Price paid: $ 250
Purchased from: Music Go Round
Sound — 4
My guitar collection currently consists of three dual-humbucker models: a 2009 Jackson DK2T with Duncan JB & Jazz humbuckers, a 2003 Ibanez SZ520 (all stock), and a 2010 Epiphone Les Paul Custom Ebony that currently has a GFS Crunchy PAT in the bridge (blecch, worse than stock in some ways) & the stock PU in the neck (both soon to be replaced by a JB/Jazz set). The amp head is being run through a Marshall MC212 with low-end Celestion speakers. We'll go channel by channel starting with the clean. The clean channel has a fair amount of bass & midrange on tap. For a shimmery clean sound, I keep both at or under 5 while cranking the treble. Even then the clean channel seems to lack a little bit of glassiness. It's certainly usable though, very full and nice sounding with a touch of reverb & chorus. Those looking for glassy Fender-esque cleans may want to look elsewhere though. There seems to be plenty of headroom here. The Crunch channel goes from a light bluesy crunch up to a Black-Sabbath-esque sludge. This channel definitely seems voiced to mimic a mid to late sixties british tube amp. Like the clean channel, it lacks a bit of clarity & sheen on the high end, making it less than ideal for lightly distorted chord-comping a-la Hendrix or Vaughan. This channel works much better when slamming hard rock power chords in the vein of Zeppelin or AC/DC. The Lead channel is loaded with treble and upper-mids while the low end is suppressed. They were going for a 1980's JCM 800 sound here obviously. The crunch is a bit fuzzy & buzzy sounding; not as meaty as I would like. The gain on tap here is pretty high, enough to get into classic metal and even thrash territory. However, it isn't that great a tone. Even though the low end is de-emphasized, what lows are there lack definition. Therefore the tone is a somewhat unpleasant blend of shrill highs and muddly, gutless lows. The Warp channel is the opposite of the Lead channel. You are immediately hit by a wall of low mids in the 400k range. This, combined with the additional gain available, makes for a very heavy sound. Once again, however, the lack of high end-definition rears it's ugly head, making for a muddy sounds with the huge low-end only worsening the effect. This channel is the best of the three Drive channels for my needs, but that isn't saying a lot at this point. While heavy, the sounds lack the sizzle on the high end and the definition on the low end to allow for tight, crunchy palm mutes. Overall, like the rest of the amp, the sound is somewhat messy & muddled. The effects are decent. The chorus sounds very nice on the clean channel. The flanger & tremelo are okay, but I rarely use them. The delay is okay, but the number of repeats is not adjustable, which is very limiting. The reverb is average.
Overall Impression — 4
On paper, this seems like a great amp for rock and metal, which is right up my alley. In practice, it misses the mark for me. Granted, the cab I'm using isn't great either, but even with a seven band EQ in the loop, I could not achieve the well-defined, heavy/crunchy tone that I prefer. I've been through more than a few amps in my 13 years of playing, and while not the worst, this was definitely a disappointment. At the store, I tried numerous lower-end Randall heads. They all seemed to have minor defects & were a mixed bag, sound wise. I was pretty frustrated by the time I tried the Matrix, which may have contributed to my errant purchase. After two months, I have given up on it altogether and will be selling it soon. Let it be known that this is not a solid state bash-fest here. I for one have a soft-spot for well done solid-state gain circuits. While a high-gain tube amp is the ideal for a gigging guitarist, the cheap thrills provided by a decent solid state amp can be a lot of fun for a hobby player like myself. I have a Roland Cube 15X that I love to use for practice. It is a no-frills crunch fest. Obviously the sound is small and cheesy compared to a Mesa Dual Rectifier, but for low volume playing it gets the job done. It gets much closer to what I want then the Matrix, but is obviously useless in any sort of Jam situation with a band. Oh well, the search continues.
Reliability & Durability — 8
Given that the amp is solid state, it should be plenty reliable. I've not run into any real problems in the relatively short time I've had it, though it did lose the effects settings once, which was odd.
Features — 9
The Hughes & Kettner Matrix is a four channel, 100 Watt solid state head. I believe they made them from 2005-2007 or so before replacing them with the Attax series. I purchased this amp used in early February, 2011. The four footswitchable channels (a 4 button Switch is included w/amp) are Clean, Crunch, Lead, and Warp. The amp is meant to cover all bases style wise; I personally am mostly a metal player, thrash & alt-metal mainly, though I do make forays into blues-rock and alt-rock. Allegedly the Warp channel was designed for my style; I'll get into whether or not it succeeds later. The Clean channel has it's own EQ, while the three dirt channels all share the same EQ. This is a limiting factor in spite of the claims in the amp's literature that the three channels are voiced to sound good on any shared settings. A second set of EQ controls or even a footswitchable built-in graphic EQ would have been better. Each channel has its own volume control in addition to a master volume, which allows for excellent volume control. It's very easy to get bedroom volumes with this amp. There are several built in effects: Chorus, Flanger, Tremelo, Delay, & Reverb. These effects settings automatically save for each channel, which is very nice . The delay & modulation effects can be separately footswitched by hooking up a standard one or two button footswitch to the dedicated jack on the back. Lastly, there is a series FX loop and a headphone jack.