Samick Motherlode

December 2014
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Mesa/Boogie Mark V Amp Review


Download Example 1
Channel 2, MKI setting - Les Paul Std. Treble Pickup
Download Example 2
Channel 1, 45W Fat Setting - Tele, Neck Pickup
Download Example 3
Channel 2, Edge Setting - Tele, Neck Pickup
Download Example 4
Channel 1 Clean 10W - Les Paul Custom, Rhythm Pickup
Download Example 5
Mark IIC+ - Les Paul Custom, Neck Pickup
Download Example 6
Mark IIC+ - Les Paul Custom, Bridge Pickup
Download Example 7
Mark IV Extreme Setting - Caparison
All clips recorded through Boogie 1x12 closed-back WideBody cab, Sennheiser 421 through Groove Tube Vipre Preamp into Pro Tools. Clips 1-4, Rich Tozzoli. Clips 5-7, Brandon Ellis.
Full disclosure: I’ve owned a Mesa/Boogie Mark IV head since I bought it new in ’92. Does that make me biased towards Boogies? Yes and no. Yes, because I love the sound of it. No, because it’s not the only game in town—and I own a lot of amps that sound killer. Having said that, the new Mark V carves out its own space in Boogie-land. Built from the bedrock foundation and lineage of several models, it’s very much like the Mark IV, yet very different. Here’s what I found in my month-long test run with it.

Redefining “Feature Rich”
Upon removing the Mark V from the well-padded shipping box, I immediately noticed the knobs are recessed further than on the Mark IV. It’s a good thing, because they stick out too far on the Mark IV—I’ve sheared several of them off mine. I was a bit surprised to find the sturdy, eight-button aluminum footswitch separate from the head. The Mark IV footswitch connects directly to the rear (though not easily) and protects the tubes. Although the Mark V’s controller comes with a pouch, it would be nice to have a spare pocket for the cable, because you can’t really fit both inside. And if you lose the cable at a gig, well, you’re in trouble. Aside from that, my overall first impression is certainly one of a well-built, tank-like piece of gear—typical Mesa/Boogie.

Sitting it atop a Marshall 4x12 loaded with Celestions, I looked over all the controls (23 knobs, 17 switches, and a five-band EQ). Because I’m so used to the Mark IV, it was probably not as daunting a view as others might find it to be. While there’s no denying the sound of that head, there’s also talk out there that it’s confusing to use, and I could see how others might feel that way about it. But I was relieved once I figured out how the Mark V is laid out. It has three distinct channel sections, followed by the EQ and Master outputs. Whereas the Mark IV combines several knobs (such as R1/R2 Bass and Mid), each Mark V channel features independent Gain, Master, Presence, Treble, Mid, and Bass controls. Each channel also has a number of toggle switches to select various modes and power/operating-class options. So right off the bat, it makes more sense than the Mark IV.

The Whole Mark Series in One Amp
The five-band graphic EQ, which is found on all the Mark series amps, features the same frequency choices (80, 240, 750, 2200 and 6600Hz). But, unlike on the Mark IV, it can be assigned to each channel independently. A small, three-position toggle switch on each channel allows you to bypass the graphic EQ completely (center), leave it on all the time (top), or turn it on and off with the footswitch (down). A small LED above the Power/Standby switches lights up when it’s on, so you can see if it’s bypassed or engaged. Taking this a step further, on either side of the EQ are a set of three rotary Preset controls and a set of associated Slider/Preset switches. With the switches, each channel can be assigned to Sliders (up) or Preset (down), where the amount of the EQ in the signal can be dialed in using the three Preset knobs. Like many others, I’ve always found that the classic “V” shape works best, and this new setup is a different way to blend in the amount of EQ you want for each channel.

Also common to each channel section, but unique to the Mark V, is a toggle switch that lets you independently select three power modes. Toggling up gives you the most power and headroom with 90 watts. In this mode, all four output tubes are in-line, but in two different classes of operation. The outside pair run in class AB and run cooler, while the inside pair run in “extended” class A and have a reduced bias. The fact that they all work together simultaneously is where the term Simul-Class originates. The middle toggle position is 45 watts (extended class A, push-pull). Here, only the middle tubes are running in extended class A with a reduced bias. What’s cool in this position is that, with Channels 1 and 2, you can then choose the type of high-voltage rectifier that best fits your style. Two small toggle switches on the rear offer Diodes or Tube settings. The former provides maximum punch and impact, and the latter reduces headroom and gives a more classic feel. And, finally, toggling down causes the channel to operate at 10 watts (class A, single-ended). Single-ended design emphasizes the second harmonic, and on the Mark V the two tubes next to the 5U4 power supply are wired in parallel. The 10-watt mode delivers the most old-school, spongy feel of them all.