Stirring times, down in the Bassment! After a bit of an extended wait, TC Electronic delivered not one, but two, of its eagerly-anticipated new bass amps - the BG250 combo and the BH250 head. So how does TC's much vaunted TonePrint actually perform in its bass incarnation? Over to our dungeonmeister,Dan Veall!
Hot on the heels of TC Electronic's much applauded RH and BH ranges, the BG250 combo and similar BH250 bass amplifier head, represent the latest thinking from the Danish company that has made huge inroads into the bass amp market in recent years. Their unique angle, in addition to a clever EQ section, is that they offer the ability to select sounds and effects from TC's downloadable 'TonePrint' online artist library - by computer or directly from your mobile phone - and apply them to your amp. It's a feature we've previously seen in TC's effects pedals, and now here it is in your bass amp, too!
For the uninitiated, TC Electronic didn't just arrive at the world of bass by accident. Known for those world class effects and signal processors, it set about taking on the rather clumsy and overweight world of bass guitar amplification, promising powerful and lightweight heads, cabinets and combos that were easy to use and responsive in all genres. 2009 saw the release of the original RH450 - a D-Class amplifier with a full DSP pre-amp, designed to emulate the sounds of a valve amplifier in a compact package. The RH450, packed with attitude, began life named the 'Rebel Head'. That moniker was dropped but it did set the tone for TC's intentions in the market! The matching RC cabinets were a breath of fresh air too, in terms of their physical design as well as tone.
Not content to rest on its laurels, following RH450s came a host of new models, including a simplified head, the Classic 450, then the Staccato 51 (its sound modelled by bass great Rocco Prestia) and more muscle power followed, in the shape of the RH750 and the 1,600 Watt 'Blacksmith' beast. For those with a more budget conscious shopping list, TC now provides the BC range of cabinets, BH heads and BG combo amplifiers. So let's take a look at one of those first, the BG250.
This 1x15 + tweeter combo sits really nicely in the rehearsal/teaching sized rig, as well as being very happy in small club gigs. It's a perky little number that I think will be at home in a band set-up, as long as your bandmates understand what the control marked 'volume' does on their guitar rigs!
The control layout is clear from left to right. Input and gain level controls are placed on the left hand side next to the neat and clever three band EQ. Most EQ sections simply boost or cut a preset frequency centre - which is perfectly acceptable and something we are quite used to. However, 'acceptable' isn't good enough for TC and the designers have looked at ways of making EQ as flexible as possible, while still using just three knobs. The result is that each control on the BG250 will boost one frequency when advancing the knob clockwise, but will attenuate a different frequency when cutting backwards from the zero position. TC says this makes the EQ stage more flexible, and that they have based this on the opinions of bass players and tests by their gurus. I see where TC is coming from and can say that this novel approach to EQ certainly works very well with my own instruments.
Next up, we have TC's own 'TubeDrive' - first seen on the RH450 - which is a 'valve amplifier simulator' that affects the gain and tonal structures of both the pre-amplifierandpower amplifier circuits, not just the pre-amplifier as seen in many digital modelling amplifiers. This works very well on mild to mid range settings, though, personally, I don't go for the more stodgy high gain settings available. That's not to say they aren't good - there's some great vintage tones to be had in there - they're just not to my taste! This is a 'one knob' control, the higher the setting, the more pronounced the effect is. Both drive and dynamic controls are affected to make the amplifier act and sound like a big 'tube' amp as much as possible.
And so to the TonePrint concept! TC's TonePrint pedals feature some of the finest and most characteristic effects on the market today - but with the added bonus of also offering presets created by famous musicians that can be downloaded to the pedal once you've bought it. We bass players have been invited to joined in the fun and and have started creating our own Toneprints for the pedal range - and, uniquely, for these BG and BH amps as well.
To make it work, you need to install TC's TonePrint app on your iPhone or Android enabled mobile/cell phone, following which, battle can commence! On offer are grungey distortion, or low and punchy octave, or maybe even a luscious chorus created by the likes of Duff McKagan, Gail Ann Dorsey, Henrik Linder, Mark King or Justin Medal-Johnsen to name just a few!
Once set up to receive, you hold your mobile over the pickups of your bass connected to the TC amplifier. Follow the instructions on screen and the effect parameters are transferred as an audio stream (it sounds a bit like an old modem transferring data!). Once transferred you have the option of using a foot switch to change between two saved TonePrints on the BH250 or, on the BG250, you have the option of foot switching the TubeDrive function too. That's a lot of functionality in a fairly small box!
Along with these great tonal options, you also have a tuner on board, as well as an 'aux in' for connecting a CD or MP3 player. There's a headphone socket for silent practice next to that. All importantly a pre/post EQ switchable DI balanced output is provided too for recording, or for sending your signal to a PA for example. Visual indicators are provided for input level clipping, TubeDrive and TonePrint status. (the latter two having switches on the control panel).
It is possible to keep a whole library of tones with you all the time on your smartphone, however you can use a USB cable and computer too, if you wish, but the wireless option seems pretty handy to me if 'on the move'.
So do we think the TonePrint is a gimmick or worthwhile addition? Well, knowing how good TC's effect algorithms are, I think this is a great idea. I've owned TC effects gear for years and have always been impressed with the quality, from the G-Force and G-Major 2, Nova System and Nova pedals, to the BG250's built-in chorus here. Having the TonePrint facility onboard as well means your amp is going to be around a lot longer before you start feeling it's outdated and it should continue to stimulate your imagination, as new sounds are added to the range on offer.
So far we've concentrated on the BG250 - the combo version and, in reality, almost everything that has been said about it applies to the BH250 head, as well. In essence, it's a super small bass head version of the BG combo, featuring much the same functionality. It doesn't have the separate TubeDrive knob, but the TubeDrive 'effect' is still available, as a customised TonePrint itself, giving you more drive options than just that of the single knob of the BG250.
All the additional features are the same on both head and combo but without the cabinet included for the head, obviously.
The BH250 is super light as you will see in our Tech Spec box and will happily live in the front pocket of a gig or cable bag with ease. It really is tiny - in fact it's one of the smallest D-Class heads on the market right now, despite still somehow managing to come in a resilient all-metal casing, which is very welcome for us busy gigging musicians!
Funnily, I have visions of seeing one of these stood on top of a pair of TC Electronic 4x10 cabinets. I think that'd look pretty funny, but the reality is, it'd probably drive both cabinets with ease!
Head or combo version, the choice is yours. Neither are really powerful enough for major Rock band use but that's the choice you make when you buy a 250 Watt rated amp - if you need more power, buy more! For most uses - at home, for rehearsals, in the studio and for smaller gigs, the BG250 combo will do the job perfectly, as will the head version, if you already have cabs you like. The Combo's 15" speaker and tweeter handled just about any tone setting you could throw at them, making it particularly attractive at what is, after all, a very good price. The head? Well, if price wasn't a consideration, what I'd really have liked would have been to see the BH250's features in an RH750 or even a 500 Watt package. But that said, I'm being a bit greedy. Both the combo and separate head are brilliant - straight out of the box a nice clean tone, but with the addition of the effects blocks via TubeDrive and TonePrint, they are amongst the most flexible on the market today - easy on the bank balance and easy on the back too.