MESA/BOOGIE CROWN TC-50 GUITAR AMPLIFIER HEAD
What's new and good in the latest flagship product from the Californian amp heavyweights? Alex Wilson weighs in.
Full review and independent analysis of the MESA/Boogie Crown TC-50 Guitar Amplifier Head by Australian Guitar Magazine.
PRICE: $3,999 AUD
TIME TO BOOGIE
Although I’m meant to be an objective journalist, I’ll admit that it’s easy to get excited unboxing this latest head from MESA/Boogie, not least because it exudes heritage and class simply from its sleek, classic-looking design. Tellingly, there are also subtle cues in the Triple Crown’s classy design that suggest the company’s intention for the amp. The channel LEDs — yellow for clean, blue for low gain and red for high gain — mirror those of a Bogner Ecstasy, evoking the classiness and tonal excellence of high-end boutique designs. Yet MESA/Boogie are one of the biggest amp makers of all time. Reading the Triple Crown’s official hype sheet – replete with breathless claims of both versatility and matchless tone – one can’t help but think of Marshall’s controversial JVM line.
Have the savvy Californians solved the triangle of tone, flexibility and price? In short: yes. The Triple Crown has the potential to appeal to tube snobs as well as the pragmatic player looking for a jack of all trades. And the comparison to the Mother Country’s amp of choice is especially apt, because the Triple Crown’s answers to many of the player’s stock channel requirements have a surprisingly British flavour.
THE ENGLISH CHANNEL(S)
Take the blue Lo channel, for example. The rich overtones and sense of depth here are trademark California crunch, but there’s a midrange push that harks to Old Blighty. Flip the Drive switch that comes on this channel and the mid hump becomes more exaggerated, courting the extra snarl and gain of a JCM 800. Exploring further reveals a full-bodied and responsive overdrive. The sound feels satisfyingly layered and complex no matter the placement of the Gain knob. There’s a natural-feeling tube compression as the saturation increases, yet the channel remains dynamic, always responding well to pick attack and nuances in the fretting hand.
The yellow Clean channel also manifests a similar versatility, able to project a chiming transparency on the one hand, a bluesy push on the other, and most in between as well. The base sound of the channel feels close to what MESA’s Mark V was packing, which will no doubt satisfy Petrucci fans. Finessing the Gain knob up a little will add back some body and spark to bring the amp into Fender territory. I found that by switching the clean channel’s Drive mode, I could conjure out the Triple Crown’s latent Britishness. Set this way, the headroom feels AC30-esque, with a richer harmonic midrange and evocations of that famed Vox glassiness. Drive mode will also suit lead guitar twiddlers; finding a sweet spot to bring out your playing’s vocal and tonal responsiveness isn't difficult.
At the other side of the spectrum is the red Hi channel. Here, the Triple Crown stops walking an Atlantic tightrope and plays to the company’s American high-gain strengths. While it doesn’t sound exactly like a Dual Rectifier, it’s certainly got the sizzling top-end clarity and low-end depth reminiscent of MESA’s ‘90s classic. However, I found it much easier to dial in. Balancing the low end against the presence control felt easy, and interacted sympathetically with the copious gain the Triple Crown dishes out. The amp really shines for heavy rhythms, and the Tight switch seems to clip the signal, pleasingly controlling dynamics to make riffs pop behind the tube compression.
Aesthetically, the Triple Crown is a simple black amp design, the three front channels laid out in a pleasingly straightforward way. Six knobs and a switch per channel gives ample control without cluttering the front plate. Turn the thing around and you’ll see a bevy of options available for the picky player – it’s all arranged in a very comprehensible fashion. Underneath the hood, this all-tube Class A/B 50-watter is packing two EL-34s in the power stage, plus six 12AX7s and a 12AT7 for the preamps. MESA/Boogie have opted to go for a fixed bias to assist with consistency and hassle-free performance, but have helpfully provided a Bias Select switch to allow optimal operation with 6V6 or 6L6 power tubes.
In addition to these excellent fundamentals, the Triple Crown comes with several thoughtful and useful perks. There’s a tube reverb onboard that can be individually assigned to each of the channels. There’s also XLR and Line Out outputs that can be used for cab-free live
performance or studio recording. Although one is obliged to use one of MESA’s three CabClone sims on the XLR out, I was pleased to find that the Line Out is free of this. The many of us that like to add cabinet sims in the box will benefit from being able to harness the amp’s raw tone in this way.
In addition to an all-channel Master pot, there’s also an all-channel solo boost. The boosts, the reverb and any other feature relevant to live performance are foot-switchable, as well as assignable to the any of the 256 MIDI presets that the Triple Crown can handle. I haven’t covered every single feature of the Triple Crown, but MESA/Boogie have clearly gone all-out to ensure that this head won’t come up wanting in either a live or studio setting.
BEST IN THE HANDS OF
The MESA/Boogie Triple Crown is best in the hands of a guitarist who is willing to pay a little extra for a combination of quality sound and performance versatility. If this amp’s sonic signature sounds appealing to you, and you’re looking for a modern tube head that will bring the goods in the studio and on a stage, then the guitar wonks from Petaluma have put forward an extremely strong contender with the Triple Crown.
WHY IT’S ON THE TOP SHELF
The sheer number of options, the excellent tone and high-grade components and build add up to a fairly hefty price tag. It’s certainly not the most expensive amp on the market, but it’s in the ballpark.
WHY YOU'RE PROBABLY GOING TO WANT IT
If you’ve ever yearned to have both American and British rock sounds under your feet without having to enter the digital realm, you definitely need to give the Triple Crown a serious look.
WHAT YOU SHOULD CONSIDER FIRST
Ultimately, you need to play this beast and decide whether its signature sound palette is right for you. It’s also worth considering the wide array of digital guitar processors and heads on the market, which can provide similar flexibility for a cheaper price tag.
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