Hands-On Review:Pro Bass Amps with the right sound, the right features, and the right price!
As a bass player, I've always liked Gallien-Krueger for a number of reasons. One is that they specialize in bass amps. They're not a guitar amp company that tweaks their stuff a little to turn them into bass models. I've thought GK admirable for going their own way, for being innovative rather than imitative. It was GK that first introduced bi-amping to the bass world. GK also has created unique EQ circuitries and voicing filters that beat the socks off their competitors'. I've especially appreciated GK's no-nonsense approach. Their amps have never been heavy on cosmetics or jazzy frills. Just features that count when it comes to laying down a solid groove.
Most importantly, GK amps have always had the sound, and the new additions to the RB series are no exceptions. They provide the power and tone shaping demanded by professionals, at a price that makes them accessible to everyone.
The 800RB Legacy
The newest RB series amps build upon the heritage of one of the all-time greats, the 800RB. This bass classic was introduced in 1983 and quickly became a mainstay amp for the big shows. It was the first bi-amp setup, and one of the first bass amps to have sufficient power to drive a full speaker array. Even today, the 800RB is a frequent first-choice for touring bands and back-line companies, and a lot of pro players out there have been relying on the 800RB for most of two decades. If you're driving a couple of fifteens topped by two tens for the highs, there's never been a better amp than the 800RB.
The BI-Amp Advantage
The main reason the 800RB has been so successful is its BI-amp capability. Other amps might provide as much raw power, but bi-amping solves major problems, especially when one must play at higher volumes. The 800RB has two amps built into one chassis: a 300-watter to power the low speakers, and a 100-watter to power the high speakers. By splitting the power sources for the woofers and tweeters, the 800RB overcomes the problem of tweeter distortion at higher stage volumes. With bi-amping, the lows remain deep and tight, while the highs remain clean, clear, and articulate. It also allows the use of a little distortion, which sounds great in the bottom speakers but ratty through the upper speakers, and therefore hard to incorporate in setups where one power amp drives both speakers. Bi-amping makes it possible to create distortion only in the low-end speakers.
The Modern RB Series Amps
The new RB series amps include the 700RB and 1001RB heads, and a number of combo versions of each with differing speaker complements (one 15", one 12", or two 10s). Basically, the 700 and the 1001 are the same amp. One just has a beefier low-end power section (380W for the 700; 540W for the 1001). Both have a 50W amp for driving the highs.
These new RBs are second-generation BI-amp systems. In the late '80s and early '90s, the use of horn-loaded cabs became the rage, mainly because they give the high-end snap and extreme definition that is required for contemporary bass styles, especially for funk and popping. The new RB amps are designed for bi-amping these woofer/horn speaker systems. In the combos, horn and woofer(s) are built in. The RB700 and the RB1001 heads are designed to drive GK's RBH series speaker enclosures. These are dual systems housing both the woofer(s) and a horn tweeter, and they connect to the heads via a single cord with a Speakon four-post connector.
Because horn tweeters need (and can handle) substantially less power than cone speakers, the high-frequency amps in the RB700 and 1001 have been reduced to 50 watts of output, down from the 100 watts of the 800RB. Any more power would blow a horn. Bi-amping is made simple in the RBs by having fixed crossover points. You change the balance by changing the volumes of the woofer and horn.
Test Driving the 700RB
I started out with the 210 combo and used my trusty (slightly doctored but still passive) Precision, figuring it would give me the clearest idea of what the amp was all about. This is one well-built little rig. Very compact. Solid, with heavy-duty protection against road wear. You roll it right in. Tip it back if desired. Plug in, turn on, and you're there. The sound it gets with the two 10s is tight and punchy, and the horn puts more than just a little bite in its bark. It was simple to back it off a little to get just the right amount of snap and balance of the lows and highs for pop riffs.
What I especially like is how fast I had a great sound without hardly having to tweak the controls at all. The 210 version , of course, isn't prone to boominess. The lower-end notes are deep and solid, sustain well but also cut off easily. I didn't have the opportunity to fully test its upper limits for volume. I did crank it up as far as circumstances would allow and, believe me, it gets plenty loud before you reach the top of the dial. GK asserts that their amps generate five to ten times the current needed to attain their power rating and I believe them. These are an extremely lively 380 watts and fully capable of driving an additional cab with ease.
GK refers to this as "extreme power" and credits it to high-current toroid power transformers and extra output devices. What it means to the player is great tone even at higher volume levels. The RB amp has the reserve or deep power it needs to maintain speaker cone control when cranked up, so the sound doesn't turn to garbage. This is also a very warm toned amp, much warmer than one would expect from a purely solid state rig.
The front panel controls on the RB amp couldn't been be plainer or easier. No manual needed here. Part of this is the four-knob EQ section. Set 'em at 12 o'clock for neutrality, and then start cutting and boosting to dial in the tone you want. Easy and quick. Each knob seems to effect a more distinct difference in the tone than the tone knobs on other amps I've used, which I suppose is due to the specific frequencies they effect. GK describes their EQ system as based on an "active serial filter" concept, whatever that means; but you only have to tweak the knobs for minute to see what it means to your ears.
The voicing filter section is also a handy part of the tone-shaping circuitry. It gives you two basic contours to choose as starting points for your sound, one for five-strings (B bottom), and the standard 4-string contour. In addition, a contour knob scoops the mids while boosting lows and highs. This one knob alone gives such a range of tonal change, that in many cases you could get by only using it and not even touch the four EQ knobs. The RB has simple, basic types of controls, but their effectiveness makes this amp extremely flexible in its tonal output.
Another tone-related knob is the boost knob included in the BI-amp output section. This is a post EQ gain that uses GK's G.I.V.E. circuitry to add warmth and then a little distortion or growl as it is turned up. It's basically GK's proprietary emulation circuitry and works well to add color without going overboard.
Other Nifty Features
Like I said earlier, GK doesn't include superfluous frills, but they do include the features you really use. For example, the RBs give you a balanced direct out that you can select as pre or post, and that includes a level knob so you can control the output to the board. The input has both a volume control and a switchable -10dB pad. These two used together allow you to optimize the amp's headroom and accommodate passive and active instruments. There's also a tune mute button and an output to the tuner so you can leave the thing hooked up, but when you want to tune, hit the mute, and no signal goes either to the amp or the board. Another feature is an effects loop (send and return) that lets you insert outboard effects such as compression after the EQ but before the boost, which allows you to use the boost to adjust for effects that have gain. All practical stuff.
It basically depends on whether you're a head guy or a combo guy, because either form of the RB gives you a lot of flexibility. I prefer a combo for the convenience - and for the size of rooms I usually play. I highly recommend the 2 x 10. It's a natural choice for funk players who like it tight and punchy. I personally would choose it as an all-around amp , and add a single 15 cab when needed. Or you could go the other way - start with the RB 115 and add two tens. This might be the more practical choice for a finger or pick player who wants a nice, round piano-like tone first and foremost.
The RB heads give you the potential to stack up more speakers and in different configurations. Also, they are rackable, so if you use effects, the head may be more practical. The RBH Series speakers give you all the necessary options: 2 x 10, 1 x 15, and 4 x 10, either for under a head or adding to a combo. They are great cabs. Solid, totally armored, and loaded with custom GK speakers. The heads and combos have two Speakon outs so it's easy to add an extra cab to either.
The other choice is between the RB700 and the RB1001. This one's only a question of how much power you crave. Even though it's the little brother, I found the RB700 to have plenty of push. As much as I will likely ever need, and it's fully capable of driving another box with no problem. It should do most players. But if you play larger venues and often drive additional boxes, go for the 1001. You just have to decide, is 380 + 50 watts enough? Or would 540 + 50 be better?