When Marshall launched the Class 5 in 2009, Joe Bonamassa was the man tasked with showing the world what this diminutive little Class A package could deliver. Once we'd heard the tone I think we were all impressed. But can the Class 5 deliver in real life with pub band, or in your bedroom/practice room?
The Marshall pumps out five Watts of Class A power, provided by 2 ECC83's in the preamp stage and a single EL84 in the output end. Controls are limited to volume, treble, middle and bass, so if you were hoping for channel switching and independent EQ controls, move on straight away - this is old school! The cab is well constructed, with no audible rattles or extraneous noises and features a 10" Celestion G10F-15 speaker. There is a headphone output that defeats the speaker and a single extension output for driving a 4x12 or similar. The unit is small at just 19.5"x16.5"x9" but don't let that fool you into thinking that it will have an equally small tone!
Many low wattage amps can have a thin, buzz-saw sound but the Class 5 immediately impresses with a warm, real tube amp tone. The clean tone has depth and responds well dynamically. Make no mistake, we're not in Fender territory here - but that's not why you came to the Marshall party: you want dirt I presume! Still, it's nice that the clean tone hasn't been neglected. That said, once the volume creeps up above 11 o'clock things start to break up very nicely so clean headroom may be a problem but that's what your volume control was invented for and the amp cleans up very well.
The overdrive is firmly in the Bluesbreaker and Plexi vein and a surprising amount of gain is available with the volume cranked. The Class 5 is certainly a loud amp - perhaps not loud enough for gigging in clubs or larger venues but for jam sessions and smaller stages it will keep up with a quiet drummer. Mic'd up it would perform well on any stage and the depth of the tone is quite surprising for a 10" speaker. Many small amp manufacturers seem to have mastered the art of getting as much bass response out of a 10" speaker as possible and Marshall are right up there with the best of the pack with this combo.
We ran into some issues with the tone controls in that they weren't particularly responsive on our model (another old school characteristic, of course), the middle and treble controls being the worst culprits. With the tone controls set to 12 o'clock the bass was tight and highs were represented without being harsh or tinny. With a tube screamer in the front end, a saturated lead tone was easily achieved and things never got too noisy or harsh.
In a bedroom scenario you'll want to run a dirt box in front of the amp as there is no way you'll achieve the upper levels of drive without a call from the police. This five Watt combo is very loud, so it's something to consider even though five Watts sounds like a small amount of power. Alternatively an attenuator would do the job and you could have the power amp saturation at sensible volumes - which is something this amp really needs to be heard at its best.
So does it nail the Bonamassa sound? Well Joe is running £2,000-4,000 amps on stage in various combinations so you have to set your sights accordingly. However, if you're looking for a small, low power combo for a pub rock/blues band or for a rehearsal space, then the Class 5 is a superb choice. There are more versatile and perhaps better sounding amps available for a more modern sound but to really capture that classic Marshall vibe for little outlay in a size that won't break the bank, you'd be hard pushed to find a better choice.