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more... GearAmpsBass GearReviewsBass CabsClass DFebruary 2009SWR

SWR Spellbinder Blue Bass Amp Review

Let’s face it. The industry as a whole has been under the impression that if you want a big bass sound you have to have a big bass amp. Walls of 10” and 15” doom have been a common site at many shows for decades now. While these great stacks of sonic thunder have make us rock like nothing has rocked before, they are not needed for every gig. So what do you do to still keep that large sound in a small combo? This has been the challenge for most bass amp manufacturers over the years.

Sadly a number of great bass amp manufacturers are not known for making great combo amps. For some reason the ability to get all the boom of the big rigs into a small package has escaped some builders. Granted, the legendary Ampeg B-15 “fliptop” may be an exception but it was still not designed to cover all musical situations. In 1987, though, Steve W. Rabe introduced an amp that would revolutionize the bass world with its good amount of power and full range sound. The amp was the Redhead and it set the mood for a great line of combo amps to come. This tradition is continued with the SWR Spellbinder Blue.

The Spellbinder Blue is a compact yet huge sounding amp co-designed by luthier Tom Lieber and legendary bassist Stanley Clarke. The Spellbinder Blue is designed for studio use as well as small and medium size venues. The Spellbinder Blue is ran by a 160 Watt Class D power amplifier at 4 Ohms. It features a tube preamp utilizing a single 12AX7 with 3-band active EQ. The front panel also has a Neutrik combo input jack, a -10dB input pad switch, Aural Enhancer, EQ in/out switch, Effects Blend, Effects Bypass Switch, Compression, Master Volume, Gain, and Mute switch. The rear panel features a Speakon Speaker Connector, Internal Speaker On/Off Switch, Effects Loop Send and Return, Headphone Out Jack, Tuner Out Jack, Balanced Outputs, Line Out Pad, XLR Ground Lift switch, and a Line/Direct Switch. Finally all of this pushes sound through a single 10” SWR-Designed Eminence Neodymium Driver and a Customer Eminence Supertweeter.

When I first saw the Spellbinder Blue I was quite apprehensive of its capabilities. Being quite familiar with SWR amps from years of using them I was very familiar with how the amp should sound. After plugging in an active 18 volt 5-String I was ecstatic to hear that the apprehension was now over. The SWR had a robust low end with both pickups wide open. Boosting the 5 string’s bass control to the max showed that the Spellbinder Blue handles quite well for a small combo amp. Dialing in the Treble and Aural Enhancer controls on the front panel yielded a glass-like top end that is a slapper’s delight. What was most impressive was the amount of articulation that this small amp delivered. It was hard to believe that this much sound was coming out of an amp that housed a single 10” speaker and a tweeter.

Switching to a hollow body bass with flat wounds proved that the Spellbinder Blue was capable of having multiple personalities. Subtle changes in the Mid control resulted in a full, warm bass tone that every classic bassist would love. Even with the flat wounds the articulation of the single 10” speaker made every note prominent and well defined. This same response to the hollow body would work great for upright players. Players like myself that double will love the fact that this amp sounds great both on upright and standard electric basses. This would be a direct result of SWR paying attention to Clarke’s requirements as a player.due to his notoriety as a virtuoso upright player as well as electric bassist.

Possibly the most surprising aspect of the Spellbinder Blue is how well it can fill a small to medium venue. Take my word that this is a LOUD 160 watts. Even at pushed volumes the sound is articulate and full. At a recent trade show, the tester Spellbinder Blue was even put next to John Paul Jones’ acoustic rig. Even though it wouldn’t carry a coliseum the Spellbinder Blue hung in quite well at standard playing volumes next to the historic rig. Working bassists will love the fact that they will not need to tote the big rig to every show.

Working bassists are sure to love the SWR Spellbinder Blue. The user friendly features coupled with extreme portability is sure to entice players of all styles. Studio musicians and jazz players especially will love how easy it is to dial up a big sound in a small package. It may not eliminate the need of the earlier mentioned bass wall of thunder but for bassists who do not need that much sonic domination then the Spellbinder Blue is well worth a look. There is nothing cooler than throwing a rig in the front seat of your car or back seat of a NY Taxi and still have the peace of mind that you will have your sound intact. Great things can come in small packages.
Buy if...
you need a great sounding bass combo.
Skip if...
you need tons of volume... otherwise, buy it.
Rating...
5.0Premier Gear Award

MSRP $1449.99 MAP $999.99 - SWR Amplification - swrsound.com