Ampeg’s retro-angled slimline Class D heads have been joined by a new model with extra power and a bit more besides. Review by Gareth Morgan.
We first encountered Ampeg’s re-working, re-modelling and renovation of their revered Portaflex series in August 2011 (Vol 22/11) with the PF-350 head and dapper PF-115He cabinet. The Chinese-made line has recently been expanded, and this month we’re sampling the PF-800.
The number may be bigger but this isn’t just a louder PF-350. Build-wise it’s the same, if slightly bigger, with a black sheet metal chassis 380mm wide, 80mm high and 272mm deep, including handles. At 5.48kg/12lbs and spitting out 800W into 4 ohms of Class D noise, it’s a welcome addition to the high-power/lightweight bass amp club.
On the front panel the -15dB switch has been joined by global mute switch, and the red Peak indicator by an orange Threshold bulb. For their highest power unit, Ampeg have added Compression via a single control and two old-school switches, Ultra Hi (+9dB @ 8kHz) and Ultra lo (+2dB @ 40Hz & -10dB @ 500Hz). The EQ is the basic three-band type with Bass, (+/- 12dB @ 40Hz) and Treble (+15dB and -20dB @ 4kHz). The midrange is pseudo-parametric with a cut/boost dial (20/10dB) and a Frequency control which selects five numbered options: 220Hz, 450Hz, 800Hz, 1.6kHz and 3kHz. There’s also an FX mix control for wet/dry signal blend.
In terms of connectivity, there’s a front panel Audio In (for mP3/CD/iPod playback) and Phones mini jack sockets, back panel FX loop and twin speaker outs (with one of the Speakon variety). The XlR line out now has Pre/Post EQ, 0dB/-40dB pad and Ground/lift provision in switch form and there are Foot Switch (not provided), Power Amp In, Pre Amp out and Tuner out jack sockets. So, lots more mash for your moolah, then.
After hooking the amp up to a PF-210HE cab we soon discovered there’s no secret to getting a good sound; just set all the controls at 12 o’clock and tweak Gain sensibly (and disable the tweeter in the cab). There’s a real natural warmth and a reassuring solidity to the lows, with sweet, clean, natural highs. The 800 will not colour your midrange, so if it’s honky, then flat EQ will sound honky, dark and belligerent on lower strings and clean and musical on the D and G. Engaging Ultra Lo adds a slight fatness while subtly scooping the midrange; bringing in the Hi gives added sheen. The Bass EQ warmly envelopes you like a favourite jumper, and boosting Treble adds a nice freshness without increase in aural flotsam. With the midrange options, boosting 220Hz (Position 1) tightens the bottom and adds a little more impact – especially effective with boosted Bass – while a hike to 450Hz brings in snap and gurgle. Position 3 (800Hz) is gnarlier with a crisp finger-funk sound, and the remaining two effectively spring clean the top end, Position 5 adding more crunch.
In historical terms this is nothing like the original Portaflex, but that’s not the real story; the PF-800 has plenty to offer. An excellent portability-to-weight ratio, a simple and effective EQ and brilliant value for money all stack up to make this little Ampeg package actually rather appealing.