Little. Yellow. Different?
Markbass focuses primarily on only one thing, and that is making products for bassists. From instruments to amps, effects to cabinets, they make just about anything a modern bassist might need - even cables and strings. One of their latest releases is the Italian-designed Markbass Little Mark Vintage bass amp head. Just the name raises a few questions. Is it a vintage-inspired amp? Is it little? It certainly looks cool. Let’s dig in and see if we can find the answers to those questions, and see what else it might have to offer.
What You Need To Know
Part of the Markbass Gold Line Series, the Markbass Little Mark Vintage uses gold plated circuit board traces and high-quality components in its construction.
It’s also part of their Little Mark series of bass amp heads. And yes, it is little, measuring only 10.87” W x 9.84” D x 3.27” H, and weighing only 5.51 pounds.
Don’t make the mistake of equating size with power. The Little Mark Vintage uses Mark Proprietary Technology - a proprietary power amp that provides 300W RMS when running into a 8 ohm load, and a whopping 500W RMS when pushing a 4 ohm load, which is the minimum load the amp is capable of handling.
The head is mostly black, with lots of yellow graphic accents. The control lettering is also in yellow, and the contrast against the black background makes them easy to read. The knobs have an old school look to them. In fact, the whole head looks like something that wouldn’t be out of place in a 1960’s-era recording studio.
The Little Mark Vintage head features a tube in the preamp section, and this is prominently displayed through a yellow-bordered clear window on the front panel. The review unit came with a Ruby Tube 12AX7 installed in a ceramic tube socket. Preamp tubes don’t typically give off a lot of light, so to make things more visually interesting, the tube is backlit with LEDs.
But that’s not the only thing that glows - the front panel 1/4” input jack is also illuminated. The input impedance is 500 Kohm, and can accept a maximum input voltage of 9 Vpp.
The large Gain control has a range of -46 dB to +23 dB, and a clip LED illuminates when you’re hitting things too hard on the input.
Below the tube window you’ll find a fairly standard four band EQ section. The Low EQ control has a center frequency of 68 Hz. The Low Mid is centered at 400 Hz, the High Mid at 2.2 kHz, and the High EQ control is centered at 10 kHz. All four bands provide up to 16 dB of boost or cut.
An EQ LED next to the High EQ control shows when the EQ section is active. The EQ can be remotely bypassed with an optional Markworld Dual Footswitch. The switch can also be used to mute the amp completely, which is great for swapping basses and silencing your rig between sets.
Kudos to Markbass for putting the jack for the footswitch on the front panel. It’s located out of the way, right below the large rocker-style power switch. You can order the optional switch directly from Markbass for 39 Euros. A generic two-button footswitch can also be used.
There’s more to the EQ on the Little Mark Vintage. A smaller knob to the right of the tube window provides the player with three different preset EQ choices - Flat, a setting with boosted highs and lows and cut mids (for a more modern sound) and a third setting labeled Old that engages shelving filter that rolls off the highs for a more vintage-like flavor. These all work in addition to the four main EQ controls.
The three-position EQ switch is pre-EQ in the signal path, and also affects the tuner output, effects output and DI output, whether the main EQ is bypassed or not.
I’d recommend setting the main EQ section flat, selecting one of the three presets (whichever one gets you closest to the sound you’re after), then adjusting the tone from there with the four main EQ controls. Taking this approach allows you to get things dialed in very quickly.
We’re still not done with the front panel. On the other side of the tube window is a single knob Limiter. This is bypassed when the knob is turned down all the way, giving the amp a more vintage-like sound and feel with a bit more grit when you dig in and play hard, and it applies more limiting at progressively lower peak levels as you turn it up towards maximum. The limiter is effective at keeping things clean and taming heavy peaks (such as from popping and slapping) and I like the extra flexibility it offers over the “on or off” or “always on” limiting options of some other amps.
The final front panel knob is on the left, just above the illuminated input jack, and it provides output level control for the Markbass Little Mark Vintage bass amp head’s DI (direct output) XLR jack, which is located on the rear panel.
The DI has a dedicated transformer, and I thought the sound quality from it was a step above what I’ve come to expect from the inexpensive line outputs on some other bass amps. The Line Out also has two dedicated switches, and can be sourced pre or post EQ while the second switch is a hum-busting ground lift switch.
Also on the back are 1/4” send and return jacks for the built-in effects loop. A dedicated 1/4” Tuner Out jack is also provided, so you can leave your tuner plugged in all the time while keeping it out of the signal path.
Both a Speakon and a 1/4” output jack are provided. Again, the amp can drive an 8 ohm or 4 ohm load (or anything in-between, such as the 6 ohm load presented by the Markbass 6x10" cabinet), but you should never go below the 4 ohm limit, which means you can run two 8 ohm cabinets, or a single 6 ohm or 4 ohm cabinet.
A reasonably quiet cooling fan and combo IEC power receptacle / fuse holder round out the rear panel. An IEC power cable is included with the amp.
An optional Markworld amp bag is also available for storage and transporting your Little Mark Vintage head. You can even operate the amp while leaving it inside the bag.
No rack ears are included, but Markbass does offer optional rack ears for the Little Mark series heads. They sell them on their e-commerce site for 13 Euros per pair.
The Little Mark Vintage is designed to be used only in the country of purchase, and there’s no way to switch the line voltage for use in other countries. It’s available in various configurations for different national electrical systems, but the voltage is factory preset according to the region of sale and can’t be user-configured.
There are no front panel switches for muting the amp and bypassing the EQ, although these functions are available when using the optional footswitch.
This isn’t your typical “vintage” type amp. While it’s designed to be able to recreate vintage style tones, Markbass says they wanted to create an amp that allows you to find your own ideal tone, regardless of your musical style, and the Markbass Little Mark Vintage certainly has all the tools you need to dial up a variety of great bass tones built right into it. The three-position EQ preset control and four-knob EQ offer a large degree of tonal adjustability, especially when used together, and you can coax both modern and vintage-style tones from them with ease. The Limiter control is also very useful here - bypassing it gives you a more old-school sound, diming it gives you a more modern response, and you can dial up just as much of it as you want or need for the situation at hand. The onboard transformer-equipped DI will also come in handy for many users, both in the recording studio and to feed the FOH mixer at larger musical venues, making an external DI box unnecessary. Not that you’ll have to plug it into the board to get PA assistance in many situations - with up to 500W of power on tap (depending on the speaker cabinet impedance), there’s plenty of power available here for onstage use.
While the recording engineer side of me long ago tired of seeing LED-backlit “glowing tubes” on display in rack mount studio equipment, like many players I appreciate the tonal contributions and harmonics you can get from a good tube preamp, and if it looks cool to the audience by being prominently displayed, that’s just an added bonus. Regardless of your personal opinions about such displays, it’s really hard to argue with the sound of this amp. On the other hand, the lit-up input jack is not just flashy, but quite practical too, and will really be appreciated by players who need to swap basses in mid-set on a dark stage. The optional footswitch’s ability to mute the amp is also useful in such situations, although I wish a front panel switch for this purpose had also been included.
The control layout, and the old-time look of the knobs also add a bit of vintage vibe to the appearance, and the large knobs are practical too - you’ll know right away where the volume control is. The light weight and compact dimensions of the Markbass Little Mark Vintage head may be far from vintage-spec, but they will still be appreciated by a wide variety of players - old-school and modern. Touring bassists will appreciate the ability to easily take along their own amp, and just ask for a backline cabinet instead of having to rely on (and dial up a decent sound on) whatever beat-up amp the venue decides to provide them with. Having the ability to take your own amp with you is very important to being able to consistently get “your” sound - and the lightweight, well-featured and powerful Markbass Little Mark Vintage bass amp head is very well equipped to help you get that job done. -HC-
Want to discuss the Markbass Little Mark Vintage Bass Amp Head or have questions or comments about this review? Then head over to this thread in the Bass forum right here on Harmony Central and join the discussion!
Markbass Little Mark Vintage Bass Amp Head ($799.99 "street")
Markbass product web page
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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.