Rightly or wrongly, combos falling into the category of ‘practice amps’ tend to be used in small rehearsal spaces, intimate live settings for acoustic gigs and, of course, for getting a bit of practice. Needless to say, bassists joined at the hip to bombastic drummers, or treading the boards of larger venues, require more powerful setups. However, amps of this stature are a useful addition to any bass player’s arsenal and are often the entry point for bassists cutting their teeth. As Hartke is one of bass amplification’s big names, I was particularly interested in trying the two smaller models from the US company’s new HD combo series. While the range includes more powerful 75w and 150w models, I got to try out the HD25 and HD50, which as their model numbers suggest are 25w and 50w, respectively. Do they cut it? Let’s have a look…
The HD combos all come equipped with Hartke’s patented HyDrive aluminium and paper hybrid speakers, attached to a ceramic magnet. The HD25 houses an 8” speaker, while that of the HD50 is a 10-incher. The top-mounted amp panel features volume, bass, mid and treble controls, a ¼” headphone sockets and a 1/8” aux input, with the amplifiers protected by a handy built-in limiter. (For the record, apart from the obvious difference in size and power output, the HD75 and HD150’s 12” and 15” speakers are backed up by 2” tweeters, a seven-band EQ and, in the HD150’s case, an XLR direct output.) Hartke’s sleek black and silver aspect, perforated black metal grille and moulded top strap handle make for pretty mean looking pieces of kit, with the lightly pimpled black vinyl covering providing the combos with a neat finishing touch that should provide just enough purchase to stop your phone from vibrating its way onto the floor while you’re playing. It’s a no frills set-up, but at these price points, it could be argued that you shouldn’t expect too many.
Placing the combos side by side, the HD25 looks tiny compared to the HD50, itself still reasonably small but possessing just that hint of big-brother cool. Sonically, the HD25 delivers an awful lot of punch for its 24.9 pounds. Its robust tone and surprising output was beyond my initial expectations and, after a few minutes, I became aware of my neighbour’s estate agent showing a potential buyer around his house. Had the diminutive HD25’s relatively big punch just sabotaged a sale? Sure, with the volume cranked up, the 8” speaker was moving like the characters in Roobarb (look it up on YouTube, kids!), and it eventually began to distort with the volume set at 8/10, with the bass EQ turned-up to the max (or ‘reggae’, as I like to call it). For all the many positives, the HD25 still had the slightly hollow sound that you might expect from a combo of its size, and I never quite achieved a tone I was satisfied with. However, should we expect miracles from a tiny combo costing just over £100? Of course not: horses for courses.
Any doubts as to the anti-social qualities of the HD25 were quickly superseded when I plugged into the HD50. The difference between the two combos is huge, with the superior qualities of the 10” HyDrive speaker blowing its smaller sibling out of the water. I first started playing bass back when Noel Edmonds was still socially acceptable – back then, amps of this size weren’t much use beyond your bedroom. Seriously, though, the output of the HD50 is superb, with a warm low end, a tight middle range and the speaker’s aluminum section helping to deliver Hartke’s trademark crisp attack on the top end. It’s all very satisfying and equally impressive. The EQ controls are pleasingly responsive and, in conjunction with the EQ on my bass, I was able to dial in an array of tones to suit the requirements of most genres. The HD50 will comfortably handle a small venue scenario, working on the assumption that John Bonham reincarnate isn’t about to make an appearance on drums.
We are lucky to be living in an age where the market is doing an amazing job of meeting modern bassists’ ever-growing expectations. Hartke have delivered a couple of rock-solid combos at an extremely reasonable price, and both the HD25 and HD50 possess the ability to comfortably handle just about every drop of power placed under their hoods. In my experience, this wasn’t always the case, with many smaller combos of yesteryear sounding like brutal flatulence the moment anyone tried to combine volume with (no pun intended) the bottom end. That’s not the case here, particularly with the HD50, which, for an extra £80, is head and shoulders above the HD25. Both are compact units, so I see little reason to buy the HD25 unless you are on an extremely tight budget or live in a cupboard: even then you’d still get great value. The real bang for your buck, though, is in the HD50. It’s a gem in its class.
Hartke HD25 and HD50
Price HD25 £119.99, HD50 £203.99
Power HD25 25 watts; HD50 50 watts
Speakers HD25 8” hybrid cone driver; HD50 10” ditto
Features Volume, Bass, Mid and Treble controls, 1/4-inch input for active/passive bass guitars, 1/8-inch stereo Aux input allows for stereo line level devices (MP3 players, keyboards), 1/4-inch mono headphone output; built-in limiter
Dimensions HD25 19”x17.5”x13.5”; HD50 20.5”x19.5”x15.5”
Weight HD25 24.9lb/11.3kg; HD50 30.6lb/13.9kg
What We Think
Plus Great tones for this price, useful features
Minus HD25 doesn’t quite stand out enough
Overall Useful pair of combos, of which the HD50 is easily the best
BGM Rating Out Of 10
Build Quality 7
Sound Quality 6
Value For Money 8
Build Quality 7
Sound Quality 8
Value For Money: 9