BGRA: SWR Baby Blue II

Manufacturer SWR Model Baby Blue II
Reviewer Brian Rost
Experience Item owned
Review Date Price paid $1100 list, street price about $750-800
Dimensionsapprox. 24" x 12" x 12"
Wattage160 watts into 2 ohms
Speaker(s)two 8" woofers, one 5" cone tweeter
Effectsside-chain effects loop
Controlsaural enhancer (unique to SWR)
OtherXLR direct out with level, tuner out,
The Baby Blue II is not for everyone. It is for people who want a small, easy to move amp that has features normally found only on bigger amps. The downside is the cost, $1100 list is a lot of cabbage for something that looks like a "practice amp"! The original Baby Blue used 8" speakers made by Bag End, the BB II now uses Celestion drivers. The amplifier develops 140 watts into the resulting 4 ohm load, you can get an extra 20 watts by adding a 4 ohm extension cabinet. The amp is not very loud with the internal speakers, although it sounds great, a lot of bottom and a very smooth high end, more "buttery" than cabinets using horns rather than cone tweeters. The 3 bands of EQ are all sweepable, so it is capable of a lot of tonal variation; in addition it has the SWR "aural enhancer" which is a unique control. At the highest settings, it scoops mids while boosting highs and lows; slappers will love it. At lower settings, it beefs up low mids for more of a "60s" tonality. The EQ can be bypassed by pulling out on the aural enhancer knob. The BB II has a single 12AX7 tube in the preamp which adds some roundness to the tone, but even with the gain control cranked, it will not give a usable tube overdrive if that's what you like. The patching capabilities are incredible. The XLR output can be pre or post-EQ, there is a level pot and a ground lift. Whew! There are also a tuner out (can be used as an unbalanced pre-EQ out), a line out (post-EQ but pre-volume, unbalanced), the effects loop and jacks for the internal and extension speakers. The effects loop is of the "side-chain" type, like on PA mixers. There is a "blend" control which adjusts the balance of the dry signal and the wet signal; pulling out the pot disconnects the loop entirely. There is no onboard compression, but a pair of LEDs indicate whether the preamp or power amp are clipping. There is no relay protecting the spaekers from "thumps" on power up. So what does it sound like? It is very "high fidelity" and will remind you of the sound you hear on studio recordings of pop music; a full, round tone with a clear high end and a solid punch without any honkiness, harshness, boom or mud. It's also a sweet amp for upright bass as it doesn't have that "boxiness" typical of most bass cabs when used with the upright. Despite the low wattage rating, the amp has a lot of dynamic headroom so it never feels compressed or "squashed". It sounds so smooth that you will have to work a bit with your instrument and the amp's EQ to get any sort of snarly, grinding tones. It gets quite loud for it's size but you may find yourself turning the master volume up pretty high (3/4 or more) to deal with loud guitars and drums. Adding an extra cabinet adds a lot to the volume; a bigger box means more volume and more bottom. With a good extension cabinet (I've used it with a 1-15 and a 2-10) it starts showing some real muscle. The Baby Blue II is a good amp if you need modest volume, very true sound and a small package. As good as it sounds, it's not a great rock and roll stage amp because of the volume limitations.
construction (100%)
clarity (100%)
value (80%)
overall (98%)
The BGRA is generously underwritten by David King of Bass Guitar Systems.
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