August 16, 2011
Like the B-15, Portaflex cabinets feature a flip-top design for storing the matching heads during transport, and they provide rugged reliability and serious tone.
A lot of bass players would put two classic Ampeg designs on their amplifier bucket list. At one extreme, there’s the SVT—the legendary powerhouse of big gigs. Take a searing, 300-watt tube head stacked on a cab loaded with eight 10" speakers in four sealed compartments, and there you have it, man-made thunder. Sure, the rig looms five feet tall and weighs 225 pounds, but hey, it’s rock ’n’ roll!
At the other end of the spectrum is the Ampeg B-15, one of the sweetest studio rigs ever produced. Despite weighing nearly 100 pounds, the venerated original put only a tenth of the SVT’s power into a single, 15" speaker. It got its “Fliptop” moniker from its ability to stash the head upside-down in the cab, but even with that attempt at convenience, the B-15 was hard to hoist with one strap handle. Though it came with a dolly that helped make it a little less of a hassle to use, the B-15 left many players yearning for an amp that put its essence in a more convenient package.
Enter Ampeg’s new Portaflex series. Though not necessarily lightweight at a combined 56 pounds for our review unit—48 pounds for the cab and eight for the 350-watt (at 4 Ω) solid-state head—these new rigs are easier to truck around. Like the B-15, Portaflex cabinets feature a flip-top design for storing the matching heads during transport, and they provide rugged reliability and serious tone. Ampeg also offers a 500-watt head and a 1x15 cabinet in the series, but for this review, let’s take a closer look at the Portaflex by matching up the Ampeg PF-210HE 2x10 cab with the PF-350 amp.
A Purple Glow
Original B-15s came with a Lucite panel that lit up when the amp was on—some owners even ordered a custom plate with their name on it. Ampeg’s PF-350 nods in the direction of tradition with a two-inch, purple-lit line above the basic EQ section. There’s no graphic EQ, no enhance, scoop, boost, distortion, or ultra-anything controls. Just Treble, Midrange, and Bass, with each set at an appropriate frequency—8 kHz, 500 Hz, and 40 Hz, respectively. Despite being scaled from 0 to 10, they’re actually cut/boost controls, with the straight-up position being flat. The front panel also has a jack for an MP3 player and another for headphones. Happily, the manual says it’s perfectly fine to unplug the speaker from the amp and practice silently.
The front panel also has Gain and Volume controls, a -15 dB pad for hot pickups or hard attack, a Limiter button to keep things in check when the volume gets pushed, and a Mute switch. During my time with this rig, I found that the input Gain control could be set at noon or higher without triggering the clip light. Likewise, the Volume control just started cooking around noon—kicking in the limiter required turning the Volume up nearly all the way. At a moderate level, this rig sounded sweet and round. It turned nasty when cranked—in a good, aggressive way—with more grit and grind than all-out distortion. This rig can get loud enough for many musical settings, far more so than the original 25-watt version.
Like the front, the back panel is also pretty basic—almost too much so. While there’s an XLR output, it lacks a ground lift, a pre/post EQ switch, and a level control to help tame its rather hot output. There is an effects loop, but it’s not switchable. Finally, I’ve really grown fond of the sturdy speakON plugs, but this amp only offers the standard 1/4" speaker jacks that don’t provide as secure of a connection.
More “Porta,” But No “Flex”
The name Portaflex represents an amalgam of “portable” and “bass reflex.” In other words, because the amp can be moved around on its own wheels, it can be considered portable. However, bass reflex suggests that the speaker is housed in a cabinet with a hole, tube, or shelf-cut in the front or back baffle, and is tuned to increase low-frequency response. That’s what’s different here—the PF-210HE cab is actually a sealed design. And if you’re looking for more mids and a more focused sound, a sealed cab can be just the ticket. My experience with sealed cabs is that they often provide smooth, singing highs, as well. And that’s just how I would describe the tone of Ampeg’s new 2x10. The pair of Eminence speakers—which handle 450 watts RMS— and a level-adjustable compression horn (which can be switched between on, -6 dB, or off) provide well-defined punch, along with a good deal of low end. Most of the room shook at home when testing out the amp at moderate volume levels. In the studio, the cab sounded full and warm, holding its own quite easily against a small Gretsch jazz drum set and a 335-style guitar running through a Fender Deluxe.
The cab itself is built from 15 mm poplar plywood—the good stuff, for both strength and lighter weight—and it’s lined throughout with sound-deadening material. It also includes four pop-out casters. Ampeg even went to the extra effort of providing a small zipper pouch and a Velcro tie-down for stashing the power and speaker cables during transit— a great way to avoid losing them, while also keeping the speaker cones safe.
In all, the Portaflex PF-350 head and PF-210HE make a sweet-sounding rig with a decent tonal palette and adequate power for a variety of settings. It’s priced nicely, too. The main downside is its transportability— it’s not going to be easy to get up and down stairs easily with the one strap. But on flat ground, rolling it should be a breeze. Further, its build is solid and sturdy, with the basic features you’d expect in a contemporary amp. It should do well in studio settings, much like the B-15 of old, and as long as extreme volume isn’t called for, it’ll also do just fine for club gigs.
you need a combo-sized rig with basic features and nice tones.
you need to shake walls and flap pants, or you’re a fanatic for tone tweaking.
Street $700 - Ampeg - ampeg.com