Price paid: C$ 1600
Purchased from: local store
Features — 8
Bought the amp in December 2015 from my local store with the mini recto slant cab. The cab is loaded with a Celestion Vintage 30. The amp features 5 12ax7 preamp tubes and 2 EL-84 power tubes. The power amp features 10 or 25 watt settings that can assigned to each channel. I leave it on 25 watts all the time (more on that later).
The iconic 5 band EQ can also be assigned to specific channels or controlled by the supplied footswitch. Each of the 2 Channels feature gain/treble/mid/bass/presence/master controls as well as reverb located on the back of the chassis. Kind of a pain but there is no room on the front for all of the controls.
Included with this amp is Mesa Boogie's Cab Clone. This feature allows you to run a direct line to your mixer with open or closed back voicing's as well as play silently through your favorite headphones. It has an internal load so you can run this amp with no cab connected. Speaker outputs allow for 4 and 8ohm cabinets. Kinda wish it had a 16ohm output but they do say that the 8ohm output will work just fine. This amp has a tube buffered series effects loop that will work with anything you plug into it (so says Mesa Boogie). I don't use it so i can't include it for my review.
The included footswitch controls the 2 channels and the 5 Band EQ using a standard 20ft TRS cable.
Channel 1 features 3 different modes that a selectable via toggle switch on the front of the amp. Clean, Fat, and Crunch are your choices hear. They are not selectable with the footswitch. Channel 1 also features a mid/boost control that acts like a normal mid control from 0-5 and a gain boost from 5-10. I wish Crunch mode was on the 2nd channel as it has just as much gain as other amplifiers offer. The 10/25 watt switch does little to the volume of the amp but effects the break-up of the power section. After trying both settings, I like the 25 watt more on both channels so this feature is kind of a waste for me.
Channel 2 also features 3 different modes that a selectable in the same way as channel 1. Mark IIc+, Mark IV, and Extreme are your choices. Mark IIc+ and Mark IV modes are very convincing reproductions of the original amps and Extreme mode is borrowed from the original Mark V.
This amp screams versatility which is why I bought it. However, with this many options at this price point and this compact of a cabinet, I can see the down falls. The individual modes are not selectable via footswitch, the reverb controls are on the back of the chassis which make them inaccessible on the fly if you use a road case, also the reverb is not footswitchable. The multi-watt 10/25watt selections I could do with out. Mesa Boogie was trying to jam as many features as possible into the smallest chassis as possible. At this price point you won't find another amp with as much versatility. Some great ideas, some not so great.
Sound — 7
The guitars i use are a highly modified Mexican Fat Strat with a Seymour Duncan Invader in the bridge, 500k volume and 250k no load tones. I have 2 Telecasters, one with Texas Specials and a no load tone. The other with custom shop pickups and the "grease bucket" tone. I also have a Gibson Les Paul Studio with P-90s. I run these through my TS-808 and Agent 13 Fuzz to the front of the amp. I don"t use the effects loop yet. The multi-watt switches are always on 25 watts and I use the Celestion loaded mini recto slant cab. I do use the headphone output when my kid is sleeping which is a big plus for me.
I play a wide variety of music from pop, blues, rock, punk, metal. I'm not a fantastic player but I like to have fun with what I can play. (I'm just being honest)
This amp can and will do jazz cleans with the right settings and gear. Even my Invader loaded Strat can do cleans at lower volumes. I'm guessing that active pickups might have some trouble with super clean sounds but who buys actives for clean anyway. I personally like a little fur on my clean sound and this amp nails it with the gain dialed up and the mid/boost past noon. Fat mode adds some serious "meat" to my single coils while still remaining clean at lower settings. Crank the gain and the blues have never sounded better. Crunch adds some serious gain to your sound while still remaining tight and focused. A lot of other amps would have this as there overdrive channel.
Channel 2 starts with MarkIIc+. I have never played an original but it's fairly easy to get the tones of your favorite users of the original. Kick in the 5 Band EQ and this little monster rips. I personally like lower gain settings and rely on my picking dynamics to add punch. Mark IV mode gets a serious boost of midrange that almost always needs the EQ in its classic V shape to tame it. I like a lot of mids in my tone so I don't set it as extreme as some. This channel nails my punk sound with my p-90 loaded Les Paul.
Extreme mode adds more bass to your sound and I found you need to turn the pre-amp bass down fully to keep it tight. I would only speculate what people would have to do with low tunings and extended range guitars. I don't use this mode much as the other 2 are so much more.
This amp doesn't seem to like a lot of gain from pedals unless you are on the clean mode. My fuzz pedal sounds great through other amps at high gain but horrible with this one. My tube screamer sounds great regardless of the settings on my amp so maybe it only likes boosts and overdrives.
The reverb on this amp is probably the only control that sounds good when cranked full. I like that there is individual control for each channel. Not quite surf but definitely everything else. My only issue is the controls are on the back of the amp. I tend to leave them alone so not a huge deal for me.
And now for some not so good traits of this amp.
1. As stated in the manual, all of the EQ settings (both pre-amp and the 5 band) have a very wide range and can definitely produce some really terrible sound when used in extreme settings. I find this to be very true with the bass settings. Turn the bass past 1 o'clock with the gain at noon and your sound turns to mud. Why design an amp this way?
2. I noticed with this amp when using the Crunch mode with the mid/boost. I find to equalize the volume between the 2 channels, channel 2 needs to be to be cranked way higher on the master. By cranking the master, it really pushes the EL-84's and tends to get even more midrange heavy. There is also a big jump in volume when switching to this mode from the other two.
3. Noisy Switching. After 6 months, the amp developed a loud pop when using both the toggle switches and the footswitch. Not just a little pop, I'm talking big loud bang. Warranty fixed most of it but it still has a pop the first couple of times you switch it. Why can't these amps switch silently? I paid a lot of money for this amp to be let down by some shotty soldering and poor design. The switching noise is also very noticeable when using different wattages on the 2 channels. 25 watts on the clean channel for maximum head room and 10 watts on channel 2 for earlier power amp breakup. (POP) when switching channels. Mesa Boogie has stated to me that this is normal and to get used to it because that how they roll. Big Disappointment Mesa Boogie.
Overall I can get all of the sounds I like but have to put up with some poor design traits. I encourage everyone to read the manual twice because it's easy to get a shit sound.
Reliability & Durability — 4
With the issue I stated above about the switching noise, I don't trust this amp to last. It has never been moved let alone gigged. It looks solid and well built on the outside but I haven't pulled it apart for fear of something else going wrong. I don't think I would trust this amp not to fail during a gig but maybe I just got a bad one. Not only did it take 3 months to fix, the only place in Alberta that was certified to fix it was 2 hours away. I imagine gigging musicians would be pretty angry if their rig was out of commission that long. I have a Marshall amp that is at least 5 years old and still has the original tubes in it and I've never had a single issue with it. I can be done Mesa Boogie.
Overall Impression — 7
Overall this amp is a versatile little beast. That's why I bought it. The warranty issue really soured my opinion of the company though. I wish I looked into what was required for warranty work before I bought it because I probably would have got something else. If it were lost or stolen, I would be mad because I probably couldn't afford another one but I would get something else. Maybe a Marshall JVM of some kind.
I love the tones I get from this amp and that is probably the reason why I won't sell it. This amp inspires me to keep playing and I find new sounds almost every time I turn it on. Best tone = Fat mode with the gain over noon and the mid/boost at 3 o'clock. Les Paul with P-90's. Kind of a love hate relationship.