Guitar and bass preamps are particularly useful in the studio, as they enable you to record with the bare minimum of equipment, avoiding the noise problems associated with large speaker cabinets. For the gigging player, an added bonus with the preamp-plus-power-amp setup is that it's much easier to take your tried and tested live sound into the studio. As a rule, these units tend to be on the pricey side, and often include a compressor and fancy active sweep or parametric EQ. And if you pay even more you'll get programmability, multieffects and who knows what else thrown in. But in the context of home recording, most studios, even the corner of the bedroom variety, have a compressor and a few effects already.
So to the Sessionmaster Bass Preamp. You may recall our very positive review of the uprated guitar version of this device which appeared in the July issue of RM
. The bass version is, externally, identical to the guitar version — a 1U rack unit, finished in cream with grey and green legend, the electronics being contained in a 10-inch wide box firmly attached to the back. The main differences between this and the lead version are the frequency ranges chosen for the EQ and Boost sections, which have been tailored to suit the bass guitar. The controls, as well as the single jack input, are found on the front panel.
From left to right we have a gain control which determines the input level to the unit, and this adds overdrive if turned to a high setting — useful for getting an edgy Stranglers or Jack Bruce (remember Cream?) bass sound. Next is an indicator LED to show that the unit is receiving power, adjacent to which are three push buttons which comprise the Boost section; these are labelled Gain, Bass and Mid. The Gain button is designed to add extra pre-overdrive boost to give a dirtier sound, while the other two buttons provide a sizeable boost in the bass end and the mid-range. The bass boost button gives your sound a really clear thumping bottom end (every bassist's dream, lots of bottom), while the mid enhances that typical bass guitar twang which is particularly noticeable with a new set of strings — an invaluable button for those of you who don't change your strings inside six months!
Treble, Middle and Bass tone controls come next, these being based on the classic passive system used in top valve amps. With all three set to zero you get no sound; it's like being able to mix three basic tones in any combination. Finally we have the master volume control which determines the output level of the unit.
On the rear panel there is the 15-35V 50mA DC power input, plus two outputs, neither of which are balanced. One, the Normal Output, is to send to an amplifier and speaker setup in a live situation. This is particularly bright when compared to the alternative Recording Output, which has been processed by a built-in speaker simulator and sounds much quieter and lacking in the very high frequencies which large bass speaker cabs just don't reproduce.
On test, an extremely impressive variety of tone colours can be achieved, from deep and warm to hard and bright, using the Boost controls and the 3-band EQ section. This makes the Sessionmaster suitable for all styles of playing, from R&B and Rock to pop, fretless to percussive (slapping). The Recording Output, with its speaker simulator, does a pretty good job of imitating a miked-up cab, and its low noise levels should please even the fussiest of studio engineers. I did try it with a normal guitar and, despite this unit being intended for bass, I found it surprisingly usable, even the distortion. The overdrive sound into a mixer, via the Record output, sounds very much like a miked-up amplifier but with no room ambience.
To sum up: with this unit you don't get any frills, like parametric EQ or compression, but you do get a good basic sound and a surprisingly wide variety of tone colours. Most importantly, it is quiet in operation and the speaker simulator really works, which means you can use it to create lead guitar sounds or to produce guitar-like synth sounds. In conjunction with a good compressor, the unit enables anyone to get a good bass sound directly onto tape.
Sessionmaster Bass Preamp £165 including VAT. Available by direct mail or from selected dealers. Call Radius for dealers in your area.
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