Hughes and Kettner is always a class act and we had high hopes of its latest introduction - a combo version of the popular 18 Watt Tubemeister. So how does it fare in this increasingly busy market area?Rick Grahamput it through its paces.
Following the great reception for its Tubemeister 18 compact head, Hughes and Kettner has now released the same amplifier in combo form - no doubt designed to appeal to both mobile and home recording musicians in equal measure as potentially the ultimate all in one solution.
Weighing in at a remarkably light 9.4kg and with dimensions of just 395 x 360 x 260mm, you'd have a seriously hard time convincing a sceptic that the Tubemeister 18 would be powerful enough to use as a home studio practice/recording amp, never mind as a serious small venue gigging amp - but anyone doubting the H&K's abilities would be in for a serious surprise. The custom designed 10" Celestion speaker, housed in a sophisticated Theile-Small enclosure, most certainly plays a pivotal part in pushing out considerable volume, as do the twin EL84 valves which deliver a full 18 Watts. And as valve/tube lovers know - 18 Watts of tube power through a decent speaker can be loud!
The Tubemeister is essentially a two channel amplifier with clean and lead channels, both of which offer gain and master controls and also a three-band EQ which both channels share. Don't worry if you're hungry for more gain, as a lead boost function is available to the lead channel, switchable via the top control panel or optional footswitch.
The features continue at the rear of the amplifier with a quad stage power soak enabling switching between 18, 5 and 1 Watt with a very handy speaker mute, for silent recording. There is also a balanced output via H&K's own (and excellent) Red Box speaker emulation for connection direct to your DAW or audio interface, serial FX loop for use with modulation effects and digital spring reverb volume control. There is also a TSC-protected power amp system, featuring auto-bias, with a status LED warning if you should have tube problems. This is serious stuff - clearly designed after a lot of thought about the facilities a potential buyer is going to want from an all-purpose gigging/recording amp.
Powering the combo up for the first time, I couldn't help but be impressed by the ultra cool blue LED backlight illuminating the amps control panel. Being the owner of a Hughes & Kettner Switchblade 100 myself, I couldn't help but feel slightly bereft at not having that cool backlight on my own amp. Oh well!
The clean channel was a joy to use, proving itself able to handle any style of playing ranging from twangy, bright Country rhythm, right through to thick Jazz lead tones, all the while responding beautifully to my playing dynamics.
The Lead channel offered some truly superb tones, too, (check out the video!) and it didn't matter if I was playing crunchy Rock rhythm or saturated singing lead with the boost engaged, the Tubemeister retained a warmth and clarity and, above all, a musicality that I've rarely heard and felt in an amp of this size. Rolling the guitar volume back whilst on the lead channel was equally impressive and it really was remarkable how well the amp responded to my touch and playing dynamics. With an amp this responsive, it's very difficult to play anything that doesn't sound good!
There's no doubt at all that the Tubemeister is one of the finest amps of its class. Every part of the playing experience was inspiring and it's hard to believe that so many great tones are available inside such a small package. Hughes and Kettner's Tubemeister 18 is truly a force to be reckoned with and, no doubt thanks to being made in China, it doesn't even come with the premium price tag you might expect from this prestige German brand. If you are in the market for a great all-rounder, check it out.