Played on Warkwick Streamer LX5 and recorded using PreSonus FireStudio and PreSonus Studio One 3.
Clip 1: Drive at 12 o’clock, compression at 8 o’clock, bass 1 o’clock, shape at 12 o’clock, freq at 12 o’clock, and treble at 12 o’clock.

 

Ratings

Pros:
Compact. Fine tones. Easy to dial in.

Cons:
Somewhat noisy fan.

Street:
$599

Hartke LX8500
hartke.com


Tones:


Ease of Use:


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Value:
 

If you’ve played bass for any amount of time, you have likely heard the name Hartke, a company known for aluminum-coned speakers and synonymous with top players from multiple genres. Hartke is also known for blending a unique sound with the latest technology to give bassists a solid footing, but without breaking the bank.

In the class-D bass-amp movement, there seems to be stiff competition. Lately, it feels like anyone with a soldering gun is putting out a powerful amp with little to no weight and a few tone knobs. As with just about everything else, however, the cream does rise to the top, so you need something special when you bring your amp to the table. So while Hartke is certainly no newcomer to the bass universe, their LX8500 head is, and we recently put it through its paces.

It’s Light. So Watts?
The LX8500 is a class-D amp with a twist: a class-A tube preamp. This amp’s 12AX7 is designed to give a bit of heat to the signal when needed, as well as help its class-D bones become, well, less sterile. The LX8500 is a powerful amp at 800 watts, weighs in at a gig-friendly 8 1/2 pounds, and even has a built-in carrying handle—making it easy to heft for on-the-go players and a breeze to pull out of a carry bag.

I really like when I can just plug in and dial in a great sound with little to no effort, which was the case here.

The front-panel layout is simple to navigate, and it’s illuminated for those dark-stage adjustments on the fly. From left to right, it houses a drive control (footswitchable), a mute switch, dials for compression and gain, and a brite switch. The tone-stack EQ section houses bass and treble controls, and a midrange section which allows one to adjust the shape and frequency independently. The oversized master volume control will let you turn up louder than the PA in a hurry, and the frontside also houses an aux in and headphone out—both 1/8"—for easy and quiet practicing.

The back panel is rich with features and nicely laid out to make connections a breeze. There is a dedicated tuner out, which makes life easier if you aren’t using a pedalboard. Next to the effects loop is the XLR DI section with both pre/post EQ and lift/ground switches. The footswitch section has two jacks to accommodate a pair of 2-button footswitches (not included)—one to control the drive and effects loop, and the other to control the frequency and bright circuitry.

Shape of My Heart
I paired the LX8500 with an Eden 410XLT cab and alternated a stock 1978 Fender Precision with an active Warwick Streamer LX 5. I jumped in first with the Warwick with the amp’s drive off and EQ flat (noon settings across the board, actually). The tone was powerful and downright impressive as I watched the compressor lights dance between white and orange. I really like when I can just plug in and dial in a great sound with little to no effort, which was the case here.

As I adjusted the settings, the gain control seemed a little noisy—scratching audibly as I turned it. This is an easy fix at home, but it was a little disappointing to need a pot cleaned right out of the box. That said, Hartke did let us know our test amp was a pre-production unit and not mass produced, and that customers will not experience this with the production models.

Getting deeper into the amp’s features, I was able to dial up everything from modern fuzz to compressed funk in just a few short minutes. The drive control is a wonderful compliment to the LX8500, and the 12AX7 really gives the amp life. Setting the drive dial to about 9 o’clock gave my tone just a touch of hair and the amp more character, especially with a few turns of the shape and frequency controls, with which I could quickly roll the sound from wonderfully thick to razor-sharp and brash.

Giving the Fender Precision a turn as well, the LX8500 did an excellent job making this bass dance. As with the Warwick, the amp brought out the finer characteristics of my P, without coloring the tone too much. One could say the Hartke falls short in this way. A great amp should have a unique tone. However, I feel a great amp simply makes a bass sound better, which the LX8500 achieves in style.

I spent a lot of time with the different settings available through the shape and frequency section. It’s really the heart of the amp. The fact that the frequency is footswitchable is nice, too, as one may want to pair effects catered to the amp’s midrange-shaping abilities. A couple of my favorite settings for the Precision and the Warwick can be heard online, and both solidify the dramatic range of this amp.

The Verdict
Simple, powerful, and packed with usable features, the LX8500 is a budget-friendly bass head with plenty of juice, and adds a nice-sounding drive function and easy-to-use compressor (One knob!) to boot. To say this amp would be able to handle most anything is not exaggerating: church, coffee shops, and big rock venues alike could all be easily managed with the LX8500. I also just liked the overall presentation of the amp and can confidently say it’s worthy of a solid run-through at a dealer near you.