WARWICK HELLBORG PREAMP
($3,499; WWW.WARWICKBASS.COM )
When Warwick approached me with their new preamp, the Hellborg, the first words out of my mouth were, “yeah, the Bass Player magazine guys are a few offices down to the left.” Sure, it can be argued that any musical gear is relevant enough to entertain the option of reviewing for EQ—after all, musicians are our audience, and last I checked musicians tended to be into musical instruments. But it’s not like we’re reviewing a new snare drum or Strat this issue. Then they explained to me that, while the Hellborg is perfectly at home on stage, the pre is more of a high-end bass signal processor, tailormade to emulate the warm, enveloping sound legendary bassist Jonas Hellborg achieved by tracking direct into vintage Neve desks. Right about then was when I noticed the Neutrik combo input jack, the –20dB pad, the switchable EQ section, the DI XLR out, and the DI output selector (pre EQ/pre effect, post EQ/pre effect, post EQ/post effect). Aha! I get it now. . . .
Before we go any further, I have to point out that the Hellborg is not for hobbyists. If you are not primarily a (serious) bassist and obsessive about your tone, you’re probably better off just getting a decent direct box and putting your shekels towards a more multi-purpose component to your studio, like some decent converters . . . or a Neumann U87. At an MSRP of $3,499, the Hellborg is a helluva commitment, but one well worth the price of admission if you are deadly serious about your bass tone.
What makes the Hellborg so dope? Transformers – namely one that couples the amp’s input to the first gain stage. Also, the EQ section is one of the most musical you’re likely to find. Using coilbased inductive EQ (just like an old Neve) and Baxandall shelving filters on the Bass and Treble controls spells only good things for your ears. Couple this kind of high-def design with a wide range of control (the Lo Mid EQ is selectable between 110, 300, and 800Hz while the Hi Mid EQ is selectable between 1.5, 3, and 5kHz, both with ±15dB range), and you have quite a versatile, charmingly boutique, package.
It should also be noted that the effects loop is of particular interest to recording bassists: the +4/–0dB pad feature on the effects send is a welcomed feature, effectively doing away with your gain-staging nightmares.
Highly recommended for bass tone enthusiasts; not recommended for pedestrians.
GENZ BENZ STL 3.0-8T
($879; WWW.GENZBENZ.COM )
Equally suited for bedroom warriors and small home studio geeks that want to get a good amp signal but don’t want to haul in an Ampeg 8x10, the Genz Benz STL 3.0-8T (they only sent us the 1x8 combo, but there are many other cab pairings in their Shuttle series, as well as a 12AX7 tube head version called the STL 6.0) is an incredibly handy, downright sweetsounding rig that’s great for recording buttery bass lines late at night without waking your neighbors.
While the space-efficient neodymium cab is lighter than most housecats and likely to be called “cute” by your grandma, make no mistake— it packs a serious punch for its size. The ported cabinet, while überportable, doesn’t lack low-end balls, and can deliver more volume than you would expect.
As much of a feat of engineering the dainty cab may be, I was most impressed by the feature-rich Shuttle head. The three-band EQ (with semiparametric mids) and switchable voicing filters—L.F. Boost, Mid Scoop, and H.F. Attack—equally allow for a quick dialing in of a useable tone or deep, geeky tweaking. Going around back, you’ll find an effects loop, a tuner out, a headphone jack, and a direct out that, on the rough demo tracks I laid down for Nero Order’s upcoming album, The Tower, sounded clean and pristine.
It would be easy to take one look at Genz Benz STL 3.0-8T and write it off as being a simple practice amp that no self-respecting bassist would ever drag into the studio, but then again it’s always easy to make a foolish assumption. For my two cents, this bad little 300-watt bastard means business. It is not without its flaws; I do have to wonder why there are no input pads, but no piece of gear is perfect. The bang is big, my friends. I suggest you check one out if you get a chance.