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VTypeV4

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  1. Thanks to everyone for their kind comments regarding this review - it's appreciated and very humbling. It's a lovely community here on Basschat. 😎 As for Trace Elliot gear, my journey started with a little Boxer 30 back in 1998 and it was a stonking little amp! I remember carrying it to school on a couple of occasions and it running rings round the nasty 'Syncron Bass' amplifier that was there at the time. Fast forward 18 months or so and my first 'proper' amp was a 712SMC which continued the now 22 year love affair for all things TE.. 💚
  2. Smx 400 inside by VTypeV4, on Flickr Smx 400 inside by VTypeV4, on Flickr Smx 400 inside by VTypeV4, on Flickr Smx 400 inside by VTypeV4, on Flickr I thought I'd best pull it apart just in case it was caked in dust but thankfully, it was very clean so I simply gave it a few squirts of contact cleaner before buttoning it back together. The valve appears to be original as it's got 'Trace Elliot' printed on the side but it works fine with no distortion or difference in gain so I've left it in. 😎
  3. Thanks, Lozz.. 🤗 I had a 300 about twenty years ago - it sounded great but suffered from a few dry joints on the infamous 'bi polar bear' power stage. Hope you get it fixed, I'm sure you'll love it all over again. 😎
  4. Thanks, I'd honestly forgotten how they were.
  5. Smx 1020 by VTypeV4, on Flickr Overview: As the decade of the yuppy, Boy George, questionable fashion styles and many other cliches associated with the 1980s was coming to a close, Trace Elliot were riding on the wave of their success of their (then) highly sophisticated and high powered range of bass amplifiers. Noted for their unique sound and unmistakable aesthetics which included a large graphic EQ, green facia paint and a glowing UV strip, Trace amps were seen behind many of the great players of the time. The then current 'Series 6' range introduced in around '88 was still hip, modern and built on the reputation of the previous 'Mark V' series with a notable extension of the 11-band range now up to twelve which were coupled to improved and more powerful (up to 600w) solid state output stages. There was also a range of valve amplifiers with brushed steel panels which had modified versions of the GP7 and GP12 pre-amplifiers and multi-tube output stages up to 380w which were known as the 'Twin Valve', 'Quattra Valve' and 'Hexa Valve' models. These were developed from the equally sought after VA models - high times, indeed. As an ever innovative company, Trace Elliot had not stood still and continued developing their latest range of bass rigs which appeared on the market in around '93. Both 7 and 12-band models had additional features (such as EQ balance, compression and valve stages) and improvements over the previous Series 6 versions. The new range designed by Clive Button was to be known as the 'Sound Management' series with the pre-amp stages now known as the GP7-SM and GP12-SMX respectively. The SM models had an update in '97 (around the time of the Gibson purchase) to become the SMC range now with a simplified dual band compressor whilst SMX models would almost last until the end of the millennium virtually unchanged and to many, represent the very pinnacle of Trace Elliot amplification. Sadly, after 2000, production was being wound off by the bosses at Gibson and the replacement GP12X never saw the same success as its predecessor. Problems in terms of reliability and build quality also became apparent which did little aid the reputation of theses models and by 2002, production had stopped. Fast forward to 2005 and the brand was now owned by Peavey who had developed new 'Trace Elliot' amplifiers built at Peavey UK in Corby and later in the US. These only saw moderate success due to their own reliability problems, the rather steep price tags and weight - the dawn of the lightweight amp was upon us. Today, the Trace Elliot brand still exists and the ELF is one of the smallest, lightest amplifiers on the market and according to many online reviews is solid, reliable and capable of holding it's own at gigs although the question of whether it truly sounds like the amps of old is still somewhat divisive. I can't comment as I've not tried one yet - I've only ever seen one example in the real world. Smx art biyang by VTypeV4, on Flickr Features: The SMX has an array of knobs, sliders and buttons across the front panel which on initial inspection seem a little cluttered and complex. A closer second look will make more sense of things with each stage having it's own section. Initial input on the far left has a single jack socket with an active / passive switch plus there's the usual input gain knob although the input level is metered by a 'traffic light' system for optimum gain. Allied to this, there's a blend control for both transistor and valve stages, each giving a different 'flavour' or a balance of both. Next are the tonal adjustments with two switchable pre-shapes and the switchable 12-band graphic EQ with an independent level control - the status of both are indicated with LEDs next to each switch. Towards the right, there's the 'Sound management' section which, at it's centre has the EQ balance and this acts as a highpass / lowpass filter when turned clockwise / anti clockwise respectively. Flanked either side of the balance control are separate controls for the low band (left) and high band (right) compressors each of which has a different envelope suited for each frequency band. The knobs act as a threshold (and possibly a subtle increase in ratio - difficult to say) control with maximum compression obtained with the controls fully clockwise. Finally, on the far left, an output level adjusts playing volume and unbalanced line out connection levels, a standy switch works as a handy mute / tune plus there's an effects level blend for the FX loop. As a bonus on the non-rackmount 400w and 600w models, a UV strip light illuminates the control panel so even on effectively black stages, the status of all controls are easily seen. The rear panel is different on each version. AH300-SMX: 250 / 300w model is a compact 2u chassis and only has a single DI out (XLR) and a single, mono FX loop. Early 250 models came with a convection-cooled output stage but later 280w 'Bi-Polar Bear' stages were fan cooled. Very late models were fitted with the 320w Clive Button output board after reliability problems became an issue. AH400-SMX: 350 / 400w model is a larger 3u chassis, has two FX loops (one parallel, stereo and high passed; the other series, mono and full range), 3 DI out (two post EQ, one pre) plus a dual mono line out. I can't find any reference regarding differences between the 350w and 400w versions other than their cosmetics. AH600-SMX: 300w + 300w with the rest as above but with additional switching for mono full range, stereo full range or bi-amp operation plus an adjustable crossover with level controls on each power amplifier section. These were unchanged other than cosmetically. Stand alone SMX pre-amp: As AH400-SMX but in smaller 2u chassis with adjustable crossover and high pass / low pass line outputs. Specification: AH400-SMX Hybrid pre-amp & SS output stage 400w at 4 ohm, 300w at 8 ohm Traditional class A/B topology - heavy iron and big capacitors 12-band graphic equalizer Switchable pre-shaped EQ curves Active & passive input Master volume Dual band compressor Series and parallel effects loops Pre and post EQ direct outputs (XLR) Post master volume line outs (Jack) All references forward from here will be specific to the 400SMX. Smx art biyang by VTypeV4, on Flickr Sound Quality: The baked in Trace Elliot sound isn't suited to all tastes, generes and sonic spaces - pre-shape one (general scoop centered at 400hz with slight boosts at 50hz and 2K5) is very '80s and quite harsh - number two is similar but less extreme. This is the usual association with these amps however, they are far more than a one-trick pony - the graphic EQ can be switched in to make some far more useful and real world sounds. Personally I use a combination of shape one and further adjust the sound with graphic for a smooth, more modern sound. With such an array of options and combination, I expect pretty much any sound could be coaxed from punk and rock through to jazz and funk - I've never struggled to get a sound I like. The only potential downfall that could be leveled at the SMX is the lack of overdrive facility but that's not what these amps are about - powerful, clean and loud is where it's at - much like the SWR range albeit a different character. I'm sure a Sansamp before the amp could easily dirt things up if that was your thing. Now to the jewel in the crown of the SMX; that dual band compressor. In studios, multi-band compression is common place and can be very useful in shaping a sound whether that be individual channels as part of a mix or a piece in the puzzle of mastering but is rarely seen on instrument amplification. Trace Elliot saw it fit do adorn the SMX with a dual band compressor so frequencies below 250hz will be treated differently than those above. Judging by ear (so this might be less than absolute fact) the low band has a slow (ish) attack and release and a soft knee which adds a 'solid' feel to each note. Note definition is helped and it gives you something to 'lean' against when digging in. The high-band feels to be a much faster envelope so personally, I use only a little of this as too much seems to kill the note and it starts feel like the dynamics have been all but ironed out. Whilst I'm used to comprehensive compressors, the simple two-knob design of the SMX works just as well in both live and studio situations - I feel like a lot of adjustments and tweaking were done at the design stage to get it right. Given how flexible and tweakable the pre-amp is, it's very difficult to define but in terms of quality, it sounds great . I feel the Trace Elliot with it's extensive options will either help you shine and get you exactly where you want to go or it will hang you out to dry. To get the best out of it, knowing your frequencies and how they sonically 'fit' on the graphic EQ is a massive help plus listening and feeling for the appropriate levels of compression is also key - I always compare EQ and compression to booze; some can be good so more might be better unless it becomes too much - it can be a tricky balance sometimes. Taking the time and really getting to know it is the solution as they aren't really a 'plug and play' amplifier. The single 400 watt output stage is very capable and definitely worthy of it's rating - at the time of writing, amplifiers of three times the claimed power are common place - many which weigh half (or less!) than the old Trace. Personally, I've never needed it 'full tilt' and at rehearsal it barely sits above idle. Despite it's 'modest' rating, make no mistake, this thing is 'proper', capable of rolling with the loudest of situations and finding the limits of most speaker enclosures! Smx art biyang by VTypeV4, on Flickr Build quality and reliability: In terms of build, I can't really criticize it on any level. On the outside, the green 'rat furr' (as many call it?) is bobble free and accurately upholstered, the riveted stainless steel corners are precisely fitted and the flip handles are highly over-spec'd. Looking to the front control panel, the black and bright green contrast each other very well with the writing having a very clean and defined edge - even with the UV light off. All the sliders, control knobs, switches and sockets have a 'solid feel' with just the right amount of damping to feel neither cheap or stiff. On the inside, the story is much the same, most notably the power supply and caps. The transformer is a huge torroidal type which is no doubt where a good percentage of the amplifiers' weight lies - I've seen smaller in higher rated pro spec power amplifiers. Nestled between the transformer and the output board are the two equally over specified filter capacitors. A large (not too noisy, thankfully) fan is mounted on the left side in the centre to cool the internals. It's fair to say Trace Elliot went 'belt and braces' with the supply and output stage of these amps as they're far more impressive looking than their smaller 280w stable mates despite only a moderate claimed power difference. Looking elsewhere inside sees thick, good quality PCBs with a few smaller individual boards accompanying the main three, reasonably tidy wiring all housed in a thick steel chassis. No complaints here. To be clear, this is the second 400SMX I've owned - I foolishly sold the last one in 2006. I've never had an ounce of bother with either example (or indeed the 600 I owned for a while) not even so much as a fuse. 100% trouble free. Unlike the all-valve amplifiers that I own, the SMX doesn't have any quirks or oddities (they all do that, sir!) and whilst this arguably strips it of a degree character, it goes hand in hand with it's truly professional design. This particular example was made in 1998 and have little doubt saying it works just as well today as it did when it came out of the factory. Other observations: It's very difficult for me to accept that production of these things ceased more than twenty years ago - they were the pinnacle of design and something that 15 year old me aspired to one day own along with a Warwick bass. As mentioned on this forum - often at great length, many times over - the world has since moved on and modern amplifiers are now smaller, weigh less; are more capable than ever plus their accompanying speaker cabinets are made from lighter woods plus the drivers contained within can play louder and lower with less distortion than those of even 10 years ago. Mauling 120 Kg worth of heavyweights is now optional! Whilst we're talking of weight, the big SMX weighs something in the region of 24 Kg (we're into valve amp territory here) which is just out of the question for those suffering with frailty or other physical ailments - a modern day ELF weighs less than one kilogram and even something like a Genz Benz Streamliner 900 weighs less than 4 Kilos. Despite of all that weight and physical bulk, the performance is unquestionable and is still more than capable of holding it's own against anything modern (once you've EQ'd the '80s out!) - irrespective of claimed power. Smx art biyang by VTypeV4, on Flickr
  6. As suggested above, the 250 / 280w Trace amps of the '90s aren't actually particularly bulky or heavy - 12 / 13kg.. Obviously the Elf takes compact and light to a new level by comparison but the older amps are still pretty manageable - especially compared to valve amplifiers. Personally, I'd opt for an SMC if you were looking at the 7-band range as I found the compressor to be far more useful than the EQ balance or second pre-shape of the SM - personally at least. The other thing to consider is there's lots of scope and control on the older amps between the graphic EQ / pre-shape for finding the sweet spot as opposed to the rather traditional 3-band rotary dials of the newer model. The other thing to consider is longevity vs cost. The Elf is new, full of clever but likely irreparable technology and despite being around for a few year or two now, will they still be going in 10 years time? Many of the older amps are at least 20 years old now (SM / SMX appeared in '92) but are still going like the day they came out of the factory plus, if they do fail, most decent techs can put them straight with little trouble. You'll likely get hold of a '300' SM / SMC for less than £200 and if you play the slightly longer game, less than £150 - a bargain when you consider how much these things were when new - twice or three times the cost of a new Elf and that was 20 years ago. Reading this back, it would seem like I have a dislike for and that I have little faith in the Elf but I don't, I just feel it's a very different product today with a different character than those from the heyday of Trace Elliot in 1980s / 90s.
  7. Since the world went bananas back in March, I've used the old Bassman rig a lot. As per many of my posts on here, I still love it's vintage charm, warm sound and soft delivery - it's a truly great rig. By contrast, the SMX rig is something from what feels to be a different planet altogether - it's tight, defined and flexible with an unmistakable punch. I'd also forgotten just how much power these big MOSFET output stages seem to have! Suffice to say, I'm a happy camper. 😀
  8. The 400 / 600 were pretty weighty - I'd estimate ~22 kilos. The more compact 250 / 300w heads were far more manageable in that 12 / 13kg as suggested. As for the light cabs thing, if I was still doing 3 or four shows per week then absolutely, yes but I haven't done that for years.. I've seen there's more than a few on here using exactly as described with a couple of Barefaced (or similar) and their Trace head - I expect it works great. The lightest things I've got are a pair of SWR Goliath Jr III (of which are notably lighter and more compact than their TE counterparts) - I'm only 20 years behind the curve! The Trace cabs will likely become a permanent feature at my studio which is no bad thing, really as they still sound fine. Thanks, it really is - having owned all one one point or another (300, 400 and 600), I'd say these are the jewel in the crown of the SMX series..
  9. Smx 1020 by VTypeV4, on Flickr Smx 1020 by VTypeV4, on Flickr
  10. Smx 1020 by VTypeV4, on Flickr Smx 1020 by VTypeV4, on Flickr This week I grabbed true bargain from the wonders of eBay.. Here we have a 400SMX, an 1153 & 2103H - classic Trace gear from the late '90s which still kicks a$$ more than 20 years later! I'll take it all to rehearsal later and see how it goes. I'd forgotten how good these things are despite weighing 10T..
  11. I bought a cheap Cecilio Soprano about 12 months ago from a friend - he'd previously had it serviced and re-padded.. Progress is a little 'glacial' but I'm very happy with it..
  12. Trace Elliot AH400SMX - bags of power, lots of EQ options and looked as cool as a cool thing..
  13. A few years back, I had an Ashton BV300 and that was pretty good - I'd probably still have it if I'd not got my Trace back.. Review here:
  14. My experience of valve swaps is somewhat varied. What I've found is that the same valve in a different circuit responds very differently. I swapped the cheap Chinese ECC83s out of my Fender Bassman a few years back and replaced them with long-plate JJ ECC803 types. There was a difference - they were definitely a bit bigger / fatter sounding adding a thickness but it wasn't a night and day contrast - maybe 10% at best which I found a little surprising.. By contrast, I put a set into my home built 60w 'Beavis' head (Marshall circuit - Linear L50 components) and that absolutely loved them! They made it sound bigger, bolder, brighter, cleaner and really added a new chapter to it's sound. I've no experience of the LB30 / CTM30 amplifier so can't comment on that but it sounds like it might be a great platform for a little experimentation..
  15. Yup, still using them exclusively - for bass at least.. DSC01673 by VTypeV4, on Flickr 135 number ten by VTypeV4, on Flickr Beavis nearly by VTypeV4, on Flickr I don't do many gigs these days but all definitely have their place at the studio..
  16. Risky Roch by VTypeV4, on Flickr Agree completely about the SWR cabs..
  17. Nice one, glad both your SMX and Hexa are back on form! 😀
  18. Given the pedigree of a Hexa (so very cool!), any valve(s) that's within spec will sound great. 😀 I've done lots of tube rolling over the years and I've found their individual characteristics vary rather more by the circuit they're in than the individual valves. So, my 60w head 'Beavis' has had all sorts of pre and power tubes in over the years and is usually my reference for testing. It's based on '60s / '70s Marshall circuit and generally brings out the 'character' of various valves very well. My little Laney VC30 is also great for this - wierdly, it sounds best (IMO) with the cheap small plate Sovtek valves in. The Fender 135 on the other hand still shows the character of the tube(s) but the effect is far less pronounced - possibly due to the lower gain of the Fender design. Your Trace is probably somewhere between the two - mine is. Bit of food for thought but like I said, when it's running correctly, you have a killer amp irrespective of what brand / version of valves are in it. 😀
  19. Personally, I don't think any amp is irrelevant or obsolete, just horses for courses..
  20. When a valve amp 'hums' it's sometimes a failing component or the bias is set a bit on the hot side. If your tech has been through the amp and you trust him, then it's probably fine - it might have been something as simple as a noisy mains supply. My current V4 and previous Twin Valve weren't noisy, nor was the V6 I borrowed but if your Hexa has the earth lift switches, it might be worth a flick - this was handy on the TV but the V4 doesn't have one. As for the '3rd' valve, I don't see one on the diagram and I'm pretty sure my Twin only had two also - think someone might be fibbing with their valve kits. I can't comment on the Mesa tubes but most are re-branded Sovtek / Reflektor which is no bad thing but I feel there's little point paying a premium for what's essentially a standard valve with a fancy badge. The gain stages in all the Trace amps are low to moderate at best so whilst additional shielding won't do any harm, you're better spending your pennies on a better grade of valve. When I feel the V-Type is due, I'll gladly do a JJ re-valve although it's working fine atm.
  21. I've good experience of the JJ valves in several platforms.. My V4 has several of the 'short plate' ECC83S which sound lovely have been trouble free for many years. They're pretty cheap too. The Fender Bassman 135 and custom built 'Beavis' amp I have also have JJ types although they're the more expensive 'long plate' variant, the ECC803. Again, these have been great - the Fender gets lots of use so has plenty of hours with zero issue. Whilst not quite the same as vintage Mullard or RCA types, they're at least 90% of the way there without the worry of fragility or big expense. I'll dare say they're much better than the 'TE' ones which look to be Chinese although my experience with them shows they're better than might be expected at that price point. If they're the originals, they'll be over due for replacement by now I would have thought anyways.
  22. I think it was on here, our Ashdown representative said that if I needed anything for my Trace V4 that I should contact them. I can't find the thread but I remember thinking it was a great gesture. Once again, hats off to Ashdown for their customer service - even if you've never had one!
  23. My personal thoughts, feelings and experience on the Fender.
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