Price paid: £ 635
Purchased from: Thomann.de
Sound — 9
I'm playing a 2005 PRS Custom 2002 with Dragon II pickups into a Boss GT8 into the H&K (using the H&K Tubemeister 112 box cab), with the 4 cable method that splits the FX. This is a fantastic setup for the H&K as the Boss switches the H&K's power soak, channel, reverb and FX loop when I change patches, which is an exceptional thing for someone tired of doing the tap dance. Other amps I have used the GT8 with have required lots of level matching but the loop on the Tubemeister is really good and it took barely any tweaking to get the levels right. I have also tried many pedals in the loop - Malekko 616, EHX Small Stone Nano, ISP Decimator, Catalinbread Heliotrope etc - and they all run very well. The beauty of using MIDI is when you want zero FX after the preamp you can cut the FX loop out so it is bypassed entirely which is great for a MFX setup as there is one less stage of AD/DA conversion going on. The Tubemeister 36 can do very decent hard rock, metal, punk and classic rock sounds. I have absolutely no need for a tubescreamer, bad monkey or whatever in front of the lead channel for any of these styles, which is a first for me. The crunch is very clear and cuts through well. Cleans as already mentioned cut through and don't run out of headroom unless everything is maxed. Can't complain at all for band use, everything is there out of the box. I re-tubed the head from the stock Chinese tubes to some JJ pre amp tubes from my Traynor, and there was a slightly darker overall tone, slightly improved. One of the JJ's went dodgy so I put the Chinese preamp tubes back in and to be honest they sound fantastic to me and I will keep them in. My only beef with this head is that at I use it on either 1w or 5w at low bedroom levels and there is a bit of a fizz to the high gain sounds. I don't know whether this is because the speaker in the cab is new and not yet broken in (apparently this can be caused by a new V30), but it defiantly isn't the tubes. I get around this by using the EQ in the GT8 after the preamp on low wattage high gain patches, setting a low pass filter at 8k. Problem solved. Not enough to put me off the tone, but it is noticeable. At higher volume the lead can get pretty brutal if you want it too. One thing to bear in mind is that the overall voicing of the amp is not Vintage at all, it is very HiFi. Everything is very clear, but never cold. It is a warm clear amp, but players seeking a Vintage voiced tube amp may not be overly impressed. In terms of all around versatility this has to be a 9 as it is the only amp I've ever played that sounds great at any level (apart from that slight fizz).
Overall Impression — 9
Overall I'm just going to say this is a nice lightweight compact head which is easy to transport (7kg and comes with it's own padded bag), and sounds great at any volume within reason. You can certainly gig with it, and it sounds decent enough for those midnight jams. The tones coming out of it are varied but all decent; it is actually hard to dial in a bad sound. I would buy another in a heart beat if it got broken, provided, and it comes with a 3 year warranty which is reassuring. I think it compares exceptionally well to similar spec/priced amps (there aren't many that fulfill both those criteria). If you use it with a midi MFX it becomes even better as you have the ideal setup - digital switching and presets with a tube tone. The simplicity of using it this way (with digital FX) and gained flexibility far outweigh the mojo of using traditional stomps. The reason I have mentioned MFX so much in this review is because I think using this head in a traditional setup I would score it a 9, in a midi MFX setup I would score it 10, as it really excels used that way.
Reliability & Durability — 8
It looks well built, don't let the fact that it is German designed made in China put you off. I have had it in pieces twice and everything is well built, looks good quality. Hasn't let me down (be pretty annoyed if it had already!), played around 20 hours at bedroom, 10 at band practice and it has performed flawlessly except when I put a duff preamp tube in it. One thing to be wary of is the fact the manual and H&K website neglect to tell you how to re-tube it. I assumed the plastic would unscrew at the front at lift up. Not the case at all. This would have been so easy. Instead you have to unscrew the bottom 2 screws on either end and lift the whole sides/back up as one unit. Not bad once you know how to do it, but a pain they don't show you how to do this. Resulted in me taking the amp to pieces the first time, and a lot of swearing. Reliability - ? Durability - 9 Support - 7 - where's the servicing instructions?
Features — 9
If there is one category that this amp excels in it is without a doubt the features. The list is pretty impressive, and far exceeds what most people would expect from a head in any category. Here goes: - 36 watts provided by 3x 12ax7 preamp tubes and 4x EL84 power tubes. This is switchable down to 18w/5w/1w or silent. When in any 18w/5w/1w only 2 of the EL84's are used. Switchable via midi. - 3 channels: clean, crunch and lead. Clean has its own 3 band EQ, and crunch and lead share a 3 band EQ. EQ controls include treble, bass and mids. Channels switchable via midi or footswitch (you get neither in the box). - Digital reverb, switchable via midi or footswitch. - FX loop, serial, switchable via midi or footswitch. - TSC tube protection system shuts down dodgy tubes before they can cause trouble and constantly tweaks the bias. - Red box DI out so you can hook directly from the head into a PA/multi-tracker etc I have had this amp for around 3 weeks now, playing a huge range of styles at both bedroom and band levels from crystal clean picking, jazz, rock, punk and metal. It copes with all of these very well at bedroom levels and exceptionally well in a band situation. This is a very loud 36w amp, easily cuts through and drains out my old Traynor YCV50. The drummer in my current band is from a 90's hardcore background and is a very loud drummer, can keep up with him easily both clean and dirty. I am getting to maximum clean volume with the gain at 2 o'clock in a live situation, but the headroom on this amp is exceptional so it remains as clean as I need it to be all the way up at 36w. My lead and crunch channels get to about 12'oclock on the volume and I start draining the others out so haven't pushed past there, again at 36w. There are only 2 things I really feel this amp is missing, which are an additional EQ so that the lead and crunch channels could have their own EQ's, and (perhaps greedily) midi switchable pots so that the all settings could be recalled via midi, but that is going over the top for an amp that is already feature packed in this price range. So overall a 9 as the shared EQ thing is quite big for a player who has to play a wide range of styles in one band.