Paul Bacon (Egon's brother?) puts the 16watt demon through its paces
Shortly after the enthusiastic launch of a new range of instrument amplifiers at last February's Frankfurt equipment exposition, the Ohm empire did a bit of a fade. What exactly impeded their progress I know not, but it wasn't until the following August that they re-emerged from the shadows to continue business more or less as usual.
The current range, then, although officially about a year old by now, can still be taken as 'new', in that it hasn't actually been available for many months.
This is a straightforward, 16watt, 1x10 open-backed practise combo with built-in reverb. Why this smart and largely inoffensive little amp should be labelled Tramp isn't altogether clear, but in fact there does appear to be a slight obsession within the Ohm ranks concerning the whole 'gents of the road' syndrome. The old Hobo combo, generally not unlike the Tramp, put out a slightly more impressive 20watts, and was capable of substantially higher sound levels than appearances would suggest. Indeed the guitarist with Sad Cafe was convinced enough to use it on stage at last year's Reading Festival, and I'm sure the PA engineer couldn't have been happier.
The Tramp is also up to a lot more than its 16watt rating conveys and would be fine for recording and low level band practise.
Cosmetically, the Tramp exudes a similar roadworthy elegance to the previous range with the sturdy wooden cabinet being covered in a medium grey, heavy-duty mottled vinyl. There have been some improvements though, including an increase in the thickness of the sides of the cabinet to 1" and the addition of a chunkier rubber protection band running around them. It really is all very solid and robust.
The control panel is recessed to avoid knocks, and features volume, bass and treble controls, master volume, reverb level, a reverb on/off footswitch socket, a headphone output and an illuminated mains rocker switch. The combination of volume and master volume allows a heavy overdrive distortion to be set up, although as both the input and output stages are bipolar transistors, the onset of clipping (distortion) is fairly abrupt, and it is obviously no substitute for the valve equivalent. It is, however, very usable and up to the standard of most other solid-state master volume combos. With the preamp up near full, plus a good dollop of reverb, the classic overload fuzzy lead sound is there, but as with most amps of this design, it's difficult to get the warm edge of overload for rhythm work. A rather separate sounding, under-layer of grittiness tends to creep in before any warmth.
The clean sound is very strong, with a round bright tone and good clarity. Although the speaker baffle is mounted at a slight upward angle, if you're sitting in a chair and the amp's close by you on the ground, it isn't enough to point the speaker at your hearing apparatus. This isn't necessarily a criticism — if you move a few feet away the angle works, but for most solo practise situations you'll be on top of the amp, and as the speaker's high frequency directivity is notably high, much of the brightness will be lost to you. This is more of a warning than anything else, should you go and try one out in store, because it's easy to get the impression that the Tramp's a little dull; it isn't, just directional, and this should also be borne in mind when miking it up.
The baffle has a layer of hardwearing plastic with a blistered finish that makes it look as though it's had wax spilt over it. The speaker grille is screwed onto the baffle and is again in chunky, tough black plastic — none of your poofy cloth here; this could take some serious battering without crucial damage. The general appearance has a strong, unfussy appeal.
The spring reverb is of standard Japanese origin, as used by many of the major amp manufacturers. It is reasonably quiet and tolerably immune to going berserk when subjected to physical attacks from the outside world. Completely losing yourself in a sea of swirling reflections, it has to be said, is not really on the cards, but there is more than enough there for most needs. The graduation from nowt to full is smooth, its frequency response is quite even, considering the price, and the decay time is comfortable. A 1/4" jack socket on the front panel allows the connection of a footswitch to bring it in and out, and next to that is a headphone socket designed to take a stereo 1/4" jack and capable of driving anything over 8ohms — it was more than loud enough with my 600ohm models.
I think it is a pity that only a single input socket was provided: is it so unheard of to practise with someone else? Must the musical genius always be banished to a life of brilliant solitude? An extra jack wouldn't cost too much, and it would definitely be a significant improvement.
Another slightly sad omission here is that of a direct output socket. By making up a stereo jack to mono jack lead you might be able to drive a line input from the headphone jack, but how nice a simple 600ohm mono jack output would have been for all sorts of applications including recording and live work. In a home recording situation the early hours of the morning often see the continuation of semi-creative output, and cranking it up for a little raunchy guitar is generally not appreciated by others in the vicinity.
The Tramp is undoubtedly good value for money. Its sonic performance is very tolerable, and its modest size and weight make it ideal for today's self-contained, mobile musician and life on the road generally... maybe that's why the amp is a Tramp (uh huh, I said), Yeh that's why the amp is a Tramp; and won't you give my regards to Vegas.
Review by Paul Bacon
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