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Hands-On Review: Ampeg Portaflex PF-500 and PF-210HE

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Power, versatility, and great sound in a flip-top box

By Tom Foster
Harmony Central Contributor

Bass players truly understand that less really is more—especially when it comes to hauling around amps. With massive cabinets, weighty heads, and oversize bass cases, it’s an exercise in brute force and timeless frustration for a bass player to get to and from a gig. Fortunately, Ampeg has come up with an elegant solution to the bass amp portability problem: the Portaflex PF-500 bass head and the PF-210HE cabinet. With these two components, Ampeg has created a bass amp that combines vintage good looks, incredible features, and a new transportation standard for the gigging bass player.

Ampeg PF-500 Portaflex 500W Bass Amp Head

Hide-and-seek amp head

When the system first arrived, I thought they had left the amp head back at the factory. As it turns out, the Ampeg Portaflex combos feature a flip-top design modeled after the legendary Ampeg B-15. This modern take on Ampeg’s signature, groundbreaking concept is sure to make bassists take notice.

The amp head can be bolted onto the top of the PF-210HE cabinet’s lid, which holds the head in place with four latches. When you want to transport the cabinet and the head, just unlatch the top, flip it over so that the head rests inside the cabinet, and latch it back up. Your PF-500 rides in style, completely protected inside the cabinet and reducing to just one piece the amount of gear you have to haul.

Yet the fun doesn’t stop there, as the Ampeg PF-210HE bass cabinet has plenty of room inside for all your other extras. Now you don’t need a separate bag or case for cables, music, extra strings, and so on; just put them all inside the PF-210HE and you’re good to go.

Ampeg PF-210HE Portaflex 2x10 Bass Speaker Cabinet

Pushin’ air with the PF-210HE Bass Cabinet

The Ampeg PF-210HE may be small, but it packs a big audio wallop. Inside the cabinet are two ceramic Eminence® LF drivers and a 1" HF driver. The cab is rated for 450W RMS power handling at 8 ohms and it feels solid with a cool vintage look, thanks to the black diamond Tolex and B-15 grille cloth.

The PF-210HE sports removable casters and a single handle on the top of the cabinet when the cabinet top is reversed with the amp head face down inside the cabinet. I found the handle arrangement a bit odd, as you lose the cab’s only handle when you flip the amp head back up. Still, if you just keep the casters on the cabinet (which gives you a couple of inches of elevation too), you can always just wheel your amp into place. To further tailor your sound, you can employ the three-way high-frequency switch. Nice!

The Portaflex PF-500: Not just a pretty head

Ease of transportation is also matched by an impressive feature set on the Ampeg Portaflex PF-500. The PF-500 uses a digital power amp (Class D), switching power supply (for worldwide use at the flick of a switch), and a MOSFET preamp to push 500W RMS at 4 ohms.

On the front of the PF-500 you’ll find just about every control you’ll need for getting the best sound out of your bass. Along with the standard bass, midrange, and treble controls, you have Ultra Hi and Ultra Lo boost switches, plus a five-way, mid-frequency control to help you dial in your sound. Another nice touch is the -15dB pad for lowering the output of your bass’s active electronics. There are also two 1/8" stereo jacks: one aux input (for your MP3 player) and one output for headphone monitoring your bass mixed with the aux input, if present.

I was especially impressed by the built-in compression that you can add to the signal. This is great for being able to keep a consistent volume in your playing, especially if you move back and forth between slap-bass and fingerpicking styles. The compression is very smooth, giving the signal coming out of the PF-500 a tight, punchy sound, which works equally well in fusion and rock settings.

In session

I brought the Ampeg PF-500 and PF-210HE Stack to a recent recording session to put them through their paces. What a joy it was to simply wheel in the cabinet and head with one hand, and my bass in the other. Flip over the top, lock the latches, plug in, and I was ready to go. The engineer was taken completely by surprise, as he figured I had at least another 15 minutes of setup.

While the sound of the amp was great, the flexibility of all the output jacks was equally fantastic. We could run a direct XLR output to the board from the PF-500 head, while also running a separate line to my tuner and effects chain. We had a fantastic session, and were able to concentrate on the music rather than the limitations of recording a bass.

A compact winner

Besides my review combination, Ampeg offers several models in this series, including the PF-350 bass amp head (RMS power output: 350W @ 4 ohms) and PF-115HE bass cabinet (1 x 15" ceramic Eminence LF driver; 450W power handling @ 8 ohms). Of course, the heads and cabs can be used interchangeably.

For the gigging bass player, the combination of the Ampeg PF-500 head and PF-210HE cabinet is a life saver: a solid bass amp system that combines portability, audio muscle, and performance flexibility. The unique flip-top cabinet design is still a brilliant way to ride herd over all the clutter that is inevitably a part of any live gig. If you’re seeking great sound in a sleek package, check out the PF-500 and PF-210HE amp system. You’ll absolutely flip for it.

Ampeg PF-500 Portaflex and PF-210HE Stack

Features & Specs:

Ampeg Portaflex PF-500 head

  • Class D Power Amp
  • MOSFET Preamp
  • 500W @ 4 ohms
  • Switching power supply
  • Direct XLR out, -40dB pad, pre/post EQ, ground lift
  • Built-in compression
  • 5-way mid-frequency select
  • Ultra Hi/Ultra Lo switches
  • Effects loop
  • Headphone out/stereo line in

Ampeg Portaflex PF-210HE Cabinet

  • 2 - 10" ceramic LF Eminence drivers
  • One 1" HF driver with 3-way attenuator
  • 450W RMS power handling @ 8 ohms
  • Flip-top head design for storing head and other gear

For a versatile bass amp system that sports the unique flip-top approach Ampeg is famous for, check out the Portaflex PF-500 and PF-210HE cabinet.

Tags: Amplifiers Ampeg

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