When we did our round-up of ultra-lightweight heads back in the September ’07 issue, the Markbass F1 was perhaps my favorite performer. It wasn’t the lightest or smallest of the group (although it’s definitely light and small), but it was the sweetest and loudest sounding. Since then, Markbass has further capitalized on the excellent design with the F500, a head that’s essentially a souped-up F1. The changes are in direct response to customers’ most frequent requests: semi-parametric mids, a level control and pre/post switch for the XLR output, and a mute switch (yes!). I used the F1 a lot on gigs, mostly with Markbass’s Traveler 121H cabinet, a 1x12 whose big tone belies its small size. Now, Markbass has added another surprisingly big-sounding cabinet to its arsenal, and it’s well matched with the F500: the NY 604 4x6, which Markbass says has become its top-selling cabinet.
The F500 is small and densely packed. It’s just about the perfect size for slipping into the front pocket of a gig bag. One compromise with the design, particularly given the head’s long list of features, is that the front-panel is a bit cluttered. I like Markbass’s tapered plastic knobs, but their implementation could be improved in the concentric format of the EQ section. I’d like to see a clearer indicator marking for the outer frequency ring and a center detent for the inner level knob. I’m happy that Markbass included a MUTE function, but would love to also see a light that indicates status.
The F500 felt rugged. The 2mm-thick aluminum chassis seemed substantial and the head’s tight assembly imparts a no-nonsense impression. Popping open the top, I initially marveled at the sheer density of the interior construction. Surface-mount technology, which allows for incredible precision and reduced size in circuit board design, makes for one tightly packed interior. Also helpful is the F500’s Class D power amp topology, which reduces the need for bulky heatsinking, and swithmode power supply, which eliminates the traditional chunky power transformer of more conventional linear designs.
The F500’s preamp is pretty easy to wrap your head around. Two broad-spectrum bands of semi-parametric EQ enhance the LOW and HIGH filters at the extreme ends of the spectrum. The mid-scooping VPF filter is good for instant slap or clacky rock tones, and the VLE control cuts highs and appreciably warms up the signal. The F500 includes a plethora of helpful features, like a buffered effect loop, TUNER OUT, and balanced LINE OUT with accompanying pre/post switch and ground lift. Speakon jacks handle output duties.
As I noted in my review of the F1, which shares the same basic preamp and power amp design as the F500, the tone of these amps is best defined by their lush and colorful midrange, intense and immediate punch and dynamic sensitivity, and capacity for loud volumes. It’s the F500’s ability to sound both smooth and natural while not being at all slow in transient response that is perhaps it’s most beguiling quality. It’s a versatile head capable of a big variety of sounds, but its strong midrange made it especially nice for smooth fingerstyle. It’s not particularly potent in the low registers; there’s not that allencompassing pillow of boom that some heads possess, and that some crave. But it’s dense harmonic content in the low-mids and beyond makes it an excellent choice for articulate techniques. The tone filtering is robust, and it is indeed an upgrade over the relatively simple F1. The move to a semi-parametric midrange immediately makes the F500 a must-see for upright players, who tend to like their heads small and equipped with EQ capable of notching out unpleasant resonances or feedback.
The F500 is one of the best heads out there for a working player that needs something portable that doesn’t compromise volume and tone. Its size, robust feature-set, and musical tone make it among the best of the lightweight-amp breed.
Many bassists are prejudiced against smalldriver- equipped cabinets, but in the right design, they can be shockingly loud and responsive in the low registers. The 604 pairs four 6" B&C neodymium drivers with a horn in a dense and tightly packed box. Though the drivers are neo, the cabinet is not as light as a similarly sized 1x12, perhaps the most typical configuration in this size category.
The 604’s design and construction are top-notch. The poplar-ply cabinetry is extensively screwed and glued to prevent undesirable resonance and the internal bracing is solid. The handsome grille was solidly attached to the cab’s front baffle and stood off with vibration-reducing rubber bushings. As a frequent one-tripper to a gig, I love Markbass’s thoughtful design, placing the lone handle on the top, rather than sidemounted handles that require a two-handed lift. I also love that the L-Pad knob is topmounted, which prevents having to blindly grope behind the cabinet to control highfrequency output.
NY 604 SOUND
It’d be easy to naively look at the 604’s small drivers and expect puny bass response or weak volume output. Not so! The 604 was one of the warmer, more bass-heavy cabs I’ve encountered of such diminutive stature. It’s not at all sparkly and shiny—in fact, if you like slicing treble sizzle, you may find yourself boosting it at the amp a touch to make up for the cab’s warm and wooly personality. It was, like the F500, blessed with a gorgeous and well textured midrange, so treble-attenuated fingerstylists should take note. The 604 also had very fast transient response and lock-step punchiness with uptempo styles. It also had no problem with the B string of a few active-preampequipped 5’ers. It’s 600-watt power handling is admirable for the size, although its 8Ω impedance means you’ll likely want to pair it with another cab to extract maximum output from your head.
Just like the F500, the 604 was an excellent around-town cab. The two together make for one of the more formidable smallformat rigs on the market. The 604 is a bit heavier than you might think, especially in these days of silly-light neo cabs. Nevertheless, like the F500, it’s extremely portable. Slip the head in your gig bag, grab the cab with one hand and your music stand with the other, and you’ll be ready for just about anything.
Pros Delicious midrange response; impressive volume; excellent portability
Cons Concentric knobs are a little tough to use accurately
Markbass NY 604
Pros Bountiful booty and punchy from a small cabinet
Cons Not for treble lovers
Input impedance 500kΩ
Power output 300 watts @ 8Ω; 500 watts @ 4Ω
Tone controls LOW: ±16dB @ 40Hz; MID LOW: ±16dB @ 100–800Hz; MID HIGH: ±16dB @ 700Hz–6kHz; HIGH: ±16dB @ 10kHz; VPF (variable pre-shape filter), EQ contour @ ±80Hz center frequency; VLE (vintage loudspeaker emulator), variable cut @ 250Hz–20kHz
Power amp topology Class D
Power supply Switchmode
DI output level, pre/post switch, ground lift
Weight 4.6 lbs
Drivers 4x6" custom-designed B&C neodymium
Tweeter 1" compression driver
Power handling 600 watts RMS
Frequency Response 45Hz–18kHz
Weight 33 lbs
Made in Italy
Warranty 2 years