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Magnatone Panoramic Stereo All-Tube Combo Amplifier
Sublime three-dimensional sound that surrounds you


by Phil O'Keefe





Very few amplifier brands can lay claim to Magnatone's kind of legendary status, and yet I'd venture a guess that relatively few of today's players have ever had the chance to actually hear one in person. The original amps were discontinued decades ago, and even when they were in production they weren't made in the same quantities as some other amp brands. Still, the reputation they have has remained strong, in no small part due to some of the famous players who have enthusiastically used them over the decades--such as Buddy Holly, Neil Young and Lonnie Mack.

 

The brand was revived in 2013 under the leadership of amp industry veteran Ted Kornblum, giving modern players a chance to get their hands on new production Magnatone models, but how well do they live up to their legendary name and reputation? It was time to find out when I recently received a Magnatone Panoramic Stereo combo amp for review. Part of their Traditional Collection, it certainly bears the visual hallmarks of the classic Magnatone amps. Let's see how the rest of it measures up.





What You Need To Know

  • The Magnatone Panoramic Stereo is a boutique 2 x 12W Push-Pull (Class AB) stereo guitar combo amplifier that, like all of the Magnatone models, is made in the United States, with American parts.  While we'll be focusing on the combo amp, it's also available in head form without speakers.

  • Housed in a jointed solid-pine cabinet measuring 20" H x 22.5" W x 10" D, the amp is covered in Magnatone's traditional brown colored 100% cotton fabric, which was originally developed as book binding material. It has a pebbled finish and looks similar to Tolex, but is a touch smoother and subjectively a bit classier.

  • While only time will tell if it will hold up as well as Tolex, Magnatone also includes a very nice heavy-duty cover, complete with the Magnatone name and a single V chevron. This should allow the amp to travel to gigs with less risk of suffering cosmetic dings and abrasions.




  • While it has the general size, look (and SPL) of a medium-sized tube combo amp, the Panoramic Stereo combo weighs in at a easily transportable 36 pounds. The hand-tooled leather handle makes it easy to carry and looks cool too.  

  • The front speaker baffle is slightly angled - another feature found on some vintage Magnatones.

 

  • As with some of their vintage models, a large gold Magnatone marquee across the top front of the amp will leave no doubt as to the brand of amp you're playing. Dual gold chevrons also adorn the front grille. Here's an in-the-know tip: single chevrons are used on Magnatone's mono amps, and dual chevrons appear on all the stereo models, allowing you to tell them apart at a glance.

  • While the inspiration of earlier Magnatone amps like the famous 280 is readily evident, the Panoramic Stereo isn't a reissue of any previous model.

  • A lot of the action happens on the back side of the amp, which is where you'll find all of the controls.

 

  • The Panoramic Stereo is powered by a quartet of JJ EL84 tubes. There are four additional JJ tubes, for a total of eight fire bottles. Everything in this amplifier runs on tubes, with the exception of the rectifier, which is solid state. The first tube (V1) is a 12AX7 that provides the first and second gain stages for the preamp.



  • V2 is also a 12AX7, and provides the reverb driver and recovery stages. The Panoramic Stereo comes equipped with a long pan Accutronics reverb tank, with four counter-wound springs. This is installed horizontally in the bottom of the amp cabinet inside of a reverb tank bag.



  • In the V3 position is a tube that many of you might not be familiar with - a 12DW7. Like the familiar 12AX7, this is a dual triode tube, but instead of both triodes having the same gain factor (as with the 12AX7), one has a gain factor of 100 (like a 12AX7), while the other has a gain factor of 20, like a 12AU7. The 12DW7 powers the amp's vibrato / tremolo. While not as common as some other tubes, a quick search reveals that they still seem to be readily available and reasonably priced, so don't let tube availability concern you.    



  • The fourth and final small tube (V4) is another 12AX7 that functions as the phase splitter.

  • The Magnatone Panoramic Stereo has an IEC power connector hidden on the chassis up under the control panel, with a power cable semi-permanently attached. I like this since having it attached means you're a lot less likely to lose it, and yet it can still be replaced fairly easily should you ever need to, without requiring a trip to a service center.

  • Also up under the controls is a 1/4" jack for the included footswitch. A Magnatone branded cable for the footswitch is also included, and like the power cable, it's semi-permanently attached with a couple of cable clamps and screws.

 

  • The included footswitch is a two-button unit painted a deep chocolate brown. It requires a 9V battery to power the two indicator lamps - a red one on the left for the tremolo / vibrato and a yellow one for the reverb. The footswitch will still work, even without the battery, but the indicators won't light up. The battery is accessed through a no-tool access port on the bottom of the pedal.



  • Each of the 12 watt Class AB power amps drives its own 10" Magnatone Custom ceramic magnet speaker. A sticker on the magnet says they were made by WGS. These have 8 ohm impedance and a 25 watt power rating per speaker, so they should be able to hang with the amp, even if you like to goose the volume knob.

 

  • Construction quality is top-notch, with hand-stuffed through-hole American-built parts on a heavy-duty double-sided PCB, with clean hand soldering, hand wiring and assembly.

 

  • Let's take a look at the Magnatone Panoramic Stereo's control panel. In traditional Magnatone fashion, it's rear-facing, and although I've never really been a big fan of rear-mounted controls, it's angled, which makes it easier to see whether you're behind the amp or in front of and above it.

  • There are two 1/4" inputs. The first is High Sensitivity, with a 1 MOhm input impedance. Input 2 is Low Sensitivity at 120 KOhm impedance; it's padded down about 6 dB compared to Input 1, making it better suited for use with really hot pickups and / or for lower-gain tones.

 

  • Next up comes the amp's Volume control. The knobs will look instantly familiar to anyone familiar with vintage Magnatones. They're large and super-easy to see. With my trusty '57 Classic pickup-equipped 2013 SG Standard, the sound remained clean all the way up to a touch past the midway point on the dial. After that it gets progressively grimier and grittier. It works equally well with my Telecaster's single coil pickups too, although with a bit later onset of distortion, as you'd expect.

  • Since there's no master volume control and no channel switching, this is really an amp that's ideal for those who know how to manipulate the controls on their guitar while they play. Doing so allows you to turn the amp's volume up high, and then go from clean to overdriven by varying the guitar's volume control.  

  • Of course, there are those who prefer to use a clean amp as a platform for pedals, and the Panoramic Stereo is extremely well-suited for this as well. It's a dual 12 watt stereo amp, so you might suspect it can't get very loud, but that's not the case. It's surprisingly loud, with plenty of clean headroom and volume available.

  • The tone section consists of two knobs - Treble and Bass. Treble is centered at 2 kHz, while the Bass is centered in the 60 Hz region. The tone section is sweet-sounding and does everything you need it to do without being overly complex.  

  • The Reverb knob lets you add a touch of ambience or drench your sound completely with a flick of the wrist. This isn't a cheap digital reverb or a short spring tank being driven by a solid state circuit, but a true tube-driven long-tank Accutronics with a medium (1.75 - 3 second) decay time. Yes, it makes a difference in the sound quality, and the Panoramic Stereo's reverb is suitably deep and rich.

  • The final two knobs are labeled Intensity and Speed, and control the Panoramic Stereo's Stereo Pitch Shifting Vibrato. This uses the same basic Varistor circuit as the vintage amps, but it's been updated and modernized.



  • An AM/FM switch allows you to set it for true frequency modulation pitch-shifting stereo vibrato that pans from speaker to speaker, or amplitude modulation for a more traditional tremolo effect. Either way, the rate of the modulation is set by the Speed control, while the Intensity knob setting determines the amout of the selected effect you'll hear.

  • A 1/4" Remote Pedal jack lets you connect an optional expression pedal (I used a Roland EV-5, which worked just fine) to remotely control the speed of the modulation, which is not only a ton of fun, but can add a lot of expressiveness to your sound.

  • Next to the Vibrato section are four jacks - two for Remote / External 8 Ohm speakers, and a Left / Right Line Out pair. These are speaker-compensated so they give you a more natural sound when recording direct or feeding the PA at larger venues. Neither the Line Outputs or the External Speaker jacks disable the onboard speakers; it's important to keep a proper load connected to the amp at all times to avoid damaging it.

  • At the far right side of the control panel are the power and standby switches, as well as a large red power indicator and the fuse holder.

  • I've been a proponent and user of stereo guitar rigs for many years. I find their sound to be inspiring, but unlike DIY dual-amp stereo setups, the Magnatone Panoramic Stereo is completely hassle-free; there's no issues with ground loops and hum, so there's no need to worry about isolation transformers or any other work-arounds. You just plug it in like any other combo amp, but you get fat, wide stereo that's unlike any other amp I've ever heard - all from a single, relatively compact enclosure.



Limitations

  • There is no stereo effects loop for patching in outboard stereo effects. This would be the single most useful improvement I could suggest for this outstanding amplifier.

  • This is a single-channel amp, so die-hard channel-switching amp fans may want to look elsewhere - or better yet, consider going to a multi-amp switching setup. I can't think of a better amp to use in such a rig for clean tones than the Panoramic Stereo.  

  • The price tag will put it out of reach of some players, but the best is rarely inexpensive, and never cheap.

  • If you play one, you're probably going to want one - badly. You've been warned.



Conclusions

I spent more than a little time trying to figure out how I was going to write this review without sounding like a shill. In the end I decided that sticking with honesty was, as always, the best policy. I just have to let the accusations fall where they may - I'm sure they'll stop as soon as people get a chance to hear this incredible amplifier for themselves. To put it bluntly, the Magnatone Panoramic Stereo has the most spectacularly beautiful and mesmerizing clean tones of any amplifier I've ever played through. The overdriven tones are also exceptionally impressive. Rich and gorgeous to begin with, the sound of this amp just gets better from there, with added depth dimension when you dial up some of the lusciously thick tube-driven spring reverb, and when you kick in that incomparable stereo vibrato, it's game over. Magnatone calls it "True Dimensional Sound" and that's not hyperbole - this is an amp with a uniquely three-dimensional sound that completely envelopes you in its gooey goodness.

Magnatone refers to this as a smaller, more portable version of their Twilighter Stereo combo amp in some of their literature, but just because it's smaller, you're not making any huge sacrifices as far as I can tell. The Stereo Twilighter is a 2x12" 6V6 based combo amp, and at 22+22W, it has more power, but you still get plenty of headroom with the Panoramic Stereo (this amp is louder than the dual 12 watt rating would lead you to think - you should have no problem keeping up with a drummer), and even though the 10" speakers are smaller, the Panoramic Stereo has plenty of bottom. While you don't get the same Selector knob options on the Tremolo / Vibrato section, the same incredible vintage-approved sound is there, as well as the very useful expression pedal control capabilities. And on the plus side, it's a bit lighter and more compact - not to mention less expensive, all of which will make it a better choice for many players.  

I do wish it came with an expression pedal, but that would just add to the price, and compatible models are readily available - some guitarists will no doubt already have something suitable that they can use. And being a big stereo effects fan, I really wish it had a stereo effects loop, but to be fair, there's really no room on the panel for any more jacks, and the ones that are included for external speakers and stereo line output will probably be more useful to most guitarists anyway.  The only other thing that some might balk at is the price, but for boutique, handmade, all-tube American-built stereo amplifier, the price really is not unreasonable.

Since they've been out of production longer than some readers have been alive, it's understandable that many haven't heard a Magnatone amplifier in person before, but now that they're back in business once again you really do owe it to yourself to track down a Panoramic Stereo and give it a try - but as I said, if you do, you're probably going to really want one of your own. Badly. I know I do. This amp gets my highest possible recommendation. Yeah, it really is that good. -HC-

 

Want to discuss the Magnatone Panoramic Stereo or have comments or questions about this review? Then check out this thread in the Amps forum right here on HC and join the discussion!

 


Resources

Magnatone Panoramic Stereo 2x10" 12+12W combo amplifier ($2,699.00 MSRP, Panoramic Head: $2,499.00 MSRP, Magnatone Extension Cabinets: 1x12” $699 MSRP, 2x10” $749 MSRP, and 2x12” $999 MSRP.)

Magnatone's product web page

You can purchase the Magnatone Panoramic Stereo 2x10" 12+12W combo amplifier from:

Truetone Music  

Guitar Emporium   

The Music Emporium   











__________________________________________________

 




Phil O'Keefe is a multi-instrumentalist, recording engineer / producer and the Senior Editor of Harmony Central. He has engineered, produced and performed on countless recording sessions in a diverse range of styles, with artists such as Alien Ant Farm, Jules Day, Voodoo Glow Skulls, John McGill, Michael Knott and Alexa's Wish. He is a former featured monthly columnist for EQ magazine, and his articles and product reviews have also appeared in Keyboard, Electronic Musician and Guitar Player magazines.  

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