Pro-Amp Demon Combo
PROAMP DEMON COMBO in Wizard test
Judging by how few really decent sounding practice amps there are on the market it remains one of the few areas in musical equipment where dubious goods still abound. We've gone on record many times as saying that competition between manufacturers of most equipment is so intense these days that little exists which is really bad. Well, whilst that's undoubtedly true, if there is an exception to this rule it lies in the beginner's amp market where there are a fair few horrors around.
It wouldn't be entirely fair to put this down solely to cynicism on the part of manufacturers (although it's hard to believe that this isn't the case with some products). It's more often due to the financial difficulties of putting together a sufficiently well made product with a decent sound at a low selling price.
This comes about, if you think about it, by a few very simple problem areas. The cost of a mains switch is just the same on a 10 watt amp as it is on a fully professional 100 watt, valve head. Mains lead costs the same, pots and switches of all types, even many internal components (especially in pre-amps). The result is that, judged in proportion, low wattage amps are not volume for volume cheaper in a direct ratio when compared with full stage-level units.
It's with some trepidation, then, that we generally approach amps destined for beginner guitarists (or, equally, those who just need a small amp for whatever reasons). Few makers offer really excellent products in this area — even some of the big boys have been known to slip up badly in this part of the matter.
On the face of it, U.K. makers Pro-Amp do seem to stand a better chance of getting it right than many. Their fabulous Venom solid state combos (the 100 watt 2x10" combo version of which holds a MUSIC U.K. STAR BUY AWARD) seem to sell for below their apparent value and so the appearance at the recent Frankfurt Trade Fair of their own 15 watt, single 10" Celestion speakered Demon combo certainly gave us cause to hope for the best.
The day Pro-Amp's Roger Haines delivered his baby combo to us for review he managed to time his arrival to perfection — just putting the small squared-off amp on the floor as a gigantic flash of lightning illuminated the room. It was followed almost immediately by a clap of thunder that must have been directly overhead. Well, how else are demons supposed to arrive?
We spent so long with Roger that the poor old Demon sat neglected in its triangle of conjuration, completely ignored until the following day when it was released from its chains and commanded to perform.
The gently slope-fronted Demon stands 18" square and, at the most, around 6" deep. It's covered in extremely resilient leather cloth material with typically Pro-Amp looking speaker grille cloth — a silver woven material which looks rather American in some sort of subtle way.
Anyway, the little Demon combo stands very foursquare, not being the sort of amp that you could easily kick over in a dash for the 'phone or your beer can. Constructional quality seems to be very good indeed — we'd have every reason to expect this amp to stand the pace virtually regardless of how hard you use it.
Facilities are much what one would expect of a modern practice amp — you've got a single jack input, pre-amp gain, overall volume, treble, middle and bass pots, a headphone socket (use of which silences the speaker) and a large red illuminated mains switch.
The one major difference between this combo and most amps of this size and general configuration is that in addition to being able to set distorted sounds by winding up the pre-amp gain pot, you also have a switch on the front panel marked Rhythm/Lead. This enables you to obtain two very different sounds — but more of that later.
The speaker fitted in the Demon follows normal Pro-Amp practice insofar as it is a Celestion, in this case a G10 25D, one of the new breed of speakers from this august manufacturer and a choice which usually goes along with better quality products.
For our tests on this amp we tried it with the usual wide assortment of guitars from a Gibson through a Fender, but also with cheaper Japanese guitars, trying to find one with the lowest output pickups we could. After all, a lot of these Pro-Amps are going to end-up being used by players for whom a Gibson remains a dream and it's much more sensible to try an amp like this with as many weakish instruments as one can to gauge how it will sound in their hands. Naturally enough, we began by using the Demon switched onto its rhythm sound.
Here the amp delivers a good clean sound, quite sparklingly so, in fact, with a strong output and a good range of tones from a rich bass to a fine top (especially piercing in this case, we felt). Wind the pre-gain up and, providing your guitar has decent output then at the top of the input gain setting there is just a slight edge in chords which, if you happen to have an instrument with decently gutsy pickups on it, is very close indeed to, say, that Keith Richard rasping sound which is so often near-impossible to get.
In fact, run with our test Gibson powering it, the sound on full rhythm was so good that we'd possibly never even need to switch over to the lead setting to get either a convincing lead or rhythm sound!
Throw that Lead/Rhythm switch over, however and if you do happen to be playing a guitar with even 20% decent pickups you're in immediate and serious trouble if you have any neighbours close to you! This amp is LOUD, and you'd better believe it!
What's more, the sound when it's set across to Lead is searing and yet very warm for a bi-polar transistorised combo — and there's so much lift there on the gain that you do have to watch yourself or you can easily run away into a sound which is really too over the top and dirty (unless you're after a pure Motorhead sound, that is!) No, slacken that gain control back, take it fairly easy and the lead sound can be so sweet and yet so vicious (depending how much treble you've got set up) that you really do have to watch that you don't get crazed with power and have the Police hammering on your door within about five minutes of your first shattering power chord ("Didn't you know this was a nuclear-free zone. Sir?")
So, doesn't the Demon have just one, tiny weakness? Well, it does and it doesn't. There is a slight tendency for a rasp in the sound which, it would seem, may be coming from the speaker. It would be unfair and untrue to deny that this is there — but, for heaven's sake, what can you expect for a retail price of below £70? We're sure that it's quite possible for this to be improved on but, frankly, we do not feel that the cost of fitting a higher spec, speaker would be worth it as only those with fussy ears (we said fussy, not fuzzy!) will even notice this, and then it's just not really significant enough to bother about.
Undoubtedly, at the retail price, this is a very fine sounding, well made amp indeed and would suit any player, beginner or not. Just for the record, we also sampled the model equipped with reverb, selling for just under the £100 mark with an RRP of £99.95. Tonally this is identical to the non-reverb model, except it carries an Accutronics spring-line reverb in it. Yes, that's right, a genuine Accutronics as used by, among others, Fender and just about anyone else who likes a decent sounding reverb — which goes to show why this provision adds £30 to the retail price. Needless to say it works very well indeed with a good depth and timbre and, we reckon, it would be a real 'must' if you intended to use this amp in a home studio. Whether you need or want reverb will be up to you but, rest assured, this is a fine one and it's good to see that Pro-Amp's usual obsession with quality and genuinely high specification sound hasn't slipped since the Venom, the last amp they introduced before the Demon.
Overall we'd rate this combo as being really first class for a beginner or anyone who needed a decent practice amp for recording or low level home use (it will, thank the Gods, deliver a good distortion at low powers, thanks to the pre/post gain facility). Overall verdict? Well, what can you expect from a demon except Black Magic?
(RRP £69-95 inc.VAT).
With Reverb (£99 95 inc.VAT)
Review by Gary Cooper
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