3rd Power Amplification Dream Solo Model 4 Amp Review
3rd Power founder and designer Jamie Scott is ambitious in his approach to reinterpreting classic amplifier tones. Both his American and British Dream models (reviewed in the November 2010 and July 2011 issues, respectively) are becoming favorites among session guitarists and stage musicians for their tasty tones, top shelf components, fantastic build quality, versatility, and the company’s signature triangular speaker enclosures that coax the best possible projection and tone.
With the Dream Solo series, Scott has broken up each of his Dream preamp sections—based on the '62 Fender Brownface Deluxe, '65 Fender Blackface Deluxe, '59 Vox AC30, and '68 Marshall Plexi—and converted them into small amplifiers of their own. The Dream Solo 4 is the Marshall-styled member of the family and packs a lot of big tones in a very sensibly sized combo.
Running Down A Dream
The Dream Solo 4 is very well built, utilizing 12mm Baltic Birch cabinet construction, covered in a thick layer of black vinyl with a salt and pepper grille. The light and strong Baltic Birch helps reduce the weight of the already hefty combo to 44 lbs. Some of the amp’s considerable weight is attributable to the triangle-shaped chamber that surrounds the amp's 12", 50-watt Eminence Legend V128 speaker. Scott claims the configuration reduces standing waves and reflections that normally bounce around inside a standard square enclosure, so you get more directional and pure speaker output and tone. The audible result is a much tighter low end, smoother response, a wider sound, and a ton of power. The cabinet's closed back also sports a small, triangular port that's covered in wire mesh to let air reach the tubes.
For the Dream Solo series, 3rd Power used point-to-point turret boards. The all-tube circuit uses 12AX7 preamp tubes, which funnel the signal to two 6V6 power tubes and a custom-voiced output transformer for 22 watts of power. If the amp’s wattage is too much for a given situation, there's a knob on the back for controlling the HybridMASTER circuit, which keeps the tone robust at all volumes by simultaneously changing several attenuation, filtering, and voltage regulation stages. Additional noise generated by the tube circuit is held at bay by 3rd Power's NoiseREDUX technology, an analog noise-reducing algorithm that's a new feature now included in every amp model that they make.
For all the features on this little amp amp, the interface is simple and familiar. The front panel features a fuss-free control set with Volume, Treble, Middle, Bass, and Presence controls, exactly like the old, non-master volume Plexi that inspired the Dream Solo 4. If you want some grit and gain on the tone, you'll have to apply it the old fashioned way—by turning it up!
The Dream Solo 4 captures the slicing bite and snarl of a Marshall with remarkable accuracy—particularly given the very different tube complement. But there are also noticeable differences that give the 3rd Power its own voice. A Telecaster hooked up to the 3rd Power emitted a crisp and detailed range of clean tones, infused with the natural upper midrange emphasis that 6V6 power tubes are known for. The highs tended to feel less strong as the rest of the frequencies, but it’s a great foundation for late ’60s-style Hendrix clean work, where soft, present high end works more effectively than the intense, pingy highs a Marshall can generate at lower volumes.
Each of the EQ controls were effective through their respective frequency ranges, but your attack and the guitar you use bring different aspects of the Dream Solo’s personality alive. The P-90s in a Gibson SG pushed the upper mids harder and applied a raunchier edge, while the Tele pulled back the mids and squeezed a snappier range of highs. And the amp also had outstanding touch sensitivity, with the mids contracting and expanding depending on how aggressively I played.
Cranking up the volume to saturate the 6V6s summoned grittier tones that still retained a warm tonality and soft top end. A Stratocaster in the neck position could deliver the sustaining bluesy licks of Slash's first solo from "November Rain" in this configuration perfectly, while highlighting the amp's woody and thick midrange and an expanded low end. There was a certain element of greasiness to the overdrive, which had a trace of very appropriate EL84 vibe, but with more aggression and a faster attack. 3rd Power's choice to go with 6V6s really stood out in this instance—offering a great middle ground between the definition and stalwart nature of a good 6L6 and the full punchiness of an EL34 pushed to high heaven.
Even though the amp's dynamic range is impressive, it's also very responsive to changes from a guitar's volume knob, just like an old Plexi. Backing off of the guitar's volume not only cleans up the tone and keeps the volume level intact, it keeps the amp in its sagging, overworked state—yielding an entirely new range of softer, greasier tones that are perfect for overdriven blues and blues-rock work, more in the way of Duane Allman and Dickey Betts.
Finding this range of tones wouldn't have been possible without cranking the living hell out of the power amp and dropping the guitar's volume. But The HybridMASTER control made sure that I was able to keep everything at a manageable volume without destroying the amp's impressive dynamic range, even at bedroom levels. It was such a useful tool that I wished 3rd Power had made it footswitchable, so I could choose between drastically different volume levels while being able to control the amp's dynamics from my guitar's volume control.
3rd Power's attempt to pack the smooth, velvety tones of a classic Marshall Plexi into a 1x12 combo is impressive. They've managed to capture the feeling and essence of the quintessential Plexi tones in a package you can actually fit in the trunk of a car. The 6V6 power tubes can at times slather a little extra grease on those classic tones, but it’s a cool twist on your average Marshall flavor. If you're a die-hard Plexi fanatic, or have been interested in experiencing some of the best tones that rock and roll has ever offered for the first time—without having to withstand the pants-flapping volume of an original model or tick off your sound engineer, 3rd Power’s latest trick fits the bill.
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