Ashdown’s new 500-watt, 11-pound bass amp brings tweakability aplenty for less than 500 bucks.
Clip 1 - Nash P-style. EQ set flat, comp at 9 o’clock, drive at 1 o’clock, sub at 4 o’clock.
Clip 2 - Ritter R8 5-string. No EQ, no effects.
Closing in on their second decade in the biz, Ashdown Engineering has built a solid reputation in the bass amplification arena by designing quality gear for players on all budgets. Their Rootmaster series in particular gives players a taste of Ashdown’s most endearing characteristics while still tagged at a friendly price. The latest amplifier in the series, the RM-500-EVO, builds on its cousin RM-420 by offering a boost in power, a few component upgrades, and a clean, shiny look. Here, we had a chance to put the new amp to work by pairing it with an Ashdown RM-210T-EVO cab.
A Chip Off the Old Block
The look of the RM-500 preserves the unique design of Ashdown’s family of amplifiers. The vintage-inspired VU meter has become a signature component for nearly all Ashdown heads and the RM-500 is no different. The EQ contains the traditional bass, middle, and treble controls, which are separated by a low-mid dial (240 Hz) and a high-mid dial (1.5 kHz).
Below the quintet of EQ controls are the effects most often found on a bassist’s pedalboard: Compression, drive, and sub controls are available to tighten up the tone, give it some grit, and double up a bass note with a sub-octave companion. Ashdown thoughtfully installed disabling switches for the comp, drive, and EQ sections.
These features may be familiar to those who have used Ashdown’s RM-420, but the aforementioned additions to the RM-500 are both handy and eye-catching. A mute switch was added, and passive and active inputs are provided on the new amp to complement a variety of pickups. Add to this the power boost (500 watts, from 420) and a shiny chrome-esque faceplate, and you have a very attractive upgrade to the Rootmaster formula.
The RM-210T cab Ashdown sent us is constructed of lightweight ply, wrapped in heavy-duty Tolex, and fronted with a black cloth grille. The cabinet features a pair of custom 10" Ashdown White Line speakers and, according to Ashdown, these lightweight drivers deliver more midrange while preserving the low-end response. The tweeter is controlled by a 3-way switch, which offers simple and effective manipulation of the highs.
My initial experience with the Rootmaster test rig started off a bit, shall we say, scratchy. As I went to adjust the bass control of the RM-500, I cut the top of my index finger on the edge of the black chassis. Upon closer inspection, there were burrs above the treble knob as well. I’m typically forgiving when it comes to budget-friendly gear, but I can’t be without my fingers! (Ashdown told us this was the first complaint of its kind and that they would be contacting the factory to ensure it doesn’t happen again.) Despite this, the Rootmaster rig was easy to handle. The lightweight components provided one-trip transportation from car to stage and never caused fatigue over long walking distances.
Most of my time with the Rootmaster rig took place at a blues jam with two guitarists, a sax player, and a drummer. I split my playing between a Nash P-style and an F Bass BN6 to tinker with different tonal combinations. As a baseline, I disengaged the EQ, compression, and drive controls, and started out by plugging the F Bass into the active input. Once I set the gain level with help from the VU meter, the sonic qualities of the Rootmaster rig were revealed.
Characteristically, the affordable Ashdown pairing has solid but not overpowering lows, strong midrange, and cutting highs. The power delivered through the RM-500 is impressive, though I felt the RM-210T didn’t quite maximize the sonic fortitude of the amp. This was confirmed when I swapped in another lightweight 2x10 cabinet, and the difference in projection and perceived volume was apparent. For the remainder of my time with the gear, however, I returned the RM-500 to the RM-210T for a complete critique of the Ashdown components.
I explored the EQ next, which is voiced well and addressed tonal enhancements with ease. For example, a careful boost of the bass and low-mid controls nicely pumped the notes of the F Bass’s 6th string. Meanwhile, the flatwound-equipped Nash benefitted from a boost in the middle and high-mid control, which added presence to the powerful P-style bass.
There is an ample amount of compression onboard the RM-500 when needed. I found that dialing the control too far past 10 o’clock really squashed the tone, but judicious application of the comp gave my 16th-note passages and slap lines punch and consistency. It also assisted both basses in punching through the overall mix.
The drive and sub features likely won’t replace your favorite stompboxes, but its nice to have them available for spicing up your tone. The sub control required a significant amount of cranking to balance the effect with the signal, but it added heft and thickness for heavy blues tunes like “Born Under a Bad Sign.” And while it didn’t track quite as well as some octave pedals out there, it did its job nicely for an occasional sub-harmonic moment. Next, I checked out the amount of grunt and grit I could glean from the drive circuit. While it supplied a pretty tame wash of dirt at lower settings, cranking the drive gave my Nash gut-punching girth combined with gnashing distortion, and it managed to satisfy Deep Purple’s “Space Truckin’” with ease.
The Rootmaster rig survived the night while providing me with mid-friendly bass tones and some useful effects. I really dig the black-and-chrome look of the amp, but the dark labels were a touch difficult to read against the shiny front plate and made initial tweaking a bit of a challenge. To be fair, this likely wouldn’t be a concern in the long term once familiarized with the amp.
The Rootmaster series provides a lot of practical features at a friendly price point. For less that $800, you can commandeer an amp/head portable-amplification combo that will suit any small- to medium-sized venue. It’s an ideal setup for a beginner looking to transition from a combo amp to a gig-friendly rig, or a weekend warrior who’s tired of schlepping a cumbersome head and cabinet. Despite the minor QC issues found on the test amp, the RM-500 and RM-210T pairing represents attractive, no-nonsense bass amplification that delivers a nice taste of Ashdown’s sonic excellence.
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