The Ampeg SVT is the undisputed king of rock bass amplification. Seriously. It’s formed the backbone of rock for decades, and it’s so cool that even Paul Gilbert – a guitar hero – wrote a song about the glories of plugging a bass into a mighty SVT and rocking the fuck out. Now, Ampeg’s Micro VR doesn’t actually claim to be an SVT, but it certainly borrows from that classic mega-amp’s styling, helped in large part by its little partner, the SVT210AV speaker cabinet. It basically looks like a mini SVT for an elf.
The Micro-VR features both a solid state preamp and MOSFET power amp. It puts out 200 watts (although remember, solid state amps need higher power to achieve similar results to tube amps, so this isn’t exactly a high-power, high volume ultra stack of doom) and it has a nicely stripped-back control feature set. After the input jack there’s a -15db pad switch to attenuate the signal for active electronics or high output pickups. Then a peak LED will let you know if the next batch of controls are set too high: they’re Gain, Bass, Midrange and Treble. Next there’s a master Volume and a limiter switch which kicks in automatically when needed. It’s actually pretty hard to get this circuit going, because the amp is designed cleverly enough to not really need it if you’re using it right. Think of it as an extra layer of protection if you’re not paying attention to the peak LED.
There’s also an audio input for connecting an iPod/mp3 player/CD player, and a headphone out. The audio input’s signal only comes out of the headphones, not the speaker, so you can jam along without having a less-than-optimised audio signal coming out of a bass amp, which would be sacrilege for both the amp and the audio device.
Around the back you’ll find two speaker outputs, an effects loop and a balanced XLR line out, which can be connected to an external mixer or external power amps or powered loudspeakers.
The SVT210AV isn’t just for the Micro-VR. It’s described by Ampeg as the portable alternative to a full sized SVT cab, and they say it’s ideal for bleed-sensitive recording situations where the megalith that is the SVT810-AV can be too loud and live situations where it can be too large. It is designed using Ampeg’s famous Infinite Baffle system for maximum speaker efficiency, and it packs a pair of 10″ Eminence speakers for 200 watts RMS at 8ohms. The frequency response is 58Hz-5kHz, and it weighs next to nothing: 11.7kg. Tiny. I swear I’ve eaten burgers heavier than that.
The Micro-VR won’t give you the pure overdriven roar that an SVT is capable of – it’s not really designed to -but it still sounds reliably ‘Ampeg.’ I plugged in my Fernandes Jazz Bass copy (with DiMarzio Area J pickups) and let rip with some old-school classic rock bass lines. This feels like the Micro-VR’s natural environment. It sounded great – not a huge amount of low end, but just enough to maintain tightness around the bottom. The treble doesn’t get too bitey thanks to the cabinet’s natural 5kHz roll-off, and the midrange doesn’t get very honky either – always a concern with smaller amps.
The gain control won’t really give you distortion exactly, but turning it up definitely adds some fullness and edge to the sound. Really though, the Micro-VR is the kind of amp that encourages you to achieve tonal flexibility by the way you play rather than overloading you with a multitude of tone switches, EQs, distortion circuits, crossovers and what have you. It’s a real ‘what you put in is what you get out’ kind of amp, and this makes it great for blues, punk, rock and especially classic rock.
The Micro-VR and SVT210AV are a killer combination tonally and, let’s face it, they’re super-cute visually. The whole rig isn’t even as tall as my 4-year old. It gets plenty loud, and the sounds are authentically Ampeg, even if they don’t do that great overdriven power tube thing that Paul Gilbert so enthusiastically sang about.