This black and yellow tube-based machine delivers plenty of vintage-bass warmth, with modern flavors to boot.
All clips recorded with a Yamaha BB 3000S using Avid Mbox into Logic X with two signals: The amp DI (post EQ) and a mic on a Subway Mesa Boogie 1x15 cabinet blended 50/50 in the mix.
Clip 1: “Flat” setting.
Clip 2: Bass/Treble boost setting. Limiter set at 2 o'clock.
Clip 3: “Old” setting, hi-mids boosted at 1 o'clock and limiter set at 10 o'clock.
Attractive and practical front panel. Little to no EQ needed with 3-position tone switch. Warm and fat tone, but not muddy.
No mute button. Limiter only applies to speaker out, not DI out.
Markbass Little Mark Vintage
Ease of Use:
Italy’s Markbass has been manufacturing bass amplification and cabinets since 2001, but owner Marco De Virgiliis, who started out in the telecommunications field, has been building amps under different monikers since the ’80s. The striking, black and yellow colors of Markbass, as well as the company’s impressive presence at the big-box retailers, are no doubt hard to miss. But in spite of the attention-grabbing visual appeal of their amps and cabs, I haven’t had much experience with the brand, even as a backline rig for a fly date. So, I had great anticipation and an open mind when the Little Mark Vintage amp arrived at my door.
Anyone who gets excited by gear looking even remotely vintage will see that the 5 1/2 pound Little Mark Vintage certainly intends to fit the part. The two largest features on the front plate are the pair of Universal Audio LA 610-style rotary knobs that control input gain and master volume. I applaud the choice, not only from a visual standpoint, but from a practical standpoint as well. They are arguably the two most important functions on the front panel of any bass amp. Another immediately noticeable feature is the 12AX7 preamp tube that’s placed square in the middle of the front plate behind a small window, and framed by the company’s trademark-yellow color to draw even more attention to its glow.
The front panel also boasts a volume control for the DI, which is small and located directly above the input jack. Placing the DI volume in such a high-traffic spot on the front panel might seem more risky than convenient, but the company solved this possible concern by giving the dial a remarkable amount of resistance. The control will not move by accident, even when the amp is in a gig bag, which is smart thinking.
The rest of the front panel brings us a 4-band EQ section, a limiter control, and a footswitch (not included) input. There is also a 3-position EQ preset switch to choose between flat, mid-scoop, and “old.” This serves as a one-stop-shopping tone control, but more on it later.
The rear panel provides all the usual suspects, with two speaker outputs (Speakon and 1/4"), effects send/return, tuner out, and DI out, as well as small push buttons for ground lift and the DI pre/post selection.
How Vintage is “Vintage?”
I grabbed my passive P/J-configured Yamaha BB3000S strung with bright, new strings. My hope was to hear vintage tones, but with lots of clarity of definition, which is what this maple-neck instrument naturally projects. Within 10 seconds of plugging into the amp, two words immediately came to mind: warmth and headroom. Compared to the other lightweight class-D amps I own, the Little Mark Vintage puts out a ton of volume—very quickly.
Markbass doesn’t purchase their class-D power section from a supplier, which is often the case with other manufacturers. Instead, Markbass designed and manufactured the power amp in-house. Maybe this is why the 500-watt Little Mark Vintage feels different and sounds louder than many of its competitors in the same class. With the amp set completely flat, at first I thought it was a little too midrange-forward. I soon realized through headphones with a miked Mesa/Boogie 1x15 and DI mixed 50/50, however, that the flat tone had a satisfying amount of personality in the midrange that didn’t need cutting at all.
When testing the second position on the 3-position tone switch, where highs and lows are boosted, I was able to get a very pleasing slap tone in spite of the word “vintage” in the name of the amplifier. I also set the onboard limiter at about 12 o’clock to add a little aggressive squash effect to my slap sound. The high end was present, but without any shrill overtones to the notes I was popping hard on the 1st string. The 12AX7 still shows its personality in this setting, but not so much that players used to very modern-sounding amps need worry when going after this type of tone.
Let’s Get Old
Okay, so maybe the third position on the tone dial could have a more flattering name than “old,” but it serves its purpose, nonetheless. According to Markbass, this position shaves some top end off the flat setting, but it’s clear that it adds some low end as well (the exact same amount as the mid-scoop setting). And the result is wonderful—especially when I switched over to a trusted Squier P equipped with flats and a foam mute. I also increased the gain quite a bit to get the tube to introduce a more vivid midrange personality into the old setting. The subsequent tone was both warm and vintage-sounding, yet still retained punch and definition. How many times have we bassists expected vintage tone from an amp claiming as much, yet all we got was murky and muddy? The Little Mark Vintage stays remarkably clear of that trap.
Yes, this amp unmistakably has the words “little” and “vintage” in its name, but it’s also capable of the opposite by sounding big and quite modern, though not overly modern, even at lower volume settings. The very few things this amp lacks are heavily outweighed by the giant, delicious, middle-of-the-road warm tone it provides. It’s a tone all its own, and it had me smiling and going back to play more after I finished this review.