Hands-On Review:Crate PowerBlock CP150 stereo/mono guitar amplifier

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By Daniel Miles

Crate PowerBlock Over the years, Crate has created some unusual and forward-thinking amps, such as the battery-powered Taxi series and the rugged Acoustic series. The PowerBlock CP150 exhibits an equal level of innovation. Compact enough to fit into your man purse (or the included gig bag), this stereo amp delivers a paint-peeling 150 watts at eight ohms in bridged mono mode, and 75 watts per channel at four ohms in stereo mode. Even better, it weighs less than five pounds. That's lighter than a laptop or a backpack full of cables and stomp boxes.


PowerBlock is handsome, too, a fresh-looking alternative to the retro styling that's become about as unique as a Starbucks. From its rounded edges and angled panel to the handwritten look of the labels and the cool blue status light in the middle of the Crate logo, this little guy stands out.


Features and Controls
If you're into grab-and-go amp tone, you'll dig the PowerBlock's simple user interface. Its front panel has controls for gain, low, mid, high and level, as well as a single input and a stereo 1/4-inch headphones output with built-in speaker simulation for silent practicing. The rear panel is slightly more complex. In addition to a power switch and a power cable connection, it contains three 1/4-inch speaker connections (mono and stereo left and right) and a switch for toggling between stereo and bridged mono operation.


Additional connections include an XLR balanced line output with a level control for direct recording (or feeding the PA at a live venue), 1/4-inch jacks that can be used as line outputs or as sendand- return feeds in an effect loop, and a pair of RCA inputs that lets you play along with a CD player or iPOD—just the thing when you're practicing through the headphones.


The amazing thing about the PowerBlock is that, despite its light weight, it seems plenty sturdy for the typical rock and roll animal. Its Class D power section keeps the weight down, while its anodized aluminum case works as a heat sink to keep the unit cool. It's quiet, too, with very little self noise or buzz.


Most stereo amps and preamps are designed for people who love to operate knobs and, therefore, are crammed with controls. The PowerBlock has a reasonably wide tonal range but places the tonal nuances in the player's hands. The gain control takes you from clean to a smooth, sweet, tubelike overdrive that has plenty of body. The EQ lets you go from bright and funky to warm and bluesy. Although the gain knob adds punch and harmonics, turning it up does not throw the tone out of balance or make it too thin or crackling. As a result, you can dial up a good aggressive lead tone and then use your guitar's volume control to clean it up progressively. Blues players take note.


In stereo, the PowerBlock is loud enough to scare your bass player, though you'll need to crank the gain into overdrive or distortion to get loud enough for that Dremmel-to-theeardrum effect. In bridged mono mode, this thing is dangerous, with plenty of clean headroom. Using the backside 1/4-inch jacks as an effect loop worked very well, with no loss of tone and added no noise.


The Bottom Line
The PowerBlock is a refreshing change from typical amp heads. Its light weight and headphone speaker simulation allow it to function as a preamp or practice amp, especially when mated to a compact multieffect unit. It's also a useful power amp for an existing preamp. When you need to get loud, just plug it into speakers and you've got enough juice to handle just about any venue, anywhere.


List Price: $249.99