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Review: Carol-Ann OD2r

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Whenever I hear there’s another boutique amp builder out there it makes me wonder how, if at all, they’ll be able to bring something new to the table. I mean let’s face it, there are a lot of amp companies building hand-wired tube amps these days, so when I heard I’d be reviewing a recording amp I was skeptically optimistic, and really didn’t have any idea what to expect. If you only read this far, I have to spoil the ending for you…this amp is an absolute monster and took me completely by surprise!

 

The Skinny
The OD2r is a slimmed down version of the larger OD2 amp line (50 and 100 watts) made specifically for recording. It gives you the option of either running a pair of 6V6’s (18 watts) or 6L6’s (30 watts), which either way provides plenty of volume for a club gig or recording environment. The amp comes with a footswitch that uses a standard XLR cable to connect the switch to the amp and provides an amber LED to signify when Channel B is on. I found this a nice feature as you can use any XLR cable if you desire a shorter or longer length. 

In a sea of black Tolex amps the OD2r stands out as both classy and masculine. Clearly designed with impeccable attention to detail, the brown Tolex and basketweave-like grille with gold piping make for a great looking package.

The control panel is black with white lettering and the knobs have white indicator lines making it very simple to read the settings from any angle. I pulled the chassis out of the head cab to get a look at the guts of the amp and was really impressed with the rugged and clean feel of the unit. For an amp of this wattage it was a bit surprising to see such a large transformer, which made me realize that the amp was overbuilt, but that’s a good thing!

Inside the amp, the wiring was neatly laid out and the board and component quality was top-notch. I saw a lot of black goop covering a good amount of the components, which is normally associated with covering up valuable circuit information. In this case it was actually an industrial hot-melt material that is used to insulate sensitive circuit areas from induced environmental noises and mechanical shocks. The covering up of the components and values is just an added bonus. But, I was told that it can be removed with a hot air gun for servicing if necessary.

The layout is simple and obvious. The top row of controls is for Channel A, the clean channel, and offers Treble, Middle and Bass. The lower row is Channel B and adds a Drive knob. Being a master volume amp, you have separate controls for Channel A and Channel B volume, as well as a shared Presence control. Just to the right of the single input jack is the Pre Gain knob that controls how hard the input is driven. I found this to be a good addition, especially since I typically switch between Strats and Les Pauls in the studio. Not only that, but it offers a wealth of tonal options simply by dialing up the amount of pre-gain you want to hit the front end with. It’s like getting a free boost pedal built right into the amp!

 

Most of these features sound fairly similar to many two-channel amps, but that’s where the similarities end. I fired up the amp with the installed 6L6s and ran it into an EV 12" speaker in an open back cab. I was told by Alan Phillips that the OD2r was designed around a flat-response speaker like the EVM-12L or Celestion 80. Since I usually play through Marshall cabs with greenbacks -- V30s or G12H-30s -- it was good that my Mesa MK IV combo had an EV in it.

Channel A
The first guitar I ran through it was my ’03 Gibson Les Paul R8 Historic with Sheptone Tribute PAFs. Right off the bat Channel A jumped out and hit me as being rather unique. The headroom and sparkle was amazing, while not being overly bright, and it exhibited a really fat and tight bottom end. As I brought up the master volume it stayed clean until quite high, but it gently rolled into a perfect breakup when it was opened up all the way.

Not only was there not a bad tone to be found but I quickly realized how active the tone controls were. After years of playing Marshalls, I didn’t expect the controls to have so much variation from one end to the other. When the amp was dialed up, the tone was always incredible. I pulled the mids completely out to see how “scooped” it could go. It wasn’t aggressive or over the top but did what a good mid control should do. In fact, on just Channel A I couldn’t get enough of the tone and found myself playing it forever.

I decided to move on to my Strat (again with Sheptone single coils) and check out the tone. Wow! The Strat displayed everything that is good about a perfect Strat tone. By using the Pre Gain control I was able to push the front end even harder than I did with the Les Paul, and I achieved beautiful, singing tones. All along I found myself playing with the master volume to pull back the decibels to judge how the amp reacted to being extremely low in volume. I can safely say that even at the lowest settings, this amp sounds surprisingly large and certainly capable of being captured with a mic in small room.

Channel B
Moving onto Channel B, I plugged the Les Paul back in and wound the volume back down. I was pleasantly surprised again. The distortion and voicing of the channel was brilliant. It’s hard to describe because I’ve never played through an amp that sounded like this. It sounded woolly and thick, yet completely controlled and tight on the bottom without sounding fuzzy… an almost incomprehensible feat to my ears. In the 28 years I’ve been playing guitar I’ve never heard this sound before, and I quickly fell in love with it.

Not only did Channel B give up more gain than you’d ever need for most applications, it stayed true to the unique voice of the amp. Never sounding harsh or spikey, I couldn’t quite figure out what it was that made it so appealing. The tone has similarities to an AC15 as well as a Dumble or Trainwreck, but still totally new. Once again, I plugged the Strat in and made use of the Pre Gain control to add more sustain to the single coils and once again the OD2r didn’t disappoint. The sound was absolutely mammoth, yet controllable and sweet. My head is still spinning!

 
Switching Tubes
Since the amp came with an additional pair of 6V6 tubes, I popped them in and flipped the 6L6/6V6 switch and began experimenting again. Obviously the volume was lowered by the 18 watt output of the 6V6s, but the sound was nevertheless enormous and gorgeous. It definitely exhibited 6V6 qualities like the slightly squishy bottom end and softened top but not at all to the point of feeling flabby or collapsed… more like a nice compressor was engaged on the front end of the amp.

The EQ controls once again offered limitless and wonderful options for tone shaping and I simply could not dial up a bad sound on any guitar or any setting. Even though there were so many options, they all sounded musical and articulate. Even pulling back the volume knob on my guitars cleaned up the sound very nicely without losing dynamics or clarity. I should also note that the amp was extremely quiet and lacked any sort of buzzing or shielding issues. It would be a great addition to my recording amp arsenal.

The Final Mojo
This little brown amp head with an unassuming company name like Carol-Ann has made me a believer. In as long as I’ve played guitar, I’ve never been so taken off guard by the way an amp sounded or felt, especially considering how many I’ve played. Sadly, this particular OD2r is on its way to a music store and out of this reviewer’s studio, but believe me, I have a phone call to make!

Download Les Paul Dirty 1.mp3
Download Les Paul Dirty 2.mp3
Download Strat Clean.mp3
Download Strat Dirty.mp3


Buy if...
you need a killer, two-channel recording/club amp with massive versatility and unsurpassed tone.
Skip if...
you''re crazy... there''s no reason to skip this.
Rating...
5.0

MSRP $2495 (head only) $2795 (combo) - Carol Ann Amps - carolannamps.com

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