The British amp legends launch a spiffing new range – and Kev Sanders gets straight to the root of the matter…
There’s always a buzz of excitement among the bass community prior to the launch of a new Ashdown range. It’s not surprising, either: here’s a British company which has consistently produced some of the best bass amplification in the world. Models such as the ABM series amps have been available for over 15 years, steadily evolving and improving as the quality of their materials and components gets better and better. Ashdown are committed to constant improvement, but also believe in the quality of their initial designs – when we heard that the new Rootmaster-branded range was on the way, anticipation ran high.
BUILD QUALITY AND FEATURES MAG ROOTMASTER 420 AMP
Although the 420 is immediately recognisable as an Ashdown product, its stylish new look and much smaller dimensions mark it out as a different animal to the previous MAG amp. As we’ll see, these differences are more than just skin deep. Ashdown amplifiers have always been well made and although they switched their manufacturing facility to China some time ago, the standard of materials and build are as good, if not better than they ever were. The amp is housed in a sturdy matte black steel case with four small rubber feet to allow air to circulate underneath and vent slots down one side. Cool air is drawn through these by the fan at the other end of the amp.
The front panel is deceptively simple. There’s the trademark analogue VU meter on the left, then the main EQ controls running left to right on the top half. In a row under these are the main input and output. Also on this lower part is the line mix control which allows you to balance the signal from an MP3 player or phone (plugged into the ‘line in’ mini jack input on the back) to your bass’s volume. A simple but clever compressor – which splits the bass signal and applies different amounts of compression to the low and high frequencies – is also controlled from the front, as are the drive and sub controls.
The drive does pretty much what you’d expect, adding a smooth, natural and valve-like overdrive, while the welcome return of the sub control (a feature previously seen on many Ashdown bass amps) allows the player to add frequencies an octave below the note being played. The EQ, compressor and drive each have on/off buttons and there’s a ‘shape’ button to pre-set the EQ’s starting point by scooping the mids. Round the back you have a stereo jack for a footswitch which enables you to turn the compressor and drive on and off, as well as the mini-jack line in, FX loop, XLR balanced line DI and single Speakon/Jack combined output.
A compact and lightweight eight-ohm cab with two 10” drivers plus a horn is a brilliant format for bass guitar. You get a wide frequency response, in this case 60Hz right up to 20kHz, in a box that will normally fit into the boot of your car. Add another and you have a rig that will handle most gigging situations, and with a combined impedance of four ohms you also have the added benefit of coaxing the maximum bang from your amp.
This new 210T cab certainly looks the business, with its traditional matte black vinyl covering, black corner protectors and a tough black nylon grille. The single strap handle on top is well up to the job and you can easily lift it with one hand. Underneath are four chunky rubber feet.
Given the price, there are clearly areas where savings have had to be made, and perhaps the most obvious of these is the material from which the cabinet is constructed. Rather than the birch plywood used in the more expensive ranges, the MAG 210T is made from dense 18mm chipboard, with an internal ‘front to back’ brace of the same material. Inside, the two 10” baffle mounted speakers, despite having a pressed steel chassis, appear to be great quality, with large voice coils and magnets – not much sign of money saving there. The piezo horn tweeter does away with the need for an internal crossover, so the neat wiring is kept to a minimum. The back panel boasts two sockets, a combined Speakon/Jack and a single jack. These are wired in parallel so that you can ‘daisy-chain’ another eight-ohm cab with just a link lead.
With the MAG 420 sat on top of the 210T, you have a neat and compact bass rig, and with the Ashdown name proudly displayed it looks business-like and professional. Switch on the amp, plug in and the first thing to strike you is the clarity and hi-fi-like quality of the tone. My previous experience of piezo tweeters led me to expect – incorrectly, as it turns out – a bit of a brittle-sounding top end. This is not the case here at all, and while the two 10” drivers do a great job of delivering a focused and controlled low end, it was the glassy transparency of the top frequencies that was immediately impressive.
Although the 210T cab is a great piece of design, it’s the amp that steals the show here. The EQ is intuitive and versatile, allowing quick and easy changes of tone. The mid frequencies in particular are well chosen and allow the most detailed adjustments. While I’ve got a mid-rich Jaco tone up, adding a little of the compressor raises the bar again, flattering my playing by gently smoothing out any inconsistencies of technique while adding a useful punch. Adding in a little of the drive gives the sound yet another dimension, and I found that however I set the EQ, adding a little of the drive was nearly always a positive thing. For instance, you wouldn’t normally add grit to a mid-scooped slap tone, but here it sounded just great.
The analogue sub control was next to explore, and again I found it to be highly usable. Turned up full you get an effect almost like an octaver; used more subtly, you can replace some of the low resonances that may be lacking in your system. Used like this, the rig sounds much bigger than its compact size would suggest.
Although the 210T cab is made to a price, it’s a perfect partner for the 420 amp, and punches well above its weight. As a combined bass rig, you have to look really hard to find anything to criticise. This setup would be ideal for any bassist looking to progress from a combo to their first serious stage stack, and even with one of the 210T cabs they’ll have a versatile system that would handle most small and medium gigs – all for a reasonable outlay.
When you take into account that this new MAG Rootmaster kit is effectively Ashdown’s budget range, this rig is even more impressive. If you’re aware of the company’s track record, it’s not unreasonable to expect the new Rootmaster range to be good, but given the prices here, Ashdown have surpassed themselves. As with the ABM range, I’m sure this new series will prove to be a real winner for some time to come.
Ashdown Mag Rootmaster 420 Amp
Price | £399
INPUTS | 1 x 1/4” hi impedance.
POWER | 300W (RMS) Class D
IMPEDANCE | 4 ohms
CONTROLS | Input Level, 4 way EQ (Bass, Lo Mid 420Hz, Mid, Hi Mid 1.5 kHz, Treble), Shape, EQ in/out Compressor, Drive, Sub, output level Master Volume, DI out, FX Send/Return, Tuner Out, Speaker Out (min. 4 Ohm)
DIMENSIONS | (HxWxD) 79 x 312 x 226mm
WEIGHT | 6.1 kg
Mag Rootmaster 210T Cab
Price | £229
SPEAKERS | 2×12” Ashdown pressed chassis
POWER | 250w RMS
FREQUENCY RESPONSE | 60Hz to 20kHz
IMPEDANCE | 8 Ohms
DIMENSIONS | (HxWxD) 468 x 603 x 335mm
WEIGHT | 26kg
What We Think
MINUS | Nothing comes to mind
OVERALL | Ashdown quality and tone at an amazingly low price. A lightweight and versatile rig that will deliver the goods night after night
Build quality: 8/10
Sound quality: 8/10