Itís been stated in other reviews that if Porsche made an amp, it would look like the GBE series of Genz Benz amps. Just looking at one of these GBE series amps reminds one that they do indeed look like high-end equipment. They should, as thatís exactly what they are. Boutique quality amps for the everyman. Fit and finish on these amps is spectacular. Every knob, switch, and control feels just right and like it will last forever.
At first glance, the control panel layout appears daunting. There are 18 knobs, 9 switches (including power), and 17 LEDís and it has an old school jeweled lens for the power. A closer inspection reveals just how clear and concise the layout is. Letís take a closer look, moving from left to right.
The first section contains the input and front tuner output. Just to the right of the input, there are two push button switches for active/passive and mute. LEDís let you know what is selected. Next is the front tuner out jack. To the right are two more switches. One for the Tube and FET channel and one to ďmixĒ both together. Again, LEDís show you the status of your current settings.
There are two channels. The FET channel on top and the tube channel below. LEDís are included for viewing which channel is operating and input gain. Next, we have the gain, volume, and tone controls for the five band active EQ. Frequencies break down like this:
Low Frequency - 80 Hz and below Low-Mid Frequency - 200 Hz Mid Frequency Ė 500 Hz High-Mid Frequency Ė 1250 Hz High Frequency - 4000 Hz and above
Then we move to the next section where the global signal shape controls reside. There are LEDís next to each of the three controls to show when they are engaged. The controls are:
L.F. Boost Mid Scoop H.F. Attack
Volume controls are there for each one. They are switchable via the included five-button footswitch that also controls channel switching and mix. There are LEDís on the footswitch too. Sadly, there is no control on the footswitch for the effects bus.
Finally, to the far right we have the status and master sections of the amp. Status section houses the power switch and 5 LEDís that give you the status of what the amp is doing at a given time. Below that is the Master section with a master volume and a switch and LED for the limiter in the amp.
Once you look at all this, you see itís designed with the player in mind. Everything you need is right up front, where it should be. I should mention that the LEDís are very bright and there is no dimmer available. Some will like it and others wonít. If youíre on a dark stage 30 feet away, you will love it.
My biggest complaint on the front panel are the handles. In my opinion, they are just too small to get a good grip on the amp when picking it up.
The rear panel houses the speakon connectors, powerflex switch, effect busses, DI, and another tuner out. Only speakon jacks are provided. With 1200 watts of available power, ľĒ jacks are not an option. The powerflex switch allows for matching the output with speaker load. Either 4-8 or 2 OHM positions. This allows the amp to deliver power with maximum headroom to any speaker load. An LED on the front panel lets you know when you are in 2 OHM mode.
The effect busses are very nice. You have three separate sets. Pre EQ for the FET and tube channel and post EQ for the master or summed channel. Footswitch in and slave out are also provided. The DI has multiple switches for setting ground lift, pre or post EQ, and mic or line level. Lastly another rear mounted tuner out. Again, we see the player friendly nature of the amp, all connections are grouped together and clearly marked. A large fan is located on the side and seems to be very quiet. Air travels out the back through the large heatsink. Genz Benz states the amp is good to cool with ďzeroĒ clearance top and bottom, which is nice if you have a tight rack. Forty minutes of playing at a 2 OHM load at moderate to high volume resulted in no cooling problems whatsoever.
OK, so what does this beast sound like?
This amp has the most clean available headroom of any amp Iíve ever used period! Over 30 years of playing, I thought Iíd tried everything but this thing beats them all. 1200 watts of power will get you to anywhere you need to go, especially with the headroom this amp has. I used it through my Ampeg 410HLF at 4 ohms and the sound was full with bottom that never stopped. Through my Ampeg 410HE at 8 ohms, the sound was strong with punchy mids and upper mids you only get with a sealed cabinet. Again, there was headroom in abundance. Through both cabinets using the powerflex switch in the two ohm position, the sound was powerful. Giving me the full tone spectrum at any volume setting.
Usually you can hear when an amp is at itís maximum usable volume and you stop there. I never had that feeling with this amp. Turning up the volume results in just that, MORE volume. I had the feeling this amp could do some serious damage to your speakers if you are careless with the volume. This thing delivers way more power than youíll ever need. All that power and the powerflex circuit is the secret to the great headroom this amp provides. Youíll probably never send the output of this amp into clipping. That means lower heat on the voice coils of the speakers and longer life. Heat is the enemy of speakers. You clip the amp, the heat builds up and boom fried speakers.
Iím not sure about other GBE 1200;s but the tube channel of this amp is way hotter than the FET channel. With the bass set at about 3:00 and the low mid and mid set just short of 12:00 and the high mid and high at 1:00, I was able to get a nice growly tube breakup with setting the input gain hot with my passive 62 re-issue P bass. Normal playing was very punchy, with just a touch of breakup. Digging in with my pick or fingers produced a fat hot growl with some nice tube breakup but not overly distorted. You can go full distort, but itís not my thing. Backing off the bass guitar volume produced a beautiful warm tube sound that was crystal clear.
The FET channel with the P bass was very clean with no breakup. Using the same tone settings as I used on the tube channel, I had to almost max out the gain on this channel to get an equal amount of volume as the tube channel which seemed strange to me. Maybe thatís the way itís designed. I havenít played another 1200 so I canít say. Either way the tube channel is my favorite.
I messed around with the mix function for the two channels. Using the FET channel with mostly bottom and mixing in the tube channel set for high gain with mostly mids and highs gave me a nice chest thumping clean low end with the added effect of a tube breakup on the highs, Very nice, like a Hi-Fi sound with bite. Then I used the tube channel set up as mentioned above and mixed in the FET channel with mostly bottom. That combo really sounds fat on the low end and stays clean and loud till you dig in and then just plain kicks it. Thereís no doubt that the 1200 watts has a lot to do with the big sound.
I tried out the effect busses a couple of different ways using my ATK bass. I used the FET channel clean, and was able to get the gain hotter due to the active EQ on the Ibanez. Then I mixed in my Zoom B2 set on chorus through the tube channel effect buss. Clean lows and very nice chorus on the mids and highs with lots of clarity. No muddy bottom as the FET channel remained clean. This will be my standard setup with the chorus. I then moved the B2 over to the FET effect buss and set it up in defret mode. The Zoom is OK for fretless type sounds if you tweak it somewhat. I left the tube channel clean. I liked that combo as I got a decent muah from the low and low mids while the upper mids and highs remained clean and straight. It was an unusual sound but not in a bad way and I might use it for some solo stuff.
To say that Iím impressed with this amp is an understatement. All the above I did without even using any of the Global Signal Shapes. I plan on using them some in the future just to see what I get. The H.F. Attack will get me some added punch and pick attack for solo work.
Is there anything I donít like about this amp? Well yes, but not much. I still think the handles are too small and I wish it had effects on/off on the footswitch, but thatís it. I know Iím really raving the GBE 1200 up, but the amp IS that good.