Peavey Max Bass Amp & 3620 Cab
Hugely powerful and impressively loud. Martin Brassell, that is
Nosing around the back of the 3620 speaker cabinet, on the off chance of finding some interesting hieroglyphics, I came across an unusual little inscription. 'Caution: this loudspeaker can permanently damage hearing! Use extreme care setting maximum loudness'. This warning is repeated on the amplifier's rear panel, which features more jack sockets than the average patch bay.
Days later, my ears are testifying to the fact that this is no idle boast. The power of this setup (2x400 watts RMS into four ohms) is best described as frightening.
Even if it didn't pack a bigger punch than Frank Bruno, the dimensions of the Peavey Max head and its matching cabinet are enough to instill some respect into the reviewer. The cabinet alone is four and a half feet tall and nearly afoot and a half deep; sitting the amp on top adds another foot to the height — a process which you won't want to repeat too often, as the weight of those two power amps makes the Max a job for two men if it has to be carried any distance. You certainly wouldn't feel like playing a gig after lumping it any distance. This isn't really a problem, though, as everything about the amp reminds you that it's the professional user this is aimed at.
Out of the five Maxes (should that be Maxi?) that have arrived in this country to date, all are sold, and four of them have gone via Nomis Studios near Olympia. A rehearsal complex as a shop? Well, it makes sense if you think about it, since that's one of the few places that pros can get the opportunity to try gear out in the context of their band. Nomis were kind enough to let me peruse this particular example before it winged its way off to join Killing Joke's Raven on tour.
The name 'Max' appears to be a condensing of 'Multi-Access Amplification System'. Hmmm: sounds to me as though a certain Hartley Peavey thought up the abbreviation before the reason for it. Still, accessibility in a broad sense is one of the chief attractions of this system, shown in touches like the provision of binding posts as well as jack sockets for speaker outputs. The comprehensive facilities on the rear panel surely provide everything necessary, as well as a few things that aren't necessary. You get four effects loops to choose from, with separate ones for high and low range amplifiers as well as pre and post eq ones. Then there are high, low and full range slave outputs, a selector switch to change from biamp to 800 watt full range mode, high and low impedance lines out and a pot labelled 'System Balance' for a 10dB relative sensitivity adjustment of the power amps in biamp operation. This last feature was so useful for emphasising top or bottom on different numbers that it could well have been placed on the front panel - although its primary function is to assist the balancing of speaker systems of different efficiencies. All this and a schematic block diagram of the circuitry — and the cooling fan — and even four hooks to wind the mains lead around. A man can only take so much...
The front is mostly grille cloth and spiky logo, although it also features a number of interesting knobs. The eight smaller ones in the middle are the equalisation section, divided into high and low groups: in addition the pre and post eq gain pots have pull functions to provide boost at 2kHz and 120kHz respectively. Unusually, perhaps, Peavey have elected to give each frequency band a name as well as a number. In the low eq section, the controls are centred at 60Hz, 120Hz, 250Hz and 500Hz, labelled respectively 'Bottom', 'Punch', 'Body' and 'Timbre'. The high eq has frequency centres at 1kHz, 2kHz, 4kHz and 8kHz, and these are known as 'Clarity', 'Bright', 'Presence' and 'Edge'. All good fun, I suppose — 'Timbre' strikes me as being the most inventive. Each of these rotary controls offers 15dB of cut or boost, and the pull functions (called 'Bright' and 'Punch' in line with the frequencies chosen) add 8dB and an unspecified amount, again respectively.
While the use of rotary controls doesn't make this system as quick to assimilate at a glance as graphic faders, it means that the lines are pleasingly clean. Certainly it would seem to be very effective — compared with a Trace Elliot amp (the obvious competition) we have three less controls, but the filters there are seem to have pretty wide bands. No figure is quoted for this bandwidth: all I can say is that the middle frequencies in particular sounded more comprehensively catered for than these figures might suggest.
Neatly concealed behind the grille cloth are two yellow LED's, which light up when Peavey's patented DDT compression circuitry is operating. Whilst not convinced about the desirability of having any 'effect' such as compression in circuit permanently, it seems a very sensible provision on this amp, when power peaks (which can often reach three times the quoted RMS rating) could be so potentially speaker-wrecking. One light is provided per power amp; the system functions so unobtrusively that the player isn't really aware when it's on if facing the other way. It's most definitely not to be confused with the sort of compressors generally built into bass amps — the sort that remind you few things worth having come free...
The way the Max comes built into its own flightcase is another reminder of its intended market; lift off the front and back and plug in, and it's ready to go. The practically noiseless fan starts up, and if mains hum intrudes there's a three-position ground lift switch to put paid to it.
Obviously it's hard to provide a full appreciation of an amplifier when you've only heard it with one cabinet. The impression overall was one of the great punch and clarity, and most of all headroom — it's difficult to imagine any style of playing it couldn't cope with. In normal (ie insanely loud) use, the DDT indicators only come on momentarily if at all, though they come out of hiding more readily if the pre gain control is wound up. The pull functions of the gain pots prove to be very useful for adding an overall contour to the sound, and for swift tone alterations: they perform roughly the same task as the preshape switch on a Trace Elliot preamp, but are more adaptable.
The Crossover Frequency control proves to be useful too, for its 12dB/octave slope can be set anywhere between 50 and 500Hz. Like the System Balance control on the rear, this is presumably intended to be set according to the speakers being used and then left, but in practice the ability to alter the bias of the speaker system can be used to advantage within the context of a set. Winding the crossover down means that (in this instance) more of the midrange comes out of the 10" speakers for a brighter edge to the low notes and extra midrange punch. Reverting to the 500 Hz end gives the 18" more of that area for a smooth, rounded tone. However, the point should be made that you couldn't realistically expect 10" speakers like those in the 3620 cabinet to be entirely happy at the prospect of handling frequencies from 50Hz upwards all day at the kind of levels that the Max can kickout. The significant point is that you can 'tune' the Max's two amps to fit whatever biamp preferences you may have — 18" and 10", 15" and 10", 15" and high frequency horns, or whatever.
The only possible tonal quibble was a slight mechanical rattle at very high bass levels, which can be put down to the hard service this particular unit had seen as Peavey's ex-demo model. There aren't any significant improvements to be suggested: an eq in/out switch on the front panel might be handy when first approaching the Max, but would become redundant when the owner had learnt what each control does to the sound. I didn't get the chance to try out all the patching facilities on the rear, so I assume that the balanced line out signal is taken post eq. It might conceivably be useful to an engineer to have a balanced signal before the eq so that a different mix can be provided for the hall (though the bassist wouldn't be too amused if his sound were scrapped and rebuilt!), but this is clutching at straws — the Max couldn't be called under-equipped by any stretch of the imagination.
'BW Equipped' on the familiar black nylon facing of the 3620 Enclosure suggests that Peavey have used their Black Widow speakers in this cab, as proves to be the case. The two 18" speakers are Black Widows, while the 10" ones are Scorpions: both are manufactured 'in-house' by Peavey themselves.
Like the Max, this cabinet can be operated in either bi-amped or full range mode. Both sets of sockets are provided on the cab, two for full range, one each for high and lowpass. When used full range, a 500Hz internal crossover protects the 10" speakers. The 3620 would be an equally good match for the Mark IV bass amp if this were accompanied by a suitable slave.
As you might imagine, building a cabinet that can handle the Max involves using substantial materials, and not just for the speakers. The cabinet has two handles on the back as well as on each side, and the bottom rear edge is dressed away and fitted with hefty castors so that you don't normally need to lift the beast off the floor — which is just as well.
The two 18" speakers provide prodigious bass response and hardly seem to move in the process however the eq was set. This commendable property made me wonder just how much power you would need to get them really moving. The rating is 300 watts (RMS) apiece, and the cast frame construction supplies the rigidity which helps long life. This means you've got half as much again in power handling capacity for the lows as the Max puts out.
The 10" Scorpions have the same size magnets as the 12" version, and when used in this biamped setup were very happy to accommodate whatever was thrown at them in the way of slapping and popping. They have that lightning-fast response that you can only get from smaller speakers, and being so high off the ground means that they're on a more ear-splitting level than normal as well as being better sited to carry through to an audience — not that the average Max user is going to be playing many gigs on backline alone. These Scorpions certainly pack a sting; they move about a bit but never look likely to fly out at the player. The DDT circuitry is doubtless partly responsible for the fact that there was no speaker or amplifier distortion audible during the manic test proceedings — just the sound of eardrums hitting their end-stops...
The proof of the pudding is in the purchasing. The facts are that there are already a number of professionals sold on this system, and that the demand is such that Peavey (UK) can't get enough into the country. Clearly the Max is not an instance of a company developing a piece of exotica as a prestige exercise.
Other preamps can beat the Max for precision of equalisation, and a rackmounted system can provide more watts, but for the present the Max is surely the most powerful package of its kind, and as such it deserves serious consideration from any professional bassist. The amp is expensive, but still competitively priced considering its power and facilities.
The 3620 is excellent too. It may not be ideal for everybody, but it undeniably offers excellent coverage of the highs and the lows and it is excellent value for money. It's a pity that it will be principally those who don't have to ask the price who will be able to afford the ensemble: if you're not sure whether you fit into this category, ask yourself this question: can you afford the two roadies and the Transit van to move the Max around? If so, buy it.
RRP: £937.25 & £532.45
Gear in this article:
Review by Martin Brassell
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