Germany’s Warwick makes a huge line of basses, from its bargain-basement Rock Bass line to its exorbitantly priced custom-shop models, whose slew of options are only as limited as the ideas of a willing (and wealthy) customer. The basses are a little polarizing, though, in that they tend to employ a consistent blend of aesthetic and functional design ideas—like huge brass frets and chunky neck profiles—that garner as much derision as praise. Prior to the arrival of mercurial bass icon Jonas Hellborg to the team, Warwick amps enjoyed a less polarizing reputation: Most players were united in their general disregard. But Hellborg’s arrival signaled a seismic shift in the quality and forethought Warwick brought to its amps. His involvement went far beyond the PR-driven artist deals touted by many manufacturers; instead, Hellborg (a tone-obsessed technical savant in his own right) set up a lab on the Warwick campus, moved into a house down the street, and got down to the business of building serious amplifiers for serious players. The first result of the collaboration was the Hellborg Series of preamps, power amps, and cabinets. The Hellborg Series demonstrated boldly that his uncompromising musical concept could translate to gear, and the resulting product continues to be one of the most impressive rigs out there, especially if precision, transparency, and nuanced texture are a player’s priority.
While the Hellborg Series made a splash, the prices and weights put the gear in rarefied territory for the average Joe or Jane. Not to mention, the technology was out of step with the overwhelming trend in bass amps toward light weight, achieved through the use of efficient Class D power amplifiers and switch-mode power supplies (SMPS). Heeding the market demand and turned on by the challenge to solve some of lightweight amps’ intrinsic shortcomings, Hellborg next focused on making a world-beating Class D/SMPS head. The resulting amp, the LWA 1000, wowed me when I reviewed it in BP’s October ’14 issue. Not only did it deliver stout, tuneful tone, it did so in a sexy package that boasted two discrete parallel channels for cats who double on bass and synth, bass and upright, fretted and fretless, and more.
The LWA 1000, while a real stunner, was perhaps overkill for players who would have happily traded the two-channel functionality for a smaller size and weight. Warwick’s response is the LWA 500, which is essentially like half an LWA 1000. It utilizes a much smaller chassis, offers half the output power, and barely tips the scales at a little over two pounds. Its footprint and specs put it square in the middle for contention in a crowded field of similarly appointed lightweight heads.
LITTLE BIG AMP
Affectionately dubbed the “little big amp” around Warwick, the LWA 500 is indeed little. Its diminutive size doesn’t prevent it from hosting the whole gamut of de rigeur features in a do-it-all bass head, though. In addition to the 4-band EQ, compression, gain, and volume knobs, the LWA offers aux and headphone jacks for practice, a mute switch, and signal-indicating LEDs for the mute, input, compressor, and output clip. Around back, there’s my favorite all-time jack (you know you’re a nerd when you get excited about jacks, but I digress)—the Neutrik Combo—as well as q" jacks for the effect loop and tuner/line out. There’s also a full-featured DI onboard. International use is no sweat, either, thanks to the voltage flexibility inherent to a SMPS.
Onstage and in rehearsal, the LWA 500’s design proved solid and well thought out. The recessed front panel prevents knob damage if the amp is dropped, and while I’d prefer to see higher-quality metal jacks and knobs, the LWA’s components should be durable enough for average use. The LWA 500 doesn’t have the same aesthetic sex appeal as its big brother, though. Whereas the wood-sided LWA 1000 had a sort of serious-studio outboard look, the LWA 500’s aesthetic seems more squarely aimed at a flashier crowd. This is especially obvious when its turned on; there’s some bluish LEDs that garishly illuminate the front panel. It’s great on a dark stage, but perhaps a bit blingy for some.
I’ve spent a lot of time with the LWA 1000—it essentially lives full-time in a rehearsal studio I work in, so I’m familiar with its sonic personality. The LWA 500 is almost exactly the same, although it perhaps offers just a smidge more sweetness, especially at mid to low volumes where the difference in output power is less immediately obvious. That personality is basically notable for its absence of personality. The phrase “transparent” gets bandied about often, and it’s essentially pointless, given the innumerable other variables that go into the sound of an amp in a room. That said, the LWA 500 has many of the hallmark qualities of amps that earn that moniker. Its midrange is uncongested and well textured. Its lows are pliant but well supported, with the kind of transient authority that comes from a well regulated and designed power supply. Its highs are neither shrill nor subdued. I could get the amp to run out of breath—especially with the unrelenting low-frequency content of my Moog Sub 37 synth— but on the average gig, I never got the impression that the amp was beginning to sweat to any appreciable degree. The EQ is especially well voiced and usable throughout most of its range, with smartly considered bandwidths for the notch filters and the appropriately sloped shelves on the bass and treble side. The output from the LWA’s DI is clean and uneventful; it doesn’t have the alluring color of some transformer-based designs, but it gets the job done without unwanted noise or distortion. The compressor, too, while not a major vibe enhancer, does an excellent job of adding a bit of squish and control when needed.
The LWA 500 is an excellent amp that offers all the appropriate bells and whistles without any extraneous and unnecessary visual or sonic noise. It’s stereotypically German in that way. Well made and carefully engineered, at its price the LWA 500 is one of the best options available in its category.
Pros Well-engineered design with a good feature set; nails the so-called “transparent” tone; stout power supply
Cons Some components are slightly chintzy
Bottom line Does what it claims to do without fuss. Delivers hi-fi tone with enough volume and headroom to cover most gigs.
Power rating 500 watts into minimum 4Ω; 250 watts into 8Ω Input impedance 1MΩ
Tone controls bass: ±12dB @ 100Hz; low mid: ±12dB @ 800Hz; hi mid: ±12dB @ 3kHz; treble: ±12dB @ 10kHz XLR DI output pre/post and ground lift switch
Power amp topology Class D
Power supply Switch-mode
Input jacks ¼" instrument, ¼" aux
Output jacks One Neutrik combo speaker; ¼" line out; ¼" tuner out
Effect loop ¼" send and return with dry/ wet mix knob
Weight 2.4 lbs
Made in Germany