Mesa Boogie D180 Amp
The D180 is a high quality, integrated valve amplifier, capable of delivering 200 watts. It bears a passing resemblance to any conventional power amp (Amcron, BGW etc) with sturdy front-mounted handles, rack-mount screw holes, and a semi-matt black finish. But that's really where the similarities end.
The row of switches and controls on the lower front panel is, of course, the preamp section, while the back panel offers a selection of pre- and power-amp facilities — more of which later. The whole amplifier is very substantial (it weighs 18kg — nearly three stones!), and possesses that elusive feel of craftsmanship.
The construction is impeccable and, judging by the materials employed in the chassis and casing, is as robust as this type of amp can be. Any otherwise sharp edges and corners are smoothed off and everything is recessed, so there's little chance of switches and other projections being sheared away during transit.
The back is of an open design allowing a flow of air to six hefty valves. Air circulation is assisted by a two-speed fan which may be switched off altogether for the benefit of studio work — a good idea, especially as the residual amp noise is barely audible.
Well, although the amp is essentially quite simple regarding controls, a fair amount of switching between them is possible. Here, I should point out that the D180 is actually presented as a true bass/lead-guitar amp, which is unusual in these days of specialised systems. In this instance, it was tested and used for bass, both in quiet surroundings and under working conditions.
Before describing how the D180 sounds and performs I'd better coast through the control and output sections. Scanning from left to right across the pre-amp controls are a pair of switches for power and standby, the main fuse-holder, a blue pilot light, and two send/return jack sockets for effects. Following closely is the Middle control, then the Bass and Treble — these last two may be switched by pulling outwards, thus shifting their respective bands within the sound spectrum.
Next come the power controls — Master, Volume One and Volume Two, which can be pulled outwards for brightness. Last but not least are input jacks one and two, albeit slightly cramped between the last knob and one of the carrying handles. In practice this doesn't cause any bother.
Depending upon how the volume and master controls are set, and which input is selected, the amp will then function for guitar or bass guitar. If you find it all a bit confusing, let me say that once you turn the amp on and check it out for a minute or two with the aid of the instructions, everything soon becomes – clear and you can begin to work on a sound.
On to the back panel now, and from left to right once more. First, a 600 ohm balanced line output by way of a Cannon-type (XLR) socket, a pair of 4 ohm and a pair of 8 ohm speaker outs. Then, a slave output with level control, a duplicate set of send/return sockets with Blend control, and to cap it all off a three-way ground filter switch and three-way fan switch. That's the lot!
The slave/line outputs are arranged so as to provide appropriate and optimised signals for most applications. The term "integrated amplifier" has not been used loosely — evidence of that is to be seen everywhere, and the result is that just about every facility desirable in a professional road amplifier seems to have been fully covered, without the added complications of exotic extras.
Of course the most important question is: How does all this expert design sound? The answer, I think, would be a confident thumbs-up. While working with a full band, the D180 has a "blendable" personality. General bass lines sit well in with other instruments, yet every note rings with a firm conviction and deep notes are a dream to listen to.
Eye-watering sub-bass is obtainable without trouble, and selective use of tone and volume combinations permits a whole host of bass guitar sounds to be easily and well reproduced. Somehow, the amplifier made my own basses sound as if the pickups has been juiced up. Initially, the tone pots appear to be quite subtle in effect, but consequent adjustment of interplay between all three soon dispels this notion. Any emphasis placed on individual notes or phrases played is met with lightning response from the amp, which at the same time retains an impression of power-in-reserve.
The Boogie is a valve amp with all the mannerisms of its genre, a high tolerance of awkward speaker loads being but one of its advantages. Not everyone will fall in love with it; I'm certainly used to the more 'plastic' sound of transistor amps, something I happen to like. But I must own up to having some reluctance about giving this one back!
The only criticisms I would level at the amp are that the three push-pull pots were rather loose and sloppy in their action, and on a couple of occasions when the amp was first switched on some sort of power surge caused the mains plug to fuse. Inconvenient.
Speaking of the mains supply, the colour coding for the power lead of the reviewed amp is green/earth, black/live and white/neutral. (We've also come across US equipment where white is live and black is neutral — Ed.) I had to phone Mesa Boogie for this information. They MUST make it ABSOLUTELY clear to the purchaser which colour is for which terminal — or, preferably, convert to the British colour coding standard. Otherwise someone will blow themselves and/or their new amp into space.
The instructional literature provided with the amplifier is by far the best I've ever come across for this type of product. The section covering service and repair by the user is exceptional and deserves high praise.
Whether or not you like valves, I would recommend an audition of Mesa's D180 on the grounds of good value, top-notch construction, and an individual and very appealing sound.