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Roland Cube 80X Amp Review

A new Cube promises to raise your wattage while reducing your load.

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Roland Cubes are the underrated workhorses of the amplifier world. Sure, real tubes sound great, but if you live in an area where you have to take public transportation to gigs, you can easily grow to love the sound and portability of these lightweight combos. I have an old recording of myself playing through a Boss Overdrive into a mic’d 40-watt Cube, and you’d be hardpressed to tell that it wasn’t a tube stack. A prominent New York session player used to have, “If you don’t like it, mic it,” stenciled in old English lettering on the side of the same amp. More recently, I’ve been bringing the Micro Cube to gigs, either mic’ing it, or— thanks to its COSM modeling and recording output—running direct into the board.

Before now, the highest power available in the Cube line was 60 watts. Roland has now upped the ante with the latest addition: the 80-watt Cube-80X. I tested the 80X with a Fernandes Strat sporting DiMarzio Virtual Vintage pickups and a Stromberg Monterey semi-hollow equipped with DiMarzio EJ Custom humbucking pickups.

The Rundown
The Cube-80X delivers its power through one 12" speaker and what amounts to three switchable channels. The clean channel, labeled JC Clean—after Roland’s famous Jazz Chorus, sports a single volume control. A Lead channel contains its own Volume and Gain knobs, as well as a rotary switch that lets you choose nine additional models: Acoustic Sim (simulating an acoustic guitar), Black Panel (Fender Twin), DLX Combo (Fender Deluxe), Brit Combo (Vox), Tweed (Fender Bassman), Classic Stack (Marshall JMP 1987), Metal Stack (Peavey EVH 5150), R-Fier Stack (Mesa Boogie Rectifier), and Dyna-Amp.

The Dyna-Amp model is touted as offering “unprecedented tonal changes according to your picking dynamics.” Of course, at low to medium gain levels, any good amp should respond to your picking dynamics, and a large part of the appeal of COSM modeling is that the simulations are realistically dynamic. The Dyna-Amp setting pushes these dynamics to interesting, if unrealistic, extremes. Once you get used to it, though, you may find it to be an expressive tool. The third channel, labeled Solo, is programmable. The EQ and Effects settings are shared by the Clean and Lead channels, but you can program the Solo channel to call up a separate set of model, EQ and effects settings. Saving these settings is as simple as holding down the Solo button for two seconds. This section also has its own Volume knob, so I was able to set different output levels for Clean, Lead (or crunch rhythm), and Solo.

Sound Clips to Go
Even if you don’t play raging, loud metal, a high-wattage amp has the advantage of gobs of clean headroom. The Roland JC-120 is favored by funk guitarists for its ability to remain squeaky clean at a volume that can cut through horns and keyboards. Check out Clip 1 to hear how the JC Clean setting on the 80X delivers distortion-free funk, at a little over half the poundage of a JC-120. Another type of picker that worships light, high-powered amps is the jazz guitarist. Both the JC Clean and Black Panel settings neatly handled the low end of the Stromberg with the neck tone rolled down, but I preferred the warmth of the Black Panel (Clip 2).

Switching back to the Fernandes and the Classic Stack, you can hear the realistic dynamics of the COSM modeling on Clip 3, where I set the amp for moderate gain, first picking lightly and then with more attack. Following that you will hear the distortion increase gradually as I build a chord and launch into an AC/ DC style riff. The Tweed sound captured that Texas “thang” (Clip 4), but was smoother, and handled the low end better than most models (and many an actual Bassman).

For my Solo Sound (Clip 5), I chose the Classic Stack, added a bit more gain, boosted the mids, added a little reverb and delay, and saved it. Though it is based on a Marshall sound, the EQ—along with the slight compression that COSM modeling tends to add—gave the tone more Dumble-like warmth. I found that due to a significant midrange bump in the speaker, single coils sounded better than humbuckers. Running out of the extension speaker output of the 80X into a custom 1x12” cabinet with an Eminence speaker opened open a whole new range of tones.

The Final Mojo
Though it is hard to imagine hard rock and metal players using the 80X on a gig (recording and practice—definitely), gigging jazz, country and funk guitarists are sure to appreciate the massive headroom and minimal weight of the Cube-80X.

Buy if...
you want loud and light.
Skip if...
tubes are your thing.

MSRP $399 - Roland -