Review: Hartke HD50 Combo Amp

One of the biggest names in bass amplification, Hartke has long had a singular concept regarding amp and speaker engineering, best exemplified by its longtime association with aluminum-coned speakers.
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One of the biggest names in bass amplification, Hartke has long had a singular concept regarding amp and speaker engineering, best exemplified by its longtime association with aluminum-coned speakers. Early on, players gravitated toward the design’s aggressive high-end response and punch—even Jaco Pastorius was an early adopter toward the end of his life. Several years ago, Hartke introduced a new speaker design, called HyDrive. In essence, a HyDrive speaker combines aluminum and paper in the cone, with paper surrounding the visible aluminum central portion. Coupled with a neodymium magnet, Hartke asserts that the HyDrive design combines the warmth and roundness of paper with the punch and attack of aluminum. The technology can be found in several models, but here Hartke has nestled it into an inexpensive 50-watt combo. Low-price combos aren’t the sexiest pieces of gear, perhaps, but they are a must-have for beginners and students, as well as pros looking for a super-portable option on low-volume gigs.

The HD50 looked fantastic for something so inexpensive. Manufacturers don’t endow their low-end products with a ton of features and aesthetic luxury, but the Hartke is certainly among the more handsome combos in its class. Its perforated steel grille, textured vinyl covering, and no-nonsense control panel convey an upmarket vibe. It’s not all for looks, though; the Hartke’s construction is also impressive. Its steel corners should aid durability, and each knob, switch, and jack is rugged and well installed. Personally, if a combo has a top-mounted control panel, I’d prefer it in the front section of the cabinet, but this is a design challenge due to the interior interaction of the amp chassis and the cabinet airspace. Either way, I appreciated the HD50’s clean lettering and simple, no-frills layout.

The Hartke includes a couple of must-have features for a combo, including stereo jacks for input from an external audio source for playalong (or playback on a gig during a break) and headphones. One feature that’s gone missing from the HD-series combos versus is the “Kickback” angled rear baffle, which allowed players to point the speaker of some earlier Hartke products up toward their ear for better audibility in small rooms.

SMALL & SOLID

Needless to say, the dimunitive 1x10 HD50 is super portable. It’s not as light as one might think—it’s pretty dense—but it’s certainly not a real burden to schlep, and the density adds to a palpable feeling of seriousness. I tested the combo with a cross-section of basses, including a Fender Precision, Moollon J Classic V, a Citron AE5 Swallow, and a Fodera NYC 5-string. The Hartke excelled at making the basses loud enough to practice and play in small ensembles. It did nothing to detract from each instrument’s tone, and the built-in limiter tamed things when I pushed it too hard. It consistently avoided over-extruding the speakers, clipping, and other small-amp nastiness. The tone controls did what I expected, although I was pleased enough with the flat sound that I barely made use of them. The playalong input is a useful practice companion—I liked combining it with my iPhone’s metronome app and ’shedding without the distraction of my more typical computer-based setup.

The HD50’s basic tone is strong in the low mids and slightly subdued in the highs, at least as compared to a cabinet with a separate high-frequency driver. It does not sound at all cheap, especially when you ask too much of it. I wouldn’t hesitate to use the amp on quiet gigs and rehearsals. Whether you’re a beginner or an experienced player who needs a super-portable combo, the $200 HD50 is about as good a deal as you’re going to find.

SPECIFICATIONS

HARTKE

HD50
Street $200
Pros Strong sound that punches beyond its weight class
Cons “Kickback” cabinet design would be a welcome addition
Bottom line As good a value as there is for a low-cost combo.

SPECS

Power rating 50 watts
Tone controls BASS, MID, TREBLE
Inputs ¼" instrument, ⅛" stereo aux
XLR DI output None
Power amp topology Class AB
Power supply Linear
Output jacks One ¼" stereo headphone
Speaker 10" Hartke HyDrive
Weight 33 lbs

Made in China
Contacthartke.com

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