Hands-on review: TC Electronic BG500 bass combo - High class bottom from the top down
(Dave Molter | Posted 2010-07-28)
In a world where bass amp manufacturers are tripping over themselves to produce small, lightweight amplifiers with enough power to send a Saturn V rocket to the moon and lightweight NEO cabinets to complement them, it may seem strange that TC Electronic has just released the BG500 twins -- 70-pound combo amps that push 500 watts through either a 210 or 115 configuration. But let me point out that the Saturn V performed its job admirably. And so does the BG500.
And just what is that job? you ask. Providing plenty of power and great bottom end without sacrificing clarity and doing so in an affordable, portable package that has useful features but not superfluous bells and whistles. I put a BG500 115 through its paces recently, and I am impressed by the amp's ability to pound out solid bottom with little effort in a rock setting. In fact, the volume level of the BG500 surprised me -- it easily kept pace with my Genz-Benz Shuttle 6.0 (600 watts into two 112 cabs) and very much reminded me of the sound I used to get with an Ampeg SVT head and two custom-built 115 horn cabs back WMAWTE -- When Monster Amps Walked the Earth. And this from a 115 combo. I'll make that trade any day.
Good thing, small package
Let's address the complaints about the BG500 series that I've seen online first.
1. It's too heavy. Yes, the BG500 series combos weigh 70 pounds and have no wheels or dolly-style handle. But you can buy a collapsible suitcase dolly that will hold 150 pounds for less than $25 USD. My guess is that had TC Electronic added wheels and a handle and charged $100 more for the amp, people would complain about that as well.
2. There is no speaker-out jack for an extension cab. I believe that TC built an amp for a specific market -- players who want a relatively small, loud amplifier with usable features and plenty of bottom end. In an average size rock band (say, five pieces) with PA support, the BG 500 should be plenty loud and would not need an extension cab. I used the BG500 115 with a seven-piece band with a drummer who plays flat out all the time and two guitarists who play loud enough that I usually can't hear my bass if I go more than 3 feet from the amp. With the BG500, I made it to the end of my 15-foot cord and still heard -- and felt -- the full-range of sound the BG500 puts out. That's a great feeling. The Eminence special design 15" neodymium speaker and front-ported cab work together admirably.
3. It doesn't tilt back. And from what I heard, it doesn't need to. If you must tilt the amp, carry a piece of 2x4 or a brick.
4. The built-in tuner isn't chromatic. No, but it's accurate (and less sensitive and glitchy than the onboard chromatic tuner in the RH450 and Staccato '51) and it tunes BEADG, which is what most players need. If you use alternate tuning, there are plenty of chromatic stompbox tuners available, including the TC Electronic PolyTune.
Simply put, the BG500 115 when set flat provides a great, solid bass tone -- less hi-fi than the TC RH450 (and, for that matter, Genz-Benz), less "old school" than the Staccato '51 -- but well-rounded, smooth (or grinding if you dial in TubeTone) and equal in all ranges of the bass, from a hammering B to G on the 24th fret of my Dingwall Combustion. Compared to my usual Shuttle setup, the BG500 sound is slightly less transparent, but I have a feeling that the BG500 210 would be closer to the GB sound that so many players favor.
It's all up front
The BG500 head borrows several features from the RH450/Staccato '51 heads but adds a few twists that I'm surprised other manufacturers haven't given us low-end dwellers sooner. First, everything you need is on the front panel of the amp, including a built-in tuner, an XLR DI jack and -- finally -- the new TC "TweeterTone" control. Although tweeters have been common in bass amps for years, if there is a volume control for the tweeter it is on the back of the cabinet. Some cabs have a simple attenuation switch while others have the typical 0-10 volume control. TC Electronic not only moved the tweeter volume control to the front panel, where you can actually reach it during performance, but added a touch of EQ to the circuitry, which TC bass guru Uffe Hansen says allows you to control tweeter volume in a "musical" way. I have to agree. Whereas I usually keep the tweeters on my Genz-Benz cabs about midway in their travel because, above that, they become somewhat harsh, the BG500 tweeter never bothered my ears even when pushed past its midpoint. I can't explain why, and the difference is very subtle, but the TweeterTone adds a "certain something" that I found pleasing. The front-mounted stereo line-in RCA jacks (for practicing with an iPod or other device) and headphone jack also save you bending over or turning the amp around just to practice, and the front-mounted DI jack (which can be set to pre- or post EQ) is a handy thing as well, although honestly I think I would prefer it on the back panel if only for "neatness" of stage presentation.
As with the RH450 and Staccato, TC also includes a single, self-adjusting input to accommodate active and passive basses, the very effective SpectraComp multiband compressor, which looks at each string individually rather than focusing on the loudest string, and a TubeTone control, which allows you to dial in the level of overdrive you prefer. The built-in tuner is accurate and does it's job with two simple green lights -- when both are illuminated, you're in tune. The tuner display doubles as a compression-amount monitor. A Mute pushbutton silences the speaker for tuning or between sets.
Choose your own adventure
Rather than allow users to pick midpoints for the amp's four-band EQ as on the RH450 and Staccato, TC gave the BG500 two Contour presets that the amp manual says acts as a midscoop; I found position one to be a fairly normal midscoop, but position two (achieved by pushing the Contour button twice) offered a very nice bass boost as well. The BG500 includes one of the features I liked most in the Staccato '51 -- three user-definable presets, which save all front panel settings except for master volume and mute. This is a godsend for those who use more than one bass or need instant tone switches on a live gig. Although I've seen some complaints about the BG500 having "only three" presets, I think three is a fair amount for most bassists. Adding the option of a footswitch to allow remote switching between presets would have been great, but at the cost of higher retail price for the BG500 and about $150 more for the footswitch.
TC calls the front-panel WYSIWYG -- if no preset button is illuminated, the front panel settings are what you see. Unlike the RH450 and Staccato, control knobs don't have the nifty LED rings that show you settings at a glance, but the panel graphics are readable except on a completely dark stage. Set flat right out of the box, the BG500 produced excellent, full-range sound with my Lakland 55-94 (TI Flats) and my Dingwall Combustion (Dingwall stainless rounds) and with an acoustic electric bass with D'Addario bronzewounds. Even my little Hofner Icon took over the stage through the BG500. Very little tweaking of the Hi-Mid and Bass controls brought out the full, distinctive hi-fi tone of the Dingwall, and the Lakland sounded like it would be right at home at a session at Motown or Stax/Volt. The Lakland and Dingwall have two of the best B strings in the business, and the BG500 had no problem handling them with its front-ported cab.
The bottom line
Standing just a tad under 30" tall, the BG500 combo gets my vote for "Most Deceptive Bass Combo" of 2010. It's very hard to believe that so much sound comes from a relatively small box. It's a warm, defined, friendly sound, too, one situated comfortably between TC's RH450 and Staccato '51 heads -- not really hi-fi when set flat, but certainly not muddy or woofy. And it's affordable -- less than $700 USD street. Packing 500 watts into a mid-sized cabinet, the BG500 would be perfect choice for a blues or rock player in small club settings without PA support, or one in larger venues with PA support. I never ran the master past noon with the Gain control set around 11 o'clock in a room that seats 500 and, in fact, found myself actually turning down a few times. Even a jazzer would find a pleasing tone in the BG500. I might add that the BG500 combos are covered in durable carpeting, which should please those who think the painted finish on the TC RS cabinet series is too fragile.
The only downside for some players might be the BG500's 70-pound weight and the fact that the two side-mounted, spring-loaded handles can make it awkward for a single person to jockey the amp into a van or car trunk. But, coming from an era when a bassist had to lug around an SVT head and two 810 cabs or an Acoustic 360 folded horn, I think the BG500 looks like the Stonehenge prop in "This is Spinal Tap" by comparison. It's small but mighty combo for the working bassist.
BG500 (available in 210 or 115 configurations with Eminence special design neodymium speakers): MSRP $930 USD; Street, $$650
Input connector 1/4" jack
Input impedance 1 Mohm / 100 pF
Gain range -96 to 36dB
Tone controls Bass
Center Freq: 160Hz (Gain: +15/-24dB)
Center Freq: 400Hz (Gain: +15/-24dB)
Center Freq: 800Hz (Gain: +15/-24dB)
Center Freq: 1600Hz @ Gain: -24 to 0dB; 4000Hz @ Gain 0 to +15
0 to10, L-PAD Cabinet Recreation
0 to10, Tube amp Recreation
3 band Spectral Compression
3 memory locations storing all front panel controls except Mute & Master Level.
Bass Tuner, On when muted
B0 (30.87Hz) to G4 (392.00Hz)
Mutes speaker out, Phones out and Balanced out
Master Level / Headphones Output
Studio quality headphone amp
HP Out Impedance 40 to 600 Ohm
100 - 120V~ or 220 - 240V~ 50/60Hz (65W @ 1/8 of Max. Output)
500w (1000w Peak)
Balanced XLR, Pre/Post Pre-amp
Bal. Out Max. +2dBu
Bal. Out Optimal Load Impedance
RCA, Left/Right input, fits to iPod ®
475 x 735 x 410 mm / 18.7" x 28.9" x 16.1"
32 kg / 70.5 pounds
Carpet covered. Handcrafted wooden box
Porting: Front porting
Woofer: Eminence custom (2)10" / (1)15
Tweeter: Eminence Neo 33mm voicecoil
For more information on the BG500 combos and other TC Electronic products, visit www.tcelectronic.com.
Dave Molter is Managing Editor and Bass Guitars Editor of MusicGearReview.com. He has played bass professionally for 45 years. Contact Dave at dave @ musicgearreview.com.