Mixdown's 2018 Christmas Gift Guide: Amps

Play it Loud

It’s the most wonderful time of the year. The nights are getting warmer, Michael Buble is hitting the charts, and musicians are bracing themselves for a month of ‘Jingle Bell Rock’ covers. With Christmas almost upon us, it’s time to start searching stores for the ultimate present to give, which isn’t always an easy task. Luckily, we’ve got you covered with our Christmas Gift Guide to help you find the perfect gift for the musicians in your life.

Mackie HM-4 Headphone Amplifier


 

Distributed by: Amber Technology
Expect to Pay: $69

 

RECOMMENDED FOR:

Those looking to achieve quality amplification in a professional studio environment.

 

SOUND/VERSATILITY:

The HM-4 provides a clear, undegraded signal of whatever you send to it and can offer a quick solution to ensure the creativity continues flowing in a recording session. The HM-4 is incredibly easy to use and will have you up and running in no time, delivering clear headphone signal to yourself or your artists.

 

USABILITY:

For more routing and a higher level of control, the HM400 and HM800 would be a great option, with up to 12 headphone outputs on the HM400, 16 outputs on the HM800 and a multitude of mix options on the 19” 1U rack units.

 

CONSTRUCTION:

The HM-4 is Built-Like-A-Tank (Mackie’s own patented construction technology) and is a one-in, four-out stereo monitoring solution for the bedroom producer or small studio owner. Each output features its own volume control and the unit is powered by a tidy 12V AC adaptor.

 

OVERALL:

Mackie’s products continue to be incredibly reliable in a professional environment, and the HM-4 headphone amplifier is no exception.

 

TC Electronic BQ500


 

Distributed by: Amber Technology

Expect to Pay: $2499

 

RECOMMENDED FOR:

The perfect little amp for any bass player, or a great addition to a collection of amps for a recording studio.

 

SOUND/VERSATILITY:

The TC Electronic BQ500 is a 500 watt, class-D bass amplifier housed a in a compact yet striking package. A Mosfet preamplifier delivers an authentic tube sound and feel, before the Thrust compressor takes hold to control your dynamics. The BQ500 also features a power supply with auto-ranging universal switch mode, so it can be used anywhere in the world.

 

USABILITY:

In addition to the balanced DI out, auxiliary input and speakON speaker out, the BQ500’s headphone out is a studio-quality headphone amplifier with speaker emulation for silently rehearsing whenever inspiration strikes.

 

CONSTRUCTION:

The amplifier and circuitry itself is housed in a rugged steel chassis, and is compact and well-built. It’s protected by thermal overload, lower speaker impedance and short circuits, so it won’t let you down.

 

OVERALL:

The BQ500 is a great option for musicians or recording studios of any level. It’s compact, simple to use and built to last, with features that make sense.

 

Electro-Voice ZLX-12BT Powered Loudspeaker

Distributed by: Bosch Communications

Expect to Pay: $750

 

RECOMMENDED FOR:

Musicians and DJs, or anyone looking for a huge, PA-sized, quality Bluetooth speaker with gig-level volume.

 

SOUND/VERSATILITY:

The ZLX-12BT has all the inputs you need and will fit just about any situation. It has two combined TRS/XLR inputs with their own separate controls, a 3.5mm auxiliary input, an XLR output, and a master volume control. Inbuilt treble and bass controls assist in taming rogue frequencies, and you can even choose to split a stereo audio signal between two units.

 

USABILITY:

Connecting to the ZLX-12BT with Bluetooth is as simple as connecting to a pair of headphones – it takes mere seconds to pair. The speaker comes with four factory presets, five user-programmable presets, and visual monitoring of the limiter’s status, all displayed on a brightly lit LCD screen on the back. The controls are extremely intuitive and simple to use.

 

CONSTRUCTION:

This thing is built to survive even the most rugged conditions. Its enclosure is made of stealthy black polypropylene, with a black powder coated 18-gauge steel grille. This is a product that’s made to last.

 

OVERALL:

You’ll find a plethora of ways to use this speaker. It can back you up at a gig, fill the room at a function, or it can simply be a living room speaker. The possibilities are endless.

 

EV Evolve 50 Portable Column System

Distributed by: Bosch Communications

Expect to Pay: $1899

 

RECOMMENDED FOR: 

Soloists, duos, small venues, rehearsals, gigs.

 

SOUND/VERSATILITY:

The Evolve 50 really sounds great, especially when you consider the size, weight and portability of the unit. More than loud enough for small gigs, it will handle a couple of inputs and produce high quality clean volume. Again due to its size and design, the Evolve is versatile enough to be used in a range of settings/venues.

 

USABILITY:

With a condensed input and control panel, it’s easy enough to get operational without any prior knowledge. For more advanced tweaking there are some deeper menus that will open up DSP processing, effects and the like.

 

CONSTRUCTION:

The very clever design means you essentially have three parts (the column speaker, the stand and the base/sub) and it’s seriously a matter of inserting the column speaker into the base, turning on and you’re away. Points for a lightweight, manageable design that still seems tough and giggable.

 

OVERALL:

Portable, easy to set up, easy to use and sounds good. A great step in this direction for column/all-in-one small PA systems. It does have some options for expansion too if more support is needed.  The EV Evolve 50 is a very handy unit, backed by the secure feeling of good quality EV design and construction.

 

DV Mark Guitar Friend Combo


 

Distributed by: CMC Music

Expect to Pay: $1250

 

RECOMMENDED FOR:

Guitarists looking for a viable pedal platform with superb lead tones.

 

SOUND/VERSATILITY:

For a solid-state combo, the DV Mark Guitar Friend Combo certainly packed a lot more versatility than I was anticipating. Expect shimmering Fender-esque tones on the clean channel, while the lead channel provides you with all of the crunchy break up you’d expect from an Orange or Marshall-voiced amp without breaking a sweat.

 

USABILITY:

With an effectively simple tone control layout for both channels and a high-quality reverb featured onboard, there’s certainly nothing convoluted about the DV Mark Guitar Friend Combo. The included option to switch the amp’s voltage from 120V/240V will definitely appease a lot of touring artists as well.

 

CONSTRUCTION:

Featuring practice amp-sized dimensions and weighing in at a meagre 8.7kg, this combo is compact and a worthy addition to any rehearsal space for genre-hopping six stringers. The 12” DV Mark speaker also sounds fantastic.

 

OVERALL:

I’m certainly a sucker for the grit that tube amps boast over solid state amps, but I was pleasantly surprised by the versatility offered by the DV Mark Guitar Friend Combo. If you’re after a simple combo for small gigs and rehearsals that still pulls its own weight, definitely check out this bad boy.

 

Markbass Little Marcus Miller Heads


 

Distributed by: CMC Music

Expect to Pay: From $950

 

RECOMMENDED FOR:

Pop, funk, rock, R&B, but totally usable in a range of other styles. Also great for the gigging muso who is looking to keep physical rig size to a minimum.

 

SOUND/VERSATILITY:

Clear and articulate with lots of headroom and punch. The combination of traditional EQ and ‘Old School’ and ‘Millerizer’ controls adds to the tonal palette.

 

USABILITY:

Easy to get a good tone straight up, with the ability to tweak further depending on your tastes. The different amp offerings in the lineup also add to usability, depending on your volume/wattage requirements (250/500/800/1000 watts). 

 

CONSTRUCTION:

Markbass have really made a name for themselves with a huge list of players. Their gear is lightweight, compact and most importantly, built tough. I’ve seen other Mark models hold up to tonnes of gigs/rehearsals without missing a beat and I’d imagine the Little Marcus models will be equally as robust.

 

OVERALL:

More Markbass goodness added to their already impressive lineup of amps. One of the icons of the bass community and a proven company combine for a solid range of heads. The Little Marcus Miller heads offer a good range of tones in a compact yet tough package.

 

Gallien-Krueger MB 112


 

Distributed by: Electric Factory

Expect to Pay: $879

 

RECOMMENDED FOR:

Bassists seeking a compact, punchy combo amp for smaller gigs.

 

SOUND/VERSATILITY:

Gallien-Krueger amps are held in high esteem among bassists for their low-end thump and punchy tonal attack. Despite its smaller size, the powerful 200W MB 112 is a worthy addition to the GK namesake. Whether you’re chasing rumbling modern rock tones or a flat Motown-esque rhythmic response, with a bit of tone tweaking, the MB 112 will put you right in the ball park.

 

USABILITY:

The MB 112 offers a surprising amount of tone shaping for its compact size, with an intuitive four-band active EQ, contour switch and boost control allowing you to get the most out of this little beast. There’s also a dedicated DI output and headphone jack included on the top panel, making the MB 112 a viable option for smaller gigs, rehearsals and silent practise sessions.

 

CONSTRUCTION:

The idea of Gallien-Krueger tones in a relatively lightweight package is almost too good to be true, but at a very manoeuvrable 14kg, the MB 112 is the gigging musician’s dream combo. It’s also super sturdy, and the dimensions make it easy to fit onto the backseat if your car’s already fully loaded en route to a gig.

 

OVERALL:

No faults here. Whether you’re seeking a solid rehearsal solution or an easy gig rig to chuck into your car, the Gallien-Krueger MB 112 is the bass amp for you.

 

Fender Rumble Studio 40


 

Distributed by: Fender Music Australia
RRP: $749

 

RECOMMENDED FOR:

Younger bassists looking to rehearse and perform with a solid entry-level rig.

 

SOUND/VERSATILITY:

The Fender Rumble series has been a mainstay in Fender’s entry-level range for the better part of ten years now, providing beginners with rock solid bass tones without the hefty price tag. The Rumble Studio 40 is no different. If you’re after thumping modern rock tones and edgy mid-range grit via the inbuilt overdrive circuit, this bad boy will by all means provide the goods.

 

USABILITY:

The Fender Rumble Studio 40 is perfect for both rehearsal and recording purposes, harnessing the processing power of Fender’s expansive GT engine to unlock a limitless range of classic tones at the flick of a switch. To make things even easier, the Rumble Studio 40 features intuitive Bluetooth and Wi-Fi technology, allowing total control over your bass presets. There’s even a 60-second looper on board for jamming out by yourself.

 

CONSTRUCTION:

Featuring a super lightweight and sturdy construction with a 10” speaker and compression tweeter, the Rumble Studio 40 is the perfect companion for small gigs, rehearsals and recording sessions.

 

OVERALL:

I simply cannot find any fault with the Fender Rumble Studio 40. Honestly, it’s the perfect recording and rehearsal solution for the money.

 

PreSonus Eris 3.5” Media Reference Monitors


 

Distributed by: Link Audio
Expect to Pay: $189

 

RECOMMENDED FOR:

As most compact home studios usually suffer from a lack of space, these monitor speakers are ideal given they are compact and designed specifically to work accurately within confined spaces.

 

SOUND/VERSATILITY:

With a simple two-band EQ, there is not a lot of control over the sound, but there doesn’t need to be. For their size, the Eris 3.5” monitors sound fantastic. Ideal for compact home studios, monitoring on the go, or even just as a pair of speakers for enjoying music while you work at your computer.

 

USABILITY:

With RCA and TRS connections all supplied on the rear of one speaker, there are plenty of options for connection with whatever devices you are mixing via the rear panel.

 

CONSTRUCTION:

The Eris monitors are all built just like these ones, only in different sizes. The units are really solid blocks which appear to be filled with a good deal of heatsink weight. The smooth front porting and gentle contours make for a pleasing design for the tough case.

 

OVERALL:

PreSonus are doing really great things with monitoring and amplification at the moment. Although these are essentially the babies of the range, they still have good points and will find plenty of locations in which they will work well.

 

ART Tube MP


 

Distributed by: Link Audio
Expect to Pay: $139

 

RECOMMENDED FOR:

This is the perfect front end add-on to any recording or live setup, particularly for those looking for added warmth and character in their microphone. For compact home studios, this is an ideal alternative to bulky rack preamps.

 

SOUND/VERSATILITY:

The Tube MP brings your microphone signal to life before it gets into your recording software. The warmth of the 12AX7 vacuum tube not only lifts the volume of the signal, but adds character as it does so.

 

USABILITY:

A very easy setup allows for the Tube MP to simply sit in-line in the signal patch and with very little adjustment, lift the signal to add warmth. It’s also a handy tool when phantom power is needed going into an input that doesn’t offer it.

 

CONSTRUCTION:

This is a tough little box designed to house and protect the tube inside, along with all the other electronics. I could see no issue with using it in a live environment as well as the studio. It’s really well built.

 

OVERALL:

The Tube MP continues to prove you don’t need to spend big bucks to make a microphone sound much better on the way into your mixer, interface or recorder. Just add tube goodness and you’re in.

 

IK Multimedia iRig Nano Amp


 

Distributed by: Sound & Music
Expect to Pay: $99

 

RECOMMENDED FOR:

This is the perfect practise solution for any guitarist who needs an amp for quiet playing at home or on the road. It’s a great gift idea for the guitarist who has just about everything too.

 

SOUND/VERSATILITY:

It’s not a massive Marshall stack, but it can still sound like a smaller version of one. Designed for quiet practise, the Nano Amp still has a bit of volume to it and with the use of the iRig app, you can get it sounding like a big amp on full blast.

 

USABILITY:

It’s easy enough to use as a standard amp, though you need an iPhone or iPad with the app to access further sounds. On a side note, it can drive a separate speaker cabinet.

 

CONSTRUCTION:

It’s a compact, plastic housed box. Like all devices made by IK Multimedia, you know it will be built well and will have very few issues.

 

OVERALL:

This is a really fun practise concept that has taken the original iRig design to a more practical solution. Great as an iOS interface, but still very usable as a standalone device.

 

Line 6 Spider V 30

Distributed by: Yamaha Music Australia

Expect to Pay: $299

 

RECOMMENDED FOR:

Practice rooms, schools, teachers, and beginners through to pros.

 

SOUND/VERSATILITY:

Line 6 have no shortage of modeling technology on hand and the V 30 includes over 100 effect models, 70+ amps and 20+ cabinets alongside a three-band EQ. Add the factory presets, onboard tuner, metronome and drum loops and you’ve got a huge tonal palette with plenty of jam and practise options. It offers clean through to full shred and almost everything in between.

 

USABILITY:

This amp is intuitive and well laid out, with the display and colour coding adding to ease of use.

 

CONSTRUCTION:

The Spider V 30 is a cool combination of modern and traditional in both build and looks. It has a typical combo appearance with a slanted control panel, while the grille cloth, logo and control layout add some modern flair. Under the hood, Line 6 have included a high frequency driver to the 8” speaker for a full bodied sound.

 

OVERALL:

Line 6’s Spider amps have long been a favourite in the smaller/practice amp world and this latest incarnation looks like it’ll keep the run going. Handy and portable with a truck load of tones and features on tap, the V 30 is a great little unit.

 

Vox amPlug 2 Guitar Headphone Amplifier

 


 

Distributed by: Yamaha Music Australia
Expect to Pay: $59

 

RECOMMENDED FOR:

Players living in households where they need to use headphones for their amplified sound, but don’t want to compromise their analogue sound.

 

SOUND/VERSATILITY:

Vox’s amPlug has been a huge success since its inception in 2007. Its latest iteration is available in seven different amp emulating models with a refined analogue circuit to simulate the circuits of classic tube amplifiers. The sounds are just as rich as you could hope for and now come with multi-effect functionality (three chorus, delay and reverb settings each), while the bass model has nine separate rhythm options. There’s even an aux in, so you can play along to music from your phone or an archaic mp3 player.

 

USABILITY:

The amPlug remains a straightforward operation – simply plug the foldable 180 degree plug mechanism into your guitar and pop your headphones in to get playing. Depending on whether you use zinc-carbon or alkaline AAA batteries, you can achieve a whopping 17 hours of battery life.

 

CONSTRUCTION:

Weighing nothing more than 40 grams and measuring 86 x 38 x 31 mm, this is truly a pocket amplifier. The amPlug sports a deft aesthetic design, making it genuinely appear like a miniaturised Vox head.

 

OVERALL:

This is a brilliant stocking stuffer for any player, particularly well-travelled giggers and loud home-shredders.

 

Mixdown's Christmas Gift Guide 

Assorted Gear

Drums 

Guitars 

Headphones

Keys & Synths

Microphones

Pedals

Studio Gear

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