Download Example 1
Classic Crunch - 15W setting
Download Example 2
Clean - 50W setting
Download Example 3
Modern Lead - 15W setting
All clips were recorded with a Gibson Les Paul Double Cut w/humbuckers into Cicognani H150 head with matching 4x12.  Mic'd with a Sennheiser e609 and a Rode NT1 into a Focusrite Saffire PRO 24 DSP using Logic Studio.
Manufactured in Italy by pro audio equipment manufacturer FBT, the Cicognani (pronounced: chee-koh-nah-nee) Imperium H-150 head with 4x12 cab is a beautiful-looking rig. The black tolex and silver grillecloth with stainless steel logo screams good design. It’s very similar in appearance to a Mesa, but there is one thing that really sets this amp apart from a Mesa Boogie aesthetically: the insane amount of LEDs on the controls. Turn it on and the amp comes to life in bright blue, green, and red. The use of individual LEDs on the digitally encoded pots, in place of the usually arbitrary numbers 1 through 10, can be a bit intimidating at first, giving it the appearance of a hard-to-use piece of gear. It really isn’t true, though, as I discovered after diving into the completely programmable valve amplifier with 127 selectable and user storeable presets (accessible from the control panel or a MIDI footswitch). This combination of valve tone and modern technology provides the guitarist with a perfect blend of both worlds. The Imperium is not a modeling amp designed to replicate other amplifiers; it is an analog tube amp all of its own, but with digital user preset and recall capability, it’s setting the bar a bit higher for other amps of its ilk.

Loaded for Bear
The Cicognani Imperium H-150 is a class-AB1 amplifier with five 12AX7 preamp tubes and four 5881 power tubes. There is only one input provided, along with three EQ controls—Treble, Middle and Bass is all you really need when it comes to a well-voiced amplifier—as well as Gain and Volume controls. A final Master volume control for live use can’t be preset, but the rest are programmable, so when you adjust them to creat and save a preset, or use a MIDI footswitch to toggle presets, you’ll see the front-panel LED indicators on the pots light up according to the level positions. These LEDs also make it easy to see your settings no matter what stage lighting conditions you have to deal with, which is a good thing.

There are six sound buttons for selecting pre-installed amp sounds: Clean 1 and 2, Sexy, Crunch, and Lead 1 and 2. This allows you to create presets in any given Sound mode and switch to other presets in other Sound modes, like having a six-channel amp, or even six different amps at your fingertips, all with presets accessible via MIDI footswitch. Also on the front panel are the four buttons for the four pre-preamp effect loops available on the back of the amp. Any stompbox effect placed in these loops can also be stored with your presets, using any number of them simultaneously. The manufacturer says that with some time and experimentation, this will enable you to use multiple effect types and loop assignments to nail the specific tones of particular artists or songs and save them as presets—giving you flexibility similar to that of a modeling amp, but with analog, all-tube circuitry. Rounding out the front panel are a two mode buttons: one switches between classic and modern voicings. The other, labeled Hi, Mid and Lo, allows you to switch between the three different output power levels: 150W, 50W and 11W. This is an innovative approach to allowing you to achieve the tone of a cranked valve amp at lower volumes.

The back panel provides a MIDI In and Thru for the footswitch to control the user-created presets. There are three mono speaker outputs provided at 4, 8 and 16 Ohms. Also, there is a Slave Out, which is interesting—for one, I don’t know of any companies using that term since the ‘70s. This is cool for guitarists who may own a vintage amp with a Slave In but no Slave Out, such as the Sound City 120 that is my workhorse. This would allow the Cicognani to be the master, providing the tones, while still utilizing the power of the other amp. The wheels did begin turning in my mind about running both the amps together this way, but the prospect of having to listen to my neighbors complain curbed the thought.

On the back, five individual effects loops are provided; one is a post-preamp loop for running an equalizer or other rack effects. The other four are pre-preamp effect loops for stompbox effects, which can be selected from the front panel of the amp. Two knobs control the mix and level of the effects connected to these four loops. Individual ground lift switches are provided for the effect loops, plus a ground lift for the amp itself. There’s also a 9V (1500ma) wall wart-type power supply input with four 9V outputs, so you can power each stompbox individually, as long as you provide external power by plugging a 9V supply into the back of the amp.