Review of Audio Kitchen Big Trees Amp
Audio Kitchen's Steve Crow is a one-off and his idiosyncratic
pro-class amps are starting to gain 'must have' status -
particularly for recording. But even we were taken aback when the
Big Trees arrived. Is it a pedal? Is it an amp? Is it even
finished? We handed it to our resident lover of the arcane, Michael
Casswell, and let him figure it out.
Audio Kitchen The Big Trees
Audio Kitchen is a small London-based company, run by audiophile
engineer Steve Crow, that concentrates on making hand-built amps in
small numbers for players who have 'tone' at the top of the agenda.
If you take a peek at the company's website (
www.audiokitchen.co.uk ), you'll see that, though their amps look
satisfyingly retro, they are all pretty much recognisable as amps.
The Big Trees isn't so much. It's a bare metal box sporting chunky
controls and is covered in fairly childlike writing. This isn't a
bad thing but it is an acquired taste and though some will
absolutely love the look, others might wonder, to put it politely,
what the hell is going on. Only you can decide which of those two
camps you're in!
The specs say it's an all-valve unit, delivering 2.5 Watts from
single ended class A output stage. There are ECC83 and ECC82
pre-amp valves and a single EL84 output valve. So at the very least
you have a low powered practice or recording amp, which enables you
to torment either the pre-amp valves, or the output valves, or
both, to achieve some great old school valve tone that can only
really come from valves doing their thing. Because it only pumps
out 2.5 Watts, you can get it all cooking at reasonable volume.
Just plug your guitar in, connect to the speaker cab of your
choice, and turn up the gain. I connected it to half my Marshall
4x12 cab loaded with original Ipswich Celestion Vintage 30s, and
2.5 Watts suddenly seemed quite loud! The speaker out in the Big
Trees offers a nominal 8 Ohms. Next to the gain pot you have the
'root' and 'branch' pots, which is a nice tree friendly way of
saying bottom and top!
But just when you thought you had it all worked out as a
super-quality hand-made, recording amp, you have to take on board
that the Big Trees can also be used as a stomp box that you can
take a line out from and plug straight into the front of your
favourite amp, letting it act like a boutique pre-amp or overdrive
pedal. Doing this lets you create another level of tone and gain,
depending on what amp you are using, complimented by the fact that
you have foot switchable clean and dirty channels within the
You could also use the Big Trees to drive the front end of your
pedal board, or get your other pedals to drive the Big Trees
- it all depends what you are using it in conjunction with.
If I was running delays and reverbs, the Big Trees would go before
them into a clean amp. If I used a compressor, I would put the Big
Tress after it in the chain. If your rig seems a bit lifeless and
lacking those magic valve overtones, then using the Big Trees in
its pedal guise could warm everything up nicely. The line output is
running with valve line driver circuitry, which gives it a bit of
an advantage over your stock boutique overdrive pedal.
The onboard Baxandall based EQ does nice things when pushing the
gain on the pedal. It acts almost like another gain stage. There is
a pot called 'dirt' which acts like the EL84 headroom control, so
when you turn this up, the volume decreases but gives you more
output gain distortion. You are actually decreasing the headroom of
the EL84 output valve, driving it harder, therefore giving you more
dirt to play with. Looked at this way, the unit is a lesson, in
pre-amp distortion, power amp distortion, and combinations of
So it's an amp! It's a pedal! What else can it do? Well in an
age of digital recording and guitar speaker emulated guitar sounds,
it has found a home with some big names using it to 're amp'
recorded guitar sounds. This is a little trick that can add beef
and realism to a lifeless guitar track. Speaker emulation has got
very good nowadays, but it is still not a loud valve amp, mic'd in
a nice room with a Shure SM57 stuck close to the speaker, which is
moving air. The Big Trees would be great for re-amping, and in an
article in a recording magazine recently, it was revealed that a
little known band called Led Zeppelin recently benefited from an
Audio Kitchen amp being used to re-amp some of the channels from
their live appearance at the O2 in London. Although I didn't have
time to test it out myself, I just know the Big Trees would shine
So it's a very cool piece of kit that is for guitarists in
search of good tone and valve response. If I had to play devil's
advocate, then I'd say it's not cheap. If your gear seriously lacks
mojo, then yes the Big Trees will inject life where there wasn't
any. Or, alternatively, you could invest in better gear! Or simply
you could up your game so that your tone is in your hands rather
than expensive guitars and amps. It's all subjective. You are
paying for a hand built product that will give you that all valve
mojo, good after sales service and a product that has more than one
The Audio Kitchen guys know what they are doing and the
company's products have gained a lot of high profile users,
particularly among some of the younger bands mentioned on the
website, who tend to be hungrier for new ideas than the old school.
Hunt down an Audio Kitchen Big Trees amp, pre-amp, re-amper and see
and hear for yourself what valve tone can do for mere mortals!
Check out the full review inc. video of the Audio Kitchen
Big Trees Amp by Michael Casswell featured in
Guitar Interactive Magazine Issue 17.