Review of Engl Retro Tube 50 Combo -
In each issue we try to look at some of the gear used by our
featured players - but Ron Thal uses a complex Engl pre-amp/power
amp set-up and Marty Friedman uses an Engl we're previously
reviewed (a Powerball, in Issue 9). Still, we decided to stick with
an Engl theme and whistled-up the company's new Retro Tube 50
combo. Rick Graham looked intrigued...
Having established itself as a major league high-end tube amp
manufacturer, Germany's Engl has built a solid reputation on the
basis of the quality of its products, most of which are geared
toward the high-gain rock/metal player. Engl has scored highly with
discerning pro players including the likes of Steve Morse, Ron
Thal, Ritchie Blackmore and Marty Friedman as well as more recent
players such as Jeff Loomis and Chris Broderick.
Recently, however, Engl has decided to set foot into uncharted
territory, with the release of a new line of what it calls 'Retro
Tube' amps. So far, the Retro range come in three forms: 100 and 50
heads and the subject of this review, the Retro Tube 50 Combo.
Other than the pre-amp controls being positioned at the top side
of the amp, there is very little about the appearance of this amp
that indicates anything 'retro' about it. In fact it looks as
modern as they come, with the polished metal Engl logo displayed
across the see-through grille cloth. That said, the term retro
needn't necessarily apply to the aesthetics of an amplifier.
There's no question it looks cool, though!
Essentially, the Retro Tube 50 combo is a two channel amplifier
capable of delivering its 50 Watts output through a Heritage G12-65
Celestion speaker. The power tubes come in the form of two EL34s
and the combo features a second master volume controllable at the
rear panel, via the optional footswitch. The pre-amp section is
made up of two channels: Clean and Lead, and a unique feature of
this amp is that both of these channels feature a gain boost
switch, which effectively turns it from a two channel to a four
channel amp, loosely speaking. As if that wasn't enough, both
channels each have a voicing switch with a 'bright' switch for the
clean channel and a 'tone' switch for the lead channel. Each also
features a standard three band EQ of treble, middle and bass
controls, separate reverb controls and the addition of an in-built
noise gate, with threshold adjust for the lead channel with gain
boost on. You'll also find an FX loop, which is serial to parallel
adjustable and switchable via the optional footswitch. Valves of
choice for the pre-amp section are four ECC83 tubes.
So far, so very thorough! Once fired-up, I started with the
clean channel engaged. The tone most certainly had a vintage vibe
to it and with a touch of very natural sounding compression too. A
quick flick of the clean channel's gain boost switch quickly pushed
the amp into classic Rock crunch territory, with a very dynamic and
responsive tone. Moving over to the lead channel was equally
impressive and whilst it is possible to get some seriously high
gain sounds cooking, the Retro Tube 50 always retained that highly
responsive and very dynamic sound, regardless of how much gain I
dialled in. Don't be fooled by Engl's use of the word
'retro': the gain on tap here would be more than enough to
satisfy even the most ardent of shred-heads out there!
I particularly liked the organic sound that this amp produced
and, whether on the clean or lead channels, it felt great to play
through and had tons of character and attitude. There's no shortage
of volume here and you'd have no trouble being heard at club/pub
gigs with this amp in your backline.
It's slightly disappointing not to have the footswitch included,
though, at this sort of price.
There's no question that Engl has created a great product in the
Retro Tube 50 combo. In fact it's quite a coup as what they've done
is come up with an amp that would satisfy players looking for
vintage, organic tones as well as satisfying a need for more high
gain tones all rolled into one mean looking amplifier. All in all,
it's well built, highly versatile and, while in the upper price
echelons for a 'brand' 50 Watt valve/tube combo, happily below
'boutique' price levels. Nice work Engl!
Check out the full review inc. video of the Engle Retro
Tube 50 Combo by Rick Graham featured in
Guitar Interactive Magazine Issue 17.