One of the cool byproducts of the industry-wide move toward lightweight Class D power amps with switchmode power supplies (SMPS) is the emergence of powered cabinets as a viable alternative to the traditional head-plus-cabinet rig. As high-output amps get smaller and lighter while running cooler, integrating them into a cabinet is easier than ever before, opening up a new product category that allows for intriguing new signal chains. Personally, I’ve been using a powered Wayne Jones 2x10 on a lot of recent gigs, and among its many charms is the way it opens up my options for preamps. As a studio owner, I’m blessed to have a few ultra-high-end preamps and channel strips from manufacturers like Neve, Millenia, and Tube Tech. Perhaps it’s the more critical need for fidelity, or recording engineers’ deeper (and geekier) knowledge of circuit design, but top-shelf recording equipment is often made with a cost-no-object attention to detail and quality. Being able to pair all this rarefied gear with a hi-fi powered cab is the ultimate in bass luxury.
That said, my studio preamps are expensive. For example, I love my Tube Tech MEC-1A, but at about $5,000 retail, it’s the last thing I can justify taking to a Tuesday-night jam session. Still, my special respect for studio-quality gear keeps me hungry for less terrifying options to take out on gigs. That’s why I was excited to receive the Bassics BPA-1. Its designer, Malcolm Toft, is one of a handful of true icons in recording engineering. His engineering credits are no joke (you may be familiar with one in particular, a little number called “Hey Jude” from some English band)—but he’s better known for his contributions to recording technology. As an engineer at London’s Trident Studios, Toft decided to tackle the design and construction of his own recording console that met all the studio’s requirements when it moved from 16- to 24-track in the early ’70s. The resulting console, the Trident A Range, is among the most coveted in recording, right up there with legendary designs from Neve, API, and SSL. Since those days, Toft has founded a few other companies dedicated to his seminal designs, including Toft Audio and Ocean Audio. Given his unimpeachable resumé, I was thrilled to see that his new venture, Bassics, is entirely dedicated to our instrument. We’re lucky!
KEEP IT BASIC
The company’s first product, the BPA-1 reviewed here, is a floor preamp that is usable as the front end to a power amp in a live rig or as a studio unit with a balanced direct output. It offers a good deal of flexibility, with two switchable inputs for dual-instrument use, three bands of EQ, both pre-and post-EQ XLR outputs, a compressor, and a mute switch.
For the most part, the BPA-1 is ruggedly built. Given it’s designed for the sticky hellscape that is the stage floor, it ought to be. The robust wedge-shaped case felt substantial, as did the jacks and switches. The pots, however, wiggled a bit more than I would like; it’s hard to say whether this would prove problematic during long-term use. Peeking inside revealed a neatly laid-out printed circuit board utilizing through-hole parts. Most of the unit’s functionality comes courtesy of circuits utilizing the TLO74 JFET-input op-amp, an extremely common IC used in audio for its low noise, good bandwidth, and fast slew rate. The look inside also revealed that the BPA-1’s balanced outputs are op-amp driven, not transformer-balanced. Some audio nuts prefer transformers for their slight coloration, while others think op-amp-balancing provides the most hi-fi signal. Indeed, the BPA-1’s balanced outputs sounded crystal-clear and transparent throughout testing.
The BPA-1 is quite flexible, considering its relatively small size. I really dug the two 1/4" inputs, since I often double on bass and synth on gigs. That I could separately adjust the level of input 2 added even more flexibility, although I was disappointed that switching between the inputs is done via a small pushbutton on the front panel. Given all the BPA-1’s footswitchable functions, neglecting to make the inputs footswitchable feels like an oversight. If it’s a matter of space, I’d happily replace the eq bypass function, for example. Perhaps you’ll see things differently.
Each of the BPA-1’s three EQ bands can be activated via footswitch, and each band is colorfully backlit when on for quick ID of active bands. As mentioned above, the entire EQ circuit can also be bypassed by footswitch. The EQ is precise and musical, with even substantial cuts and boosts yielding good tone. The frequency ranges are well chosen, although I’d personally like to see the high bass range (confusingly called upper bass on the switch label) extend further than 3kHz, to add more sheen and sizzle. The single-knob VCA compressor works great. The ratio and attack/release times are preset for bass, while the knob controls threshold and any necessary makeup gain. Associated with the compressor—and the input and output controls—is an LED-based multi-segment meter to indicate gain and ensure you have good gain staging through the preamp.
I tried the Bassics with a few PA-style power amps, as well as powered cabs from Wayne Jones and Bergantino. I also used it to record direct to hard drive in my studio. The results were stellar. It had a natural and thick sound, with good low-end response and well-textured, appealing mids. The compressor was good at taming transient peaks at subtle settings, which is how I tend to use compressors. The flexibility to bring individual EQ bands (or the entire circuit) in and out meant I could substantially alter my tone with ease. Overall, the relatively inexpensive BPA-1 has some of the classy vibe of my high-end gear, and its excellent form factor and versatility make it a truly useful front end for a variety of environments. Definitely worth a closer look.
Pros Versatile, particularly the EQ; musical and organic tone
Cons Pots feel a bit too wiggly; would prefer footswitchable input selectivity
Bottom line A top-flight floor-mounted preamp from one of the true icons of audio gear.
Preamp topology Solid-state
Input impedance Switchable, 500kΩ–2MΩ
Inputs Two ¼ " (instrument)
Outputs Pre/post q" and XLR, ¼ " FX SEND/TUNER, ¼ " main output
Tone controls LOW BASS ±15dB @ 45Hz– 250Hz; mid bass ±15dB @ 150Hz–800Hz; HIGH BASS ±15dB @ 500Hz–2kHz
Weight 6.5 lbs
Made in United Kingdom