Price paid: £ 100
Purchased from: Private Sale
Features: The HH Electronic IC100-S solid state amplifier, manufactured between 1971 and 1975, is the more basic, stripped down version of the IC100, offering fewer features without compromising on the build quality. In fact, many collectors believe the IC100-S to be the better of the two. My IC100-S has the features and markings that would lead me to believe it is a later model, however a reliable source has told me mine is an earlier example based on the serial number. So maybe 1972 or 1973.
The amp features two independent channels - Channel 2 is a simple clean channel with normal and bright inputs and volume, treble, bass and brilliance controls. Channel 1 has a little extra - normal and bright inputs again, with volume, treble, bass and presence controls, as well as switch labelled "Sustain" which activates the on-board distortion, controlled by an extra knob also labelled "sustain". My IC100-S also has a studio/stage switch, which in studio mode significantly reduces the output power of the amp - this is a feature that was added shortly after the amp's introduction in 1971, initially positioned on the back of the amp, and then moved to the front, which was included to reduce the amount of white noise produced by the amps, as it could be quite intrusive at lower volumes.
The rear panel features two speaker outputs, indicating that the amp can accept a load of 4-15 ohms (this dates back to when a lot of speakers were rated at 7.5 ohms instead of 8), a footswitch jack for the "sustain" function, preamp output and power amp inputs, and a slave output. So this amp is a little more stripped down than the regular IC100, lacking the spring reverb and tremolo effects, and also having passive treble and bass controls instead of the active EQ of it's bigger brother, It is still an incredibly versatile piece of equipment that can be used for a number of applications beyond it's intended purpose as a guitar or keyboard amp.
I find the studio/stage switch was a bit of a "quick fix" for the noise problem rather than a well considered feature to add to the amp. It is exceptionally noisy at any volume on full power, and you're really going to notice it at anything below stage volumes, but the half-power mode seems to heavily compromise the clarity of the higher frequencies. Another negative thing I can think of is that the "sustain" knob seems to serve very little purpose as all it seems to do is make the distortion sound a little more harsh and piercing the more you turn it up. // 6
Sound: As I mentioned in the "features" section, this amp is very noisy on full power or "stage" mode, and a bit muffled on half-power or "studio" model. This makes the amp quite frustrating for home use or other low-volume applications. Now that I've got that out the way, let's talk about the actual sounds: I'll just start by saying the 2nd channel just sounds like it isn't meant to be used for guitars. It's very sterile and a bit muddy, like the kind of sound you'd get by plugging into a Hi-fi system. I think it has a flat voicing for things like keyboards or microphones.
The first channel, however, is excellent. The cleans have an incredible sparkle to them, and exactly the kind of clarity and transparency you'd expect from a nice solid state amp, except they are actually very rich and lush sounding - not at all dry or sterile. I absolutely love running an electric 12-string through a clean setting on this amp. The bass is very tight and well defined even cranked up all the way. It is a huge, crystal clear clean sound, with plenty of headroom. Like a Roland JC-120 with the bright switch engaged, only with a lot more character. It is a great platform for running pedals through, but only if you like bright tones. I think with a hi-gain distortion pedal you could actually get a very good "chug" from this amp, thanks to the very tight bass.
By contrast, the sound becomes a complete opposite when you turn on the "sustain" switch. On its own, the distortion is actually very very muddy and muffled and barely usable, although it does have a very smooth quality to it, and cleans up very nicely when you back off the volume control on a guitar (something few solid state amps do). It's actually got very good response for an early solid state amp too - Not really like a tube amp, but it does give you a similar feeling of having control over the dynamics. Obviously the sound is going to be marked down for the distortion being muddy on its own, but with a treble booster, it has an absolutely superb classic rock sound - sort of Brian May-esque. It won't do "brutal" tones in this setting, but that's not really what it was designed to do. // 7
Reliability & Durability: HH Electronic made some very reliable and durable amps, although when I did get this amp, it was overheating quite seriously even though it seemed to work fine. Common sense dictated that I should get it checked over by a professional, so I took it to MAJ Electronic, who performed a simple repair and now the amp is working fine.
If you look after these amps properly, getting them serviced fairly regularly and getting any small problem checked before it becomes a huge problem, they should work fine and never let you down. This is just the kind of thing you should be expecting to have to deal with with a Vintage amp. I think it's only fair to mark it down though, given the possibility, and likelihood, that anyone buying an IC100-S may get one with a few problems ranging from minor to severe that aren't immediately apparent. // 6
Overall Impression: For classic rock, punk, ska, reggae, new wave etc. This is a superb amp. It does need a little help from pedals if you want a good distorted tone, but the cleans are simply stunning. The onboard distortion can be great with a treble booster (I use a Flynn Amps classic OC44 booster with it), but is still a bit limited. I think this amp really works best with humbucker equipped guitars like Les Pauls or SGs, but that's just a preference thing on my part. It actually responds just as well to single coils.
If this amp was stolen or lost I would certainly seek out a replacement, although I might try and go for one which doesn't have the studio/stage switch - the earlier models without it had a slightly different distortion circuit which is said to be a little more responsive to playing dynamics. Despite the negativity towards the distortion setting for the sake of giving an unbiased review, I actually love the Drive sound it produces with a treble booster, and the way it responds to dynamics and to the volume control. I would love to have the distortion circuit, with a few little tweaks to dial out the muddiness, put into a pedal.
Compared to the regular IC100 (Which I reviewed about a year ago), I agree with the consensus that the IC100-S is a better sounding amplifier. While the IC100 is also a great amp, it is a little more sterile. I bought my IC100-S after hearing a lot of people comparing the two saying the IC100-S has a much more pleasing sound, and I'm glad I did. All in all, I'm very happy with this amp, and I feel kinda guilty marking it down a little for it's flaws which I personally am willing to over look. // 8