Kev Sanders road-tests two new budget combos from Ashdown. Will they emerge unscathed?
Ashdown’s new AAA (standing for ‘Access All Areas’) range consists of a 220-watt head and seven different combos, ranging from a tiny 10 watter up to 220 watts. The Vintage 12 sits third in the range and is clearly designed to be big enough to cope with rehearsals and small gigs, while still compact enough to be a practice amp. As for the second combo on test, while the Rootmaster range is brand new, the MAG series from which it’s developed has been around for years, always offering great quality, features and value. Will the new C112-220 combo continue that tradition?
BUILD QUALITY AND FEATURES
Henry Ford would have liked these amps, as there’s not much here that isn’t black. The Ashdown corporate vinyl covering, the tough woven nylon grilles, the strap handles and plastic corner protectors, even the amp panel on the Vintage 12, are all black – although the control knobs and badges are a rather tasteful ivory colour, and the MAG C112 has that familiar retro-looking VU meter next to the input. Close inspection of the construction and components reveal that they’re as well put together as any of the Ashdown range, the vast majority of which is now, like these two, manufactured at Ashdown’s facility in China.
The Vintage combo boasts a healthy 75 watts, and although the preamp is comprehensive (three band EQ, hi and low inputs, drive control and a headphone output) there isn’t much on the front panel to differentiate it from many other smallish bass combos currently available. That said, you do get an XLR DI, which is very welcome for recording, and an auxiliary input with mix control, meaning you can plug in your MP3 player or phone for hours of playalong fun. So far, so unexceptional – but this amp, like many of the new AAA practice amp range, has a real show-stopper of a feature: the AppTek input, which allows you to use your iPad or iPhone as an external preamp, once you’ve downloaded the appropriate app.
The AppTek function is an input on the front panel of the Vintage 12 into which you plug one end of the special cable provided, the other end going into your tablet or your phone. It’s basically a mini effects loop on a stereo mini jack. The idea is that you download one of the Ampkit apps from Ashdown’s software partner Agile. The basic app is free but at the moment you have to pay £3.99 for the virtual Ashdown ABM 900, although this will be free from the next update. Alternatively, you can buy the Ampkit+ app, which gives you a wide selection of amps, cabs and effects to use. Once you’ve done this, you have all the ABM 900 control panel has to offer, with features such as sub-harmonics, tube drive, compression and of course the comprehensive seven-band EQ. You can also choose from the selection of cabs and mics available and add dozens of guitar and bass effects by way of virtual foot pedals, all of which can be edited and added to your sound. It’s great fun and seems to work brilliantly well.
The MAG 220 amp head in the C112 combo is a much more comprehensive unit, with five-band EQ plus compression and drive functions. It also has a sub control, which lets you add frequencies an octave below the note played: useful for enhancing the low end. All of these effects plus the EQ can be switched in or out via buttons on the front panel. Round the back, the combo continues to flaunt its pro credentials with a Speakon extension speaker output, FX loop, jack DI out and line in, although perhaps surprisingly, no XLR DI for recording or gigging. Like the smaller Vintage 12 amp, the MAG has a single 12” custom-built Ashdown driver, but here it’s augmented with a piezo horn unit.
Once we’re in the studio with the bass plugged in, it soon becomes clear that as a practice amp, the Vintage 12 fulfils its brief brilliantly. The well-chosen EQ frequencies and warm, valve-like tone mean that finding a great bass sound to work with is quick and easy. For practice or rehearsals, there’s more than enough volume and low end here to upset the neighbours. The Ampkit+ app through the AppTek facility, plus the ‘aux in’ feature makes using the amp for practice great fun, with loads of options for playing along to backing tracks, recording yourself and adding effects.
As a small gigging amp, the Vintage 12 handles more than you could reasonably expect, but you do have to be realistic. While the 12” driver is extremely high quality for a combo at this price point, the amp is only 75 watts, and it’s this that will determine just how far it can be pushed before clipping. At these higher levels there’s also a slight lack of very high end sparkle, which is not surprising given the fact that there’s no horn or compression driver to handle the highest frequencies. However, in real-world situations, the amp delivers above expectations and if you consistently need more volume and a wider frequency range, you’d be better off going for the more powerful MAG C112 anyway.
For such a small combo, the MAG C112 really delivers. The much bigger amp plus the addition of an HF unit means that not only is it way louder than the Vintage 12, but it also has much more headroom and a sweeter, brighter top end at higher volumes. Of course, it’s still small enough to function as a practice amp, but here’s an amp which is just as happy in the studio or small venue, and the extension socket on the back panel means it’s a simple job to add an extra cab, pulling the full 220 watts from the amp and further increasing its potential for gigging. The comprehensive five-band EQ, effects and routing facilities mean that there’s much more choice with the C112, and even my old ’62 Jazz with its exhausted original pickups can be moulded into something like a tight modern sound, with bags of low end kick and top end sparkle.
Even five years ago you rarely found an ‘aux in’ socket on a practice combo. Ashdown have not only included one on the Vintage 12 and on most of their other practice amps, but they’ve also had the foresight to design in the AppTek feature, suddenly bringing the humble bass practice combo kicking and screaming into the 21st century. I’m surprised this kind of thing hasn’t become mainstream earlier, although there have of course been plenty of modelling amps available for some time. This system is limited only by the external software and available apps.
All this software and app stuff wouldn’t count for much if you didn’t have a good bass amp to work with, and the new AAA Vintage 12 isn’t just a vehicle for this new technology, it’s also a great little bass amp in its own right. You could quite easily buy this amp, plug in and enjoy it without ever using the AppTek feature, but to do so would miss out on the thing that elevates it above some of the competition.
The fact that the MAG C112 doesn’t have the AppTek feature underlines the kind of situation in which Ashdown envisage this amp will be used. Yes, of course it will still work brilliantly as ‘just’ a practice amp, but it’s more than up to the job of rehearsals and recording – and as part of a modular system with an extension cab hooked up, there won’t be many small and medium gigs it wouldn’t be able to handle. Its diminutive size and flexibility will make this amp popular with a whole range of players, whatever their needs, and the incredibly low price of both this and the Vintage 12 should mean that both are a big success for Ashdown.
AAA Vintage 12 / MAG C112-220
Price | £269 / £399
Inputs | 2 [hi/lo] / 1 [3.9m/10K Ohms]
Power | (RMS) 75 watts / 220 watts
Speakers | 1×12” custom / 1×12” custom plus piezo HF horn
EQ, AAA Vintage 12: Bass +/- 15db @ 100hz. Lo Mid +/- 15db @ 340hz. Mid +/- 15db @ 660hz Hi Mid +/- 15db @ 1.6Khz. Treble +/- 15db @ 7khz shelving
EQ, MAG C112-220 Bass +/-15dB @ 100Hz Lo Mid +/-15dB @ 220Hz Middle +/-15dB @ 660Hz Hi Mid +/-15dB @ 1.6kHz Treble +/-15dB @ 7kHz shelving Deep +
Dimensions | (mm) (WxDxH): 410 x 330 x 480 / 540 x 390 x 335
Weight | 20 kg / 22kg
What We Think
PLUS | Two good quality and well priced new combos from Ashdown. The Vintage 12 is elevated to something really special once you add in the Apptek functionality. The MAG C112 is a flexible all rounder with a great preamp
MINUS | No XLR out on the MAG C112. No Android platform apps yet for the AppTek function. Both a little uninspiring to look at
OVERALL | Ashdown’s keen quality control means the Vintage 12 is a real bargain. The MAG C112 is also great value and although no bigger than the Vintage 12, would make a great one-stop amp for nearly any situation – gigs, rehearsals, studio or practice