Premier Guitar

TC Electronic RH450/RS210 Bass Rig Review

March 17, 2009

Download Example 1
First cut is with amp set flat, no compression. Second cut uses compression plus boosted bass and treble. Third cut uses TubeTone distortion.
Recorded with a 1981 G&L L-1000 into the TC Electronic RH450 then the TC Electronic RS210. Cab is mic’d on the top speaker that contains the horn. Run into GarageBand via Blue Icicle.
In the past few years, lots of well-known bass amp makers have been putting out sub-10- pound heads that pack a punch: Eden, Genz- Benz, MarkBass, Euphonic Audio, Acoustic Image, Gallien-Krueger—the list goes on. If yet another mini-powerhouse amp wants to find a spot in this niche, the manufacturer better make sure it stands out.

With the RH450 bass amp, TC Electronic—a Danish company long known for quality guitar effects and studio gear—has succeeded in that mission. To do so, the RH450 packs just about everything a working bassist could want into an 8.8 pound, 450-watt head. And it’s surprisingly easy to use, too.

Adding to that, TC Electronic has come up with a pair of cabs—a 2x10 and a 2x12—that are easy to manage and put out plenty of sound… a total package. In case you’re wondering, yes, this is the same rig that was originally introduced as the RebelHead and RebelStack. Right before introduction, TC Electronic learned there were US trademark problems and had to drop that moniker (I prefer model numbers over names anyhow!).

So What’s the Diff?
TC Electronic bills this rig as “bass amp 2.0,” suggesting a new take on what a bass amp is all about. In a lot of ways, I’d have to agree— they’ve come up with a new way of packaging familiar tools, and they’ve made those tools work more easily and sound better than most I’ve run across. And while most of these little, new-generation amps shoot for sonic transparency, the RH450 takes the spirit of a tube amp and recreates that sound and feel via lightweight solid-state design in both the preamp and the Class D power amp sections.

What’s included in the RH450 head? Four bands of EQ, a tweakable compressor, a tube amp emulator, a tuner, a headphone amp, a direct out and three user-defined presets. Those are the big things. Standard stuff, but each with a twist that takes it to the uncommon. And it all seems to be high quality, durable and without noticeable quirks. Frankly, when an amp maker tries to do something different, there’s a risk that it’ll flop. Settings might not be intuitive, a built-in effect might sound hokey, or a knob can look ready to break right out of the box. I ran the RH450 and a pair of RS210 cabs through all of their paces and couldn’t find anything that would disappoint even a picky gearhead like me.

Getting Started
I want to tell you that I set things up, plugged in my bass and it roared—but that would be getting ahead of myself. Let me tell you about the cabs first. At 38 lbs each (44 for their RS212 cab), these are relatively easy to haul around by the sturdy metal handles on each side. Rather than the common “rat fur” carpeting, these plywood cabs are coated with a skidproof substance like you might find on an outdoor stairway. The heavy gauge metal grilles are recessed and should withstand a lot of use while doing their job effectively. I thought the covering was a little rough on my hands, but it’s a functional design choice because TC Electronic recommends stacking their cabs twohigh on ends, but doesn’t use the usual locking plastic corners. The speakers in these cabs are, like many bass cabs these days, designed by Eminence for TC Electronic. The cabs themselves have a “Made in Malaysia” sticker on the crossover plate (the amp is tagged “Made in Thailand”).

To keep these rear-ported cabs more compact, a tweeter is located behind the top of the two woofers in each cab. And yes, the tweeter has a fully adjustable level control, not just an on/ off switch. By stacking the cabs on end, you get the focus of a line array setup while also bringing part of the stack up closer to your ears than is possible with the usual 4x10-on-thefloor setup. And it really works. With the vertical stack, I heard a clean, focused sound with a smooth middle and tight bottom. Stacking them like a 4x10 cab provided more bottom but less focus. If you’re on a wobbly, bouncy stage, I’d use a conventional arrangement so that the tower of cabs doesn’t come tumbling down. But with a decent stage, I’d say go for it! Everything lines up really neatly, and the head fits atop with grace and style.




Time To Face The Music!
Enough about the cabs. On the back of the RH450 amp is a Speakon combo jack that lets you use either a quarter-inch or Speakon plug for your speaker cable. I connected the head to the top cab, ran a cable from that cab to the cab on the bottom and started putting the rig through its paces. I quickly decided that you can use the RH450 two ways. If you’re the no-nonsense, don’t-confuse-me-with-thedetails kind of player, you can plug in, turn up the input level, tweak the four bands of EQ and you’re jamming. But most likely, if you’re attracted to the RH450 in the first place, you have a bit of gear-for-gear-sake attitude in you (c’mon… confession time!), and you’ll want to take advantage of what this rig can do.

One of the nicest features on the RH450 is its preset ability. Dial in a sound you like, hold one of the three preset buttons for a couple of seconds—you’re locked in. Imagine a scenario like this. MEM1: flat EQ for your basic sound. MEM2: scooped EQ for slapping. MEM3: tubey grind for driving rock. It’s easy to set up and easy to switch from one to the next with just the tap of a button. Or you could set up for two basses of vastly different character, tonality and output level. Tweak MEM1 for a five-string bass that has a high-gain preamp, then set MEM2 for a passive fretless bass with lower gain. Once you’re in action on stage, just push the Mute button and unplug. Plug in the other bass, pick the appropriate preset and unmute. There you go.

Pushing The “Tubes”
But how do you get that tubey grind for your preset? That’s the TubeTone knob. Even though there are no tubes, you can get the RH450 to do an excellent impersonation. I’ve found that some tube drive pedals for bass lose their bottom as the grind moves to overdrive and on to full-blown distortion. I was pleased to find this isn’t the case for the RH450. TC Electronic describes this feature as “tube attitude,” where you get the sound and feel of both the preamp and power amp sections being pushed by your bass. Happily, the volume doesn’t start screaming when the TubeTone knob goes higher— something I was worried about. Turn up the TubeTone knob and you get both the sound and response of a tube head. It reminded me of pushing my silverface Bassman 50 into distortion, only a lot louder. Before I forget, one of the RH450’s ultra-helpful features is a lighted ring of red dots around each knob that advances as you turn the knob up or down. No squinting at pointers and small numbers on a dark stage; all your settings can be viewed at a glance (except for the Master Volume knob) in any light.

Doing Double Duty
TC Electronic came up with a clever way to create even more adjustability without adding more knobs: a Shift button that gives all the knobs (except the Master) a second function. The four EQ knobs can then move their center frequencies across a broad range. The Bass knob, for example, has a default center of 280Hz, but you can sweep it clear down to 71Hz or as high up as 1120Hz (which is actually into the upper midrange!). With the Shift button off (it lights up when on), each EQ knob can boost up to 15dB or cut a frequency band up to 24dB. The lighted red ring of dots lets you see how much above or below center you’ve adjusted the frequency center in Shift mode (but doesn’t display the exact frequency), and indicates the amount of boost or cut in the normal mode.

In Shift mode, the TubeTone knob becomes the level control for your preset. If you tweak this setting, or the EQ centers, just remember to hold down your preset button again to capture the change into memory. Otherwise it goes away when you change presets (but presets stay in memory when the power goes off).

SprectraComp is, in my opinion, the coolest, most useful feature in Shift mode. Sure, most bass amps have a limiter or compressor of some sort, and most work with just a single knob, but most of these have a natural flaw: they knock down the low notes more than the high notes. This is natural with a singleband compressor that treats all notes at the same threshold. Most simply, low notes have more oomph than high notes and hit the threshold sooner. In contrast, SpectraComp has independent compression for low, mid and high bands. If you slap an E string, the low band kicks in. Pop the G string and the mid or upper bands of compression treat it likewise. For fingerstyle or pick playing, SpectraComp helps even things out nicely. Listening to the RH450’s compressor, I did indeed feel a smoothness to its treatment of note attacks. Heavier doses of compression were audible, but still very useful.

A nice touch is that when SpectraComp level is set (and again, stored in memory), going out of Shift mode provides a visible indicator of compression. Hit a string hard and the ring of red dots around the Gain knob drops down, oozing back up as the note decays, and finally stopping back at the actual gain level you’ve set. I compliment TC Electronic on the finesse it built into this compressor.

But Wait - There’s More!
There’s no way within the length of this article to detail all the thoughtful, quality features that TC Electronics has put into the RH450. After all, this little gem has the option of a remote pedalboard (switches memory, mutes, tuner display), a digital out for going right into a recording rig, an effects loop, and a transformer- balanced DI (with switchable pre/post). But before I’m done here, I must talk about two more features—and then discuss tone, what we’re ultimately after.




First, I have to mention the tuner—it’s built in, always on, and super easy to read. I found that the tuner picked up notes quickly and the up and down arrows got me to quickly home in on the in-tune dot. If you hit the mute button, the tuner goes one step further and uses the ring of dots around the bass EQ knob to provide higher resolution visual guidance. If you need to shift the reference pitch, the tuner can be adjusted when the amp boots up.

A second feature I need to mention is the headphone amp. Sure, you could laugh at the thought of a $1000 headphone amp, but I sometimes need to practice silently and work with a recording to learn a new part. But I dread the headphone sound I get from most amps—noisy, brittle, sort of warbly. Happily, that’s not the case with the headphone amp on the RH450. I plugged in my studio monitor ‘phones to the jack on the front—which cuts off the speakers—and heard a very highquality sound. Full tone, no hiss. TC Electronic has included a pair of RCA jacks on the back and even provided a cable with a mini-jack on one end for an MP3 player. I’m a fan of using iTunes on my laptop to play the songs I’m learning. The RH450 lets me plug in the laptop and go to it.

Tone: The Bottom Line
Yes, most of this review has discussed features without hitting on what’s most important— your sound. As a basic threshold, I’d have to say that the RH450 combined with a pair of RS210 cabs should be plenty loud for most gigs, especially since larger venues routinely provide PA support and the sound tech is always struggling to keep stage volume from bleeding into the house.

As far as tone, I really discovered the character of the RH450 while A/B’ing with another brand of mini-amp. One note and I was struck with the transparency of that other amp—nearly to the point of sounding sterile. In contrast, the RH450 had a warmth and tonal character that were very pleasant, yet assertive. Besides the TubeTone effect, the RH450 has Active Power Management (APM), a circuit that kicks in when the amp gets close to maximum performance, compressing and limiting peaks of the bass signal much like a tube amp would. TC Electronic explains that APM makes its solid state watts sound more like tube watts.

Soundwise, the RS210 cabs are focused and punchy, especially in the vertical stack configuration. Plenty of clarity, but not harsh in any way. Knobs, you ask? Sturdy and wiggle free, yet easy to turn with precision. And with all these features, it’s good that the manual can be understood by non tech-heads—good job there, too.

Finally, one small quibble. Because of their location just under the upper lip of the amp case, the preset and mute buttons can be difficult to see in lower light. Going to buttons that shift from red to green when activated might be an easy way around this problem. And the problem would be resolved if you added the optional footswitch.
Buy if...
You need an innovative, high-quality, lightweight, powerful amp with a great set of built-in features.
Skip if...
You're a tube die-hard, prefer a no-frills rig, and have a modest gear budget.
Rating...
5.0

MSRP RH450 $999; MSRP RS210 $499 - TC Electronic - tcelectronic.com




First, I have to mention the tuner—it’s built in, always on, and super easy to read. I found that the tuner picked up notes quickly and the up and down arrows got me to quickly home in on the in-tune dot. If you hit the mute button, the tuner goes one step further and uses the ring of dots around the bass EQ knob to provide higher resolution visual guidance. If you need to shift the reference pitch, the tuner can be adjusted when the amp boots up.

A second feature I need to mention is the headphone amp. Sure, you could laugh at the thought of a $1000 headphone amp, but I sometimes need to practice silently and work with a recording to learn a new part. But I dread the headphone sound I get from most amps—noisy, brittle, sort of warbly. Happily, that’s not the case with the headphone amp on the RH450. I plugged in my studio monitor ‘phones to the jack on the front—which cuts off the speakers—and heard a very highquality sound. Full tone, no hiss. TC Electronic has included a pair of RCA jacks on the back and even provided a cable with a mini-jack on one end for an MP3 player. I’m a fan of using iTunes on my laptop to play the songs I’m learning. The RH450 lets me plug in the laptop and go to it.

Tone: The Bottom Line
Yes, most of this review has discussed features without hitting on what’s most important— your sound. As a basic threshold, I’d have to say that the RH450 combined with a pair of RS210 cabs should be plenty loud for most gigs, especially since larger venues routinely provide PA support and the sound tech is always struggling to keep stage volume from bleeding into the house.

As far as tone, I really discovered the character of the RH450 while A/B’ing with another brand of mini-amp. One note and I was struck with the transparency of that other amp—nearly to the point of sounding sterile. In contrast, the RH450 had a warmth and tonal character that were very pleasant, yet assertive. Besides the TubeTone effect, the RH450 has Active Power Management (APM), a circuit that kicks in when the amp gets close to maximum performance, compressing and limiting peaks of the bass signal much like a tube amp would. TC Electronic explains that APM makes its solid state watts sound more like tube watts.

Soundwise, the RS210 cabs are focused and punchy, especially in the vertical stack configuration. Plenty of clarity, but not harsh in any way. Knobs, you ask? Sturdy and wiggle free, yet easy to turn with precision. And with all these features, it’s good that the manual can be understood by non tech-heads—good job there, too.

Finally, one small quibble. Because of their location just under the upper lip of the amp case, the preset and mute buttons can be difficult to see in lower light. Going to buttons that shift from red to green when activated might be an easy way around this problem. And the problem would be resolved if you added the optional footswitch.
Buy if...
You need an innovative, high-quality, lightweight, powerful amp with a great set of built-in features.
Skip if...
You're a tube die-hard, prefer a no-frills rig, and have a modest gear budget.
Rating...
5.0

MSRP RH450 $999; MSRP RS210 $499 - TC Electronic - tcelectronic.com