Hands-On Review:Small but mighty and loaded with fat, sweet tone.




Roland makes all kinds of great gear - everything from mainstay guitar amps, to cutting-edge keyboards, to the leading line of digital workstations. In the bass amp realm, they can be credited with one of the all-time classics: the seemingly immortal Cube. The Cubes were introduced some 20 or so years ago, and you'll still see players using them on the gig. That's because the Cube was a very cool amp, notable for its clean sound, small size, the amazing volume it could generate, and for its great jazz and tight funk tones. I've always been a fan of the Cube, so I was eager to try out their new DB-500 and DB-700 and bring myself up to date with Roland's latest for the bass.


What I discovered were two very worthy, very advanced amps. Like the Cube, the DBs are designed for compactness. The DB-500 is less than 2' high, and a little over 1-1/2' wide. But like its Cube forerunner, this amp is way bigger to the ear than to the eye. When I first played it, I was blown away by its big tone and substantial volume. I would characterize the DBs as practical, simple to use, state-of-the-art combos. They're capable of a producing the full range of bass tonal styles, and powerful enough to cover the gigs. Beyond that, they leave you a lot of room on stage.


I'm going to skip a lot of the technical stuff. I'd just be talking over my head in the first place, and you can get the whole story more aptly told by simply reading the product information here on musiciansfriend.com. Or go to Roland's website. There you can learn about FFP (Feed Forward Processing) design. Basically, it's a technology that allows superior efficiency and integration between various systems within the amp. Read their stuff. It's impressive. What you'll get here is one bass player's largely un-technical appraisal of the what it's like to plug in and play a dB amp.


Like at First Sight
Roland gear has always had its own look. I'd have guessed it was a Roland even if the name weren't on the front. Check out the pic. The grille molds outward from the sides to create more clearance over the speakers. It's also highly polished, giving it a sophisticated shine nicely offset by the cab's fuzzy, black Duratex®-covered cab. There's a big heat sync on the back that looks very capable of keeping things cool. The controls are on top, straight up, so its easy see them from above. The various extra outs and ins are halfway down the back - a sensible location for keeping wires out of the way. It only has a handle on top, and though Roland calls it lightweight, I would qualify that somewhat. It's no back-breaker, but it has some real heft when you pick it up. It seems convincingly solid and well made.


Sophisticated Simplicity
I'd never encountered a modeling bass amp before, so I was anticipating some strangeness. I was pleased to find a simple, transparent, analog-style set of controls. I read the basic warning section of the manual, made sure the Master Volume was turned down. Plugged in. Punched On and was up and running. No problem.


The controls are laid out in logical order. First comes the model selection. There are three models to choose from. Modeling guitar amps usually have so many more selections - 10 to 20 models usually of specific amps, British and American, tube and solid state, old and new, each laden with a layer of digital effects. The SB takes a different approach. It gives you three basic choices of amp types: a solid state amp, a tube amp, and a tube drive. You select the model as as starting point, and then tweak the sound into precise shape using normal controls.


I flipped through the models with all the EQ knobs straight up and the effects turned off. First I got a very clean, very hi-fi solid-state sound. Good and thick. Next click I was greeted by a very warm, round, very sweet tube amp tone. This one's great. I liked it immediately, and didn't waste any time wondering whether it sounded more like a '58 Bassman or a vintage Ampeg fliptop. It had what I liked about all tube amps - a great basic sound good for a million kinds of music. The Tube Drive took the tube amp and cranked it up a substantial notch. This sound has lots of muscle, lots of edge. It's a great sound for aggressive rock and roll. You'd normally have to play quite loud to get this kind of tone, but the dB makes it available at any volume, and as a starting point for further tweaking.


On to the EQ
The EQ controls are completely normal. Gain and Volume knobs let you set a clean sound or dial in a certain amount of drive distortion. There are three bands of EQ with variable mid, and a shape switch that gives you an alternate contour. Roland describes it as giving more of a 15" speaker sound, as opposed to the 12" sound. When on, it gives you a deeper, fuller tone, and a quick way to change horses fast between tunes. The tone knobs all seem to do their thing well, and the treble knob especially makes a difference because of the horn. Turn it up a little and you quickly start getting that tight 0"chek" sound for pulling off or slapping the high strings. Turn it down a little and the horn sound disappears. The 12" speaker provides a nice tight bass without a sharp edge. Very cool. Versatile.


I was especially pleased when I cranked up the bass. I just don't expect a cabinet so small to be capable of big, fat, reggae-type, deep-bottom tone. But with just a twelve, this little guy can make the floor and your chest vibrate. And when you run up the volume, the tone maintains its integrity. No falling apart under pressure. Even the DB-500 seems to have plenty of sound to fill the average size club. If you need more, go to the P.A. from its built-in D.I. Or start with the DB-700. It has a 15" and more watts, and does the same thing a step bigger.


Basic Bass Effects
The same philosophy that led to three amp models instead of twenty is applied to the effects. Instead of a bunch of weird stuff packed into presets, it gives you the two tried-and-true bass effects: compression and chorus. Both are controlled by knobs that work pretty much in the normal fashion. Turn up the compression knob and you get a denser, more compressed sound, as well as more volume. Very useful for certain styles, such as when you want a tight, punchy sound for slap playing. It also should be majorly handy when you're recording.


The chorus knob goes from off to extreme. I was especially impressed by the lower end of the spectrum. Roland brags about their chorus technology, describing it as split-frequency and dynamics-sensitive. This means that the chorus effect is only applied to frequencies above a certain level, which keeps the lows from muddying up. I personally only like using a touch of chorus, but if you like to lay it on lavishly, you won't wipe out your bottom end. It lets you get some pretty extreme sounds. Up at the very top end it adds in an odd delay, sort of a delayed thump effect. I wouldn't know what to do with it, but you might.


Messing with all the models, EQs,and effects showed me just how versatile a dB amp could be. It is incredibly adjustable. Whatever kind of sound you want, from traditional tones to contemporary, from rock to funk to blues, the dB will deliver the goods with a minimum of dialing time, both at low volumes and high. It's easy to get a bass sound with a lot of tug to it. The amp has plenty of power and the speakers and cab handle this power well. It doesn't get noisy with things turned way up. It gets a little hiss in the tube settings when drive is cranked, but it's an acceptable amount. Roland probably modeled in the hiss just for realism.


It's equipped with a send and return for outboard effects. It has two footswitch connections for quick clicking between memory A and B, and separately for turning Manual Mode on and off. I didn't try it with footswitches, but its plain to see that using them would be handy on stage.


Memory Setups
If you're the kind of player who likes to change your tone for each particular song, the DBs may leave you feeling a little short on memory storage. It has only an A and a B location. Most bassists, however, only use a few settings for an entire gig's worth of tunes. With the A, B, and Manual mode settings you have three to work with, which should suffice for most players. Storing a setting is easy. Just get the knobs where you want them for the sound you want, then hit the write button and send it to either location A or B. There's nothing to it. For call up, you can use the buttons on top the amp or use optional foot pedals.


Play Big on the DB-700
The DB-700 is pretty much a larger version of the DB-500. It houses a 15" woofer and drives it with 250 watts. The cabinet is ported differently than the DB-500 - along the bottom - and it comes with casters and side handles, which it needs. Although very compact, it's hard to lift and carry with just the top handle. Otherwise, the controls, effects, and connections are all the same as for the smaller version.

The DB-700 is still a relatively compact package, but when it comes to putting out sound, this one's a serious monster. Despite its compact dimensions, it seems to me fully capable of serving in the largest clubs, even in stadium situations.


Choose Your Size
Both the DB-500 and DB-700 are amps that any bass player can love, from standup . I can't imagine any type of bassist they wouldn't please. String bass, blues groover, all-out rocker, reggae bottom feeder, funk meister - whatever your style, these are amps that'll do it justice with great bass tone and texture. The only question is one of appropriate size and required power. Most players will find the DB-500 quite adequate. If you play the bigger shows, go for the DB-700. Both amps are available from Musician's Friend, and they'll quote you a nice price and guarantee your satisfaction. If you need a little leeway to pay, talk to them about Platinum Card financing. All things are possible.




Features & Specs:


DB-500

  • World's first DSP bass amplifier with proprietary Feed Forward
  • Processing (FFP) Technology for maximum output and compact design
  • Employs COSM modeling technology to recreate the sounds of the best Solid State, Tube and Tube Drive bass amps and natural tube compression effects
  • Includes new dynamic "D-Chorus" effect
  • Offers Shape controls and three-band EQ with semi-parametric midrange
  • Amp settings can be stored in program memory for instant recall via footswitch 160W total output power using 12" speaker and high-efficiency horn tweeter
  • High-quality components used throughout for years of reliability
  • Simple operation with knob-based Gain, Volume, EQ, D-Chorus, and Master Volume control


DB-700

  • Digital bass amplifier with FFP amplifier technology for maximum punch and compact design
  • COSM amp models of Solid State, Tube and Tube Drive bass amps, plus natural tube compression
  • Perfect size and power for mid- to large-size stages and concert halls
  • Dynamics-sensitive "D-Chorus" effect
  • Shape controls and three-band EQ with semi-parametric midrange
  • Amp settings can be stored in program memory for instant recall via footswitch
  • 250W total output power using 15" speaker and high-efficiency horn tweeter
  • Simple operation with knob-based control.



Common Features:

Two Memories (A and B)

Amp Models: 3 (solidstate, tube, and tube drive)
Controls: Amp type selector, gain, volume, compression, shape switch, bass, mid level, mid frequency, treble, D-chorus switched intensity knob.

Program switches: Manual button, A button, B button, Write button

Connectors: input jacks (high and low), headphone jack, balanced DI connector, insert jacks (send and return), line out jacks (XLR balanced, phone type balanced), two footswitch jack (tip: A/B; ring: Chorus/Manual)