David Nordschow Amplification DNA-800 Review
A light and tight bass powerhouse with an impressive design pedigree.
When David Nordschow has produced bass gear, the results have historically been significant. The design veteran’s credits include stints with SWR and Eden Electronics—both hugely respected names in the bass universe. Now manufacturing under his DNA brand, each chapter of Nordschow’s bass-amp legacy and 40-plus years of developer knowledge are built into each one of his meticulously crafted amps and cabinets. We recently looked at the class-D DNA-800, a small but mighty 800-watt head with loads of personality and taste.
The DNA of It All
The DNA-800 is a small bass head, but it’s not in the micro family. I’d say it’s more like a micro amp’s beefy cousin, since it maintains some size yet only weighs a hair under 5 pounds. I appreciate that the DNA-800 is rackmountable, since I like to properly protect an investment as well as keep my load light.
The front panel of the DNA-800 is straightforward: gain, shape, a 4-band EQ, a 2-knob compressor section, and master volume—with pull switches controlling even more under the hood. The gain control doubles as an input pad, the shape control can be activated to post-DI when pulled, and pulling the threshold control disengages the compressor. The knobs are tight and precise, and the six LED indicators tucked under the knobs are super bright, which we like for the dark stages.
The back panel is a lot busier than the front. The DNA-800 sports two Speakon speaker connections and a 1/4" speaker out. There is a DI with level control as well as an auxiliary input with level control. (I was a little baffled that the DNA-800 sports RCA connectors for the auxiliary, since I suspect most folks have a lot more 1/8" cables lying around than RCA cables.)
The back panel rounds out with a footswitch in, a slave in that allows a player to use the DNA to power an external preamp, effects send and returns, a tuner in, and, lastly, a secondary instrument input. The additional input can be handy in keeping the front panel clean when using wireless units and other rack effects. The only downside I see to this is if one needs to unplug or bypass a troubled unit in a hurry.
When it was time to hear the DNA-800, I plugged it into an Eden D410XLT (the irony is not lost here) and employed both a Fender ’75 Jazz reissue and a fretless Music Man StingRay. I started out with the J, the amp’s shape control off, and the EQ dials set at 12 o’clock, which usually means at zero . The controls, however, are labeled 0 to 10, which can be a little confusing. There is a cut and boost for each EQ control, so don’t be misled: Straight up means inactive.
With everything set flat, I was able to get a true representation of my passive Jazz, which is the mark of a great amp. There was no tone coloration with the DNA—yet. The shape knob is the secret sauce here. When I rolled it up, there was a subtle mid roll-off with a bass boost. It’s essentially a very detailed “smile” on an EQ that brings out subtleties of the tone. In easing this control up, my Jazz became more robust and sounded lively and active without added volume. The clarity was fantastic. I then eased on the compressor by setting the threshold and ratio about halfway, and found a vibrant slap tone. Somehow my bass sounded more alive, rich, and articulate. And I hadn’t even touched the EQ yet.
Speaking of EQ, a little goes a long way with the DNA-800. Adjusting the controls just a couple notches in either direction, the cut and boost were pretty significant. I found a very nice setting with both the bass and high-mid controls up one notch. Was I Marcus Miller? In my mind I was. Every nuance of the bass could be heard. Another great feature of the amp is that the EQ can be toggled on and off via the optional footswitch, which can add another dimension to your playing, approach to the bass, and overall tone.
The DNA-800 was just as at home with the fretless StingRay. The shape control was its friend here as well, but not as much adjustment was needed. The shape circuit was almost like an exciter at a lower setting—just enough to miss if it’s not on. Again, the EQ controls are effective, but with any and all bass, too much can muddy the waters and leave your tone fighting with lower frequencies and not being heard with the clarity it deserves. Such was the case with the Music Man. Too much shape or low EQ adjustment and, yes, I was shaking the ground, but the delicacy of the tone was lost. That said, I played my Music Man a lot longer than I have in a while, because the amp/bass combo sounded really, really nice once I had it dialed in. I even got a little crazy with the compression by setting the threshold high to squash my signal to a place I wouldn’t normally play, but I had a lot of fun with some percussive/tonal passages. The sign of great gear is that it inspires, right?
The DNA-800 packs power, punch, and personality. I love its light weight, and in the class-D range of amps, the DNA-800 is among the better ones I’ve heard. It’s crafted from top-quality components, which means the amp should serve a player for years to come. I personally would shuffle a few options around on the amp (and maybe include a headphone out for practice), but overall, the DNA-800 is a fine piece of bass amplification that will serve any level of player well if he or she is looking for an earth-shaking tone monster with great, yes, DNA.
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