Big concert sound in a little box? Is that even possible? Words by Steve Henderson.
Marcus Miller, consummate player, composer and producer, is a legend, plain and simple. His superb playing and extraordinary musicality has contributed to such a variety of artistic styles that a mere discography doesn’t do him justice.
He hasn’t just played the dots, he’s helped make those records as special as they are. From Chaka Khan to Eric Clapton to Herbie Hancock to Elton John to the great George Benson and even the queen of soul herself, Aretha Franklin, Miller has created an unmistakably musical presence in their tracks.
Grammy Awards and platinum albums aside, Miller is known in the playing community for tone and groove. It makes perfect sense for him to partner with Marko De Virgiliis, the leader in bass amplification, to create a signature range that focuses on tone – quality sounds we can all access.
The instrument in question is the new Little Marcus 1000: a powerhouse head that combines extraordinary tone with real grunt, in a package that weighs in at just 2.4 kilograms. Physically, it’s roughly two rack units tall and just over half a unit wide, making it super portable. But there’s nothing diminutive about the tone-shaping options. Five active tone knobs (centred at 65 hertz, 180 hertz, 500 hertz, 1.4 kilohertz, and 3.8 kilohertz) provide plus/minus 16 decibels, all with an interactive Q that eliminates the knee found in some bass amp tone stacks. In other words, playing through the range of your instrument will be smooth and even.
TONNES OF TEXTURE
There was no evidence of electronic “soft spots” in the test instruments (a Precision, a Jazz and a fretless StingRay) – each sounded characteristically true to its own personality. The Ultralow circuit, especially, produces a “tuned in” fundamental on the fourth string without the wooliness that some other amps produce. Dial in a little of that 500 hertz Mid control, and you’ll hear a bottom string with a little more snap than usual. For the fretless, dialling out the Mid and pushing the 1.4 kilohertz High Mid creates a woodier texture, accentuating the sweet fretless whine that sounds so expressive.
If you’re after that rock’n’roll thud, a Precision Bass through the Little Marcus into a ported two‑by-ten will do the business. Our friends at Markbass supplied two quite different two‑by‑ten‑inch cabs: a Traveller 102P and a Marcus Miller 102 CAB. The latter is a rear-ported cab (400 watts/8 ohms) that has a good deal more internal volume than the Traveller.
The P-Bass loves this box, and hearing the 41.2 cycle bottom E makes you realise what you might have missed with other bass cabs. Place it close to a wall, and you’ll find a top end with no latency and an immediate bottom end that is followed by a subsonic bloom. This is an absolute killer speaker cab for almost any style.
The Traveller, by contrast, is a small cab (also 400 watts/8 ohms) that offers that same fast response but without the depth, making it ideal for more critical gigs – maybe those where the room size would preclude the subsonic thump. The Jazz Bass sounded fabulous through the Traveller, highlighting all of those delightful mids and highs for which the instrument is famous.
Taking advantage of the situation, I stacked them to create a four-by-ten, 800-watt (at 4 ohms) speaker system that easily handled the Little Marcus without working up a sweat. It was full and sweet, punchy and sensitive, loud, and without any clipping or weird cabinet artefacts. This may be the dream rock or blues or jazz setup: a great head, a wide range speaker system, and an easy lug at the end of the gig.
PACKING THE PUNCH
The Little Marcus 1000 has two EQ systems. “EQ1” is the previously noted five-band tone stack, while “EQ2” is the Old School/Millerizer combination – two filters that can work together or independently. Old School provides that vintage thunk that works so well in rock and rockabilly, and it’ll even do the warm, flat wound sound that is great for a lot of jazz gigs. The Millerizer affects the other end of the scale, offering more definition for the pop and slap of Miller’s funkier side.
Both circuits are independently footswitchable (an optional two-button footswitch is required, or simply dialled in on the front panel.
This dual EQ arrangement is surprisingly effective and creates an enormous range of tones. No matter which bass was used, they seemed to be right at home with this amp. Rolling in some Old School gave the P Bass a little extra thud, and made the J Bass a little more rock’n’roll. If it’s funk you want, the Millerizer makes it happen. The P Bass sounded edgy and punchy, and the StingRay sounded rich and full, enhancing that tonal articulation for which Music Man basses are renowned. Trying to dial in a bad sound is near impossible.
THE BOTTOM LINE
The Little Marcus has all the ins and outs you’ll ever need, and the kind of latency-free clean power that will cover any venue. The tonal options are so complex that it’s clearly not just designed for Miller’s own basses, but to have a much more universal appeal. This is an “any gig, anytime, anywhere” amp: plenty of volume, simple to operate, easy to lug and, best of all, a superb tone.
TOP 5 FEATURES
• 1,000 watts
• Tonally rich and diverse
• Light and portable
• Plenty of logical options
• Great value
• Great tone and volume
• Pro build quality
• Very portable
Ph: (02) 9905 2511