Small is good. Loud is good. Small and loud is great. By Steve Henderson
In less than 20 years, Markbass has become the premiere, got-to-have-it amp/cab builder for bass professionals and amateurs alike, pushing aside more established brands and continuing to refine the line with innovative ideas and no-nonsense products.
The range is quite diverse, but the recurring theme is great tone, simple controls and amazing portability. To say that they are lightweight is like saying Paul McCartney has written some nice tunes. You can easily pick up a 410 cab with one hand and an 800-watt, full-function bass head will fit into the pocket of your gig bag.
Likewise, their guitar lines (under the DV Mark banner) are lightweight, full of features and toneful, with monsters like Frank Gambale finding “the sound” within the simple control layout of a standard DV Mark amp.
EVERYTHING IN THE RIGHT PLACE
The Markbass Ninja 102 500 is virtually the perfect product: simple to use, easy to lug and satisfying to hear. The cab part is a rear-ported, two-by‑ten plus super tweeter-loaded box that is barely wider than the speakers and just tall enough to incorporate the 83 millimetre high Little Mark Ninja head.
The Ninja is a 500-watt (into four ohms) brain that features input gain and master volume controls (the yellow knobs), line out (also yellow) and six tone controls (sort of). The back panel has a speakON out, tuner out, an effects loop, a pre/post switch, a ground lift switch and a built-in DI with an XLR output. It’s only 276 millimetres wide, too.
The Ninja delivers like no other compact bass combo I’ve heard. Played with an alder-bodied Precision Bass (with a Jazz Bass treble pickup), with all amp tone knobs at noon and the VPH/VLE circuits off, the Ninja 102 offers a warm and woody sound that seems to bloom richly into the room. The attack is fast and full, but there’s an ‘aftertaste’ that spreads out to envelope the listener, like a compressor opening up.
Place it in a corner or against a wall, and the bloom is fairly quick; place it further from the reflective surface, and there’s some latency in that bloom, sort of like a pre-delay. Sit it up on a chair or in an amp cradle or stand, and you’ll hear a subsonic image coming back from under the amp. The P-Bass pickup sounds mighty through the two tens – a woody attack followed by a harmonic sustain. Dig in a bit for that fabulous Precision grunt, where it sort of growls a little on the attack of the note.
This is a rock’n’roll tone that fits into almost any style of the genre, from emo to blues. The J-bass pickup has a snappy attack and plenty of cutting power, and if you’re in the market for some funky tones and portability, look no further. The Ninja delivers funk like it was designed specifically for the Brothers Johnson.
A BONAFIDE WINNER
That said, the folks at Markbass actually had Richard Bona in mind. Playing something more in line with his style reveals a smooth sweetness in the Ninja that is even more infectious than those other classic sounds.
The Ninja has a level of subtleness to its delivery that is not immediately noticeable. This is where the touch-sensitivity of the Ninja kicks in: play brashly – maybe with a pick – and you’ll find a plethora of great rock tones. But play dynamically with fingers and there’s loads of nuance to be found.
The Ninja can present four-string bass chords without any grind or clash. Harmonics sit sweetly through a couple of octaves above the fundamentals, and those ten-inch speakers effortlessly handle the complexity of the overtones so that they don’t rub up against each other. There’s no distortion of fuzziness – just clarity and harmonic depth.
The VPF and VLE controls should be used sparingly at first – the more you get to know the amp, the more effective these circuits become. Think of them as a couple of extra tone controls that work with, but outside the scope of, the main tone stack. The Vintage Loudspeaker Emulator is particularly effective in adding some organic feel, but a little goes a long way.
In effect, it takes out some of the brilliance for an old school vibe – some rock’n’roll thud. The VPF highlights the lows and highs while cutting the mids for a woodier tone, which is very cool if your bass has a preamp (this will soften it) or if you’re just into that scooped tone and softer attack.
Just for fun, I plugged in a Maton MSH-210D acoustic-electric and found that the Ninja is equally happy with six strings an octave up. If you need an acoustic amp with oodles of juice and plenty of bottom-end, this may be what you’re after. The two tens are perfect for the body of an acoustic tone, and the super tweeter adds some top-end sparkle.
THE BOTTOM LINE
With the Ninja 102 500, Markbass have really nailed the power and tone versus portability issue. Unless you’re after that whole heavy metal subsonic thing, the Ninja will deliver a sweet and even tone across the frequency spectrum without breaking your back or bank account.
One of the most complete pieces of gear I’ve ever seen, the Ninja is gig-ready and studio quality; the sound is audiophile without the sterility; the attitude is hi-fi with heart.
TOP 5 FEATURES
• 500 watts
• Two ten-inch speakers
• Light and portable
• Rear ported
• Built-in DI
• Professional build quality
• Very portable
• Simple operation
• Brightly coloured aesthetic might not be for everyone
Ph: (02) 9905 2511