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PRS Sonzera 50W 1x12 combo amplifier
Great guitars aren't the only thing that PRS makes

by Phil O'Keefe


PRS. Say those three letters and most guitarists will know exactly who you're referring to, and will be familiar with the company that Paul Reed Smith founded, and that bears his name. But if you ask them what that company is all about, most of them will say they're guitar builders - which of course is true, but only tells part of the story because PRS has also been building guitar amplifiers for the past eight years or so. In this review, we'll be taking an in-depth look at one of their latest models - the Sonzera 50W 1x12 combo amp.




What You Need To Know

  • The Sonzera line is the latest amp range from PRS. Currently it consists of three different models - a 20W 1x12 combo (which uses 6L6 power tubes) and two 50W models - a head, and the 1x12 combo under review here.

  • What's in a name? Well, Sonzera is a Portuguese slang word that means "a cool or stunning (musical) sound." Pretty cool, huh? It's even cooler since it's not just marketing hype - this is a really cool-sounding amplifier!

  • The Sonzera 50 1x12 combo measures 24" W x 19" H x 10.5" D. Like most 50W amps, it's not light; it weighs in at 56.6 pounds.

  • The PRS Sonzera 50 combo amp's cabinet is somewhere between a closed- and open-back cab; the rear panel has a small open area, protected by a wire grille, which provides ventilation for those fire bottles.
  • Cosmetically the amps are covered in what PRS calls "Stealth," which is a low-reflective black tolex-type material. The grille cloth is black and cream, and there's a gold Paul Reed Smith signature logo mounted near the top of the grille cloth. Gold piping between the grille cloth and control panel adds a nice touch of class, and visually works well with the gold-colored control labels and logos.  

  • All of the amps in the Sonzera line are all-tube, and the 50W models use a pair of EL34 BHT power tubes. In the preamp section you'll find 1 JJ ECC83S and three 12AX7 AC5 HG tubes. The Sonzera 50 uses a solid-state rectifier.

  • There are two channels (Clean and Gain), selectable with a front panel Channel Select toggle switch or a footswitch. Both channels have individual three-band EQs with Bass, Mid and Treble controls.




  • Each channel also has a pair of controls for adjusting gain and output volume, with Volume and Master controls for the Clean Channel, and Drive and Level controls for the Gain Channel.

  • Both channels share a master Presence control, but each channel has its own individual Bright / Normal switch.

  • A red "gem-style" pilot lamp and a 1/4" input jack round out the front panel.
  • The PRS Sonzera 50 comes equipped with a Celestion G12 70 watt 16 ohm speaker. Access to it, and to the amp's tubes, requires removing nine screws and the amp's rear panel. However once it's off, getting to the tubes is easy. 




  • The amp is well built, using three PCBs internally, which have suitably thick traces. The chassis is beefy steel, and high-quality, full-sized, through-hole components are used throughout the amplifier.

 

 

  • On the rear panel you'll find five 1/4" speaker jacks - one 16 ohm jack for use when running with just the internal speaker, a parallel pair of 8 ohm jacks for use with external cabinets, and a pair of 4 ohm jacks wired in parallel for 4 ohm cabinets.




  • A 1/4" footswitch jack is also located on the rear panel. Unlike some amps, the two button footswitch is included when you purchase a Sonzera 50. It provides remote reverb on/off and channel select functions.  

  • Bias controls are also mounted on the rear panel, as are the Power and Standby switches.

  • The Sonzera 50 has a built-in effects loop, and you'll find the 1/4" Send and Return jacks for it on the rear as well. 
  • A fuse holder and a IEC power receptacle round out the rear panel controls and connections.




Limitations

  • The volume controls are a bit touchy on the low end - it's hard to control the quieter level settings. But hey, this wasn't really designed to be a low-volume "bedroom amp." It's much better suited to rehearsals and gigs with the band, recording sessions, and basically any situation where you need a great-sounding amp with enough power behind it to get your point across authoratively.




Conclusions

As anyone who has spent any time in the HC Effects forum knows, I love effects pedals and use a lot of them. The PRS Sonzera is an outstanding pedal user's platform. It gives you the kind of big, effortless, and sweet-sounding, tube-based clean tone that many people associate with Fullerton's golden era, and serves as a fantastic foundation for whatever you want to build on top of it with your pedals. Of course if you like running your time-based effects in a loop, there's one built-in to the Sonzera that works great with pedals.

I really like the channel switching capabilities, and the fact that each channel gets a full complement of controls - no sharing! Kudos to PRS for throwing in the footswitch instead of making owners try to track one down. The dual reverb controls are also a big plus when channel switching, allowing you to dial up exactly the amount you want for each channel without the too much / too little type of compromises that come along with the single shared reverb control on some other channel-switching amps.


The tones may very well be the most impressive part of the Sonzera. The Clean Channel has a decidedly west coast / Orange County accent (dude), while the Gain Channel can take you anywhere from slight Southern Rockabilly breakup to full Swedish metal. Tons of tonal variety is on tap, and it's really easy to get your own sound out of this amp. Not only is the Clean channel an excellent platform for pedals, but the entire amp has the kind of versatility to it that will see it being used by musicians in a wide variety of styles and genres.


The Sonzera is a classy-looking amp in an understated way. The build quality is also impressive and inspires confidence in the Sonzera's ability to take what a musician's lifestyle can dish out. Like many musicians I've always viewed PRS as a premium brand, and often that can be reflected in the price tag of products from such brands, but I was absolutely shocked when I learned how low the street price of the Sonzera 50 1x12 combo is. You've got to be kidding me - a 50W all-tube two channel combo amp with this kind of tone and versatility for under $900? That's HUGE bang for the bucks, folks!

 

If you're in the market for a amp that can hang with you no matter how large the venue is and that will reward you with great sound and reliable service night after night, the Sonzera is a more than capable partner that needs to be on your audition list. 

-HC-

 

Have questions? Want to talk about this cool new amp? Then be sure to head over to this thread in the Amps forum right here on Harmony Central and join the discussion!



Resources

PRS Sonzera 50 1x12 combo amplifier ($899.99 "street")


Paul Reed Smith's product web page    



You can purchase the PRS Sonzera 50 1x12 combo amplifier from:

Sweetwater  

Guitar Center    

Musician's Friend    



















__________________________________________________

 




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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