“..it’s looks may not be everyone’s cup of tea but sonically it’s superb.”
Wharfedale has been synonymous with quality hi-fi systems for decades. So I was surprised to receive a half stack with the Wharfedale logo at my front door for review. The company teamed up with renowned amp designer Steve Grindrod (ex Marshall and Vox) late last year and this is one of the first results.
These days, while big name brands rapidly produce innovative new amps, any company branching into this field must offer something different.
OUT THE BOX
Looking at it, one cannot but imagine it wilting beside a floral lampshade in your grandmother’s parlour as opposed to towering behind you on stage. The grille cloth of the cab says ‘vintage cool’ but the overall black, red and gold colour scheme screams ‘headache’. I’m undecided about its kitsch look.
A possible design anomaly is the head’s unbalanced weight distribution, causing it to lean annoyingly to one side when lifting it by its top-mounted handle.
The all-valve head housing two highly tweakable channels and power amp boasts some interesting and unique features. A Power Reduction switch lowers your output from 100% to 33%. It allows you to get the same hard-pushed valve sound without causing your own eviction. A Phase Inverter switch corrects the phase in a multi-amp setup and eliminates unwanted feedback, or inversely re-enforces wanted feedback, onstage. The Tight/Loose switch affects power amp response; Tight – more controlled. Loose – a raw, gutsier response. The Deep and Edge knobs control resonance and presence, respectively.
Each channel has the normal bass-mid-treble EQ configuration with abnormally wide range (boost/cut). A Shift button changes the EQ voicing, a Smooth button rounds out the highs and a Tight button trims the low end. Interestingly, there are two gain knobs. Gain controls the first input stage. Drive controls the second and third. This allows for a broad palette of overdrive sounds.
The unusual Mix button blends the two channels together, giving you further tonal possibilities. The A/B Balance knob adjusts the mixed channel level higher or lower than the individual channels.
Each channel has its own flavour. Channel A – with EQ pre-gain – has a very Fender Twin vibe, taking you from surf rock to swampy, raunchy blues.
Channel B, with EQ post-gain, is definitely the dirtier channel. A JCM 800 comes to mind, going from vintage plexi-like tones to balls-to-the-wall metal tones.
The EQs are superb. The Treble really opens up the sound past 5. Boosting the mids gives a lot of cut through, while cutting enhances the Fender Twin character on Channel A and the 80s metal ‘chug’ on Channel B. Shift changes the EQ dramatically, seemingly narrowing the Q (width). Gain is the main source of dirt. Drive adds more midrange sizzle. The Tight knob trims excess low end when using lots of gain. It fattens up Strats and tames Les Pauls beautifully. But the Mix feature disappointed. Clean tones did very little when blended. It was only useful for mixing in some clean to a distorted sound for extra definition. Cranking the A/B Balance also gave a solo boost.
It’s like this amp was dipped in honey – almost all sounds are striking and musical. Its looks may not be everyone’s cup of tea but sonically it’s superb. It brings out the character of pedals well too. The FX loop and digital spring reverb are decent. Also, it really packs a punch by flipping to 100% power. The Wharfedale speakers typically respond faithfully to any abuse.
Although there are amps with more features, you’d be hard pressed to find such a variety of beautiful tones.
At R14 995 for the head and R5 995 for the 4×12 cab it’s relatively cheap compared to other stacks, although for the average musician playing clubs, it may be a bit impractical.
The 35w combo version might be more beneficial and, at R8 995, is cheaper than other amps of its class.
That said, I’m blown away by the TCT and can’t wait to see what Wharfedale will do next.
Reviewed By : Nic Roos