Carlsbro Cobra 90
The Carlsbro Cobra series is, according to the dealers consulted in our Buyer's Bible, the most popular range of amplifiers in Britain at the moment; not necessarily the best, or even the hippest, but the amps that the most people are buying, and using. So we've decided to take a look back at one, to work out why they're so popular.
We've picked the keyboard combo, as synth players are too often neglected when it comes to loud-making. And Carlsbro have specifically designed the Cobra 90 for gigging musicians with one, two or three keyboards - not the Mick MacNeils with their own on-stage 12 channel mixer.
From the moment the heavy bastard (with its remarkably uncomfortable hard plastic handle) came out of the box, I was impressed by the attention to detail. OK, so lots of things arrive here well-packed, but they don't all come ready supplied with a footswitch (big tick) and their own leatherette cover (two big ticks and gold star im margin).
The amp is predominantly black, with a dark grey instrument fascia, and tasteful orange lettering. It's pig simple to use: plug the Euro-connector in (no plug supplied), and flick the mains switch on the back panel. Boom. Phew - did you see that speaker flap? Next time you switch on, make sure the master volume is turned down. But the little red light's still glowing, so we know it isn't broken.
What about that front panel, and why has it only got 12 knobs? Keyboard amplifiers shouldn't add tonal colour to their inputs, in the way that guitar or bass amps emphasise treble or bass respectively. So the three channels on the Cobra 90 are provided with identical Gain, Bass, and Treble controls. The only dissimilarity between the three is that Channel One has slightly different impedance, which allows it to handle the higher peaks and transients of electric pianos.
At the right hand end of the Cobra front panel, there are three other knobs: Reverb controls the overall level of the built-in Accutronics spring, Attack is a presence cum treble control effecting the output of all three channels, and Volume is master volume. This is not a complicated amplifier.
In addition to this basic complement of knobbery, Carlsbro has provided us with not one but two effects loops. The first is run from the Send & Return sockets on the front panel, and (as with the reverb) each channel can be switched in or out of the loop independently, by means of the small red pushbuttons located under their respective tone controls. The second effects loop is not switchable, and connects to the rear of the amplifier. It is either on or off, depending on the status of the pedals involved.
Also around the back are two remote speaker outputs, a line output for DI'ing or recording from, and a headphone output for making your ears bleed. What more could you want?
It works. I did manage to make it distort, but to do that I had to turn the keyboard and all the channel controls up full. So if you're prepared not to be an utter utter utter like I was, you will get out of the Cobra 90 almost exactly what you put in. Which is what you want from a keyboard amplifier.
The amp's design is impressively simple. There are no expensive graphics, no dodgy parametrics, or unreliable built-in effects - there's nothing unnecessary to go wrong. The switchable Effects Loop is a valuable addition, which gives mucho flexibility.
I proved this by bunging a Yamaha RX11 through the Cobra; using a drum machine with individual outs, it was possible to separate out the snare drum from the summed outputs, giving it a channel to itself. I then ran a reverb on the Effects Loop, only switching it into the snare channel. Good splashy snare, without losing the solidity of the bass and other drums.
Back to keyboards. It does the job with few complaints. Running three simultaneously can make the sound muddy at the bottom end, but that serves you right for being Rick Wakeman. Mind you, I have complaints: half a hundredweight is heavy for an amp with one handle, particularly such an unforgiving one. Carlsbro should realise that players purchasing the Cobra 90 are unlikely to have roadies to get callouses for them, and that the last thing you want before a gig is sore or strained fingers. How about a handle each side?
That's a small point, though. Overall, the Cobra 90 is a thoroughly commendable workhorse of an amp, which does the job without even being too dull. And it's British.