I have a feeling that may have been a mistake. I wonder if the tube preamp section of the Shuttle 6.0 would have come closer to the Ampeg. The 3.0 didn’t. I’d love to hear comments about this if anyone can provide their thoughts.
  2. Ten Four One

    Ten Four One

    Dec 5, 2006
    Now if only they'd decouple it from the power amp & wrap it up in a pedal instead of a head... Then you could use it with a fairly neutral power amp & be good to go.

    But yeah, agree - the Ampeg mini thing sounds exactly right & the Genz Benz sounds "clinical" and "modern." - I'm not even sure it's the "just the sound of your bass" the EQ section seems geared towards "modern."

    I compromised & got a markbass (F1). It's somewhere between the Genz Benz "clinical" and the Ampeg... well, Ampeg sound. Plus it's smaller than the mini Ampeg & more powerful.

    I kept trying to dial in "my tone" on the Genz Benz & realized the markbass had "my tone" (or close to it) with very little knob twiddling. The Ampeg... well... nothing else quite touches it.
  3. MIJ-VI

    MIJ-VI Banned Supporting Member

    Jan 12, 2009
    If the Micro-VR supplies the tone which makes you want to play then that would be the rig for you.

    As for the 'VR lacking the power to play loud gigs (as some others on TB have observed)? They're cheap enough that one could buy two heads + four cabs should the need arise.
  4. sk8


    May 10, 2007
    United Kingdom
    I've put a VT Bass in front of my 3.0 so i can go from clean to dirty at the flick of a switch!
  5. Surly


    Feb 2, 2007
    South Florida
    Good review Clark. If you're looking for more classic rock Ampeg sound, check out the VT Bass pedal by Tech 21. You said "sansamp" so I wasn't sure if you used the new pedal.
  6. Really helpful review, Clark. Hearing your thoughts about each aspect of your decisions made for great reading. Thanks.

    I have the Micro-VR head which is supplimenting my regular Markbass rig. For louder rock gigs I use the M-VR as a preamp into my LMII and like the results. I do wonder if I would be as well served with the VT pedal for my purposes since I use the Micro-VR most often as a preamp, but I also like the idea of having a backup amp with me at all gigs and the Ampeg does a fine job through the Markbass cabs. That little amp just seems to make me happy and I find myself using it whenever I can (practices, etc.) even though I have the LMII available. Weird reasonng I know, but it's a pretty endearing piece of kit.
  7. Surly


    Feb 2, 2007
    South Florida
    Even though GB makes some fine amps, I myself will take Ampeg sound for any situation. Even a little slap sounds great with the VT on with some B15 or SVT tones....to my ears.
  8. buffordbass


    Nov 11, 2004
    Endorsing Artist: Genz Benz Amps, Lakland Basses
    Great review, thanks for the input
  9. BluesyCat

    BluesyCat I'm irresistible. Gold Supporting Member

    Jul 28, 2006
    Torrance, California
    Staff: Bass Gear Magazine
    Thanks for a great review!
  10. Ten Four One

    Ten Four One

    Dec 5, 2006
    Good point. I have a BDDI and can't stand it, but I want to try a VT since I hear so many good things about it.
  11. JimmyM

    JimmyM Supporting Member

    Apr 11, 2005
    Apopka, FL
    Endorsing: Ampeg Amps, EMG Pickups
    VT = pedal of the future.

    I love the look of the Micro VR, and having the sound built in is certainly a plus. But since I got the VT, it's pretty much rendered the differences in solid state amps moot to me. I shouldn't say moot because I think you should get an amp with a clean sound that you like, but if I don't like the clean sound of an amp I get stuck with, I can just throw the VT on it and it fixes it.
  12. Ten Four One

    Ten Four One

    Dec 5, 2006
    I've got an amp I like. If I got a VT it would just be for color. Plus the VT boosts 500, which is my fave frequency (screw scooping out for the vocals). Plus if it can throw in just a hair of that ampeg grit and/or help me cut, so much the better.

    If anything the BDDI cut 500, just turning it on was scooped.
  13. milmoejoe


    Feb 26, 2003
    Clark, again terrific job with the review and writeup.

    I'm in a similar position...just a hobbyist player who had an ampeg SVT/4x10 some time ago. Living situation has changed, and I can't afford the space or volume of a normal amp, so I began the quest for an "ultra low volume" option.

    I tried several options- PJB Briefcase, Markbass, GB shuttle, warwick, roland cube, and so forth. Someone here highly suggested I try the Ampeg SVX amp modeling software, and I found it to be absolutely perfect- even through my shotty logitech computer speakers.

    I was quite surprised with your conclusion, but it was the same as mine :)

    Given that, I haven't tried the ampeg micro, and will definitely do so.

    Thanks again.
  14. Right-o, JimmyM. I think I might be as well served by the VT pedal and may have just paid double the pedal price (not all that much actually) for the Micro-VR. But I guess it leaves me with a usable backup amp for my LMII as the Micro-VR will be with me at all gigs as a preamp into the LMII. In any case, it sure is nice to have such compact and light-weight options these days! Taking 2 heads to each gig (and using one as a tone-rich preamp) is just no sweat.
  15. clark_cda


    Feb 22, 2008
    Coeur d'Alene
    If I had the VT pedal (instead of the Tech 21 Sansamp Bass Driver) and the pedal really nailed the SVT sound (as many say it does) I would likely have kept the Shuttle and the Ampeg cab.
  16. clark_cda


    Feb 22, 2008
    Coeur d'Alene
    By the way, I also bought my Micro-VR during rebate time (which I just sent in). So I got $100 off of the purchase price of $599, so after rebated I will only have paid $499 for the head and the 2x10 cab. That was hard to beat. Though I want to make clear price wasnt a consideration in my test. I was committed to keeping the gear that got me the sound I wanted, whether it be the Ampeg Micro-VR and cab or the Shuttle and cab. I just got luck that the one that had the sound I wanted also happened to be cheaper--the head and cab after rebate was less than the Shuttle head alone.
  17. JimmyM

    JimmyM Supporting Member

    Apr 11, 2005
    Apopka, FL
    Endorsing: Ampeg Amps, EMG Pickups
    You really can't go wrong with either. So in this case I think you're caught between a pillow and a soft place...which terrific sounding amp do you keep? ;)

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