SWR''s micro bass amps maintain that SWR sound in a portable package.
Certain iconic bass amps are known for
their signature sounds that astute bassists
can tell apart the same way a guitar-amp
gourmet can tell a Fender from a Marshall
while blindfolded. Ampeg equals warm and
aggressive. Gallien-Krueger tends toward an
edgy bite. SWR is known for its modern, hi-fi
sounds defined by clear highs, deep lows,
and scooped mids.
Over the years, I’ve owned two classic SWR amps, the Bass 350 and the SM-400. Both provided high-fidelity, authoritative tones. So when I received the Headlite and Amplite heads, my first question was, would these new designs capture the trademark SWR sound?
The quick answer is yes. And more. Let’s look at some of the details.
Headlite: The Tiny Amp with Full-Sized Features
Nearly every major bass amp company has come up with a mini rig. SWR may be fashionably late to the party, but they’ve put this extra time to good use. Though it’s tiny, the Headlite remains true to both the SWR sound and feature set. I was amazed at how SWR managed to sneak a 3-band EQ (with adjustable frequency centers), a compressor, an enhanced Aural Enhancer, an effects blend, and an XLR direct out (with adjustable output level, pre/post selection, and ground lift) into an 8.5" x 9.75" package that weighs less than 4 pounds. The Headlite even sports a 12AX7 tube, just like its bigger siblings.
|Download Example 1|
Headlite - Aural Enhancer
As you might expect, shoehorning all these features into such a diminutive package necessitates a few trade-offs. For example, many of the controls use a knob-in-knob design. For example, a tone knob’s inner ring cuts or boosts a frequency band, which is set by the knob’s outer ring. Likewise, another knob has FX Blend on the outside, and Comp (compressor level) on the inside. Although a careful bassist would have no problem with the Headlite’s durability, I didn’t feel it would be as sturdy as a typical full-sized rig.
Upon first glance, the other question most bassists would have about the Headlite is whether there’s enough power in this tiny box. It all depends. The amp is rated at 400 watts RMS into 4 ohms. The manual doesn’t spec 8-ohm output, but typically that would be about 250 watts. Because the amp doesn’t go down to 2 ohms, you can plan on using one 4-ohm cab or two 8-ohm cabs to hit maximum power. Given the right cabs— which would need to provide sufficient cone area and greater than 100 dB efficiency—the Headlite should be able to keep up with most bands playing at moderate volumes.
Headlite Tones: Looks Little, Sounds Big
To test the Headlite, I plugged in my G&L L-2500, a 5-stringer with plenty of highs, lows, and punch. To match the Headlite’s tiny size, I hooked it up to my very efficient, 4-ohm Euphonic Audio Wizzy 12 cab. SWR has its own Golight cabs, including a 4x10, a 1x15, and a 2x10. These cabs are efficient (105 dB) and should mate well with the Headlite, but watch the impedance because some are 4 ohm while others spec at 8 ohm.
I set the Aural Enhancer to the “classic” 200 Hz center, dialed it to the 1 o’clock position, and left the three EQ knobs on their detented flat settings. (Thank goodness for those detents—the tiny black indicator dots on the knobs are all but invisible unless they’re right in your face.) Happily, this setting yielded the classic SWR sound with a solid punch to each note. Pushing the Enhancer’s shift button provided a warmer version of the same sound, with the scoop center moved up to 600Hz. Pressing the Enhancer’s knob defeats its function, providing a flat-EQ sound suitable for acoustic instruments. Engaging this button to remove the Enhancer’s deep bottom and crisp edge that worked so well for electric bass, I played an Azola BugBass electric upright through the Headlite and was rewarded with a full, warm sound. I should add that the Headlite’s compressor did a good job of leveling out the sound without totally squashing it.
Amplite: The Headlite As a One-Knob Wonder
SWR’s new Amplite delivers the Headlite’s power amp without all the additional controls and features. It has just one knob on the front that adjusts—you guessed it—the amp’s volume level. The only other action on the Amplite’s front panel is a set of power level indicators that show when you’re getting all the output the Amplite has to give. Poking around the back of the Amplite, I found a pair of Speakon connection jacks, a combo ¼"/XLR input jack and a pass-though output jack for sending the same signal to additional amps.
I tried an Aguilar Tone Hammer preamp pedal straight into the Amplite and its signal easily drove the Amplite. I also ran the Preamp Out from the Headlite into the Amplite, connected a 4-ohm speaker cab to each unit, and used the Headlite’s Master knob to adjust the volume of both devices. Whether slaving with the Headlite or powering a separate preamp, the Amplite is a handy amp to keep around for an extra bit of oomph.
The Final Mojo
The Headlite and Amplite came in one thickly padded, divided bag with plenty of room for speaker and power cables. I thought it ironic that these two tiny amps ship with a 6', 12-gauge speaker cable and a long, heavy power cord. Combined, they weigh nearly as much as the Amplite itself. For my own micro amps, I carry a 2', 16-gauge speaker cable that gets the job done just fine.
I do have a few quibbles. One is that the knob indicator dots are nearly invisible. Another is that these two amps have alwayson fans. Although they’re not loud, they are audible and might knock the Headlite out of contention for recording studio or home practice if you’re fussy. Neither of my tiny amps with similar power specs has a fan, and a buddy’s micro amp has a heat-sensitive fan that only comes on when it’s needed. SWR might consider changing the fan design to boost the Headlite’s versatility. Finally, the feet on these amps are made of a fairly hard material. As a result, the amp may slide while you’re making adjustments.
In all, the Headlite captures SWR’s signature tone and packs a lot of features into an incredibly small package. An optional footswitch includes muting, effects-loop switching, and a tuner to make the device even more convenient. So if you’re after a tiny amp that works well with electric bass, the Headlite (and its Amplite sibling) might be just the answer.
you need a versatile micro bass amp and you can get the job done with 400 watts at 4 ohms.
you play loud, loud, loud—or soft enough that you’d notice the internal fan—or you’re rough on your gear.
Street: Headlite $700, Amplite $550 - SWR Sound - swramps.com
Looking for more great gear for the guitar player in your life (yourself included!)? Check out this year's Holiday Gear Finds!
D'Addario XPND Pedalboard
DR-05X Stereo Handheld Recorder
Wampler Pedals Ratsbane
Created in collaboration with legendary guitarist George Lynch of Dokken and Lynch Mob fame, the Mr.Scary Mod adds an adjustable tube gain stage and an onboard Deep control, which together are designed to enable an amp to have increased sustain while still retaining note definition and dynamics.
LegendaryTones, LLC today announced production availability of its new Mr. Scary Mod, a 100% pure tube module designed to instantly and easily expand the capabilities of many classic amplifiers with additional gain and tone shaping. Created in collaboration with legendary guitarist George Lynch of Dokken and Lynch Mob fame, the Mr.Scary Mod adds an adjustable tube gain stage and an onboard Deep control, which together are designed to enable an amp to have increased sustain while still retaining note definition and dynamics.
Originally released as the Lynch Mod in February 2021, the updated Mr. Scary Mod features the same core circuit as the Lynch Mod but is now equipped with a revised tube mix combo per George’s preference as well as a facelift in a newly redesigned electro-galvanized steel enclosure. As with the Lynch Mod, each run will be limited and the first run in Pumpkin Orange with Black hardware is limited to just 150 pieces worldwide.
The Mr. Scary Mod adds an adjustable tube gain stage on top of the cathode follower position, keeping note definition and articulation while further increasing sustain. Each Mr. Scary mod is meticulously built by hand in the USA, one at a time, and tuned using high-grade components. Equipped with a single ECC81 (12AT7) in the first position and ECC83 (12AX7) in the second, the Mr. Scary Mod can clean up beautifully when rolling down your guitar’s volume, and still adds scorching gain when you roll it back up. This is a gain stage that’s been tuned and approved by the ears of the maestro George Lynch himself.
“The Mr. Scary Mod excels with dynamics and is incredibly touch-responsive, allowing me to shift from playing clear, lightly compressed cleans to full-out aggressive sustain and distortion –and control it all simply by varying my guitar’s volume control and picking,” said GeorgeLynch. “In many ways, it’s an old-school approach, but it’s also so much more natural and expressive in addition to being musically fulfilling when you can play both the guitar and amp dynamically together this way.”
The Mr. Scary Mod installs in minutes, is safe and effective to use, and requires no special tools or re-biasing of the amplifier. Simply insert the module into the cathode follower preamp position of compatible amplifiers (includes Marshall 2203/2204/1959/1987 circuits) and
immediately get the benefit of enjoying a hot-rodded amp that delivers all the pure harmonic character that comes with an added pure tube gain stage. The handmade in the USA Mr. Scary Mod is now available to order for $319.
For more information, please visit legendarytones.com.
October Audio has miniaturized their NVMBR Gain pedal to create two mini versions of this beautifully organic-sounding circuit – including an always-on gain device.
The NVMBR Gain is a nonlinear amp that transitions gracefully from clean boost to overdriven tones. Volume increases from just over unity to about 10db before soft-clipping drive appears for another 5db of boost. Its extraordinary ease of use is matched by outstanding versatility: you can use it as a clean boost, push a stubborn amp into overdrive or create a just-breaking-up sound at any amp volume.
October Audio’s new family of mini NVMBR Gain pedals includes a switchable version that allows you to bypass the effect: one option features brand logo pedal graphics, while the other sports a fun “Witch Finger” graphic with a Davies knob as the“fingernail”.
The second version in the new lineup is an always-on device featuring the Witch Finger graphic and Davies knob, with the same NVMBR Gain circuit that lies at the core of the switchable version.
- Knob controls gain and clipping simultaneously
- Stunning silver hammertone finish
- Switchable versions are true-bypass, available with classic or witch finger graphics
- Authentic Davies knobs, including the “fingernail”
- 9V center negative power supply required
- Dimensions: 3.63 x 1.50 x 1.88 in
Witch Finger (always on NVMBR Gain) demo
All October Audio pedals are assembled in Richmond, VA, and available for purchase directly through the online shop. Street price is $109 for NVMBR Gain footswitch versions and $89 for the always-on device.
For more information, please visit octoberaudio.com.