Purchasing musical instruments or pro audio gear online was once a leap of faith, but these days the straight-shooting approach of brands like Carvin has made it commonplace. Founded in 1946 in San Diego, California, Carvin built its reputation on selling its high-quality, American-made products direct to end users.
The company’s latest bass head, the BX500, is a lightweight 500-watt powerhouse priced below $500. Aimed squarely at the working and traveling bassist, the BX500 surprises with nearly noise-free operation and the kind of features usually found on much more expensive amplifiers. In addition to the standalone head, Carvin offers 2x10 and 1x15 combos (the BR510N and BR515N) based around the BX500. To test the head, I paired it with Aguilar GS 212 and Eden 410XLT cabinets, and ran the DIRECT OUTPUT through a Digidesign Pro Tools/Mbox2 Pro rig for laptop recording.
The front panel has all the features I’ve come to expect from a high-quality bass head. All knobs and switches had a solid feel and smooth operation. I certainly appreciated the head’s light weight to and from rehearsals, but it was also cause for concern; with such little mass, it felt as if it could be easily nudged off a table or cabinet. That said, the Carvin’s chassis felt sturdy enough to survive a tumble from atop an amp.
The signal path starts out with a 4-stage Class A preamp loaded with a 12AX7 tube that is defeatable via a switch on the back panel—a nice touch, should the tube go on the fritz. A MUTE switch sends the bass’s signal to the TUNER OUT jack on the rear panel, enabling silent tuning. A handy LED indicator connected to the input brightens up when the level approaching clipping to help get proper gain settings. The CONTOUR knob, akin to a midrange scoop control, proved a quick and easy way to switch between fingerstyle and slap tone settings.
The BX500 offers superior management of midrange frequencies. In addition its CONTOUR mid-scoop knob and nine bands of graphic EQ, the head sports a 2- band parametric midrange control. A GRAPHIC EQ IN switch engages and disengages the graphic EQ (as does the optional FS22 footswitch), adding to the head’s on-the-fly tone tweaking capability. The BX500’s impedance switch allows safe operation down to 2Ω, a boon to any player wishing to run the Carvin through two 4Ω cabinets.
Over a two-month period, I used the BX500 at several rehearsals, weekly songwriting sessions, and on a live recording. With its light weight and small size, the Carvin fit easily into backpacks and gig bags. I found the head’s operation to be completely intuitive, and its ample array of EQ controls made finding my desired tone a breeze. With all the knobs at noon and the 12AX7 disengaged from the preamp, the BX500 had a clean, dry sound with a midrange-forward tone. The head was also plenty loud; I rarely needed to turn the volume past half way. Engaging the tube and dialing in some compression made my basses sound warmer, rounder, and more articulate. With the DRIVE knob cranked and COMPRESSOR maxed, the sound was burly and in-your-face. There was ample power and EQ flexibility to cut through a loud band with de-tuned guitars. But try as I might, I wasn’t able to push the amp into overdrive or distortion.
Throughout testing, the BX500 performed admirably. With its loud, clean, midrange-forward sound, EQ flexibility, full features, and low price, the BX500 earns my recommendation without hesitation. —Michael Ricci
Pros Powerful, full featured, and lightweight; great value
Power 300 watts @ 8Ω, 500 watts @ 4Ω, 500 watts @ 2Ω
Controls Front panel: MUTE switch, ACTIVE/PASSIVE switch, DRIVE, CONTOUR MID-SCOOP, DI LEVEL, BASS, TREBLE, BASS, COMPRESSOR (min: 1:1, max: 3:1), LO MID (with 50–500Hz FREQ control), HI MID (with 200Hz–2kHz FREQ control), GRAPHIC EQ IN switch, 9-band graphic EQ (50Hz–5kHz); back panel: 2Ω/4Ω impedance switch, ground/lift, preamp tube bypass
Jacks Front panel: INPUT; back panel: SPEAKER OUTPUTS (2 combo Speakon), XLR DIRECT OUTPUT, PHONES/TUNER, EFFECTS SEND, EFFECTS RETURN
Dimensions 2.8" x 14" x 9"
Weight 5.8 lbs
Warranty One year limited
Optional accessories FS22 footswitch, BX500RP rack-mount kit