Late Night Battle Of The Completely Dissimilar Amp Rigs

Discussion in 'Amps and Cabs [BG]' started by JimmyM, Dec 9, 2007.

  1. JimmyM

    JimmyM Supporting Member

    Apr 11, 2005
    Apopka, FL
    Endorsing: Yamaha, Ampeg, Line 6, EMG

    So I get home from my gig, mad that the neighbors kept me up last night, so I thought I'd get even and I did a little A/B'ing of my amps. So let's forget basses for a little while. The amp is where it's at tonight. Introducing the contestants:


    1966 Ampeg B-15N
    Markbass Little Mark II
    Nemesis NC-200 inside a combo
    SWR SM-500


    Tube Works 4-10" with piezo tweeter
    Nemesis NC-200b 2-10" with piezo tweeter inside a combo
    Markbass Mini CMD121P 12" with piezo tweeter inside a combo
    (Sorry, didn't want to risk using the cabinet from my B-15 with these high powered amps)

    All amps were set flat with the gain halfway up to start. The only speaker with a tweeter volume was the 4-10" and it was up halfway. Volume was slightly louder than I should have it in an apartment at 1 am. I used an SX 57P copy with D'addario XL's 40-95 that just now need to be changed. To test how they did with distortion, I used a Robert Keeley-modded Proco Rat II pedal. Other than distortion, no effects were used. The elimination method of testing gear was used to save a little time, starting with cabs, then solid state heads, then hybrid head, then tube head.

    First I AB'd the cabinets to get the best one to try the amps. Naturally the 4-10" won out. It's a 4-10". It also used to belong to Dave Larue when he had his first deal with Tube Works. When he got his Ampeg deal he sold me one of his cabs, and it is by far my favorite 4-10" ever. Tons of bass and as much or little treble as you want thanks to the very smooth tweeter. The Markbass, great as it is by itself, is by itself, so there's really no comparison to 4 speakers. I thought the speakers in the Nemesis combo held their own, though. Considering it's a budget combo, it put out quite a nice wall of sound. Not as nice as the other two cabs, maybe a little boxy around the edges, but we're not talking the same price league by a longshot.

    I started with the LM II since I was used to it from my gig tonight. With the 8-ohm 4-10", it puts out 300w. Unbelievable amount of punch for a solid state amp, with a very warm sound not unlike tubes but with a bit of its own character. Of course I didn't use any controls for the test, but the controls on the LM II are very basic. Fortunately they're voiced perfectly, plus you get treble roll-off and mid-scooping knobs. These are also voiced perfectly as far as I'm concerned. When I've sat in a really nice studio with a Neve or SSL console and listened to the bass DI'd through the large monitors or great headphones, the bass set flat sounds pretty much like it does through this head.

    The head in the Nemesis combo puts out 200w when you run the combo by itself, but the combo speakers are 4 ohms and wired so when you plug in an 8-ohm extension speaker, it greatly reduces its wattage. This is kind of a cheap trick to get more wattage out of a less powerful head for a combo, but since this wasn't a high volume test, it didn't really matter. Plus it reduces the weight of the combo to about 44 lbs., which is OK by me. It has bass, mid, treble, enhance (mid-scoop), a sweepable 1-knob parametric EQ with level control, and a crappy onboard compressor. I was actually quite surprised how well it performed against the LM II. It sounded a little more compressed, a little less punchy, and a little more subdued in the mids, but it sounded very musical and a little mid bump brought back some punch, though not to the level of the LM II or the SM-500. But the entire combo sold new for like $475, and you're comparing it to top of the line amps and it's not really fair to judge it by their terms. But in its price class, I think it grossly outperforms the other combos I've tried. Put it this way, if I had bad sound on a gig, I certainly couldn't blame it on this amp. It's very easy to get a good sound out of it and doesn't miss being able to hang with the SWR and Markbass tonally by much.

    That brings up the SM-500. I've never liked solid state heads even close to tubes but I like this one a lot. Totally loaded with features and all of them usable. Runs stereo or mono, 150w a side and 400w bridged at 8 ohms (I used one side in the test...I run it bridged live in case I need the wattage but it sounds the same bridged or single side). Anyway, go look it up at™ if you want to know the rest of the specs. I set it flat and didn't use any of that stuff. SWR, as far as I'm concerned, defined modern solid state bass tone, and this has been as close to the sound of an SVT or Mesa Boogie 400 that I could find that didn't give me a hernia. No other solid state amp came close IMHO, even Ampeg's. Slappers like it because it's got a big fat bottom end and a versatile top end and a knob that really brings the enhanced scoop sound. Old farts like me love it because it's fat sounding and much lighter than an SVT. And feature-wise, the LM II can't even begin to compete with the SM-500. But I've always had to goose the upper mids slightly around 750hz to hear it over my bands because its flat sound is naturally scooped, and like most amps with tubes, you have to turn it up to a level you don't have to struggle to hear before it comes to life. On the contrary, I set the LM II flat and did gigs with 2 bands this week and went from way too quiet to way too loud and never once lost the sound of the amp, even when I struggled to hear it. Both amps can be very punchy, but the LM II's punchier, even at low low volumes. It also responds better to a Precision than the SWR, and even though I didn't A/B them with a modern style bass, I have played both heads many times with an active modern 5-string through the 4-10", and I give the LM II the tonal edge there, too. Up until now, the SM-500 was as close to the ideal sound as I could get without 150 lbs. worth of tubes, and it's probably the most versatile amp I've owned, but it's the flat sound that counts for this, and the LM II wins the solid state category.

    Which brings us to...(cue thunderclap and deep reverb on voice)...THE AMP BY WHICH ALL OTHERS ARE JUDGED!!!

    Yes, that's right, the venerable 1966 Ampeg B-15N, the classic 25-watt history maker, the very first bass amp that really was a bass amp, and watt for watt, the best-sounding amp ever created, and I will beat anyone who says otherwise over the head with a very soft cushion. However, we must bear in mind that this example that I own is very old, and though all the tubes are working fine, I haven't checked them lately and don't know if they're still strong, and it's voiced much brighter than current amps, so this is the only amp I allowed the tone controls to be used. They're very simple controls, only bass and treble. But it doesn't really need a mid control because the mids are there if you want them and gone if you don't. I set the treble at about 30% and the bass at 90%, which gives it what I consider the classic B-15 tone, perfectly shaped in all frequencies. Though it's noisier than any solid state amp, up until now it's been the absolute best-sounding amp I ever used, albeit at a low volume, and the noise has never once been an issue once the music starts. And through my 4-10" cab, it's rich, full, and absolutely magnificent in every way. This is shaping up to be quite the showdown! Will the LM II match up sonically?

    I judged their clean tones first. I say this with all sincerity in the world...other than the noise, if you blindfolded me, I don't think I could tell the difference. The LM II was as rich and full in all the frequencies as the B-15N, and had (to my ears) all the sonic complexity of the tubes. Plus it did it at a much lower volume than the B-15. The one advantage of the B over the LM II, and this is a big advantage to me, is its ability to break up and still sound musical. When you turn the volume all the way up on a B and run it through a 4-10", it's got the most pleasing slight overdrive you've ever heard out of an amp, and it's very loud but not extremely so. I turn up the LM II up loud and the speakers in the 4-10" break up long before the head ever will (I can't get that MB 12" to break up at all, BTW), and if you clip the gain, it's not the least bit pleasing. But you turn them down and they sound every bit as good as each other, with neither really having an edge over the other except the MB stays clean as it gets louder and retains the B's clean richness and tubey edge every step of the way, if not its ability to break up.

    So now it came time to break out the modded Rat II pedal and try some heavy distortion. This pedal is my favorite overdrive/distortion for both bass and guitar, and the mods Robert Keeley did to it make it especially good for running bass distortion mono without losing your clean sound. Certainly the LM II can give you tube-like nasty Rat tones in spades, but the B was ever-so-slightly nastier. Kind of like the difference between getting hit over the head with a wooden club and getting hit over the head with a tire iron. You're going down either way but a tire iron's not going to give as much.

    Now bear in mind that this all my opinion and only mine as far as I know, but as a professional musician who's been at it 32 years (gulp!), and as a diehard tube lover, the Markbass Little Mark II is the very first solid state amp I've ever heard that can go head-to-head with the very best tube amps out there. It can even outshine them in many ways, like its ability to retain that tubelike warmth at dead quiet volumes, and its extremely low noise floor. But even though it can easily hang in the heaviness department, I give a very slight edge to the tubes in the B-15N.

    After doing this little test, I'm going to hang onto the B-15N after all. I was going to sell it to help defray some of the costs of building a Markbass rig. Live, I'm more than likely never going to use it again. Nobody ever calls me for my distorted sounds. Everyone wants me to play clean all the time. And in the rare event that someone does, I could use the Rat, or I could probably add a small tube preamp in the effects loop and dial in some very nice natural breakup. But I do get an occasional call for it in the studio, plus I use it a lot in some of the goofy comedy things I record, and I like its extra notch of heaviness enough to hang onto it. Plus I got this B and its speaker for so cheap it's not funny ($150 for both), and it will do nothing but increase in value as the years go by. But I have to say that my whole perception about what solid state can do for electric bass has been changed. No longer is it the ugly but easier to use stepsister of tube amps. Tubes are still the standard for guitar by far, but I think we've seen tube bass amps finally pass the torch to solid state with the Little Mark II. I'm pretty well amazed, and I'd like to hear from those of you with both tube amps and MB amps and see what you thought.

    EDIT: In a rare late night moment, I momentarily forgot I wasn't 14. So I edited myself. Apologies to those of you who had to see it.
  2. BassyBill

    BassyBill Still here Gold Supporting Member

    Mar 12, 2005
    West Midlands UK
    Interesting read, Jimmy, thanks. You must have very understanding neighbours if they don't complain about you testing all that lot out in your apartment at 1 AM!! :D
  3. Thank you, I enjoyed reading this.
  4. JimmyM

    JimmyM Supporting Member

    Apr 11, 2005
    Apopka, FL
    Endorsing: Yamaha, Ampeg, Line 6, EMG
    Pfft! They've kept me awake much more than I ever kept them awake. At least I'm doing constructive scientific stuff. They're just loaded.
    Gaolee likes this.
  5. Beefbass

    Beefbass Guest

    Feb 4, 2001
    Maybe you could find a way to hook all those amps together, and really bounce those inconsiderate neighbors out of their beds!! :hyper:

    Just kidding Jimmy. Glad that markbass is working out for you-the picture of you and Bowser with that amp was really cool! Kind of surprised he noticed though, as he makes you keep the volume way down low.

    BTW, do you mind if I ask how much that Markbass set you back? Take care Jimmy :bassist:
  6. Fuzzbass

    Fuzzbass P5 with overdrive Gold Supporting Member

    LOL. Give 'em hell!!!
  7. JimmyM

    JimmyM Supporting Member

    Apr 11, 2005
    Apopka, FL
    Endorsing: Yamaha, Ampeg, Line 6, EMG
    Hey Beef, sure you can ask. The LM II head was $600, the Mini CMD121P combo was $850, and the 12" extension cab is $550. Not cheap, but not out of line with other high grade stuff.
  8. Beefbass

    Beefbass Guest

    Feb 4, 2001
    Thanks Jimmy :hyper:
  9. A9X

    A9X Inactive

    Dec 27, 2003
    Good read. Cheers.
  10. Dan Bass

    Dan Bass Inactive

    May 26, 2014
    Virginia Beach.
    Very good read, now time to check out the MarkBass Little Mark ll.
  11. Cough, wheeze, hack, sneeze...

    My apologies, this thread was dusty. ;)

    (It was a good read though.)
    S-Bigbottom likes this.
  12. JimmyM

    JimmyM Supporting Member

    Apr 11, 2005
    Apopka, FL
    Endorsing: Yamaha, Ampeg, Line 6, EMG
    Gawsh, how embarrassing!
    GregC, Jim Carr, JMacBass65 and 4 others like this.
  13. The internet is forever. :smug:
    JMacBass65 and shawshank72 like this.
  14. smeet

    smeet Gold Supporting Member

    Nov 27, 2006
    Woodland Hills, CA
    So Jimmy... Is the LM II still the best amp ever omg, or were you just drunk amping? :)
    GregC and JMacBass65 like this.
  15. Handyman


    Sep 4, 2007
    Austin, TX
    I hate it when I wake up with an unfamiliar Kustom Tuck and Roll next to me.
    heynorm, Jim Carr, JMacBass65 and 2 others like this.
  16. jim nolte

    jim nolte

    Oct 26, 2006
    I hate living in apartments,
    Are you still in the same apartment? Jim
  17. High Camp

    High Camp

    Oct 3, 2013
    Man, this thread is so old, Lehman Brothers were still in business, Paul Newman was still alive and GWB was still president...and I still had hair :bag:
    jim nolte and rodl2005 like this.
  18. JimmyM

    JimmyM Supporting Member

    Apr 11, 2005
    Apopka, FL
    Endorsing: Yamaha, Ampeg, Line 6, EMG
    No, my wife and I got back together shortly after this. And I was definitely hammered that night. Rare it happens, but I was.

    BTW, I still think the LMII is a very good head. I just think others have surpassed it since then.
  19. jbd5015


    Nov 23, 2009
    Boalsburg, PA
    I did a similar test recently between a B15 and a solid state rig. I had similar results!!

    The B15 ive got is going to go under the knife soon and get a new grille cloth, which may not take long, but then again, it might! So i was thinking of my back up amps, which include a V4B and an Ashdown ABM EVO 500II. Ive got an SVT212AV for a cab to run.

    I was going for the 'lighter' rig, which is the ashdown. This amp has a lot of knobs and sliders. Being a fan of the B15 which has 3 knobs, and its hard to get a bad tone out of, all the knobs and sliders are intimidating and frustrating.

    Ill be honest, ive been fighting the ashdown for 5 years, ive never been truly happy with it. After a couple of years with the B15, you get a better ear for what you like, and with all the tone shaping options on the ashdown, ive gotten closer. I gigged it the other week, and while no one in the crowd noticed, my bandmate did. He said that there was something lacking...

    Amazing that all those extra watts and tone controls cant fill in the 'something' category that is so important to us tube fans!

    glad to hear all is well since the late night amp test!!! We've all been there!!
  20. JimmyM

    JimmyM Supporting Member

    Apr 11, 2005
    Apopka, FL
    Endorsing: Yamaha, Ampeg, Line 6, EMG
    BTW, this was shortly before I got my B-15 restored by Jess Oliver. All that changed when I got it back :D