Mesa/Boogie Royal Atlantic RA-100 Amp Review
November 9, 2011
From its humble beginnings in a shack in the hills of Lagunitas, California to the amp industry powerhouse that it is today, Mesa/Boogie has a huge part in shaping the guitar tones we hear in popular music. The influence that the Mark and Rectifier Series alone on rock music alone is massive, but that hasn’t stopped Mesa from to designing new amps that push boundaries and expectations.
While Mesa is most closely associated with crisp, American high-gain tones, in recent years, the TransAtlantic series has been available to players who are after a combo of crisp American-voiced cleans and raunchy British overdrive—complete in a small, portable package. For those who yearn for even more bark to go with their bite however the company’s new 100-watt Royal Atlantic might be the ticket.
Fit For A King
The Royal Atlantic is a beast. The all-tube circuit has six 12AX7 preamp tubes and a lower-output 12AT7 in the phase inverter position to keep things clear and spanky-sounding. Four EL34 power tubes set with Mesa’s fixed bias circuit belt out a monstrous 100-watts of power and can easily be switched to a set of 6L6s via a small switch on the back panel of the aluminum chassis.
The Royal Atlantic is essentially a two-channel amplifier, with a dual-mode overdrive channel. The control layout shares some features with Mesa’s punchy powerhouse, the Electra-Dyne, with clean channel controls for Master Volume, Bass, Middle, Treble, and Gain. Moving over to the overdrive channel layout you’ll find common Bass, Middle, Treble, and Gain knobs, along with two separate Master Volume controls for the channel’s Vintage High Gain and Vintage Low Gain modes. Each channel can be selected from an included two-button footswitch, which also flips Hi and Lo overdrive modes. You can also use a handy three-way mini switch on the front panel.
Mesa/Boogie is known for packing their amps with useful features and tone-shaping tools, and the Royal Atlantic is no exception. The amp’s long-plate reverb can be configured to work with Clean and Vintage Low Gain modes exclusively, removed completely from the overdrive channel, or engaged all of the time. The reverb control is curiously placed on the back panel of the amp, which makes it a bit of a pain to adjust the amount of the effect on the fly—I would have preferred to have had it located on the front control panel given how much time I spent taking advantage of the effect and its flexibility.
The really exciting stuff is just adjacent to the reverb control, where you’ll find the amp’s Multi-Soak controls, which reduce the amp’s power for spongier tones. The ability to easily change the feel, response, and volume through altering the wattage is among the most useful reasons for owning a TransAtlantic series amp, and the range available here is huge—from the amp’s full 100-watts, all the way down in 4db increments to -16dB, which is around three watts. For players who love power amp saturation, this is a great feature that completely negates the need for an external power soak device. The Clean, Vintage Low Gain, and Vintage High Gain each have their own respective Multi-Soak controls. In addition, the amp’s standby switch also doubles as a half-power switch, dropping the total output power to 50 watts if desired. And because the cranking the hell out of the power tubes can reduce their lifespan considerably, Mesa also included an internal fan with a switch to change the speed from low to high, which cools them down faster and extends their lifespan.
Royal Wedding of Tone
Even though Mesa/Boogie has a plethora of amplifiers designed to cover a wide range of tones, they all retain that classic Boogie sound that players have come to expect—glassy, clean highs with big lows, pushed by a rock-solid-sounding power section that feels huge and muscular.
The Royal Atlantic has one of the most natural and responsive clean channels that the company has ever produced, bar-none. A Fender Telecaster drove the Royal Atlantic and the Mesa/Boogie Rectifier 2x12 to smooth natural tone zones that were awe-inspiring at times. The highs and lows were classic Mesa—rich and complex with detail that I could dress up with a subtle shimmer from the amp’s impressive reverb. But what really blew me away was how responsive the channel was to my picking and how easy it was to change the dynamics of the tone with my fingertips alone through gentle finger-picked passages.
As I turned up the Gain control and engaged the Multi-Soak, I grabbed a pick and nestled into some heavier-handed picking with open chords. The clean channel had a lot of cut—even with the Treble control set fairly low—and the Multi-Soak set to -8db helped reign in the highs for aggressive, Pete Townshend-style chord riffing. Connecting the amp to a larger Mesa 4x12, made the tone even bigger and more fluid—and higher Multi-Soak settings let me enjoy the great classic rock tones that were on tap from more aggressive settings on the Clean channel.
The amp’s overdrive circuit is where the Royal Atlantic really stands apart from the rest of its Mesa brethren. With the 2x12 and a Les Paul Custom, the Vintage Low-Gain mode gave classic hard rock riffs a smooth, rounded high end and midrange that growled and snarled with a very distinct British authority. Mesa bills the Royal Atlantic as being a best-of-both-worlds amp, melding the high-fidelity American cleans that they helped pioneer with the barking rage of a healthy, high gain British tube amp—and in this instance you really hear the English accent along with thick, complex mids and soft highs that are perfect for the Guns ‘n Roses-inspired riff work. The preamp’s voicing combined with Mesa’s spaciously clean and powerful power section was a force to be reckoned with—one that truly combines the best of both worlds with classic Mesa elements and British fury at its core. And it was not only something that I’ve never heard from a Mesa amp before, it was one of the best tones that I’ve ever coaxed out of one of their amps.
Thankfully, the responsiveness of the Clean channel is no less accessible on the overdrive channel. Dropping the guitar’s volume control yielded meaty rhythm tones without losing the solid low-end foundation. On the other end of the spectrum, kicking in the amp’s Vintage High-Gain mode shifted the tone into high gear, with fluid sustain and a fantastic snap in the mids for single note lines. There was more than enough gain for ’80s and early ’90s hard rock, and more than enough volume after I switched back to the 4x12. There’s also plenty of punch in the mids to satisfy even the most discerning fans of the tones of Jerry Cantrell, Warren DiMartini, and K.K. Downing.
Even though the Royal Atlantic is an evolution of the TransAtlantic series, it’s an amp with its own unique tones. The tone of the overdrive channel is something new for Mesa. And they’ve successfully managed to lend a Mesa flavor an often-copped set of tones. In general, it sounds utterly stellar—with some of the best cleans that the company has ever offered in an amp. And it’s a difficult amp to pass over if you’re a lover of tones from both sides of the pond.
bold, lush cleans and rich British overdrive is the order of the day and you might need them at lower volumes down the road.
your tone fixations are exclusively American or British-voiced tones.
Street $1899 (head) $2149 (combo) - Mesa/Boogie - mesaboogie.com