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LearningLuke

EBS MicroBass 3 review (and thoughts about the GK Plex)

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------------------------------------------------------- preample... ignore if you don't care for my story and just want my thoughts on the EBS MicroBass 3 -------------------------------------------------------

Recently I went on the hunt for a good preamp. As a bass player who really doesn't use effects that often, except to mess around with, experiment, and get inspired by (but not in a band context), I feel as though a good, functional preamp is about as close as I'm going to get to effect-bliss. 

I bought the TC Electronic SpectraDrive just over a year ago to do some recording with my band. I really loved it, and I found that the SpectraComp is really value for money (I owned the it even before buying the SpectraDrive). However, I won a competition for which the prize money was 400 quid and I was curious to see what a better preamp sounds like. I wanted something with more features, so I ended up on the GK Plex. I bought it as an amazon warehouse deal "like new" and got it for a good price. Alas, I was so torn about how I liked/disliked the GK Plex:

  1. The tone shaping was brilliiant. I really loved the sound and I can get behind the GK sound.
  2. However, this thing is noisy in more ways than one! First, if you turn up the compressor to anything useful it hisses like mad (it sounds like it's boosting the higher frequencies far too much). Second, as soon as you have another pedal before the GK Plex it gave off a terrible electronic buzz. Apparently this was supposed to be fixed with a firmware update, which I did, of course, but to no avail. Luckily you could fix this by putting your additional effects in the effects loop instead. Unfortunately, the gain in the effects loop of these sort of preamp pedals (GK Plex and the EBS MicroBass 3 included) seems to be a little to hot for some analogue pedals (like my Fender Pour Over Env Filter) so these pedals functioned sub-optimally. 
  3. The tuner was.... really not so good. The tracking was terrible!
  4. The compressor was kinda bad too. It was noisy, as I mentioned above, but also a little too dramatic for my liking. 

The GK Plex is really a beautiful piece of kit and it's EQ + tone shaping abilities are wonderful, I'll say that. BUT! Given that you're not only buying this for tone shaping, and rather also for a compressor and a tuner and more of an all-in-one thing, then you are really not going to get what you bargained for. 

Moving on.

I sent this back to Amazon and spent ages deliberating on what I should get next. I whittled it down to:

  1. EBS MicroBass 3
  2. Orange Bass Butler
  3. Darkglass Alpha Omega Ultra V2

I obviously ended up with the first, but part of me is still super curious about how my bass (a Warwick thumb 4 BO) and fingers interact with the other two. From a pure spec perspective, the only thing the EBS lacks is impulse response, but that's not too much of a biggie for me right now. 

Moving on properly now... 

-------------------------------------------------------

I love this thing! It is super super quiet (no hiss, no buzz, probably because it is analogue, I imagine) and very functional. Here are some of my thoughts after using it for about 4 weeks:

  1. The Compressor is actually pretty damn amazing. I take the perspective that you can do A LOT with compression, but when in the context of evening out your playing, giving you more sustain, and helping you punch through the mix, something easy-to-use and subtle will win my heart on a pedal. I know my way around compressors as I've done studio work, recorded and mixed my band's music, and have spent far too many hours learning the ins and outs of various compression algorithms, techniques, and audio quality. That said, something that does the job well and consistently is a boon. The 'COMP' knob on the EBS is super subtle, and only really jumps out at you when you drive it to full! Even then, it isn't dramatic or overbearing/squishy. That in itself might turn you off this compressor, but I think they've done a stellar job of it. 
  2. The EQ is very versatile. Having the sweepable mid range is smart and I've found it useful. It also has a 'char' switch for scooped mids and a 'bright' switch. I've read that the scooped mids switch is a bit much for some, but I always like scooping mids when I'm noodling by myself and this does a fine job of giving me that sound I like. One thing I dislike is that the frequency boost on the bass knob feels a little off what appeals to my ear, but that's a small thing. 
  3. The Drive section is very versatile. I have yet to find a bass overdrive that I like to hear in headphones (which is what I use a lot, given that lockdown has me playing with my wife working nearby!), so I'm looking forward to applying this in a band context. One problem, however, is trying to establish the right balance with the 'blend' knob (which controls clean channel and drive channel blend when the drive is engaged), the 'level' knob (which controls the drive volume) and the 'serial on/off' switch (which controls pre/post EQ into from the clean channel into the drive section). I have found that hitting the drive switch typically gives an overall volume drop when blended with the clean channel, and that the level needs to be pushed on the drive section, throwing the mix out of whack. It is a fine control, but a tad bit annoying to find the sweet spot! I should note that it has a 'gain' knob as well as high and low gain types, and 'thin' versus 'deep' drive types with a 'tone' knob. It really is super customisable. I'm not a massive bass drive fan, but this should serve me if I become one!
  4. The tuner just works, quite well. 
  5. It looks.... Okay. It isn't the best looking (nowhere near the GK Plex or anything Darkglass) but that's fine. 
  6. The effects loop is super useful, but you should bear in mind that it is post, not pre. So, for anything pre you should just put it earlier in the chain. 
  7. EBS claims that this thing has a lot of headroom on their website and that's why it needs such a powerful supply. Note that I have yet to find a pedalboard power supply that can meet its needs. Thankfully, however, a standalone power supply is provided. That said, there really does seem to be a feel of space and headroom with this thing. I can't quite explain why, but it just sounds as if it isn't being pushed to its limits, and is rather comfortable giving you what you need. This is very difficult to explain but it's like driving a powerful car at a moderate speed on the motorway as opposed to driving my shitty 1300 Hyundai getz!

That's all I can think of for now. I hope somebody finds these thoughts useful!

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I tried one in Bass Direct last year when I was on the hunt for a preamp/DI/overdrive in one. It was a great thing indeed but I found the tuner to be a bit glitchy and the overdrive wasn't to my tastes. I've ended up with an Ashdown OriginAL (and just put thread on this forum about it but won't derail here!) after a brief sojourn with a DarkGlass Vintage Ultra. 

Anyhoo, good review and glad you are liking it :)

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I'm really, really happy with my EBS Microdrive III. I bought it for big band gigs where  I'm switching between upright and bass guitar. It does a great job with the Fishman full circle piezo pickup and has a notch filter for feedback, making it ideal for the job. I wasn't expecting the distortion and compression to be so useful. I agree that the compression is brilliant and the distortion is usable. Very usable but still not the pedal's greatest feature. Sooner or later I guess I'll get a Darkglass Vintage Microtubes.

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18 hours ago, 2wheeler said:

I'm really, really happy with my EBS Microdrive III. I bought it for big band gigs where  I'm switching between upright and bass guitar. It does a great job with the Fishman full circle piezo pickup and has a notch filter for feedback, making it ideal for the job. I wasn't expecting the distortion and compression to be so useful. I agree that the compression is brilliant and the distortion is usable. Very usable but still not the pedal's greatest feature. Sooner or later I guess I'll get a Darkglass Vintage Microtubes.

I agree! I think if you're fussy about overdrive (like it sounds as though we are) then the best we'll find is Darkglass. 

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Microbass 3 user here!

Received mine just before lock down so haven't been able to gig it or use live!

It's become very handy for silent bass practice with the headphone and aux input over the last few months. 

One thing I will say about the Drive section and the unit in general is that I have found I've gotten the best results using it in series and treating it like an amp. I find the drive is great in the lo setting, just adding some harmonics and edge/grit to the sound rather than using it as a full blown overdrive/distortion and switching from clean to overdrive.

I find using it in series also gives you a slighter darker/warmer tone from the Hi-Fi EBS signature tone especially when using EMG loaded basses.. But you can add that brightness back in and have more control using the bright switch and the drive section mid EQ - found boosting roughly 4k there really helps add some presence if needee

Don't miss a speaker/emulation sim either - the lo pass tone control works great if it's needed. I usually find that cab sims either sound nothing like their intended cabs or just feel very weird to play through. 

Currently enjoying using it with the clean channel flat, some compression, going series into the drive section with drive in Lo gain mode set at around 12 o'clock and the deep switch engaged and then adjusting the mids on that channel on how I'm feeling that day! 

 

One thing I saw mentioned in the original post was the issue of balance between clean and drive channels when using the blend. I think in serial mode the blend isn't really a blend, but just a control of how much of the clean volume  channel is being pushed into the drive channel. I think in that setting it's best to put the blend to maximum and alter the drive to your taste. I haven't had any issues the of balancing between cleans and drive channels doing it that way - not that I do that anyway!  

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I love the Microbass II, been using it live and at home for recording for years. I'm really surprised that they've left out the Speaker Sim to be honest, I think it's great.

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