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.
You need an innovative, high-quality, lightweight, powerful amp with a great set of built-in features.
You're a tube die-hard, prefer a no-frills rig, and have a modest gear budget.
MSRP RH450 $999; MSRP RS210 $499 - TC Electronic - tcelectronic.com