Marco De Virgiliis knows a thing or two
about bass tone. Along with his company
Markbass, he has released some of the
most well-regarded bass amplifiers in the world
for players who demand a warm, responsive
sound from a portable package. The Little
Mark series of pint-sized, low-end powerhouses
were an instant hit for the company when
introduced, and are considered to be one of
the de facto standards on which high-wattage,
small-chassis bass amps are judged by.
The recently released Big Bang—a 500-watt, solid-state amp head—represents the
next step in Markbass’ continued pursuit
of providing full, warm, bass tones from a
unit that’s as light and small as possible. To
achieve this, they’ve designed a completely
new digital power amp section and cut as
much fat off the circuitry as feasible. Barely
tipping the scales at a whopping 4 3/4
pounds, the end result is a bass amp that
weighs less than most basses on the market.
Shot in the Dark
Sporting a very smart design, everything on
the Big Bang’s front control panel is laid
out in an easy to use and accessible fashion.
And each control is voiced to have plenty
of effect within its specified range, which is
great considering the challenge of packing
in a lot of knobs and switches on an amp
head of this tiny size.
The input signal is shaped by a quartet
of non-parametric EQ controls—labeled
low, mid low, mid high, and high—with
each knob offering 16 dB of boost or cut.
The Big Bang includes Markbass’ VLE
(Vintage Loudspeaker Emulator) and VPF
(Variable Pre-shape Filter) controls as well,
which are extremely effective in manipulating
the tone—in some cases, even more
than the EQ controls.
Also located on the front panel are the
amp’s master, headphone, and line-out
volume controls, along with jacks for headphones,
an MP3 player, and the optional
footswitch for engaging the VLE and VPF circuits
or muting the amp altogether. Residing
on the unit’s back panel, a series effects loop,
tuner out, speakON and 1/4" jacks, and pre/post EQ switches round out the features of
the loaded, yet portable Big Bang.
While the Big Bang is certainly capable
of driving most cabinets on the market, we
paired it with a Markbass New York 604
cab for this review. Recommended by the
company as an ideal pairing with the amp’s
high power and low weight, the 600-watt,
rear-ported cab is outfitted with four B&C
neodymium 6" drivers and a 1" compression
driver with horn. There’s also an attenuator
control on the top of the cab for pulling
back the highs if they get too excessive.
The New York 604 is pretty light at just a
little over 30 pounds, and its top-mounted
handle makes for easy transport, no matter
what your mode of travel.
Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang
Alternating between a Fender American
Jazz and an American Precision, I found
the Big Bang was easy to setup for a variety
of musical styles. It took just a little bit of
EQ tweaking from the noon positions to
sculpt whatever tone I was going for, and
judicious settings of the VLE and VPF
controls really rounded out and tightened
up the tone even more. The VPF control in
particular was incredibly useful for digging
out mids for slap and pop techniques. Even
at its highest settings, the boosted presence
of the highs was never too grating or harsh,
and the boosted lows, while very full, were
never overbearing on the rest of the sound.
The VLE knob essentially works as a roll-off
control for the highs, and cutting the
high end let me turn the amp up louder for
a fuller, less aggressive sound.
A standout quality of the Big Bang is its
transparency. It allowed the signature aspects
of both basses to shine through with hardly
any coloration, doing a fantastic job of letting
the guttural nature of the P bass punch
through in the midrange and the characteristically
smooth lows of the Jazz to expand and
carry throughout the room. And paired with
the New York 604, which offers an astonishing
amount of subs for such a tiny cab, the
level of detail was even more evident thanks
to the cab’s excellent design and rear porting.
With that said, this cab is meant for smaller
or more intimate gigs, and its speakers can
easily reach their limits when being fed a
lot of volume. For bigger rock shows that
demand more volume, you might want to
consider Markbass’ larger cabs.
Coaxing overdrive from the Big Bang is
another story. It’s possible, but not to any
extreme degree. Even with the gain control
maxed, the amount of grit is pretty light.
Cleanliness and plenty of headroom are
traits that Markbass is known for, and the
Big Bang is no exception. So if you want
any seriously fuzzed out or overdriven
tones, you’ll have to throw your favorite
stompbox into the mix.
Overall, I found the clarity and warmth
of the Big Bang tones to be nothing short
of remarkable. Plucked notes sustained
extremely evenly, and the lows never died out
before the mids and highs stopped ringing.
This amp has an analog quality that coats the
highs and attack—almost as if there’s a post-EQ “warmth” circuit that processes the tone.
There are other digital amps that do this, but
few at this level. Not only does the Big Bang
sound warm and full, it feels and reacts to
playing in a very tube-like manner.
The Big Bang is a perfect example of why
Markbass continues to be an industry leader
when it comes to quality bass amplification
with a diminutive footprint. This is
one seriously cool amp with fantastic tone,
versatility, and a reasonable price to boot.
While the ability to overdrive the preamp
would be a welcome addition, there’s really
not much else to quibble with. The Big
Bang is an excellent choice for the player
who demands great tone with power, definition,