While glowing valves are many guitarists' ideal, not everyone can afford a tube amp - and not everyone even wants one. So when the top German amp manufacturer Hughes & Kettner offers an entry level feature packed range of solid state combos, it's worth paying attention. We asked Jamie Humphries to put H&K's Edition Blue 60 DFX to the test.
With many amplification manufacturers adding entry level, 'all in one' combos to their ranges, the consumer is spoilt for choice these days. Companies seem to be adding more and more features to make them more attractive and appealing and at a prices that are considerable easier on the pocket than the Pro class valve/tube products that tend to grab all the attention.
German manufacturer Hughes & Kettner is renowned for its quality valve amplifiers, ranging from classic to modern high gain. H&K also boasts an impressive list of high profile endorsers, including Rush's Alex Lifeson, Allan Holdsworth and Tony MacAlpine, so, clearly, ears at H&K are tuned to the right sounds, which should make their solid state offerings closer to the mark than some.
Witt all that in mind and all my preconceptions about the quality of German engineering, my expectations where pretty high when I unboxed our sample 60 DFX and it certainly looked good as we set it down in the studio. The H&K is a very compact, attractive, well constructed piece of equipment. Its sturdy cabinet with black vinyl covering and heavy duty corner caps houses a 12" Celestion speaker (always a reassuring find) and with its top-mounted control panel you get the impression of a much more expensive amplifier.
The controls are laid out on a mirrored panel covered with plexiglas. When the amplifier is switched on the plexiglas is illuminated with blue light. Sound impressive? I have to say I loved how it looked, but I'm not so sure that it isn't a weakness, however good it may look. The problem is that the increments on the control pots are marked in black, and on a mirrored background this was pretty hard to read, I found. Add to that the reflections and the blue light and, well, let's just say that on a low-lit pub gig, or even worse on a gig with lighting, I think it could be quite difficult to read the settings. In fact I struggled quite a bit to see the markings in our studio environment. So, while it's a very attractive cosmetic feature, it's possibly not the most practical.
The H&K boasts two channels, clean and lead, both with independent volume controls. The overall volume of these can be controlled by the amps master volume control. Your sounds are tailored with the three band EQ and channels are switched using either the button housed on the top of the amp, or by a footswitch which is sold separately. The amplifier also offers a digital effects section, which we'll discuss later.
Other features include an effects loop, which was surprisingly labelled 'line in' and 'line out'. According to the booklet supplied the line out can also be used as a DI, if used in conjunction with the H&K Red Box. The amplifier also includes a line in for CD player; not the usual mini stereo jack that is found on most amplifiers that include this feature, but instead stereo phono inputs.
Moving on to the sound, the amp's clean tones were both rich and valve-like, with plenty of clean headroom, meaning the tone didn't break up. Moving onto the lead channel, and again the amp produced very rich warm valve-like sounds ranging from classic Blues crunch to modern saturated heavier tones. A little extra EQ was required on the top end, but that's not uncommon with transistor amps. Check out the video to hear for yourself. Not at all bad, is it?
Like many amps in this market sector, the 60 DFX includes a selection of digital effects including chorus, flanger and digital delay, plus its own separate digital reverb. The effects parameters are controlled by a single pot, with blocked sections for each of the effects. Whilst within a block, the more you turn, the more the parameters change for each of the effects. This means that you are restricted to the sounds that have been set with in the parameters of each block. The delay includes a different range of delay times ranging from short to very long and with a bit of tweaking I got some very professional sounding lead delay tones. I should also mention that all of the effects are blended with a separate effects volume control. The separate reverb engine, although digital, is modelled on traditional spring reverb. This is also blended into your sound, dialled in via a pot.
Although I've picked up a couple of things - the difficult to see control markings and the slightly confusing 'line in' and 'out' instead of the industry standard send and return, the 60 DFX is a very well made, good sounding combo. Although the amp also includes a headphone output for silent practice, maybe the addition of a speaker simulator output would have helped with the features, but overall, this is a good sounding amp, and well worth a closer look if you're in the market for something in this price range.