NAD - Sonzera 20

Discussion in 'Amplifiers' started by BWV548, Dec 14, 2017.

  1. BWV548

    BWV548 New Member

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    [​IMG]


    [​IMG]
    Arrived earlier. I've only tested it out with the HBII.
    Some initial thoughts. Overall, I quite like it
    * On this guitar, the gain channel, set as a "boosted clean" sounds much more alive than the clean. There is something somewhat muffled about the clean channel, particularly on the neck pickup. Will keep messing with it.
    * The reverb, though subtle, is awesome!
    * The dynamic response on both channels is great.
    * It sounds, largely, quite different from my other amps. Though I can't say better.
    I will likely keep it.
    Here's the thing, and I'm NOT looking for a debate, just input and opinions. I still don't completely get the perceived superiority of tube amps, particularly for someone who plays with very little gain; when I do, it's usually from a pedal. This thing sounds great. However, I would definitely not say it sounds "better" in any way to the cleans on my JCs (120 & 22) - even taking the stereo chorus out of the equation. Additionally, I don't think the clean breakup is qualitatively better, though still different, from my Blues Cube Stage.
    With guitars, qualitative differences are VERY apparent to me - e.g., if the thing just never intonates correctly, it makes me nuts; or if there is tremendous variability in the way notes sing...
    With amps, I've still yet to play one that excites me. To me it's either "I can work with this, to get x,y, or, z timbre, that I like" or "I can't find anything useful about this amp"
    What am I missing in the "glory of tubes"? I've just yet to see the need, or generate the desire, to go as high end as I do with guitars.
     
  2. Alnus Rubra

    Alnus Rubra Loving nature’s wonders

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    Congrats, nice amp.

    The guys on here will give you some good advice on settings that will suit your taste in sound.
     
  3. sergiodeblanc

    sergiodeblanc The pullout king.

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    Bangin'!

    Love the poster/print too.
     
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  4. BWV548

    BWV548 New Member

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    It's actually real. Signed. Last in that run. My father bought it years ago, before I knew who Warhol was. As I got a bit older, I always assumed it was a museum print, but my dad insisted it was real. I thought he was taking the piss; as he was certainly given to do that.
    After he passed away, I had Sotheby's look at it, and to my surprise, it was genuine!
     
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  5. sergiodeblanc

    sergiodeblanc The pullout king.

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    Get out! That's sofaking Bangin'!
     
  6. BWV548

    BWV548 New Member

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    Just noodled around with the 594 on it. The clean channel sounds MUCH more alive with the 594, than the HBII, despite the same pickups.
    Has anyone had similar experiences with the HB and the clean channel on these things?
     
  7. veinbuster

    veinbuster Coming of age

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    Very cool.
    I’m glad I read the whole thread before asking how The amp sounded with tomato soup.
    Enjoy the amp.
     
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  8. toothace

    toothace At least I'm good at dentistry

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    Sweet amp! Sweet print! Seperfantastic story!!
     
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  9. bodia

    bodia Authorities said.....best leave it.....unsolved

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    Congrats on the amp! I'm with the others, the Warhol is tre-cool!
     
  10. shinksma

    shinksma What? I get a title?

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    Well, that's why non-tube amps actually sell: because some folks are quite satisfied with their tone/sound. Especially the models available today.

    So here are my opinions:

    First: it may depend on how much you crank it. Tube amps show their glory at high Master and Gain settings. If you keep things below noon, there may not be much if any difference from a similarly powered SS amp.

    For me, my love of tubes comes from my experiences in the 80s with SS amps, which were just awful, IMHO. And just like that one time you get far too hungover on a particular liquor, and afterwards the merest hint of that flavor makes you queasy, for me any hint of that totally linear, may as well be a cheap stereo, SS sound eats at my ears.

    Some of today's non-tube amps do a good job of emulating tube behavior. But some folks have to have the possibly too subtle for some to hear nuances that tubes can bring. From what I hear and gather, tubes offer the following characteristics that are relatively difficult to mimic using SS technology:

    non-linear, asymmetric responses, dynamic compression, with tone shaping that is dependent on the input signal (i.e. tubes EQ a signal, but in such a way that the freq response is different depending on the input)

    Now some of that may be placebo effect, or similar to the vinyl vs CD debate, based on how ears respond to the rest of the sound environment: it has been argued [citation needed] that vinyl lovers hear more details in the music because of the inherent noise that comes from dragging a piece of crystal across a hard plastic - the (possibly below-threshold-of-hearing) sub-sonic and white noise components stimulate the ears so that they are more sensitive to the rest of the signal.

    I use an amp emulator when I gig - I simply cannot drag a real tube amp onto the tiny "stages" (corners of rooms) we play, and it would be complete overkill based on our sound set up. I am happy with my live sound, and the audience can't tell the difference. So I don't even use something as "nice" as your JCs.

    But when I get home, I love cranking up a tube amp - it just seems more alive. And that's on a clean channel. Tube distortion is a completely different beast from pedal distortion, in my experience. I have a ton of dirt pedals, and had to rely on one or two for a few years using a (horrible 80s Peavey) SS amp, and then when I finally got a "tube" amp (Fender HRDX) I still preferred the dirt pedals into the clean channel for most cases.

    But my PRS Archon 2-channel tube amp has an awesome lead channel, and the PRS single channel amps that I have break up wonderfully (and differently, depending on the model).

    Come to think of it, my H&K TM 5 amp sounds great too (for a small amp) - not sure if it is technically "two-channel" or just a single channel with a lead gain circuit that can be switched in.
     
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  11. LSchefman

    LSchefman Hears Tones

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    Beautiful amp, enjoy it! Also, I dig the print, and your place looks really cool.

    Tube amps respond differently from solid state amps; there are differences in several sonic categories, but they’re all about being pushed, and about subtlety of tone and coloration caused by non-linearities.

    They don’t merely reproduce audio, like solid state amps. They help create audio due to their breakup characteristics, coloration, saturation and non-linearity. Understanding why they do what they do may help. Learning how to use the characteristics and coloration of tube amps to your musical advantage also helps, so give yourself time to experiment.

    Let’s start with distortion. Tube distortion is primarily second-order harmonics that sound sweeter with most music. It’s less dissonant than the third-order harmonics of solid state distortion. Modeling this second-order harmonic distortion is one of several reasons for the wild popularity of modeling preamps in solid state amps. A solid state pedal pushing a tube amp from the edge of breakup can be a thing of beauty because the tube rounds off the edgier signal of pedals.

    Tubes also begin to distort more gradually than solid state; you can “work” the distortion at the edge of breakup, something that can’t be done with solid state amps in nearly the same way. Even modeling amps can’t respond in quite the same manner.

    The ear finds these tube non-linearities interesting. This is why digital amps model the behavior of tubes, and why there aren’t a ton of purely clean solid state amps out there beyond Polytones and JC120s, etc., that are sought by players.

    Tubes are more dynamic. Response to the onset of a note happens exponentially. Solid state is more linear in response. This is another characteristic of tubes that one learns to work with creatively. Think about the “stinging blues” of 60s blues players working this and you get one example of working an amp’s dynamics. The dynamic response also helps guitars cut through on stage and in studio mixes, one reason they’re used on stages and preferred in recordings by so many players.

    Depending on how the controls are set, and by their nature as inherently higher distortion devices, even “clean,” a tube amp can sound thicker/fatter, sustain more, and due to its overhang in reproducing the waveform, “sing” in a way that solid state amps don’t do in nearly the same way. This is another thing that can be played around with.

    The higher natural distortion of tubes, even clean, makes them warmer sounding than solid state. As any device clips, the waveform goes from sine to square wave. Square waves remove high frequencies, but with tube amps, high frequency harmonics are added that are quite musically useful. Another important characteristic of tube amps is their transformers; generally these will saturate and affect the tone more, though with the smaller transformers in a 20 Watt amp, this will be less noticeable than a 50 or 100 Watt amp.

    There are tons more differences, but the above are a decent start. The point is that a tube amp can be worked while playing in ways that solid state amps can’t.

    With PRS’ USA single-channel amps that I’m far more experienced with, the design is old-school. You’d want to set the master volume high, set the gain lower than with other amps, and control the amp from the guitar’s volume control.

    This means setting the amp up to get your usual tone with the guitar volume around 5-6; when you want more gain or a fatter tone, turn the guitar volume up. Cleaner, turn the guitar volume down. I’m betting that Doug Sewell designed the Sonzeras to be able to do that as well.

    Finally, like transistor types in pedals, tube types sound different. The mechanical construction of new tubes has fallen in quality, though there are still a few good ones out there. Chinese tubes can be pretty bad/harsh, but there are some decent ones. Czech and Russian tubes are generally thought to be better, and the best are new-old-stock (NOS) US, British, and Western European tubes. Yes, this sounds arcane. And yes, it makes a difference in the amp’s tone.

    Hopefully I’ve given you some ideas to explore that’ll make playing through the amp more fun - and more inspiring.
     
    #11 LSchefman, Dec 15, 2017
    Last edited: Dec 15, 2017
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  12. LJD

    LJD New Member

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    Cool amp. If only PRS dealers could stock them so us less-inclined-to-puchase-before-playing types could demo the freakin things. Seriously. You can't sell a $700 amp to dealers? $4k guitar order? Sure! $700 amp? Nah.
     
  13. BWV548

    BWV548 New Member

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    Thanks guys, both great responses which have gotten me thinking on a few things
    1) The relationship to my ears getting "bored & confused" from distortion in many live settings to my ears getting "bored & confused" by so many organ (pipe) performances, primarily live; as well as me often enjoying, large, orchestral pieces on recording over live (depending on piece and venue). I hadn't thought about it with respect to distortion, however, in the other mentioned situations, it's easy for the overtones to "get out of hand" in a room, which greatly (to my ear) lessens the harmonic direction and interest of the music. The effect sounds like, and perhaps really is, the inclusion of unhanded and unintended dissonances. All of that disrupts the power of harmonic and contrapuntal direction; tension and release, etc. It's not as pronounced, typically, with distorted guitars - the harmonic patterns in these contexts tend to be more repetitive (not a criticism at all) and simpler (still, not a criticism at all). Recordings, I imagine (i've zero experience as a recording engineer), can "tame" these; with the possible exception of some organ recordings that I've heard, where the poor choice of stops for a given room, come through loud and clear in the recording - if I'm listening to a fugue and I'm visualizing the upper end of the audible harmonic series for each note clashing, rather than the amazing counterpoint, something is very wrong. A long winded way of ponding on why I avoid distortion (possible quite unfairly) so much, and never got into the subtitles of it.
    I'll play around more attentively with some, thanks!

    2) Where the "truth" lies, not in what you've both written, but in the amplified sound. I'll go back to my HBII on the Sonzera. Of all of my amps, the clean channel of the sonzera makes my HBII sound, honestly, pretty bad. And this is a guitar I've come to love! Even on my Katana - which for all of it's good value, I don't really dig (though I've always chalked that up to a cheap speaker, rather than the modeling tech; but I could certainly be wrong!) - sounds better with that guitar. I'm not finding this problem with my other guitars and the Sonzera. So where is the deficit? Is the amp showing inherent issues with the guitar which my other amps lack the subtle response to do so? Can the amp not handle the sort of signal that this guitar throws at it? Are my ears just old and shot? All of the above? Other?

    Don't take this as pushing back. I'm just wondering an musing on what, and why, we like and prioritize in sound
     
  14. BWV548

    BWV548 New Member

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    I've come to accept not being able to play before purchase as being a fact of coming to love PRS where I live. You'd think in the Bay Area, it would be easy to find shops stocked with PRS (guitars, as well as amps), but that doesn't seem to be the case. If I want to try out a road worn Fender Twin, I've loads of choices. A PRS, on the other hand, I'm largely limited to whatever the local Guitar Center has - I can't stand going there- and the odd, very limited, selection at various independent stores
     
  15. LSchefman

    LSchefman Hears Tones

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    While some amps sound better with certain guitars than others, my guess is that you just need to be a little more patient when using the amp with the HBII and get some experience dialing it in.

    I’m as guilty as anyone of getting lazy from time to time, and just plugging into amps with the same settings for all of my guitars, but when I remind myself to take the time to dial something in for each guitar, magic can happen.

    It took me a while to learn to dial in my DG30 amp with my McCarty Singlecut, and I didn’t think it’d be a good match before that. Now, it’s one of my favorite combinations. The difference literally amounted to simply spending more time with the amp, and being more patient about dialing it in.

    What happens with most hollowbody guitars is that there’s a greater resonant peak caused by the hollow body. It’s like a synth’s resonant filter; the high frequencies roll off on any guitar, but the hollowness causes a peak at the rolloff point. That’s what gives the guitar a warm, vocal quality, but it’ll drive an amp differently than a solid body guitar that tends to put out more low end, and has a different frequency response.

    Also many hollowbody guitars, even with the same pickups as a solid body guitar, seem to have a less powerful output. Again, this drives the tubes differently.

    Remembering that tube amps are all about color and pushing the tubes to the edge of grit, it might be something as simple as increasing the gain, or boosting the bass/treble. Etc.

    Incidentally, I love Bach organ works, and played Bach on piano for many years. I’m sure I have too much rust to play it well at this point, but I did love playing it. And listening to it; I grew up on E. Power Biggs Plays Bach in the Thomaskirche, on Columbia vinyl.
     
  16. LSchefman

    LSchefman Hears Tones

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    I just realized that I didn’t get into another aspect of tube amp performance: touch-sensitivity (covers both fingers and pick attack).

    As with all things amplifier, that’s going to vary from amp to amp, but some tube amps are more forgiving, and others are so touch-sensitive that every nuance of playing is revealed. Whether that’s desirable, of course, depends on needs and skills.

    Some players like a bit of sponginess in the response of the amp to input, and others like a highly touch-sensitive amp, even if it’s a little more demanding of one’s chops.

    I like a touch sensitive amp that I can drive to the edge of clipping just by varying my pick attack. It’s another reason I love tube amps, because I’ve yet to play a solid state or modeling amp that responds like a great tube amp to that kind of input.

    It takes a bit of volume and gain of course, but heck, that’s what tube amps are all about.
     
  17. BWV548

    BWV548 New Member

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    I'll keep playing around with it. Though in fairness, there aren't that many options for the clean channel.
    As for your homework, you should go read through WTC2 f# minor, fugue, regardless of rust. Not an organ piece, so your rusty feet will get a break ;)
     
  18. BWV548

    BWV548 New Member

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    Its interesting about the two aspects of touch that you mention. I find my JC Amps to be some of the most unforgiving amps that I've ever played through, with respect to nuance (good and bad (more frequent with me these days :()). I've my technique is sound on a given day, things like subtle horizontal vibrato, come through at so many levels of touch. If my technique is ****, all of that gets broadcast with pristine clarity!
    On the point about breakup, i understand that and largely agree, even if its not a sonic area that I got to often. However, I'll say that my Roland Blues Cube Stage (the newest generation of BCs), impresses the crap out of me in this way. It does that, to my ear, better than my Blues Junior (Humboldt), which is presumable part of the class of amps that the BCs are looking to emulate. Not sure if you've played through one, but for amp cretin, like myself, it responds pretty damn impressively.

    This isn't a knock on the Sonzera mind you. The issue on the clean channel with the HBII aside, I really like the way it sounds. It sounds unlike my other amps, which I like. Moreover, the clean sounds (above aside) are really great. But they won't get me to sell my JCs. To my ears, I've not found amps that highlight the differences in guitars as dramatically as those do; which can be good and bad, admittedly
     
  19. LSchefman

    LSchefman Hears Tones

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    JCs are among the very few solid state amps I think can be quite cool for the right player. I tend to live in that area where I can get the amp to break up with the guitar’s volume control, where the tone comes from the amp as much as the guitar, so they don’t suit my playing style.

    I had some Two-Rocks that a few friends thought were unforgiving, but I liked them, and played that brand for about 10 years. By contrast, the HXDA is pretty forgiving, even though it’s also touch sensitive. The DG30 is a bit less so, but I’ve really been into that one, too.

    Of all the amps I’ve had, the PRS DG30 and HXDA seem to suit me best for what I’ve been doing for the last several years.

    I couldn’t use a Blues Cube for the work I do. Not enough cut in a dense mix.
     
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  20. BWV548

    BWV548 New Member

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    Fair enough. I’ll await your report back on WTC2 f# fugue.:)
     

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