Time To Face The Music!
Enough about the cabs. On the back of the RH450 amp is a Speakon combo jack that lets you use either a quarter-inch or Speakon plug for your speaker cable. I connected the head to the top cab, ran a cable from that cab to the cab on the bottom and started putting the rig through its paces. I quickly decided that you can use the RH450 two ways. If you’re the no-nonsense, don’t-confuse-me-with-thedetails kind of player, you can plug in, turn up the input level, tweak the four bands of EQ and you’re jamming. But most likely, if you’re attracted to the RH450 in the first place, you have a bit of gear-for-gear-sake attitude in you (c’mon… confession time!), and you’ll want to take advantage of what this rig can do.
One of the nicest features on the RH450 is its preset ability. Dial in a sound you like, hold one of the three preset buttons for a couple of seconds—you’re locked in. Imagine a scenario like this. MEM1: flat EQ for your basic sound. MEM2: scooped EQ for slapping. MEM3: tubey grind for driving rock. It’s easy to set up and easy to switch from one to the next with just the tap of a button. Or you could set up for two basses of vastly different character, tonality and output level. Tweak MEM1 for a five-string bass that has a high-gain preamp, then set MEM2 for a passive fretless bass with lower gain. Once you’re in action on stage, just push the Mute button and unplug. Plug in the other bass, pick the appropriate preset and unmute. There you go.
Pushing The “Tubes”
But how do you get that tubey grind for your preset? That’s the TubeTone knob. Even though there are no tubes, you can get the RH450 to do an excellent impersonation. I’ve found that some tube drive pedals for bass lose their bottom as the grind moves to overdrive and on to full-blown distortion. I was pleased to find this isn’t the case for the RH450. TC Electronic describes this feature as “tube attitude,” where you get the sound and feel of both the preamp and power amp sections being pushed by your bass. Happily, the volume doesn’t start screaming when the TubeTone knob goes higher— something I was worried about. Turn up the TubeTone knob and you get both the sound and response of a tube head. It reminded me of pushing my silverface Bassman 50 into distortion, only a lot louder. Before I forget, one of the RH450’s ultra-helpful features is a lighted ring of red dots around each knob that advances as you turn the knob up or down. No squinting at pointers and small numbers on a dark stage; all your settings can be viewed at a glance (except for the Master Volume knob) in any light.
Doing Double Duty
TC Electronic came up with a clever way to create even more adjustability without adding more knobs: a Shift button that gives all the knobs (except the Master) a second function. The four EQ knobs can then move their center frequencies across a broad range. The Bass knob, for example, has a default center of 280Hz, but you can sweep it clear down to 71Hz or as high up as 1120Hz (which is actually into the upper midrange!). With the Shift button off (it lights up when on), each EQ knob can boost up to 15dB or cut a frequency band up to 24dB. The lighted red ring of dots lets you see how much above or below center you’ve adjusted the frequency center in Shift mode (but doesn’t display the exact frequency), and indicates the amount of boost or cut in the normal mode.
In Shift mode, the TubeTone knob becomes the level control for your preset. If you tweak this setting, or the EQ centers, just remember to hold down your preset button again to capture the change into memory. Otherwise it goes away when you change presets (but presets stay in memory when the power goes off).
SprectraComp is, in my opinion, the coolest, most useful feature in Shift mode. Sure, most bass amps have a limiter or compressor of some sort, and most work with just a single knob, but most of these have a natural flaw: they knock down the low notes more than the high notes. This is natural with a singleband compressor that treats all notes at the same threshold. Most simply, low notes have more oomph than high notes and hit the threshold sooner. In contrast, SpectraComp has independent compression for low, mid and high bands. If you slap an E string, the low band kicks in. Pop the G string and the mid or upper bands of compression treat it likewise. For fingerstyle or pick playing, SpectraComp helps even things out nicely. Listening to the RH450’s compressor, I did indeed feel a smoothness to its treatment of note attacks. Heavier doses of compression were audible, but still very useful.
A nice touch is that when SpectraComp level is set (and again, stored in memory), going out of Shift mode provides a visible indicator of compression. Hit a string hard and the ring of red dots around the Gain knob drops down, oozing back up as the note decays, and finally stopping back at the actual gain level you’ve set. I compliment TC Electronic on the finesse it built into this compressor.
But Wait - There’s More!
There’s no way within the length of this article to detail all the thoughtful, quality features that TC Electronics has put into the RH450. After all, this little gem has the option of a remote pedalboard (switches memory, mutes, tuner display), a digital out for going right into a recording rig, an effects loop, and a transformer- balanced DI (with switchable pre/post). But before I’m done here, I must talk about two more features—and then discuss tone, what we’re ultimately after.