IN THE BEGINNING, THERE WAS BASS. AND IT WAS LOUD, and it was good.
Regardless of our individual beliefs on the Earth’s creation, we can all agree on a few fundamentals: Bass is a beautiful thing that is meant to be heard; compact, lightweight, high-powered heads are divine; we have been blessed with a bounty of such amp options in recent years.
For the last decade, Italy’s Markbass has been a dominant force in the world of lightweight amplification. In the June issue, we took a look at the company’s slick TTE 500, a vintage-inspired hybrid head designed in collaboration with bassist/producer Randy Jackson that utilizes a tubepacked preamp. [Note: The TTE 500’s power amp is not Class D, as printed in that review; it is Class A/B.] This month we turn our sights to the Big Bang, a compact amp that takes the company’s popular recipe—500 watts, a 4-band EQ, and signature VLE and VPE filters—and adds to it such goodies as front-panel aux in and headphone jacks. To test the Big Bang, we paired it with Markbass New York 151 RJ and New York 604 cabinets.
Even if I weren’t familiar with the Big Bang’s predecessors, the now-discontinued F1 and F500 heads, I’d have an easy go getting the sounds I want out it. Its front-panel clip indicator help when setting the proper input gain, and the four bands of EQ—16db of cut/boost at very handy frequencies—assist in notching out honking midrange frequencies and dialing down the bass in a boomy room. For those unfamiliar with the Markbass VLE and VPF filters, here it is in a nutshell: The VLE (Vintage Loudspeaker Emulator) simulates the sound of a vintage rig by attenuating mid and high frequencies, which are often muted in older speaker cabinets. The VPE (Variable Pre-shape Filter) dials down the low mids to get the scooped sound popular with the slap set. The Big Bang had everything I’ve come to appreciate about the Markbass sound— a quick, dynamic response; ample headroom for any mid-size stage; flexible tone control.
The Big Bang’s front-panel aux in and headphone jacks are definitely welcome additions. Plugging a bass, an iPhone, and headphones into the front panel turns the Big Bang into a mobile practice pad, allowing you to play along with tracks and blend the levels of the two inputs. The 1/8” plastic jacks felt a little on the flimsy side, but held up throughout testing.
Whereas the F1, F500, and Little Mark heads have a single array of knobs, the controls are stacked in two rows on the Big Bang. The color-coding of the controls—yellow for tone, black for volume— helps differentiate the knobs on the packed front panel. But I found the Big Bang’s knob placement to be a bit counterintuitive; with the head sitting on a small cabinet, I had to reach under the line out knob—a control I’d rarely need to adjust— to access the more important gain control. Similarly, the phones level control impeded access to the more critical master and high knobs. Still, I’m sure muscle memory would render this complaint moot after a few more gigs.
The Big Bang, introduced at this year’s Winter NAMM Show, is only now on the eve of wide-scale release, and Markbass has yet to settle on pricing. With both the TTE 500 and the F500 priced around $800, it’s safe to guess the Big Bang will come in around that price point. With its headroom, tone controls, and extra features, the Big Bang is sure to make a lot of noise when it hits. If you’re looking for all that in a lightweight, compact package, the Big Bang is definitely worth serious thought.
POWER RATING 300 watts @ 8Ω, 500 watts @ 4Ω
CONTROLS GAIN , LOW (±16dB @ 40Hz), MID LOW (±16dB @ 360Hz), MID HIGH (±16dB @ 800Hz), HIGH (±16dB @ 10kHz), VLE (Vintage Loudspeaker Emulator, cut @ 250Hz–20kHz), VPE (Variable Pre-shape Filter, cut @ 380Hz)
INPUTS ¼" instrument, r" aux in, ¼" return effect
OUTPUTS Speakon combo jack, ¼" speaker out, XLR line out, r" phones, ¼" send effect
DIMENSIONS 2.6" x 8.9" x 10"
WEIGHT 4.75 lbs
MADE IN Italy