Hands-On Review:Hughes & Kettner Matrix 100 Combo
Hughes & Kettner Matrix 100 Combo
Guitarists can be classified in myriad ways, but one of the few valid dichotomies exists between those who tweak their gear and those whose motto is "Shut up and play yer guitar!" The Hughes & Kettner Matrix 100 is designed for the latter. A solid-state amp with onboard digital effects, the Matrix 100 is a "gig-ready" workhorse along the lines of the Fender Stage 1000 and the Marshall MG100DFX, and it should delight members of the instant gratification crowd. The 100-watt Matrix comes in both head and combo form. I tested the combo, a sturdy, closed-back design with a single 12- inch Celestion RockDriver Ultra 65 speaker.
The Matrix 100 has four channels that cover territory range from crystalline to filthy. Its Clean channel is designed for maximum headroom, though it can be pushed to mild distortion at high-gain settings. It has its own three-band EQ section, which takes advantage of the channel's headroom and lets you dial up sounds ranging from warm and fat to thin and spiky.
The next three channels - Crunch, Lead and Warp - offer increasing degrees of overdrive. There are separate gain knobs for Crunch and Lead/Warp, and each of the three channels has its own volume control for setting its relative levels; a global master volume is used to set the amp's final output. These channels share a three-band EQ, yet don't sound like the same tone pushed to various levels of saturation because each is voiced differently; hence, the single EQ operates effectively on all three. Crunch - which can go from clean to bluesy - has more detail at a similar EQ setting than the ear-melting Warp. As a result, you can dial up a tone that works with, say, the hardrocking Lead channel and be in the ballpark (if not right behind home plate) when you switch to Crunch or Warp.
This symbiotic philosophy is carried even further in the amp's built-in effects, which include modulation, delay and reverb. These are controlled by front-panel knobs, which are very intuitive to use. Better still, the Matrix 100's Autostore feature automatically recalls the last effect setting of each channel, even if you haven't saved your settings. The usefulness of this feature becomes apparent when you begin switching among the amp's channels. After setting up the Clean channel with a few effects, including delay, I found the sound cluttered when I switched to the Lead channel. After dialing out the effects I didn't need on the Lead channel, I switched back to the Clean channel to find that its effect settings were just as I had left them. In the real world of dark stages and short sound checks, this is an awesome feature.
In addition, the Matrix comes with a channel footswitch (an effect footswitch is optional) and boasts a serial effect loop, line and extension speaker outputs, an aux input and more.
The Matrix 100's channels themselves sound very good, with very natural and progressive overdrive that responds to both playing dynamics and the character of various guitars. The exception, where natural tubelike response is concerned, is the Warp channel, a gain inferno that, nonetheless, proved adaptable.
Tested with a Strat, the Clean channel delivered the required chime and - even better - the percussive low end that make the guitar stand out boldly. With a Duncan PAF-equipped semihollow, this channel produced mellow and rich tones. I was especially impressed with how the Crunch channel responded to nuances in attack: by setting the gain high enough for overdrive and backing off on the guitar's volume, the channel could cover just about any style of music except metal. The Lead channel sang and sustained nicely without sounding nasal, while the Warp channel, though over the top, had more flexibility than you'd expect from such a high-gain monster.
Overall, the Matrix 100 enhanced and showcased each guitar's inherent tone. Though it won't shatter your windows, it's certainly loud enough for club gigs.
The Bottom Line
Many manufacturers pay lip service to addressing the working guitarist's needs. With the Matrix 100, H & K delivers the goods. It's a well thought-out package that combines convenience with flexibility at a reasonable price.
LIST PRICE: $699.00
MANUFACTURER: Hughes & Kettner, hughes-and-kettner.com