For those who prefer the vintage vibe of a cool looking sleeved bass head sitting on top of a speaker cabinet, I think EBS has it all sewn up with this new, updated EBS Classic 500 head. It's a progression from the Classic 450, featuring an uprated output and downsized outer casing. As I've said in the past, I have always enjoy having new kit to look at from EBS as the Swedish company cleverly strikes a balance between useful technology, uncluttered front panels and easy to use functionality.
We were also sent an EBS Classic 210 CL cabinet to pair with the head to make up a super portable but powerful rig. The cabinet features two 10” speakers and a tweeter with an attenuator control on the back panel. The cabinet is ported and when pushed in our studio, the low end becomes more apparent. Don't expect seismic low end from just this particular cabinet but I am supremely sure that coupled with multiple EBS cabinets, or indeed the huge Classic 810 model, the Classic 500 head will deliver real kick drum lows that will punch above its weight. This is something I need to hear!
The Classic 500's front panel lay out is dead simple to navigate. As with other EBS kit we have reviewed, the layout is familiar, making the head a breeze to use without even opening the manual. Don't be fooled into thinking this is a one-trick pony, though!
To the right of the input socket is an input level gain control and as usual this will allow you to match your bass level to get the best signal with the least amount of noise in to the amp. To the right of that lies the EQ section. EBS starts with a clean pure tone then uses a well thought out EQ section to enhance your instrument's character, rather than colour the amplifier's sound. The bass frequency centre is just where it needs to be - that 'kick drum punch' centred at 100Hz shelving.
Instead of a fussy graphic EQ we have just two controls for the lower midrange and upper midrange frequencies. However, these are of the parametric variety giving us the option of dialling in the exact frequency area we want to boost or cut - extremely useful if you are in a room with troublesome acoustics or of course, alternatively, you can bring out the best from your instrument by finding that sweet spot by sweeping the frequency centre back and forth.
EBS has also included its useful 'Character Filter' pre-shape control. In the past I've called this a kind of 'big cab' simulator and it's very useful when you are using small cabinets. By engaging this function there's a bass boost (below the centre of the bass control) a slight cut to the middle frequencies and a smidgen of boost on those treble frequencies that are useful for slap or pick use. I find that some pre-shape controls have too much boost and cut, but once again EBS has done a great job of keeping this musical and useful, while still allowing the tone controls maximum effect. The Classic 500 sounds full and coherent throughout a wide range of settings.
Yes, the Classic 500 delivers clean bass by the spade load, but (and I should say this in a movie intro voice) it has a darker, uglier side that rears its head in form of the drive control. Again, a little bit of thought goes along way. There's 30db of gain available from the drive section and as you advance the control the bass signal begins to mildly overdrive. Advancing further, the head starts to react a bit like a vintage tube amp, delivering a chewy and certainly less 'Hi-Fi' driven bass sound that compresses the bass too. EBS has tuned the drive circuit so that the lower frequencies are allowed to pass through unadulterated, meaning that the EQ can be pushed in the low end further before things get too messy.
This is what the classic 500 is designed to do: to be as close to a vintage tube amp without including a single valve. The power output comes from a MOSFET design power amplifier that is much loved for the perceived girth and rounded lows, often said to be close to the way that a valve amplifier works. I enjoy the sound of a well designed MOSFET amplifier and muscular power supply.
One important extra benefit of having an all solid state design like this is that it has enabled EBS to keep the weight of the head down to 14Kg.
The 210CL cabinet that was introduced in December 2013 is, as usual, superbly made with an easily removable front grill held in place by Velcro, should you want access the speakers behind. It is a multi-laminated plywood design, covered with vinyl and fitted with deep dish handles.
Wasting no time at all, we plugged everything in and turned up this head and gave it a good run for its money using the Enfield bass we also had in for review in this issue. What a great combination! I really can't find fault. The 210CL is loud and punchy, without trying to produce frequencies that it can't, rather focussing on those that it can handle well. I bet a pair of these as a modular 4x10 would be superb. The sound itself is detailed, with good mids and the tweeter at these levels sounded clear and not shrill. The 210CL is an 8 Ohm cabinet rated at 250W RMS.
Summing up, I was really pleased with the sound of this rig and would love to try the head with different configurations of cabinets from EBS to hear its full ability. My favourite settings, as per the video, were to just start boosting the drive control a touch so it doesn't distort the signal but delivers warming in the mids. That really suited the modern sounding instruments we had in the studio when we were reviewing this rig.
The Classic 500 isn't cheap but it is very good - another great rig from EBS!