Hands-On Review:SWR LA Series Bass Amplifiers



LA Series Bass Amplifiers


SWR, renowned for its touring-quality bass amplifiers, recently unveiled a new line of amps offering pro-level performance at an entry-level price. The SWR LA Series combo amps come in three flavors: The LA 8 houses an 8-inch speaker and rumbles with 30 pulsing watts of power, the LA 12 pushes a 12-inch speaker with 60 watts, and the LA 15 sends 100 watts through a 15-inch speaker. A specialist in low-end amplification - SWR doesn't make guitar amps - all the company's amps feature the solid construction techniques and bass-specific tonal characteristics that have made SWR a must-have for players such as John Paul Jones, U2's Adam Clayton, the Dave Matthews Band's Stephan Lessard, 311's P-Nut, and Godsmack's Robbie Merrill.


The Sweet and Lowdown

Each model in the SWR LA Series includes the stellar SWR preamp, personally designed by company founder and bass tone guru Steven W. Rabe; separate bass, midrange, and treble controls; a headphone jack that automatically shuts down the speaker output; a Tuner Out jack; and a Mix In jack, which allows the user to plug in and jam with a CD player, or signal coming from a computer, cassette deck, Minidisc, or any other stereo component. A second musical instrument can also be plugged into the Mix In jack, so you can jam with a friend, and still control your volume separately.


These rugged combos range from 20 lbs. (LA 8) to 36 (LA 12) to 50 lbs. (LA 15), so you know these little bulldogs are as portable as they are pummeling. The rigs work with either passive or active basses, and the on/off switch - illuminated in neon, no less - is pretty bitchin' too.


Want Specifics?

The input jacks on the LA Series combos accept standard ¼-inch cables, of course, and the tone controls are the same as featured in SWR's high-end Professional and Workingman's line of amps. In fact, the company's engineers designed many of the characteristics of the Professional series amps into the LA Series tone controls, so the vaunted SWR sound is pretty much automatic in this lower-priced line.


Unlike most amp manufacturers, SWR designs their tone controls to begin at a center point. Rotating clockwise boosts that frequency range; counterclockwise rotation cuts that range. The bass tone knob can boost the low end up to 15dB, so there's no doubt you'll be heard with any of these portable workhorses.


In addition, the Tuner Out jack allows in-line connection of an external tuner, which is quite helpful; the headphone jack does the obvious; and the Mix In jack provides a seriously useful function, as described above.


What Else Could You Ask For?

The LA Series amps don't have in-line compression, which a lot of bass players have come to rely on the way guitarists crave distortion. But compression doesn't always work so well with small combo amps anyway - it sometimes adversely affects what is otherwise a pretty good natural tone. And for the pedal-crazed, the LA Series amps do not include effects loops, but careful routing of your signal through the Tuner and Mix In jacks, as described in detail in the owner's manuals, provides an effective substitute. With suggested retail prices of $299, $399, and $499 respectively, the LA Series amps offer great starter rigs for beginners or less back-breaking systems for pros who don't need their full-size rigs for every gig, rehearsal, or studio session. www.swrsound.com