Ready to Rumble
I first plugged into directly into the Imperium H-150 using a Gibson Les Paul DC with Burstbucker pickups and a Monster cable. Selecting the bridge pickup with the volume and tone all the way up, I started out in 11W to see what the amp could do at a lower wattage. With the Clean preset setting, Treble at 12 o’clock, Middle at 11, Bass at 12, Gain at 11, Master at 10 and the Volume dialed all the way clockwise, the amp was very transparent, with most of the tone of the guitar coming through. There was a small amount of distortion on the overtones, so I rolled back the volume on the guitar a quarter of a turn and backed off the Gain to 9 o’clock. This helped with the distortion on the overtones for cleaner tone. With the volume on the guitar still the same, I pushed the Clean 2 preset, which backed off the Middle to 11 o’clock and pushed the treble to about 1. The sound was still warm on the bottom end and provided a little more presence on the high-end frequencies. While still in the same setting, I decided to switch from the Classic to the Modern setting. This setting seemed to compress the tone, which made the guitar and amp sound a bit flat, so I switched back. Selecting both pickups, I backed off the bridge pickup a quarter of a turn but still felt that the tone was a bit too dark and flat. It seemed that I wasn’t really using the tubes at their full potential at 11W. So, I switched to the 50W power setting and was treated to a more responsive amp, with the sparkling cleans I was trying to achieve at the lower power level. Turning up the heat to 150 watts the volume didn’t change much, but it provided more bass and a punchier midrange.
Bringing it back down to 11 watts, I decided to move on to the Sexy preset. Backing off on my bridge pickup just hair, I wanted to see if I could get the same sound of lower-wattage valve amps. Cranking up the Master volume to 3 o’clock to light up the tubes, the sound that came from the amp was a classic blues tone with a good amount of sag. Although not as musical as lower-watt amps loaded with EL84s, the H-150 did deliver a nice blues tone with great responsiveness. Moving on to the higher gain settings, I switched to the Crunch preset. In the 11W mode the amp really lit up, delivering a healthy dose of classic British rock tone. The Imperium H-150 would be especially useful for recording at low volumes, or for the bedroom player who needs the sound of a valve amp, but can’t reach the volume necessary to hit the “sweet spot” in the tubes. Moving on to higher volumes, I pressed the 50-watt switch, which raised the volume, reminding me of the Marshall DSL50 I used to own. Heading away from the Classic Crunch, I decided to venture into Modern territory. In Modern mode, I found that the sound fell somewhere between a Marshall and a Bogner. Delivering smooth bass response and a good amount of presence from the midrange without sounding too shrill.
The Final Mojo
The Cicognani H-150 is very innovative and very versatile. The three different power settings worked out wonderfully. While you may get lost at first among the flashing lights, it was easy to dial in a good tone, or just tweak the amp’s six Sound presets a bit. The EQ controls are straightforward, but don’t allow a great amount of range when turning them left or right. The effects loops worked outstandingly well—both delay and modulation effects sounded lush, and without affecting tone. They also reduced the stompbox noise compared to plugging directly into the effects and then to amp’s input. Using the effects loop coupled with a MIDI footswitch controller offers a lot of possibilities as well. You’ll need one to access the 127 user-definable presets, and you can use it to switch through the six amp “sounds” as well. Cicognani makes one for use with the H-150 with heavy-duty steel casing, a numeric LCD screen and a 9V output to power your stompbox effects, but you can use other MIDI switches if you prefer.
The only thing I would change is the speakers in the cabinet. I found the Jensens somewhat thin-sounding, so the choice of them is a little puzzling to me, especially from such well-thought-out amplifier. I will say that the amp is matched well with the cab, which is beautifully built out of 13-ply poplar plywood, and the added option of closed or open back allows for a lot of experimentation. The Imperium H-150 from Cicognani seems to be a one-stop amplifier and effect switcher that provides good tone at all volumes.
you’re looking for an analog all-tube amp with modeling amp versatility.
you’re looking pure simplicity, or a cab with more low end.