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Hands-On Review: Ampeg SVT Amps and Speakers

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Legendary performance and tone

By William Fitzpatrick

When it comes to the music industry, you don't earn the title of legend without good reason. Whether you're talking about a band, an individual player, or a piece of gear, attaining such a status requires delivering the goods night after night. Ampeg SVT amps and cabinets are endorsed by some of my favorite bassists—Geezer Butler, Jason Newsted, Les Claypool, and Doug Pinnick, just to name a few—so I jumped at the chance to get my hands on them.

Closet classic

SVT Classic Series heads, as their name suggests, deliver the great sound that made Ampeg famous. At the top of the Series is the SVT-CL. If you're looking for the rich tube tone of the vintage '60s and '70s Ampeg amps, the SVT-CL is the head for you.

Ampeg SVT-CL Classic Bass Head

Boasting 300W of tube output, the SVT-CL is a true powerhouse. The controls are simple but offer plenty of tools to turn that raw power into a sound all your own. Aside from a standard three-band EQ, the SVT-CL has a five-setting midrange knob that lets you hone the all-important middle frequencies to your liking. Low and High Boost switches provide a quick way to enhance the bottom or top as well. Even with its basic controls, I was able to draw out a number of distinct tonal variations from the head.

The tubes within the SVT-CL's vintage-style chassis are also important in the amp's signature sound. Two 12AX7 preamp tubes, two 12AU7 driver tubes, and six 6550 power tubes make for a power structure and sound like no other amp around.

Probably one of the coolest features of the SVT-Classic is its Balanced Line output section. This is an enhancement over the original design, providing a convenient way to get your sound into the front-of-house mix. You don’t need a DI box, just run a single mic cable from the XLR jack on the back of the head to the snake. All that wonderful tone from the SVT’s all-tube preamp is delivered straight to the sound engineer, where he can work his magic.

Modern-day workhorses

Even though Ampeg created a bass sound that found its way into every nook and cranny of the music industry, the company was not content to rest on its laurels. Hence the creation of the SVT-Pro Series amps.

I found both the SVT-3Pro and SVT-4Pro remarkably versatile and packed with power. The SVT-4Pro is a very big gun—it puts out up to 1,200 watts of power (mono-bridged at four ohms). So if big, bad, and loud is what you need, it's the amp for you. The SVT-4Pro lets you dial in the perfect sound via its three tone controls, nine-band graphic EQ, and five-position midrange switch (just like the SVT-CL).

Ampeg SVT-4 PRO Series Bass Head

Since not all of us have the need for 1,200 watts of power, the SVT-3Pro—with its 450 watts—might be more your speed. It offers all the same tone controls as the SVT-4Pro, so shaping its tone to your liking is no problem. Both amps are hybrids that use three 12AX7 preamp tubes and a MOSFET power amp. The internal circuitry is designed for noise-free tube performance, which means you get all the warmth and richness of the preamp tubes without any of the annoying buzz that some hybrids produce.

Ampeg SVT-3 PRO Series Bass Head

Both amps are rackmountable, with the SVT-3Pro taking up two rackspaces and the SVT-4Pro using three. Other perks like a mute button for changing instruments without having to power down, Neutrik Speakon connectors, built-in compressor, an AC outlet, and a tuner out jack for on-the-fly tuning are provided on both models.

The delivery

If you really want to exploit the sonic potential of any of these amps, Ampeg cabinets are the only option. Musician's Friend sent me three Classic Series cabinets: the SVT-410HE, the SVT-410HLF, and the biggest of the bunch, the SVT-810E.

The eight-ohm SVT-410HE and four-ohm SVT-410HLF are similar in design—both have four 10" drivers, a 1" horn, and 500W RMS power handling. The SVT-410HLF is tuned differently and has bottom ports to give it a low-end boost. Both cabs deliver tight, punchy midrange and singing highs, but if you prefer a thicker bottom end, the SVT-410HLF is for you.

Ampeg SVT-410HLF Classic Series Bass Cabinet

The SVT-810E is in a class by itself. When you hear people talk about the SVT speaker cabinet, this is the one they mean. That it’s been an industry standard among bass cabs for three decades is a testament to its enduring design. Just goes to show that sometimes the latest and greatest isn’t! Standing four feet high with eight 10" woofers, the look of the cabinet is enough to inspire awe. The way it sounds, however, is where the real magic lies. It delivers the perfect balance of volume, round bottom end, and creamy midrange goodness. The tone of the SVT-810E is the epitome of the classic Ampeg sound. With its 800W RMS power handling, it can take whatever you throw at it and still sound exceptionally clean and distortion-free. I used it with the SVT-4Pro and was blown away by all the different sounds I was able to draw from the rig.

Ampeg SVT-810E Bass Enclosure

There is nothing that compares to the feeling you get when you’re standing in front of an Ampeg SVT rig. A warm, full-bodied wave of pure bass washes over the entire stage, bringing depth to any performance that words cannot adequately express—it must be experienced. If the SVT-Classic/SVT-810E is good enough for Chris Squire (Yes), Geezer Butler (Black Sabbath), Gene Simmons (KISS), and scores of other heavy hitters, then it’s good enough for me. In fact, when given a choice, it’s what I now ask for.

Thunder road

Regardless of the style of music they play, bassists have depended on Ampeg for decades to deliver rock-solid tone that's versatile and powerful. Whether you want driving, all-tube tone or the versatility of a hybrid, Ampeg makes an accommodating amp. Ampeg cabinets come in a wide variety of configurations so you can build the perfect rig for your style. If you're serious about your playing and your future in music, it's time you had a rig that reflects it. Stop monkeying around with cheap imitations and make an investment in the real thing!

SVT-3Pro:
  • 275W RMS @ 8 ohms
  • 450W RMS @ 4 ohms
  • 3-band tone controls
  • 9-band graphic EQ
  • 5-position mid-tone control
  • Tube/MOSFET hybrid
SVT-4Pro:
  • 900W RMS @ 8 ohms
  • 1200W RMS @ 4 ohms
  • 3-band tone controls
  • 9-band graphic EQ
  • 5-position mid-tone control
  • Tube/MOSFET hybrid
SVT-CL:
  • 300W RMS @ 4 ohms
  • 3-band tone controls
  • 2 - 12AX7 preamp tubes
  • 6 - 6550 power tubes
  • 2 - 12AU7 driver tubes
SVT-410HE/SVT-410HLF:
  • 4 - 10" woofers
  • 1" horn
  • 500W RMS handling
  • 8 ohms (410HE)
  • 4 ohms (410HLF)
  • 24"W x 25"H x 16"D (410HE)
  • 24"W x 30"H x 19"D (410HLF)
SVT-810E:
  • 8 - 10" woofers
  • 800W RMS handling
  • 26"W x 48"H x 16"D

Tags: Amplifiers Ampeg

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