The German knack for engineering is well known. Without wading too deeply into cultural stereotypes, there are good reasons so much prestige is attached to German brands like BMW, Leica, and Krups. The TecAmp Puma 1000 head and Virtue cabinet should elevate TecAmp to similar status, at least among bass players. Each is exceptionally clever and stuffed with useful features, yet it’s also musical, soulful, and ultimately inspiring.
The man behind TecAmp, Thomas Eich, is a bass player. He started the company in 1986, initially under the Tech-Bassline brand. Unhappy with the period’s bass cabinets, his first products were cabs that he thought better captured the sound he sought. By 1990, he had released his first amp. In 2000, the company released the industry’s first neodymium-speaker-loaded cabinet. By 2007, the name was changed to TecAmp, and the Puma line of lightweight heads was born. Each features a Class D power amp and switched-mode-power-supply (SMPS) to achieve its impressive power-to-weight ratio.
In the dozens of bass amps I’ve reviewed over the years, the lack of some key feature seemed inevitable; I’d often scratch my head at the seemingly pointless exclusion of a mute switch, input pad, or tuner output. The Puma packs into its small chassis nearly every feature imaginable in a bass amp. Remarkably, it accomplishes the feat without cluttering the front panel to the point of incomprehensibility. The controls are sensibly laid out and well labeled.
The Puma’s preamp is fairly straightforward. A gain knob governs the input, and it’s accompanied by a –10dB pad switch for high-output basses. Working left-to-right, next up is the Puma’s clever taste knob. When set at 12 o’clock, it has no effect on the amp’s tone. Rolled counterclockwise toward dry, a filter subtly rolls off low frequencies and boosts the midrange. Spun the other direction toward rich, the high-end gets softer and less clicky. I love these one-knob EQ contours on heads, especially when they’re geared more toward midrange emphasis and treble reduction, as that’s a stylistically more useful tone these days than the scooped-mids/hyped-treble days of yore.
The TecAmp’s EQ is a basic but effective affair. Shelving lo and hi filters bracket a pair of peaking midrange filters. The lo filter has a 70Hz cutoff, arguably on the slightly high side, but then I discovered the bass boost button, with its 12dB of boost at 30Hz, and realized the voicing was a thoughtful choice. The Puma also has a hi boost, which adds 12dB at 10kHz, providing a shimmery sheen for brighter styles.
The Puma 1000 has two tricks up its sleeve to manage gain staging and transient response. First, there’s a smooth-sounding compressor. The one-knob-job does the trick, enhancing the attack and immediacy of propulsive playing. It’s accompanied by an attack time switch, which controls how quickly the compressor latches onto the signal. The other basic trick for good tone is the inclusion of a master volume and an input clip light. This allows a player to properly use the gain control to maximize headroom and raise the signal-to-noise ratio, leaving the overall volume up to the master knob.
The Puma is jam-packed with extra goodies. It has an effects loop with a mix control, a tuner output, a ¼" jack for a footswitch that can be used with the mute function or the compressor, ⅛" jacks for headphones and an external audio input, and an xlr DI output with a pre/post switch. The Puma’s other integral quality is its stereo power amp. Rare on a head of this size, the Puma houses two 500-watt power amps that can be used separately or bridged to deliver 1,000 watts into a single cabinet. Each channel gets its own rear-panel volume control, and channel b includes a switch that engages a lowpass filter at 200Hz. This clever little bi-amping trick offers the ability to dedicate a cabinet as a subwoofer—a quick recipe for truly big tone. (It’s also the perfect source to drive TecAmp’s Pleasure Board, a tactile transducer that requires a powerful low-frequency output to operate.)
The Puma’s basic sonic personality, with all the tone-shaping controls set flat, is dry, clean, and powerful. Bridged or not, the amp has ample energy in reserve—it never felt like it broke a sweat, even when I was really pushing it hard. Thankfully, the taste filter substantially funkifies the overall clean presentation of the Puma’s sound, adding color and warmth as it’s turned in the rich direction. The amp has a pleasant if slightly shy midrange, sizzling highs, and tight and controlled lows. The midrange shyness is easily corrected with a mild boost of the lo mid control, but I wouldn’t describe the Puma as having a particularly colorful personality. That buzzword “hi-fi” gets tossed around a lot, but it immediately sprung to mind when I spent time with the Puma. It has seemingly limitless power on tap, excellent design, and thoughtfully voiced tone sculpting. The Puma delivers its power and feature set in a laughably lightweight package. (It’s always remarkable when I can slip a head this full-on into my gig bag.) If you’ve got the money, and you’re not religious about your distaste for Class D/SMPS amps, the TecAmp should be one of the first heads you check out.
Off the bat, let’s get this out of the way: The Virtue cabinet is complicated. Usually a speaker cabinet is the pleasantly simple part of a bass rig, but the Virtue rivals some bass heads for head-scratchery. There’s a good reason for the complexity, though. Designed in tandem with L.A. session ace Sekou Bunch, the Virtue is unique in its design, and realizing its special mission requires more than the typical plug-and-play format.
The Virtue can operate as a single 2x12 + 2x10 cabinet, or as either a 2x12 or 2x10 on its own. It couples each configuration with three (!) tweeters of separate design, each with its own 3-way rocker switch to govern its output. TecAmp did what it could to mitigate the design’s switching complexity, but it still takes a think, especially in the tweeter department. Fortunately, the ceramic-driver-equipped cab sounds fantastic: huge in the all setting, slightly scooped and quick in the 2x10 format, and a hair louder and more midrange-y with the 2x12’s soloed. As one would expect, the all setting presents a 4Ω load to an amp, while either of the half-cab settings operate at 8Ω. I wish there were a way to use the split-cab option with the Puma’s stereo output. Instead, the rear-mounted jack-plate features two Speakon jacks wired in parallel.
Each tweeter adds a particular quality to the cab’s overall presentation that’s difficult to convey, especially given that the full-up labels on each switch are soft (4" paper-cone tweeter), hard (neodymium), and bright (ferroelectrical). Overall, the tweeters combine to offer different flavors of high-frequency response, from bright and sizzling, to more focused and subdued. There are a multitude of great tones in this cabinet, and it’s capable of ridiculous volumes. In fact, I’m not aware of another bass cabinet that offers quite so much in one package. On top of the extravagant speaker complement, there’s a nifty plate that mates with the base of the Puma to prevent slippage, and a stress-relief post built into one of the side-mounted handles.
The Virtue is heavy and relatively expensive, sure, but it’s also genuinely unique. Like its cousin the Puma 1000, it’s a precise tool that puts the onus on the player to exploit its best qualities to achieve great tone. It could be argued that when either the 2x10 or 2x12 is used alone, the format doesn’t make much sense—why lug a cabinet that’s twice as big as you need? But then again, the flexibility to accommodate different stages, rooms, and situations may be worth the extra effort.
Pros Incredible flexibility; huge power; precise tone
Pros Perhaps the most flexible bass cab in the world; excellent tone
Cons Flexibility in a bass cab comes at the cost of complexity
PUMA 1000 HEAD
Power rating Stereo, 500 watts rms into minimum 2Ω; bridged, 1,000 watts rms into 4Ω
Input impedance 1MΩ
Tone controls lo: ±12dB @ 70Hz; lomid: ±12dB @ 250Hz; hi-mid: ±12dB @ 800Hz; hi: ±15dB @ 5kHz
Boost buttons bass: +12dB @ 30Hz; hi: +12dB @ 10kHz
XLR DI output pre/post switch and capacitor coupling for phantom-power protection
Power amp topology Class D
Output jacks Two Neutrik Speakon
Weight 4.4 lbs
Made in Germany
Configuration 2x12 + 4x10
Full-range speakers Custom ceramic 10" and 12" drivers
Tweeters TecAmp NTW1 neodymium tweeter, TecAmp NTM2 4" driver, TecAmp NTF1 ferroelectrical tweeter
Impedance 4Ω or 8Ω
Frequency response 32Hz–19kHz
Power rating 1,200 watts in full mode
Sensitivity 102dB SPL @ 1W/1M
Weight 70.5 lbs
Made in Germany