This Article Was Originally Published On: December 15, 2015 #Issue 17.
It is both interesting and inspirational to observe the work of people and companies who are performing at the top of their craft, whether they are a luthier, an engineer or a musician. For Canadian manufacturer Radial Engineering, their craft is making a wide array of professional audio products which are involved in one way or another in the act of either recording or performing music, and they are undoubtedly among the top players in the field.
One of the product lines offered by Radial Engineering is the Tonebone range of pedals, which break down into three categories: distortion, preamps, and switchers. In the preamp category, we find the latest iteration of the now-classic Bassbone, the Bassbone V2. This pedal impressed us with its form and function at the 2015 Winter NAMM Show and earned a Bass Gear Magazine Best of Show Award. We now have an opportunity for a more in-depth look at this gem of a pedal.
Our Friends Up North
Radial Engineering takes a no-nonsense approach to making products which competently solve real-world challenges. Based in Vancouver, British Columbia, Radial Engineering, Ltd. is owned by President and CEO, Peter Janis. Formed in 1991 (and incorporated in 1992), the company originally went by the name “JP CableTek Electronics, Ltd.” and focused mainly on a range of cable products. The first DI box, the JDI, was introduced in 1996, and it remains a stable in many studios and on many stages, today. Radial employs over 50 employees and ships more than 60,000 electronic items each year.
In addition to the Radial brand line of products (including DI boxes, interfaces, effects and 500 series modules and racks) and the Tonebone pedals, the company also manufactures acoustic treatment products under the Primacoustic brand. We have long used Radial products to aid in our bench test procedures in technical reviews, and we also use them in our new extended video review format.
Bass to the Bone
The original Tonebone Bassbone was introduced in 2003, and it immediately became a hit amongst gigging bassists, particularly players who routinely gigged with two disparate instruments, or those who needed to switch between two different tone profiles from the same instrument. The Bassbone remained unchanged for years, and was eventually joined by the Bassbone OD in 2014. The Bassbone OD is certainly its own beast (and a lovely beast, at that!), with two full-featured channels, built-in overdrive, drag control load correction, and a PZB booster and 10 MegOhm input for piezo pickups, and it remains in the Tonebone lineup. New for 2015, the Bassbone V2 replaces the venerable original, which it resembles more closely than it does the Bassbone OD.
On the right-hand side of the unit, we find two 1/4″ inputs, labeled (simply enough) 1 and 2. Next to the Channel 2 jack, we find two recessed switches for “PZB” and “Blend.” The PZB switch increases both the input impedance and the gain (on both channels, but most dramatically on Channel 2). The goal, here, is to allow the Bassbone V2 to be optimized for magnetic pickups (with the PZB disengaged) or piezo-equipped instruments (with PZB engaged and plugged into Channel 2). The Blend switch allows for using two different instruments plugged into each input, or using one instrument (plugged into either input) and then switching between the two channels on the BV2. The left-hand side of the unit is a bit more sparse, with the unbalanced 1/4″ Out jack and another recessed button labeled “Boost/Mute,” which allows the Boost footswitch to function as a mute, instead.
The top and bottom edges of the original Bassbone were void of any inputs/outputs, but on the BV2, the top edge is well-populated, with 1/4″ jacks for Tuner Out, effects Send, and effects Recv, the balanced XLR out (DI), and the 15VDC power supply input. We also find two more recessed buttons for ground lift and phase shift (both of which affect only the balanced XLR output).
The real fun happens on the face of the unit, with three solid footswitches: one for selecting between Channel 1 and 2; one for engaging the effects loop, and one for engaging the boost (or muting the signal). The color scheme is not just attractive and stylish, it is also functional. Channel 2 has a yellow label, and the yellow background above the Bass, Mid, High and Level-2 knobs tell you that those controls apply only to Channel 2. Channel 1 has a white label, as does the 3-way switch for EQ-1. The grey area is, well, a bit … grey, but it’s easy enough to figure out. The Level-1 control only applies to Channel 1, while the Boost level knob and the dry/wet Loop control knob apply to both channels.
The effects loop option is handled quite a bit differently on the BV2 than it was on the original Bassbone. On the older unit, a 1/4″ TRS jack allowed a serial effects loop to be inserted into the signal chain, via use of the Boost footswitch (with the Boost Assign switch set to Loop). The loop was either in, or it was out. A useful feature, yes, but the Bassbone V2 definitely ups the ante, with a parallel effects loop than can be dialed in a little or a lot, via the use of the Loop wet/dry knob. In practical use, this means that you can run a synth pedal in the loop and blend it with your bass tone. You can run an overdrive or distortion in the loop, and blend in as much clean tone as you like (and help restore some of the low end you may have lost with certain pedals). What’s more, the loop can be assigned to Channel 1, or to Channel 2, or to both.
One of my favorite features is the high-pass filter option (which only affects Channel 2). This 3-way switch allows the player a choice of high-pass filtering falling off around 35Hz, 50Hz, or 90Hz. We have covered the potential benefits of high-pass filters in these pages numerous times, but in short, removing some of the lowest frequencies can help to remove unwanted rumble/noise, can help reduce or avoid feedback, prevents “wasting” amplifier energy and can enhance the clarity/presence/articulation of the bulk of the usable frequency range. This control can be especially useful when amplifying double bass or an acoustic instrument.
Giving the Dog a New Bone
Compared to original Bassbone, the BV2 of course has a lot of similarities. The overall size is very similar, with the BV2 being slightly smaller. The most obvious differences in the enclosures is the inclusion of a third footswitch (for the loop) on the V2, and the lack of any inputs or outputs on the top panel of the original Bassbone. We’ve already described some of the technical differences, above, but I was interested to hear if there were any sonic differences between the two.
For the most part, where the two units had similar features, those features worked identically, and the overall tone was quite similar. However, after doing a lot of A/B-ing, I noticed that with the original Bassbone, there was a slight difference in tone between sending my bass signal through the pedal, versus plugging into an amp, directly. To test this, I used Channel 1, with the Contour set to Flat, and the Level turned all the way up. With these settings, the volume was the same going through the pedal (or not), but the tone when going through the Bassbone was a little beefier, while plugging in directly had a bit more “air.” Switching to the Bassbone V2, and also using Channel 1 (Level turned all the way up), and the EQ set to Norm, I did not lose any of the “air” when running through the pedal, and in fact, the signal through the pedal sounded pretty much identical to what I got when I plugged straight into the amp.
Switching to Channel 2, I noticed that the “zero sum gain” point was closer to noon, and turning things up definitely results in a volume increase. Running through the 3-band EQ on Channel 2, the Bass control proves itself to be very useful in both boost or cut mode. Full-on boost was more than I would probably use, but that was just at the very extreme. Interestingly, I found that the low end did not totally disappear when I cut the Bass all the way. Nice! With the Mid control, things got a little nasal when I boosted it, but one person’s “nasal” is another person’s “punch,” so that’s a subjective call. Cutting the Mids resulted in a very pleasing tone that didn’t lose all of the power behind the notes. Boosting the Highs sounded very nice, and this is a highly usable control. What really impressed me, though, was that when I cut with the High control, it very closely approximated the results I get from cutting the passive tone control on my bass.
Running through the high-pass filtering options of 35Hz, 50Hz, or 90Hz, I found that the 35Hz setting was virtually inaudible on either a 4-string or a 5-string bass (at a medium-volume setting, playing solo). Banging on a low B, I did notice a barely audible difference at the 50Hz setting, but I could hear no difference on a 4-string. At the 90Hz setting, I could definitely tell the impact of the filter on both a 4-string and a 5-string, but it was not necessarily a bad thing. You still heard each note just fine (even down to a low B), but the “pillow” beneath the note was pulled back a bit. My experience has been that the impact of these types of high-pass filters is more readily observable on the gig – especially in a room that it prone to rattles and/or boominess.
I really loved the usefulness of the blendable, parallel effects loop. While many of the newer overdrive/distortion/effects pedals are including a clean blend option, some still do not, and this feature is rarely found on older pedals. Having the blend option built into the BV2 means that you can break out that old Big Muff π, throw it in the effects loop, dial in your favorite fuzz, and then blend in some clean lows to keep it nice and full. And remember, you can run whatever you like in that loop, including another EQ. So you could potentially have three different foot switchable tone profiles for the same instrument. Pretty cool!
The PZB switch on Channel 2 makes a very audible difference in terms of both gain and fullness when using piezo-equipped instruments. Both my Rob Allen Mouse and my old Kay upright (with a Barbera Bridge Transducer System pickup) benefitted mightily from the buffer. Also, with the Blend switch engaged, the PZB seems to do its thing, even if the piezo-equipped instrument was plugged into Channel 1.
I found the BV2 to be very flexible as far as signal routing is concerned. I used the balanced DI to drive powered cabs. I used it in front of various bass heads, and ran the unbalanced output into the bass head input. I used it as a “replacement front end” and ran the unbalanced output into the effects return (or “power amp in”) on various heads. In each application, it performed predictably and admirably.
The Bottom Line
Having the blend option built into the BV2 means that you can break out that old big Muff π, throw it in the effects loop, dial in your favorite fuzz, and then blend in some clean lows to keep it nice and full.
Radial Tonebone Bassbone V2 Pedal
|Company:||Radial Engineering |
1588 Kebet Way
Port Coquitlam, British Columbia
Canada V3C 5M5
|Country of Origin:||Canada|
|Year of Origin:||2015|
|Price as Tested:||$289.99|
|Accessories:||15VDC power adapter|
|Available Colors:||Black (with yellow and grey)|
|Acquired From:||Radial Engineering|
|Test Gear (in-hand review):||Bassbone (V1), Fodera Emperor 5 Standard, Sadowsky P/J 5, MTD 535, Fender Precision, Fender Jazz Bass, Kay upright, Rob Allen Mouse, GK MB200, GK Neo112-II, Markbass F500, Demeter Minnie 800D, Bergantino IP112|
1-5 (unacceptable to impeccable)
|Ease of Use:||5|
In-hand Score 4.58average
Low: Great control, via EQ or high-pass filtering
Mids: Solid and clear; good control
Highs: No high-end loss; can emulate a passive tone cut
The Bassbone V2 does not take anything away from your tone and gives you numerous ways to sculpt and tweak in musical ways. The ability to work with multiple instruments, including those with piezo pickups, is impressive.