BX500 Amp and
BR410 Neo Cab
BY DAN BERKOWITZ
One of the big side effects of G.A.S. is a false
certainty that the next piece of gear will be
the one. Over the years, I’ve switched amps
and cabs more times than I can count, and
they haven’t always been necessary changes.
Sometimes, it’s the newest Best Thing. A
few times, it’s been just the frustration of an
off night. I’ve turned to Carvin to fulfill these
G.A.S. needs over the years and have found
the company’s gear to have been sturdy, reliable, feature rich, and value-priced.
A Two-Finger Carry
Enter Carvin’s new flyweight bass amp,
the BX500, a 500-watt, Class D amp with
a switching power supply, all rolled into a
package that weighs less than six pounds.
When you first pick up this amp, you might
think it’s empty inside. The BX500 is a little
wider and deeper than most of the ultra light
amps out there these days—a tradeoff for all
the features that Carvin had to pack into its
3”x9”x14” metal box. There’s no handle on
the box, so I’d have to say it’s a two-finger
carry. There is a rackmount panel available,
too, but a rack case would weigh more than
the whole amp!
Changing Tonal Colors
The BX500 is a tone chameleon—chock full
of options for altering its basic sound, making
tones available that are quite different from its
native sound with everything set flat. For tone
shaping possibilities, the BX500 starts with the
usual Bass and Treble knobs, offering 12dB
of cut and boost on each. If that doesn’t do
the job, you can get a quick tone fix with two
bands of semi-parametric EQ offering broadly
adjustable frequency centers.
Going one step farther, the BX500 offers a
9-band graphic EQ that’s switchable by either a
front-panel toggle or by a footswitch plugged
into the back panel. This can be a handy feature for soloing, for EQ’ing two different basses, or for changing up your sound for different
musical styles. But there’s still one more EQ
option: a Contour knob that scoops out your
mids (around 350 to 500Hz) for slapping, or just
a warmer tone. The specs show up to -15dB of
mid cut, but I thought it was a subtle-sounding
control, at least up to the halfway point when
the real scooping begins.
Beyond tone, two more options let you make
changes to the character of your sound.
Somehow, with all that’s going on, Carvin was
able to fit in a 12AX7 tube, which is switchable in/out on the back panel. I tried this feature with a few different basses and thought
it was very subtle, more a difference in the
feel of the attack, along with a bit more fullness on the bottom end. Because it’s all-or-nothing, you’re not able to get a tube grind
kind of sound from it.
Which brings us to the second character
bender: a Drive knob. Once again, don’t go
to this knob for distortion, but for changes in
both gain and harmonic content. Although
this has a variable level control, you will probably notice the change of gain more than the
change of the actual sound. I thought that
between a quarter and halfway up, the Drive
knob added some grit, growl and attack. To
use it, though, the master volume must be
lowered to compensate.
The Master Volume control does a lot in its first
quarter turn, so that once the drive gets much
beyond half, you barely turn on the master
before getting plenty loud. If I had my druthers,
I would make the master level turn up more
gradually, so that it would still be usable when
turned halfway up with the Drive knob in use.
Unlike most amps, the BX500 has a Master,
but not an input gain control or an input clip
light. Instead, there is an active/passive toggle
switch that pads down the input a little bit. The
manual doesn’t have the spec for this, but this
switch doesn’t produce a big change in volume
and seems to accommodate active or passive
basses in either position without changing the
Some might criticize the DI on the BX500,
since it is pre-EQ only (most amps offer a
choice of pre or post). I think it’s fine the way
it is, especially with a front-panel level control.
In most venues, the sound tech wants you to
plug into an external DI box, sending just your
instrument to the board, and generally prefers
a pre-EQ send, since there’s a full-spectrum
signal to work with.
Clean power is important, since nearly all contemporary bass amps use a solid-state power
amp that gets ugly when distorted. If you want
to add distortion to your sound, you do it via