Cougar CBX100 Bass Combo
The two most useful things to have on a bass amp are good eq and compression, so my initial impressions of this new 100 watt combo in the Cougar range were nearly all favourable. Nearly, because I had just moved the thing around. I still can't quite work out why an amp of this shape and heaviness has but a single strap on the top. Side handles would be useful in the shifting-around department.
But once the thing is on your floor and plugged in, the news is much better. The emphasis is on simplicity, which most bassists will applaud. When players consider three controls on their guitar one too many, then an amp had better take such economy into consideration if it's to win their hearts. The Cougar does just this.
The graphic eq sliders sit centre panel — either side are the two input jacks and associated gain control, with a little LED to tell you what your ears are already telling you — overload. The other side is the master volume, a compressor on/off switch with light to that effect and level knob, plus the standby/on power button. The power on/off is on the back — you have to turn this on and have the front button with a green light on to be in go mode. Dead high tech. Apparently safer than straight on/off, too.
There's a big 15in speaker below to pump out the noise, and the box is enclosed with no signs of vents or other bass aids. No matter, the sound is clean and extended in the bottom frequencies. A MOSFET amp does the powering bit, and we can but assume that it's all in there somewhere.
The graphic has numbers over each of the sliders, and means that you can boost or cut the frequencies at those points. Instead of having the normal treble knob for the top frequencies and a bass knob for the low ones, this gives you in effect seven tone sliders spread across the frequency range — in this case from 80Hz (= E-string punch) to 1.6kHz (= thwacking crack). Get the picture? The graphic sliders on this Cougar feel a bit plasticky, and they do come off very easily, but at least the centre-zero (no boost, no cut, no future) position is positively detented (in other words 'notched' so you can easily set the control back to zero).
Now I tried turning on the compressor. I didn't find a great deal of prolonged use for the level knob associated with the compressor — once you find a setting that suits your bass and style you'll tend to stick with it. The compressor essentially smooths the sound of the bass out — all the levels you chuck at the amp will come out more or less with the same sort of dynamics. If you think of your basic sound as a straight line, and then all the peaks and troughs either side of it caused by your unevenness of playing (tut tut) or oddities in the guitar's output, then the compressor will restore the sound back to the straight line. OK? This you may like, or you may not. It's useful for recording, for example, where you may value its non-violence to the input meters of your recorder/mixer. There is an on/off switch for it, thankfully. All in all I was pleased to have a compressor built in.
The only other major effector of sound was the pre-amp gain control, which you can take up to the point where the little red light flickers and so get a touch of distortion into the sound if you like. I rather liked pushing it just to the edge of dirtiness in this way and then turning the main volume right up. It sounds great. The rest of the band may feel differently.
There is the feeling that a lot of hard thinking has gone into this British-made combo. Construction is suitably tough, sounds are sensibly ranged — not too extreme, but ultimately useable. It's well priced, too, and is recommended. And there's a 4x10 combo version for another £100 or so coming early in 1987. Good news.
Review by Tony Bacon
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