This article was publish in #Issue 18 in winter 2016
The Company Line
We’ve done the company line before on Markbass – having had the pleasure of reviewing many of their pieces previously – so we know the company well at this point. However, especially in light of the product being reviewed here, it bears commenting again on one thing we know about these people. They continue to innovate both in breadth and depth of product, and at a pace any company in the world would be hard-pressed to keep up with. It also only makes sense that the broad spectrum of products and strength of innovation would be used together more and more as time passes. Such is the case with this product
The Multiamp was first introduced at the NAMM show in 2010, and was primarily geared for guitar, but honestly, would work for bass. In 2014 however, they came out with the Bass version, which has more appropriate amp/cab models, voicings, etc. Five years after that first model was released, we find ourselves looking at a newer and continually evolving version of that amp, the Bass Multiamp. They’ve retuned and tweaked pretty much everything, as well as created both a stereo (S) version, such as the one we’re looking at, here.
Digging Into the Details
This amp has so much going on, it’d be hard not to write a book about it. Markbass supplies a fairly basic manual, which does an elegant job of giving the new owner the lay of the land, providing enough information to understand all the features and tools available, but it doesn’t go into a lot of detail or contain a set of examples to play with. Instead, the approach is to rely on the amp’s intuitive ease of use, and encourage the user to explore and experiment, developing their own configurations using some of the stock presets. For example, the manual doesn’t list every effect and ever parameter available for every effect, but those should be intuitively evident once you see what they are on the screen, as long as you’re familiar in general with that effect type.
First, let’s talk about the “normal” stuff. The direct controls on the front of the amp start with the Pad. This is not really a typical Pad, such as we’re used to, where it cuts, only. This is really more powerful as a gain-matching tool, because it can actually boost input, as well. It switches between -6dB, 0dB, +6dB, or +12dB, as needed. Next are the Solid State, Tube, and the Vintage buttons. These buttons are used to select which amp subgroups are available for selection in the amp slot for the preset (more later). Next is the Mute/Tuner button. That’s pretty obvious; it mutes the amp and brings up the digital tuner on the display. Finally (on our test unit; the latest update is a little different) is the Phones Level control for the 1/8” jack over on the right side. By the way, I like that they went with 1/8” on this jack. It’s what most of my stuff, including my custom-mold, in-ear monitors, use. Below is the Input jack, Gain, Low, Mid Low, Mid High, and on this unit, Master (another difference, compared to the latest update). The EQ control settings can be saved for each preset. These are alpha wheel electronic controls, and their settings are stored with the preset, and of course can be altered live … including the Master output level.
This is a good time to bring up a couple niggles I have with the amp. First, I really prefer to turn my amp on with Gain and/or Master turned all the way down. With this amp, the Master output level is stored in the preset, which means you can’t take this amp to different gigs and have one manual master output level that’s not altered by preset changes, unless you go into the system menu and change the master mode from “normal” to “manual” (with “normal” being the default). They resolved this in the current version of the amp, by the way. What used to be the electronic master is now a patch level control. This makes more sense to me. They moved the Master to the headphone level control, which is manual/live all the time … a more traditional volume-type control. One other thing I didn’t like as much is the state of mute is not remembered when the amp is powered off and on. This goes along with my preference to always bring an amp up “silent.” This amp always powers on un-muted. I’d prefer it would remember mute. That way, at the end of the night I could mute it, and next power on, it’d be muted. In the same way, if the amp lost power at a gig, it would come back on un-muted and the gig could resume without having to go back to the amp and un-mute it again. In the grand scheme of things, however, these are fairly nitpicky, but as you’ll see later, they’ve already addressed one of my niggles, anyway.
Over on the right side is the credit-card-sized display screen and all the controls for the presets and slots. There’s an alpha wheel Value knob for altering parameters and selecting letters/characters for names. Just above that are the Slot Select and Slot On/Off buttons and the Exit button. Next are the “arrow array” buttons with the Enter button in the middle for navigating around in the menus and presets. Below that is the SD slot and the Phones jack. Above and to the right are the Store and Recall/Tap buttons, and finally, the power switch. The Tap button, of course, is used to select delay values (which can also be done from the foot-pedal product I’ll cover briefly later).
Around the back, you have the power jack (voltage set at the factory for the region the amp will be sold to), fan, speaker outputs, ground lift, balanced and unbalanced DI/Line outs (with output level selector for +4/-10dB), MIDI loop, and traditional effects loop (more on this later, too). Just a couple quick notes, here. This amp can operate in mono bridged mode, where the Speakon output is the sole output (8-ohm min.), or in the normal “stereo” mode, with independent outputs, one for each power amp (4-ohm min.). It also supports using the independent outputs in bi-amp mode, where instead of using it in a true left vs right stereo mode, you can send the higher frequencies out one side, and lower frequencies out the other side. The crossover point, of course, is adjustable. The unbalanced outputs can also be used to drive a separate power amp, if desired. The amp output modes and related parameters are set in the system menu on the amp, as are the SD functions, such as format, load, store, etc.
Under the Hood
Next, let’s get into the actual modeling content. I’ll just list things out, really quick. The amps are “Solid State” (Little Mark III, Big Bang, T-Green90, RB7Hundred), “Tube” (TTE 500, Blue ’70, Red ’96, TWVal 115) and “Vintage” (Bassface ’59 US, Uk120, JMayor, Sunny US). The effects are B-Tubemarker, B-Drive 21, T-Chorus, MB Ch/Fl, Ninethy Phase, Reverb, Delay, Volume Pedal, Noise Suppressor, Send/Return, Par Eq, MW Octaver, Super Synth, Compressore, and Env Filter. Most of those are intuitive, except for maybe a couple. The send/return “effect” creates an insertion point for real-world effects connected to the amp’s actual Send and Return connections on the back. The volume pedal does just what you’d think, but requires the separately sold Bass Multiamp Midi Pedalboard, with an expression pedal attached to it (also sold separately). The cabinet (cab) types are Standard 104HR, Standard 106HR, Classic 108, Standard 151HR, Standard 152HR, New York 122, New York 804, and Traveler 121H.
The architecture of the amp is that it’s all about the presets. They store pretty much everything … even output levels, and in the case of our version, even the master output level. There are eight slots per preset. Each slot can be an amp, cab, or effect, and there are no rules as to which order you place them in, or even how many of each, except for the limitation of only up to one amp, one delay, and one reverb per preset. For example, the cab (or cabs) don’t even have to be the last thing in the chain, and you can have more than one cab in the chain, if you wish. To a modeling system like this, everything – even the “cab” – can simply be thought of as just another way of altering the sound – another “effect,” as it were. Everything has adjustable parameters, too. Not only can you tweak the voicing of the selected speaker cabs, you can also select a microphone type and even location! Even the send/return “effect” has parameters (levels, and whether it’s a serial or parallel loop). The amp has 105 preset locations, but if that isn’t enough (really???), it also has an SD slot, essentially making the number of presets you could have saved essentially limitless. It’s just that you can only have 105 of them readily available at any one time. Personally, I can’t even imagine filling up 105, but that’s just me. By the way, the SD card is also how firmware updates are done. I updated the firmware on our test unit, and it worked flawlessly.
Once you’ve got your preset set up, you can also turn each slot on or off without having to mod the preset, itself. This is all quickly available from the front panel. This gives you the ability to disable things (like the cab modeling) if you’re performing live (or turn it on for studio recording strictly via DI). Changing presets is just as easy; just recall, select, enter, and exit. The easiest way to create a preset is to start with one of the presets that comes with the amp, modify it, and save it to one of the user locations, giving it a new name (using the alpha wheel to spin through the alphabet, special characters, etc).
I played around a good amount with the Solid State, Tube, Vintage modes, various amp models, various chain orders – such as moving effects around (using common rules like compression before modification effects, etc) – and trying the amp model in various locations (to emulate a pedal board before an amp, or in the effects chain, etc). I have to say, the processing order is significant, which is what I’d prefer. When using a hardware pedalboard with a traditional amp, putting your pedal board before the amp vs in the effects chain matters. It does here, too. It’s been a while since I’ve messed around with some of the products it models, but at least from memory, it does a good job of reproducing those sounds pretty faithfully. On the effects, I’m not going to go into each individual option, other than to say this: the time-based effects, such as delay, reverb, chorus, etc, all sounded really great to me. The compressor worked very musically and effectively, and the octaver was clean and full. The ones I had a little more trouble with were the distortion/drive effects, which I felt were a bit on the harsh side, by default. But they could be nicely tamed by altering their parameters a bit. The synth effect was kind of cool, but at least for my tastes, it has some of the same tracking sensitivities I’ve found in other synth-emulation devices, especially with bass. To be fair, however, it’s inherently problematic to do that kind of tracking on these lower frequencies, so that’s common with other similar products at every quality level, as well. Personally, to go for a “pseudo” synth effect, I just use an octave divider and distortion pedal, which can also be done here with this amp. You still can’t do double stops, but the tracking is a lot better. Other than that, the effects operate as expected, with the expected appropriate adjustable parameters for each one. I personally didn’t run into an effect where I thought there was a control missing.
The “Bass Multiamp Remote Control” Software
I’m not going to go into much detail on this other than to say it’s software that greatly eases the programming of the amp through the use of a powerful GUI on a computer, connected to the amp via USB “A-to-A” cable. Just a quick comment on that cable; it’s a bit unusual in that most devices have a different (typically smaller) style connector (such as used on their foot-pedal I talk about later, actually), whereas most “hosts” (hubs, computers) have the A-style connector. These A-to-A cables are readily available online, but hard to find in stores. Very minor issue there, but it hit me, because I didn’t have one in my pile of cables, and I thought I’d mention it. When USB C is more ubiquitous, however, this all should eventually go away. In any case, the Remote Control software is super easy to use, and it’s completely free. You simply download it for PC or Mac directly from the Markbass website. A powerful editing tool like this would be really useful for someone who was seriously into building and managing a large library of presets. We included a screenshot from their website here which does a good job of showing what it looks like. It’s easy to use and intuitive. I don’t think I ever even looked for a manual.
The “Multiamp MIDI Pedalboard”
This is not a free add-on like the software is, but I would consider a strong purchase recommendation for someone using one of these amps who really wanted to maximize the power of the presets in a live situation. I didn’t have one of these to play with while I had the amp, but it supports two modes of operation, and the attachment of an expression pedal (to be used with the volume pedal “effect” in the amp). It connects via standard MIDI 5-pin cable. The two modes are Program Change and Control Change. In Program Change mode, it’s used to access presets, and it can run in three sub-modes of Normal, Incremental, and Bank. In Control Change mode, it’s used to alter the preset you’re currently using (such as to turn specific effects in the chain on and off). You do the mapping of the program numbers sent by the pedal to the presets you want them to recall in the amp (or Remote Control software).
As you can see on the current model, they’ve made changes I would have asked for. I suspect they got the same feedback from others and made the change. I’ll just simply quote their website here;
“New design for 2015 features a Master Volume on the front panel instead of Headphone Level (this control is now available at System menu), a Patch Level control, new effects and new improvements as Comp Indication at the display, ultra-reduced Switching Time between presets, Control Change Map with on/off assignable to each single effect … and more!”
On The Stage
I must admit that someone a lot heavier into effects and processing/modeling would probably be able to exercise this amp a lot more than I could, but I will say this; I can’t imagine any situation in the studio or on stage that this amp couldn’t adapt to. I had my hands full just with a couple presets and spent most of my time on just one. I dialed in a sweet Markbass tone I loved and essentially turned effects on and off, after that. I didn’t even use one of the two amps. I stayed in stereo mode, because I don’t have an 8-ohm cabinet that can handle all the power this amp can throw out. Besides, even at their rated 500-watts per side, I had more than enough power for one or both of my cabs for our typical club gigs. I spent a bit more time at home playing around with the modeling and EQ. I spent hours playing around with options, arrangement of effects both in type and location in the chain, etc, and I still feel like I’ve barely tasted the rainbow.
Modeling products, with or without integrated amps, have been around for a while now, but except for only one other product I can think of (Fractal Audio’s Axe-FX ™ II, which does not have an integrated amp), this raises the bar to a new level. Other than my minor niggles with the mute and Master (which again, they’ve already resolved), I really can’t find anything at all to complain about with this amp, other than how long it’d take my tiny brain to really make full use of it. What I will say, however, is it is surprising how quickly you can come up to speed on using the system. Normally, with something like this, I wouldn’t imagine mod’ing a preset on stage between sets or maybe even between songs without the pedal. But with this amp, I could see doing some of that.
The Bottom Line
In my mind, this amp represents the epitome of bass amps. If you need this kind of power and versatility, I can’t think of another product on the market that truly rivals this one. It might be overkill for the average clubber, but if you’re a top pro, or otherwise simply a particularly demanding bassist who plays and/or records a particularly wide variety of musical styles, I feel safe in saying this amp has you covered.