A svelte 800-watt bass amp with a cornucopia of sounds available via free download.
Bassists have long been told that bigger is better. More cabs, more tubes, and more watts will announce your entrance like Thor’s hammer. The problem is that, well, somebody has to carry all that stuff.
Thankfully, manufacturers have been listening to hunched-over, sore-armed bassists weary of hauling refrigerator-sized rigs, and they’re responding with lighter cabs and smaller heads that boast the same power and features as their big brothers. TC Electronics’ BH800 is a perfect example: It’s a functional, cost-effective, and great-sounding amp that can fit in your backpack, but still bring the thunder to big rooms.
Rumble in the Jungle
The BH800 takes the most popular features from its predecessor, the BH250 bass head, and expands on them with increased depth and range—and a whopping 800 watts of class-D power. The head has gained a little weight (6.4 pounds versus 4.5 for the BH250), but it offers far greater air-moving potential.
The amp is housed in a rugged metal chassis with a scarlet faceplate. Its controls are simple: gain, 4-band EQ, TonePrint controls (more on these shortly), mute toggle, and master volume. The front side also houses a bright, easy-to-use onboard tuner.
The back panel is primed for plenty, with a single 4 ohm (minimum) out, a USB port for uploading firmware and TonePrints, an 1/8" auxiliary in, an 1/8" headphone jack that mutes the speaker when used, and a 1/4" jack for the optional Switch-3 pedal. (The Switch-3 controls the mute function and TonePrint switcher, and turns TonePrints on and off.) There’s also a balanced output with a mini-toggle to select a post- or pre-EQ direct signal.
I paired the BH800 with an Aguilar 1x12 cabinet and used both an active Fender Jazz and a passive Fender Squier P. The tiny footprint of the BH800 may invite some ribbing, but its looks are deceptive: This mouse roars. The class-D amp is loud and crystal-clear, delivering a true representation of what I sent its way—no coloration, no dirt. (The low-mid EQ is particularly useful when shaping tones.)
But the BH800’s standout feature may be its TonePrint technology. TonePrints are downloadable effect presets that TC Electronic has commissioned from a who’s who of rock, funk, and R&B bassists. Sure, you can still run your favorite chorus pedal. But what if you want the chorus tones of, say, Nathan East, Victor Wooten, Duff McKagan, or Fieldy? They are all available—and free. All you need to do is download a simple app, point your phone at a pickup, and voila: two new effects at your fingertips, and you can change them as often as you like.
Two front-panel knobs control the effect parameters. Between these controls is a mini toggle to switch between your two current TonePrints. The toggle’s size and location makes it a little tricky to maneuver on the fly, though the optional footswitch remedies this potential hiccup.
The BH800 comes preloaded with the TubeDrive and Classic Chorus TonePrints, both of which sound great. Crank the first preset for tube-like drive with nice high-end breakup. The second sound is a lush, clear chorus. You could just stop here, but chances are, you won’t. There’s a large library of downloadable TonePrints, and you’ll probably spend hours exploring them.
TonePrints have a few limitations. First, the app doesn’t work if your phone is on vibrate—not a huge deal unless you keep your phone onstage. Second, the effect parameters can be limited. (One reason there are so many TonePrints is because they’re needed to cover all possible settings, including ones not accessible from the amp’s onboard controls.) Don’t count on being able to change every nuance of every effect.
Still, the available effects are impressive. I felt like I had superhero powers whenever I’d zap effects almost instantly to my rig. The Old School Octaver is a standout with its slightly muddy and compressed sound, but I also dug the clear, brilliant tones of the Clean Octaver TonePrint. There’s also an assortment of “combined” TonePrints, such as TubeWarmth ’N’ Comp and SprectraComp ’N’ Drive. Such presets may not replace your Ampeg V4-B or cranked Acoustic 360, but they get you into those ballparks.
TC Electronic doesn’t weigh down the BH800 with bells and whistles, yet they’ve packed all you need into one compact package. The amp sounds fantastic, fits in a backpack, and pretty much eliminates the need for a tuner, practice amp, or chiropractor. The BH800 can easily transition from backstage/hotel practice amp to the stage, and you can download a huge collection of virtual effects for free from the TonePrint library. (Imagine showing up to a gig and realizing you need an additional effect for just one song. Just point your phone or tablet at your bass, and you’re set.) Not to sound like the old guy in the room, but I wish this amp was around when I started out.
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