Like most people I've been a real fan of valve amps for many years but unlike most people who seem to write reviews for this amp, I was looking at the CR60C to replace a more expensive valve amp for both home and gigs. The valve amp in question was a Blackstar HT60 Soloist so a very good amp and my reasons for this change should become evident as this review progresses. Throughout the review I will be using the Blackstar as my reference point.

Physically, the Orange CR60C looks tiny compared to the Blackstar, which is unusually big for a 1X12. I've read reports saying the CR60C is heavy for a solid state amp but I found it positively featherweight compared to the Blackstar. Build quality is excellent with sturdy switches and dials, high quality materials and an overall ‘high end’ feel to the package so that’s a good start.

I've been very pleasantly surprised by the quality of the tone on the Clean channel. It’s clear and warm and while it doesn’t quite have the richness of a good valve amp, it’s still good enough for me. That's partly because I don't use the Clean channel much but mostly because I've never been that struck on the Clean channel on my Blackstar or indeed, any of the valve amps I've owned previously, all of which were designed more for distortion. Treachery as it may seem, I prefer the Clean channel on the Orange to the Blackstar. Setting the Clean channel just to the point of break-up again yields very good results, especially as it seems to respond very like a valve amp. When I was in the shop I asked them to give me an Overdrive pedal to put in front of it and they brought a Marshall GV-2. The result was reasonable but hardly spectacular and I was left somewhat disappointed that I couldn't get a better crunch tone that way. At this point I decided that the GV-2 might just be a poor pedal so I brought out my Carl Martin Quattro that I'd taken along just in case, which has two Overdrives onboard. Hooking this beauty up to the Orange made a huge difference. Engaging OD1 from the Quattro on the Clean channel produced a drastically improved result and OD2 just gave me more distortion with the same good quality tone. Ironically, I've never liked using the overdrives on the Quattro with the Clean channel of the Blackstar but on the Orange it was a revelation and I loved it.

I was initially disappointed with the Drive channel because on the Blackstar, setting the gain to '3' gives me plenty of distortion for a good AC/DC sound but on the Orange the sound was still pretty much clean. At the other extreme, moving the gain to maximum gives you plenty distortion and with it comes a noticeable 'fuzziness' that you may have read about in other reviews of Orange amps. It’s not the same as the tone being mushy because it’s not and it’s not necessarily bad because in a way I quite liked it but it is certainly ‘different’. Setting the gain to between 50% and 75% is where this amp likes to live. The distortion is really quite impressive with very good articulation and even a relatively cheap Overdrive pedal like the Marshall GV-2 produced some pleasing results, giving you some extra dirt without the fuzziness. Using my Carl Martin Quattro produces even better results. Set the gain on the Drive channel at 50% and engage OD1 on the Quattro for sonic heaven. Mmmmmmmmmm; a REALLY nice sound and once again, moving to OD2 on the Quattro did nothing to remove the quality of the tone. Smooth, very articulate and very 80's Metal in style but with more gain. Once again I found myself very impressed and I wasn't the only one. The combination of the CR60C and my Carl Martin Quattro produced such good results in the store after virtually no tweaking that a couple of the sales guys came over to see what I was using!

What about a back to back comparison with the Blackstar? This is where it gets tricky. God I love that amp and in the cold light of day, the tone from the Blackstar is definitely superior. It has more depth, more richness and more complexity in the tone compared to the Orange BUT the Orange amp does have numerous redeeming qualities, not least of which is the fact that the Blackstar, being a valve amp, needs to have the valves both hot and driven to get that awesome tone whereas the Orange will give you its tone at almost any volume with far more consistency. If you approach the Orange looking for a perfect valve tone, you’re going to be disappointed. While it certainly has some valve-like qualities to it, that doesn't make it a direct substitute for valve tone. If, however, you approach the Orange just looking for a good quality tone that has its own thing going on, then I think you may be pleasantly surprised as the tone is excellent. It certainly has a lot more to it than other solid state amps I've tried and for me, works a lot better than all these modelling amps that try (and fail) to reproduce valve tone. I don’t get the impression that Orange were trying to emulate a valve amp, even if a lot of this amp is taken from one of their valve models. Instead they've simply concentrated on producing an amp with a really good tone in its own right and in this, they have certainly succeeded. It may not quite have the harmonic richness of valves but I still love the tone. Furthermore, strange as this may seem, the Carl Martin Quattro seems to work even better on the Orange than it did on my Blackstar! I have the two channels on the Orange set up so the Clean channel is just on the edge of break-up and the Drive channel is set to 50% gain and if I use it this way with the two Overdrive options I have on the Carl Martin Quattro, I end up with six very useable tones whereas I could never get that many using the two channels on the Blackstar. I have absolutely no idea at all why that should be the case as I know nothing of electronics and I would have thought that effects from Carl Martin would be tailored more to higher end valve gear but to my ears it just works better with the Orange.

In buying this amp I really struggled to get past the fact that the ultimate tone on the Blackstar was better and if you’re in the same boat, wondering about either buying the CR60C or a cheap or used valve amp, you will have the same quandary. This is a real world issue because my Blackstar will sell on the used market for almost exactly what the CR60C costs new but for me, the ultimately superior tone on the Blackstar wasn’t enough for me to keep it. The Orange is smaller, lighter, works better with my primary pedal, has a far more consistent tone in relation to volume, will be far more reliable without the fear of a valve giving out during a gig and I no longer have to fork out a chunk of cash to replace valves! I had to do that a few months ago and by the time I’d bought a full set of valves and paid someone to bias them properly I was about £100 poorer. That’s almost a third of the cost of the Orange CR60C!! On top of that, I do really like the tone of the Orange and while the valve amp may have been superior when it’s being driven reasonably hard, it wasn't by anything like as much as I'd feared. Once you get your head around the fact that the tone of the Orange is just ‘different’ to a valve amp, the difference in the quality of tone becomes relatively marginal and all of its other virtues start to look even more compelling. My only real gripe is that the footswitch isn’t included and quite honestly, it should be. It’s also a reasonably chunky footswitch for what it is but overall I have no complaints and no regrets about making the change to give up on valves to move to the ‘dark side’ of solid state. I still don’t like modelling amps and I still don’t like digital amps but the Orange is neither of these things; it’s a high quality analogue amplifier that’s based heavily on the Rockerverb 50 but doesn't use valves. It gives you most of the quality of a valve amp’s tone and in many ways the tone is just as good or even better without any of the negatives associated with using valves. Pair it with a good quality Overdrive pedal and there’s not much you can’t do with this little beauty.
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