A pro-level bass preamp that resides on a pedalboard.
By relying on DIs as the primary component of their rigs, more and more bassists are making use of the house PA and monitor systems rather than carting around loads of gear. Enter ISP Technologies and their foray into the bass DI pedal race. Their Beta Bass rackmount preamp has already won favor with its world-class compressor, transparent EQ, and Decimator noise gate. And now, the folks at ISP have designed the new Beta Bass preamp pedal to give players all the features of the rackmount version in a pedal-sized package, but with some added tricks.
The Beta Bass has a cobalt finish, a trio of footswitches, and a whopping 14control knobs. Much like a mixing console, the controls seem daunting until you look at them in groups, rather than as a whole. The footprint is only about the size of two tuner pedals combined, but electrical real estate does come at a premium with the massive wall-wart power supply. The upside is that the pedal converts the 9V adaptor power to a +/- 15V DC supply, allowing for a ton of headroom.
The top row of controls is designated for the clean preamp. After the gain control on the far left, there’s a 4-band EQ that includes dual mid dials and two frequency sweep controls, which work together to provide semi-parametric tone shaping. The frequency range for the mids is a super-wide 60 Hz to 6 kHz.
The second row of knobs consists of five different sections. The first is the compression threshold, a simple 1-knob design that also adjusts the ratio. Next is the exciter mix, which allows you to blend in as much of the phase-manipulation exciter as you like. The exciter EQ is its companion and it adjusts the exciter’s mids and highs. The Decimator dial is next, which controls ISP’s patented noise-reduction technology. Following is the distortion section with gain and mix controls, and finally, a master level dial. The three footswitches control on/off for compression, the exciter, and the distortion, respectively.
I set up the Beta Bass between a ’78 Fender P and an Eden CXC210 combo. The clean section kept the bass sounding true to itself when set flat, and I found that small changes went a long way, especially with the bass and treble dials. The Beta Bass doesn’t color the tone, but instead merely helps it get where it needs to be. I was already impressed with the EQ’s sounds before moving on to the second rung, which really brought the whole DI to life.
The compression section is smooth and even, and super-squashing doesn’t happen until the circuit is pushed to around 75 percent. The exciter controls add a certain harmonic sweetness to the overall tone. The key to this feature is dialing in your ideal tone with the EQ section, and then activating the exciter. The shimmer kicks in and adds a new clarity to an already great sound. Slappers will love it for the pop, fingerstyle players will dig the nuances of the tone, and the harmonics simply gleam.
The distortion section is a powerful part of the Beta Bass, and with the mix control, you can get as nasty as you’d like or just add a pinch of dirt to the clean signal. The real treat is using the distortion and exciter together. The exciter’s harmonic sweetness takes the distortion to an edgier place and gives you even more tonal options and colors to play with.
The Beta Bass has a lot to offer. Yes, plenty of companies add a distortion circuit to their wares to cater to certain players, but they often fall short on tone. Not here: The distortion is super solid, and I dig the dedicated footswitch. If I were to have any beefs, it would be that the treble EQ control can get a little too crisp and potentially make things noisy. All said, ISP has rolled out a powerful tool for bassists that streets for well under $500, yet sounds like a preamp that costs twice that much.
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