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Looking for a rack-mounted bass preamp that gives the punch and warmth of tubes but want to convenience and consistency of solid state?

 

By Chris Loeffler

 

In general, bass players tend to be more adventurous when it comes to trying out new gear. Unfettered by a slavish devotion to iconic brands or the need to own what their heroes played, bassists tend to focus on the tone and functionality of their instruments when selecting the best gear to fit their playing style. BBE clearly knows sound, and they’re betting bass players will love what they cooked up.

The BBE BMax is a rack-mountable, solid state bass preamp with three-band EQ, parametric mids that features gain control, dedicated optical compression and a built-in BBE Sonic Maximizer. The BMax has Passive and Active inputs to accommodate both pickup styles, and features ¼” and XLR outputs and an effects loop. The Compression and Sonic Maximizer effects can be controled with the FS-BMax dual footswitch (not included).

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What You Need To Know

  • The BBE BMax is rooted in A/B solid state preamplification that can be either fed into a power amp or direct into the PA or a recording unit. A constant 1 ohm impedance on the passive input and 100k ohm active output ensures consistent feedback between the instrument and the amp, with the active input attenuated by approximately 12dB. The preamp features a Gain control that covers ground from warm cleans to aggressive, modern sounding distortion. Tastefully applied at low settings, the Gain control yields very satisfying grind and attack, tube-like enhancements. The bright switch introduces an 8dB boost at 5kHz to pep up inherently dark instruments.
  • The three band interactive EQ allows users to boost Bass and Treble, as well as cut Mids. The Bass control offers a 0-16dB boost at 40Hz and the Treble offers a 0-18bB boost at the 6kHz range. The Mid control, meanwhile, cuts the 300Hz range up to 12dB. The result is the ability to fine tune the core tone of the BMax… the sweep of all three EQ bands is natural, and they are really about best adjusting the preamp into the signal chain as opposed to accessing completely different tones. The Para-Mids control sweeps between 250Hz and 1kHz with the Frequency knob and allows players to easily carve into the ideal frequency in their band's mix. The Gain control allows for up to a 12dB boost or cut to the Para-Mid frequency.
  • The BBE BMax’s onboard compressor is a “soft knee” compressor that utilizes photo-optical cells to control the feel and ARSD (Attack-Release-Sustain-Decay) of the compressor. Unlike FET-based solid state compressors, which tend to darken the tone and exhibit pumping in the compression, the optical compressor in the BMax is smoother and more rounded, adding presence and tube-like warmth that sounds less effected. As one reviewer commented. “this thing has a poor technique compensator”. The Level control sets the threshold for when compression begins, and helpful LED indicator visually changes from green (activated but not compressing) to yellow (activated and compressing) to help dial in the right amount of gain reduction.
  • BBE made a name for itself with its Sonic Maximizer circuit, and its inclusion in the BMax only makes sense. Via two controls, Lo Contour and Process, the Sonic Maximizer sits in the signal chain after the effects loop. Lo Contour allows for a boost anywhere from 0-10dB at 50Hz. Careful tweaking of the knob beefs up the core tone without getting flabby or sounding unbalanced. The Process knob is where a lot of the magic happens in the Sonic Maximizer effect; by addressing phasing and the speed at which different frequencies travel, the effect automatically tightens up and pulls together the total signal, leading to more punch and presence without dramatically changing the core tone. When rolled fully counterclockwise, the Process knob turns off the processing and turns into a subtle noise suppressor.
  • The effects loop in the BMax is silent and doesn't drain the tone, even when long leads of sub-par cable are used to insert other effects units. The placement of the effects loop before the Sonic Maximizer is a boon to players, allowing any delay, reverb, or modulation running through the effects loop the benefit of the Maximizer effect.

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Limitations

  • People looking for emulations of classic amps should look elsewhere; the BBE BMax sounds great, but it proudly is its own sound.
  • Some of the controls (especially Gain) yield dramatic changes with the slightest of tweaks, making it easy to accidentally throw in too much distortion when adjusting in the heat of the moment.
  • Because the unit is so light, more animated performers should mount it (either into a rack or elsewhere) to avoid yanking the unit off a flat surface during onstage theatrics.

 

Conclusion

The BBE BMax is an affordable, low-maintenance/high-value bass preamp and DI box that is loud and clean, capable of achieving deep, textured bass frequencies with supernaturally useable treble. The warmth of the tone is natural but modern sounding, and the addition of compression and the Sonic Maximizer allows for quick tone changes in a live performance. 

 

Resources

 

BBE BMAx Bass Preamp at Musician's Friend ($299.00 Street)

 

BBE BMAx Bass Preamp Product Page

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