Review: Trickfish Bullhead 1K Head & SM 112 Cabinet

When I first heard the rumor that seasoned pro Michael Pope was going to debut a new amp company, Trickfish, I was immediately excited at the prospect.
By Jonathan Herrera ,

When I first heard the rumor that seasoned pro Michael Pope was going to debut a new amp company, Trickfish, I was immediately excited at the prospect. Pope is one of the most intelligent players in the game, as deft an acoustic and electric bass player as he is a gear conceptualist. His sterling rep with artists like Chick Corea, David Sanborn, and Al DiMeola has its match in the name he made for himself designing onboard preamps, available most typically in Fodera basses. Pope and his cohort Richard Ruse, himself an experienced pro player, wanted to design an amp system that combined the best attributes of contemporary Class D/SMPS technology with a thoughtfully designed preamp evocative of a mixing-console channel strip. The Bullhead 1K and the BM and SM line of cabinets (see sidebar) are packed with features that reflect the company’s experienced heritage.

The Bullhead 1K sports a Class D/SMPS module (from Danish company Pascal) and is light as a result. It isn’t small by the category’s standards, however. That’s not a big deal, though, and the size allows room for the amp’s excellent front panel; just don’t expect a micro-amp that easily fits in a gig bag. The amp’s construction and componentry was exceptional for the price point (and for a bass amp in general).

The all-aluminum chassis sports a beautifully crafted face-plate with an austere and sophisticated brushed-aluminum aesthetic. Small visual details combine with pleasing coherence, and their harmony with the cabinets’ look underscores the systemic nature of the Trickfish rig. The giant aluminum knobs are a refreshing change from the parts-bin origin of many other manufacturers’ hardware. The knobs’ size is not just for looks, though: It’s an intentional facet of making the Bullhead as gig-friendly as possible.

Popping open the amp revealed skillful electronics assembly and layout. Notably, rather than source cheap operational amplifiers (op-amps) in the preamp, Trickfish utilized a host of top-shelf components from audiophile-approved brands. There’s also what looks like a healthy of amount of power-supply filtration in the form of two unusually massive (for a switchmode power supply) electrolytic capacitors. Blue LEDs indicate the status of each of the user-switchable amp parameters. While there is no mistaking the statuses given the LEDs’ brightness, on a dark stage they were a bit much, and when engaged, the glare made it hard to read the front-panel text.

The Bullhead bears the thoughtful design that I’d expect from a company run by experienced bass players. The healthy amount of I/O, including a line-in and a high-quality stereo headphone jack, an excellent-sounding direct out, an effects loop, and Neutrik combo jacks represent an effectively utilitarian approach to the sort of bonus features on a head that make it broadly useful. The easy-to-grok preamp is another winner. A multi-segment LED meter helped me dial in appropriate gain staging, and the large knobs and nice switches are intuitively placed and inspire confidence. All told, everything on the Trickfish conveyed the high-quality look and feel I’d expect of a piece of top-notch pro audio gear.

Special kudos go to Trickfish for its comprehensive and informative manual. In it, the company does an excellent job explaining the oft-overlooked steps that go into dialing in a solid tone devoid of unwanted distortion and inappropriate gain staging. I also geeked on a few of the unusual frequency centers for the amp’s 4-band EQ. The bass and treble filters are of a shelving design, but their cutoff frequencies are switchable to bolster a bass’ fundamental or add warmth and add sizzle in the heart of the treble register or some air way up top. The head’s two midrange bandpass filters are also of an interesting design. When selected, each frequency center engages a different bandwidth carefully chosen to complement the typical bass timbre. In the case of Fender-style basses, the midrange filters can go a long way toward improving audibility or dialing out hash-y and nasal nastiness.

NOTHING’S FISHY

I tested the Bullhead 1K with a variety of cabinets, including the pair of SM 112’s that accompanied our tester. I also checked out the sonics of the DI in my studio, plugging the output into my Metric Halo ULN-8 interface. I also did a rare (for me) two-bass gig with former Screaming Headless Torsos bass player Steve Jenkins, so I had the rare chance to hear the rig onstage, but from another vantage point.

There is nothing to fault with the amp. It successfully accomplishes each of its design goals. It’s clearly got a tremendous power reserve, and this palpable sense of headroom reinforces the input’s already robust tolerance for wildly swinging dynamic transients. With everything set flat, the Bullhead is well textured, authoritative, and blessed with supple lows, a neutral midrange, and perhaps an ever-so-slightly mellow high register. Whether it was with the superb Trickfish 1x12 cabinets, or with a Bergantino HT-322, an Epifani D.I.S.T. 4x10, or an Ampeg SVT 8x10, the Bullhead proved itself fabulously. It had tremendous acceleration and responsiveness, allowing aggressive slaps and pops to slice through the air with full-throated precision and weight. Like many hi-fi Class D heads, its inherent tone is dry and immediate, but I was pleasantly surprised by the remarkably musical fur that I was able to impart via judicious adjustments to the gain control. I also truly dug the Bullhead’s rich and colorful midrange, made all the more beguiling thanks to the exceptionally well voiced and transparent EQ circuit.

It’s satisfying when your expectations for a product aren’t only met, but exceeded. In an already crowded field of lightweight Class D/SMPS-based amps, the Trickfish stands out for its thoughtful design, handsome aesthetic, and euphonic tone. While it’s not the most portable head out there in terms of size, its class-leading sound makes that irrelevant.

SPECIFICATIONS

TRICKFISH

Bullhead 1K
Street
$1,250
Pros Excellent construction and components; intuitive and thoughtful design; superb power; gorgeous tone
Cons Front-panel blue LEDs a bit too bright and attention-grabbing
Bottom Line One of the best-sounding, most thoughtfully designed Class D/SMPS heads I’ve come across.

SPECS

Power rating 1,000 watts peak @ 8 ohms
Preamp Solid-state
Power amp topology Class D
Power supply Switchmode
Outputs Two Neutrik Combos; XLR balanced line out; ¼" headphone; ¼" tuner
Inputs ¼" instrument; ⅛" stereo line-in
Weight 6.2 lbs

Made in USA
Contact trickfishamps.com

Trickfish also sent along a pair of its SM 112 1x12 cabinets ($750 each). The cabinets are dense and a touch heavy, but that’s reflected in their remarkably stout construction and solid sound. Their build-quality was beautiful. Heavy-duty Tolex ensures durability, a thoughtfully designed topmounted handle is ideally placed for schlepping, and the components and assembly of the jackplate, crossover, and hardware is top-shelf. The robust Baltic birch cabinetry is extensively reinforced, and the custom-spec neodymium driver is well paired to the sweetly musical tweeter. The SM 112’s are as solidly built and expertly designed as the Bullhead 1K, plus they work just as well with other heads.