BluGuitar AMP1 Iridium
By Team HC |
by Brian Johnston
Thomas Blug is a world-class guitarist who has built his own amps and cabinets for several years. His vision was to develop an amp that was portable, lightweight, suitable for pedalboards, and it had to sound great. He hit the nail on the head in every instant, starting with the Amp1 (discontinued and replaced with the Mercury edition), and currently with the new Iridium edition – a 100 watt amp (both pre-amp and power amp) with four channels (clean, vintage, classic, and modern) and a ton of options, including tone sculpting controls (beyond the usual EQ), boost, reverb, noise gate, FX loop and a separate ‘soaker’ master volume so that you can achieve whatever range of sounds you want at any level (for recording, private practice and full-fledged gigs).
Whether considering the Mercury edition or the Iridium edition, you will be hard pressed to find any negative reviews or unhappy users of the AMP1 system. Whatever voice you choose, the tone is clear, well-defined and dynamic; you get authentic tube response based on your playing, whether soft or aggressive. The included demo goes through four different voices (clean, vintage, classic, and modern) and with various tone/gain combinations. Although this is a metal-based amp, dialing back the Gain and easing off on the guitar’s volume produces only modest overdrive for lighter rock compositions. And the ultra clear Clean channel takes pedals very well, so that you can add a low gain OD pedal for that softer touch.
I’ll begin with the Clean channel (engaged/disengaged via the left footswitch), which both sparkles and sounds very even in bass, midrange and treble response. Thomas Blug developed and voiced all the channels from his favorite amps in his collection, and you can tell this one has a lot of Fender overtones. Adding Gain to this channel provides only a bit of bite, and so you can get that clean sizzle and light crunch if desired. What impressed me even more is the Boost function; it works equally well with all channels, in that it adds that extra pizzazz, from a clean boost to some extra hair without sounding abrasive or too loud. When adding Boost to the Clean channel the notes thicken and sound fuller, allowing you to go from a slinky clean for funk to well-rounded overtones for blues and jazz. When remaining very clean, humbuckers sound best with the Gain six or lower, whereas single coils shine best with the Gain six and beyond (this range is true of the Gain channels as well, and on average).
The Vintage channel has a good amount of dirt with that ‘hard rock’ 1970s vibe and likely modeled from a Marshall Plexi. Ideal for blues to AC/DC, pair it with a metal guitar and you definitely can get something beyond the era. With the Boost turned low you get a very clean, yet woody response; turn the Boost up and the tone gets creamier and more expressive. Both the Clean and Vintage channels work exceptionally well with gain pedals, whether distortion, overdrive or fuzz. The Classic and Modern channels are a bit hairy to add gain pedals (although they sound fantastic with wah), but it can be done if the Gain on the Amp1 Iridium is on the low side and the distortion/OD pedal left at a modest level as well.
The Classic channel gives more of that Brown Sound, with its tight, punchy and dynamic responses. When adding Boost you get more overtones, so those pinch harmonics really sing out during leads and snappy rhythms. As well, this channel has a separate Tone knob, so that you can dial in various flavors that span the late 1970s and even into modern rock/metal territory (the harmonics and tone become more aggressive and tight when turning the custom Tone up).
The Modern channel produces American high-gain sounds with ultra-tight bass/midrange response and searing highs. You can hear elements of MESA, ENGL and even Diezel to some degree. This channel also is rather diverse, based on its custom Tone knob setting. When turned all the way down you get thick proto-metal riffage and fat lead; but as you turn it up the tone changes more to high-gain rock/metal (midway) to industrial ultra metal (full stop).
Let’s look at the various features to this wunderbar amp. There is the typical EQ, of bass, midrange and treble, but what sets this apart is that the same settings for any of the channels coordinate rather well. In effect, the tone controls have been designed for all channels to share and to achieve a balanced outcome, thereby negating the need to tweak the EQ constantly. Perhaps you want a big mid-scoop with the Modern channel and not the Classic channel, and so some tweaking is required, unless saving presets in the three footswitches (I’ll address that later). As mentioned, the Classic and Modern channels have additional custom Tone sculpting controls and they make a difference in what you hear (e.g., the Modern channel can have an ‘older’ high-gain modern sound when turned down, whereas the sound has more ‘bite’ for an ‘industrial’ modern sound when turned up).
Those added custom Tone controls are located along the left side of the Amp1 Iridium, together with Volume fine-tuning knobs (to better balance the three gain channels with the Clean channel), a Boost and a Noise Gate. The Boost (engaged via the middle footswitch) is one of the best I’ve used and heard. It adds a modest increase in volume that is audible when wanting heavier rhythms or to make the lead pop, but not a ridiculous amount that likely never would be used (if you’re already loud, who needs another 20dB of volume and with all the added hiss?). The Boost also has different characteristics, in that it acts as a clean boost when dialed down and with progressively more drive when turned up, thereby adding more hair to the original signal. The Noise Gate works exceptionally, although it can be shut off. The ‘Soft’ gate version cuts out a bit of noise and takes longer to taper, which is ideal for lead or when playing some moderate-gain rhythm. The Metal Gate is a hard gate and stops all noise/signal on a dime, perfect for higher-gain and modern metal chugging. In fact, that Gate also works well with lead if you’re not hanging too long on any notes. An added feature to the Metal Gate is that it automatically shuts off the Reverb function (Reverb remains on with the Soft Gate) so that you don’t get an artificial reverb-ending dynamic.
The Reverb is a spring-type digital reverb (although it does have some plate overtones to my ears and is not ‘springy’ in the vintage amp sense), activated by the left footswitch. It produces very modest reverb and enough to add dimension and depth to a guitar’s tone. Consequently, even when turned up full it sounds very appropriate, pleasing and non-dominant in the mix.
Volume to the Amp is controlled in several ways. As indicated, there are individual Volume control knobs along the side of the unit, so that you can balance the three gain channels with each other and with the Clean channel. The three gain channels then share a Gain and Master, the latter of which enables you to determine how hard and loud the Gain is pushed. And then there’s the Master Volume control, which contains a custom ‘Soaker’ that enables you to get that cranked amp sound quality at any level without sacrificing the quality of tone, ideal for practice, home recording, PA mixing and going to cabinet with wattage ranging from 30 to 100 watts – perfect for small venues and up to big arenas (FYI, the internal fan switches on automatically only when the unit gets hot and needs to cool). The Clean channel has its own dedicated Volume control.
Various connections can be made in the back of the Amp1 Iridium. You can connect both 8 Ohm and 16 Ohm speaker cabinets (or go direct to a DI or IR box). Running headphones or a cable direct from the Rec Out utilizes the internal cab sim, whereas connecting via the speaker out bypasses the internal cab sim. There is an FX send/return to add whatever effects you want and you can run these in serial or parallel for different outcomes (using the switch on the left side). There is a remote to add Bluguitar’s Remote 1, for complete control of the Amp1 Iridium (MIDI, patch saving/access and looping), but you also can connect a basic two-switch system to switch from the Clean to the Gain Channels and to turn the Boost on/off. This would be required if you decide to save presets in the three available footswitches, rather than use them to engage clean vs. dirt, boost and reverb. On that note, the Amp1 Iridium does come with three built-in presets that you can access and/or change. If using the double footswitch option, you then have four channels and a switchable boost; three of the channels would be saved in the footswitches and the clean would be accessible via the external footswitch. The saved presets can be any combination or the same gain channel (e.g., Vintage + Vintage + Classic, all Modern, etc.). Some musicians who play a wide variety of music and covers may require more presets (thus the Remote 1), whereas bands that play their own music will do well with four channels since they are dealing with fewer sound variations.
There are a host of features with the Bluguitar Amp1 Iridium and with few limitations. One drawback may be that there is no stereo out, meaning you require two Amp1s if your stereo effects run through the effects loop (as opposed to the end of the chain). Considering this is a high-gain or Metal model, as opposed to a product made for ambient music and wanting delay/reverb coming from opposing speakers, that factor may be a moot point. A second limitation may be that although you can save three presets to each of the footswitches, you lose the Boost and Reverb functions associated with those switches (since you’re reassigning their purposes). If the presets either include or exclude one or both features, then you’re set since all presets either have boost and/or reverb or they do not. Nonetheless, adding a dual-switch (which plugs into the Remote jack) allows you to switch between clean and driven and to engage/disengage the boost. For even more control, a separate footboard (Bluguitar’s Remote 1) allows for the saving of several presets, besides having other functions like looping and MIDI. A third limitation would be the need to have a Bluguitar technician remove and replace the soldered-in nanotube if and when it eventually burns out. This may not be a significant factor, since unlike other tube amps that require more regular attention, repair and tube replacement, the directly-soldered nanotube tube design is meant to last several years (even beyond the life of the user).
Having a four-channel amp in such a small design made for a pedalboard (or on the floor) is a great step forward for gigging musicians, as well as home/studio-based hobbyists. The tone is super clear, cutting and punchy… and you can achieve metal tones that are based on warmer vintage styles if you’re not into the ultra or industrial metal genres. The Clean channel is an incredible pedal platform, whether working with ambient or OD/distortion/fuzz pedals and the variations among the three gain channels are significant enough that there’s something for everyone. In fact, ease off on the Gain and dial back on your guitar’s volume knob and you get some very subdued crunch tones when you’re not in the metal mood. The Reverb is subtle and complimentary, the EQ is highly responsive and flexible, and the Boost is exceptional in how it helps to carve your tone without excess signal boosting (there’s a difference in loudness when engaged, but nothing boisterous or brazen). Although a true 100-watt amplifier, the Master control has a unique power soak that enables you to dial back to less than a watt without losing tone, perfect for quiet practice (even if you're not wearing headphones). I have used another pedalboard amps with far less satisfaction (cold and almost ‘metallic’ sounding, it did not like pedals and although high-gain it lacked enough gain and balls for my liking), but the Amp1 Iridium is in a league of its own. If you’re shopping around for the latest hi-gain amp, you seriously need to investigate BluGuitar’s offering as it gives you multiple flavors of hi-gain, but also moderate gain (for heavy, hard rock of yesteryear) and a superb clean channel.
Want to discuss the BluGuitar AMP1 Iridium? Then be sure to visit this thread in the Amps forum, right here on Harmony Central.
You can purchase the Amp1 Iridium from:
Brian Johnston is a Fitness Clinician in Ontario, Canada. His hobby is music composition and playing various instruments, as well as working with and reviewing gear that he likes. His YouTube channel is CoolGuitarGear.