Thursday, July 4, 2013

The Mambo Amp

Since a few weeks I have had the pleasure of playing a demo Mambo 10 Jazz Amp. Mambo Amps are the brain child of Jon Shaw. He was so kind to send one to me for a test drive. Jon has a degree in electronic engineering and designed this very portable yet powerful, high quality amp. They are hand built in the UK.

It was soon clear to me that this is a very special amp. The specs are impressive:

• cabinet size 30cm high by 30cm wide by 25cm deep (approx)
• weight 8 kg
• the loudspeaker is 10inch, 250W rms rated, 97 dB / Watt @ 1 metre sensitivity
• the power amplifier is rated at 180 W rms (continuous sine wave)

Wow. 180 watts at just 8 kilos?

The one I played was wedge shaped so that the speaker is pointing at you when you place it on the ground. A simple but effective concept and I wonder why not more amps are being built like this. This way you don't have to buy a stand that does that trick for you. And the amp looks gorgeous. Most amps are pretty ugly to look at but this one is ... cute somehow.

Mambo amps are specially designed for Jazz Guitar. Some of the benefits are stated as follows:

• very compact and portable with a warm deep tone
• powerful and loud with wide range tone controls
• built in harmonic enhancement and digital reverb
• effects loop for connecting external effects; echo, overdrive, chorus etc.
• direct output (balanced XLR)

Apart from the treble, mid and bass controls on the top panel, the rear panel features two additional switches that enable you to modify the amp's sound. There is a 2 position switch to choose the amp sound: clean or harmonic enhanced and there is a 3 position switch to choose the overall amp tone... deep, normal and bright. I liked the amp best with the 2 position switch at "clean" and the 3 position switch at "deep." The deep setting boosts lows and cuts highs by a few dB. The normal setting is fairly flat (-3dB bandwidth 50 Hz to 10 kHz) and the bright setting boosts the highs and cuts the lows considerably. When using the clean setting, the guitar volume has very little effect on harmonic content and there is more headroom.

I liked the sound best with the treble control rolled off a bit. Very woody and mellow. This is how my ES 175 sounded through it:

And when I plugged in my Tal Farlow it sounded like this:

The harmonic enhancement setting adds a spectrum of harmonics like in valve amps. The idea behind this switch is that the louder you play, the more dynamics are added. This is supposed to make the sound richer and sweeter. It´s very subtle. Anyway, I did not hear much difference at low volume levels.

So does this amp live up to its expectations? O yes. It is easy to get mellow and woody tones from it and it is extremely portable. As a matter of fact, from all the smaller amps the sound/size ratio is the best. No other amp this size sounded so good. Heck, I have played bigger ones that did not sound this good!

I took it to the Crow for a stage test and found out that louder volume settings are no problem for this little amp. You do have to tweak the sound though when the volume goes up. Otherwise it tends to get a bit trebly and boxy. But when you do that and experiment a bit, good sounds are to be had. Still, if you abolutely require lots of headroom, you probably will be more comfortable with a bigger amp or a bigger speaker cabinet. Like all small amps, the Mambo IS a compromise between size and sound. And at this, it does a really impressive job!

To conclude, this is the best sounding small amp I have played so far. It is way smaller than my Polytone (15" speaker) and considerably smaller than the Henriksen Jazz Amp 112 ER (12" speaker) that I tested earlier.  And ... it has the best reverb so far. Way better than the Henriksen and the Polytone. Here's a clip with the three amps side by side. Bear in mind that all of the amps sound better with some tweaking but I decided to record all 3 of them with all eq flat to give you an idea.

Mambo amps are being shipped worldwide. A standard 10" Mambo Amp like the one I tested costs GB£575 (approx €670, US$860). Local import taxes and shipping rates apply of course. Just email Jon for a quote. And do give him my regards!