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By Burt Shoals
About the size and weight of my wah pedal, Crate's new PowerBlock is the loudest amp I've ever played through. Running 75W RMS per side stereo or 150W mono, it's among the most powerful production guitar amps built, yet I can stash it in the glove box of my Honda.
I play in a hard rock/punk/grunge band (depending on our mood) and share the stage with the world's hardest-hitting drummer (he buys drumsticks by the gross). In the interest of balance, our bass player's 250W rig sports not one but two 18" speakers. As the only guitarist in the band, I've been hard-pressed, even with my 100W head and full stack, to be heard above the din.
When I got the Crate PowerBlock for review I actually laughed as I pulled it out of the box. My buddy Brad at Musician's Friend had said it was a 150W head, but at 10" x 3" and weighing 4-1/2 lbs., it looked more like your average DI box. Intrigued, I hooked it up to the Crate GT112SL cab Brad sent along, plugged in my Les Paul, set the gain and level controls straight up, and let 'er rip.
The volume was intense! I could not believe how loud this little sucker was. I was reminded of that scene in Back to the Future where Marty plugs into the ceiling-high amp, hits a chord, and blows himself through the wall.
I showed up at our warehouse-party gig with the PowerBlock's heavily padded carrying case slung over my shoulder. "Where's your head?" the bass player asked. "Got it right here," I said nonchalantly. He watched with furrowed brow as I separated the cabs in my stack and plugged in my pedalboard and the PowerBlock. I cranked the gain and the level and launched into the intro to "Outshined." Everyone in the band stared at me with their mouths open. For the first time my solos soared effortlessly above the drums and bass. I had to laugh when the break finally came and the drummer asked me to turn down; he couldn't hear himself. "Now you know how it feels!" I chortled gleefully.
The real goods
But the PowerBlock is more than just small and loud. The thing actually sounds great. It's designed for compatibility with signal processing equipment like amp modelers and floor pedals. It amplified the signal from my POD with perfect clarity for a truly bold sound. When I cranked the gain knob it began to impart a musically pleasing distortion that blended easily with the distortion from my POD. And I could get a huge amount of volume without introducing noticeable distortion from the PowerBlock.
I was particularly impressed with the PowerBlock's response to my wah pedal. The amp provides a rich output, with a broad enough frequency range to really make the most of a good wah sound. Its stereo capabilities make it particularly friendly toward stereo chorus effects and longer delays.
With a quality guitar (such as my fabulous 335) plugged into it, the PowerBlock doesn't need any signal processing at all to sound great. It has loads of headroom and a nice, gentle power curve that makes getting the right volume a breeze. The low, mid, and high EQ controls provide adequate sound-shaping for everything from burning high-sustain leads to earthy, muted, jazz tones.
A 1/4" headphone jack on the front makes the PowerBlock a handy little headphone amp. Its 1/4" instrument in, stereo CD inputs, and effects loop make it easy to jam out quietly into your headphones with all your pedals working (and without a load on the power amp). This, combined with speaker-simulator circuitry, makes the sound you hear in the headphones the same sound you've spent so much time shaping for live performance, rather than some cheesy headphone-amp effects.
Of course, the RCA CD inputs let you amplify prerecorded music along with your guitar for lone jamming through your speakers. (Speaking of speakers, I was really impressed with the hefty 100W-handling 12" Celestion in the GT112SL Musician's Friend sent me. It's righteously powerful and full-sounding for a single 12. And the cab even has a handy little stash place inside with Velcro straps to hold your PowerBlock.)
Stereo line-in jacks let you plug in the stereo output from your effects for stereo amplification. 1/4" speaker outs are left, right, and mono. Hit the bridge mono button to drive a single eight-ohm cab or use the left and right speaker outs to run stereo to two four-ohm cabs. Daisy-chain another cab to each of these and you can easily drive four 12" speakers.
There's a balanced XLR line out with a level control to let you run the PowerBlock directly into the board or into your recording equipment. The signal out is enhanced by the same speaker-simulating circuitry heard on the headphones. I tried it as a DI into my digital recording system and it performed admirably. A switch mode power supply means it will work anywhere in the world.
Cool looks, cool temp
The anodized aluminum housing looks like a clever way to design in heat fins, but I couldn't get this thing to heat up no matter how hard I drove it. The new technology in the PowerBlock is too complex to go into here, but the result is nothing short of astonishing--super-high power in a tiny package that's phenomenally lightweight and ultra-cool running. It's clean enough you could use it as a backup keyboard, bass, or vocal amp.
Crate has an undeniable winner with the CPB150 PowerBlock. If you want monster sound without breaking your back or your bankroll, this is the ticket.
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