Author Topic: NB 15 Review  (Read 4697 times)

Offline RustyShackleford

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NB 15 Review
« on: August 01, 2012, 06:27:10 PM »
below is a rather lengthy, unsolicited review of the Randall NB15. i wrote it because i found 1 youtube review of this amp but nothing else when i was thinking about buying this amp. if you have any questions (that i won't have to void the warranty to find out) let me know! enjoy!

Randall NB 15 Review

I recently picked up one of these amps. I was in the market for a small practice amp for practice as well as some gigs (I play in churches a couple times a month and there's a lot of places that even my solid state 30 watt amp is too loud in & my back is upset with me for dragging a 25 or 30 pound amp and a 10 pound foot switch when I never turn it up over 1). I thought it fit what I needed for my current gig (contemporary Christian) tone wise after researching it a little bit and if it didn't work, there's always free return shipping ;^)!

Features 31 Rihanna's out of 50

the nb15 is pretty straight forward to operate. It's a 2 channel solid state 15 watt amp. There's 1 eq section that covers both channels so if you dial it in with the dirty channel in mind, you'd better be able to live with it on the clean channel too and vice versa. After dealing with the learning curve of “virtual amps” and processors, its nice to just have old fashioned buttons and knobs to deal with. You want it crunchy, hit the button on the amp that says “ch. sel” instead of “holding this button and waiting until the words “channel select” pop up on the LED screen the tap the third button on the right to scroll through your presents until you get the desired channel. In fact, I dare say that the nb15 is delightfully low-tech. To the right of the channel button you will find a button labeled “solo” which thickens the dirty channel so its almost like having another mode on the dirty channel. I've had a blast on playing all my 80s riffs with the solo button engaged. Both channels have independent volume knobs and there is a master volume knob on the front plate as well. It doesn't seem like much until you spend minutes readjusting your levels on each channel when you both channels need to come up or down in the mix. The attached power cable is of decent length (4-6 feet approximately). Again, it isn't a big deal unless you know what a pain an amp with a stubby cord can be!  It has a closed back (more on that below). There's also a headphone jack on the front of the amp. These are pretty standard on “practice type” solid state amps, but it can also serve as a recording out or an out to the house pa if you needed it. I haven't tried it yet, but since i'm a stay at home dad who only gets to record when my infant is napping, I know I will. A pair of rca jacks are located on the back to allow you to plug in an mp3 player. It's not earth shattering but as a guitar instructor, I've secretly wished for something like this when the CD player refuses to cooperate, the CD didn't burn right, etc. the speaker used is a 6.5 inch jaguar (I have no idea what that is specifically but as long as it sounds good, that's good enough for me)!

the esthetics of the amp are sharp and clean. The cab is covered in heavy duty black tolex. The control plate is gold. The grill is split down the middle with white edging with half the grill covered in black grill cloth and the other covered in a combined weave of tan and black. Nuno's symbol dealie is in the bottom corner of the grill. It's nice to see something other than an all black amp.

My biggest gripe with the nb15 (and with all 15 watt practice amps in general) is the lack of a foot switch I'll go on record saying that if this thing came with even a foot switch jack I'd get rid of my 30 watt amp and just use this one. There are tons of songs in our sets that require me to go from clean to dirty and depending where the amp is and where I have to stand to play I might not be able to hit the “ch.sel” button (and if you know me, you'd know that I could be kneeling in front of the amp and I could miss the button). You see, you have to idiot proof my gear. 

It would also have been nice to get some sort of owner's manual/ warranty card with this amp. The box just had the amp with a plastic bag over it. Yeah, I know we're living in the electronic age, but there's just something magic about sitting there with your new gear flipping through the owner's manual (btw, I wasn't able to find one on Randall’s website either for this particular amp. They had one for Nuno's King amp but that has a bunch or features that this amp doesn't/ a foot switch for example. It doesn't have to be Crime and Punishment. A 4 fold sheet with a warranty card, general care and some sample settings would have been more than ample).

Sound Quality 27 “Get the Funk Outs” out of 30

I test drove this amp using 3 guitars: a washburn ct2q (it sounds like a lp but it is so much better to play), an ibanez rbm1 (the strattiest guitar I own) and a semi- hollow guitar with a floyd rose bridge.

With the Washburn, I noticed the clean channel chimed and had an even response. Sound wise, it was  closer to tweed than roland-y. If you needed to get more sparkle out of your clean tone, you'll need to adjust the eq knobs significantly from 12 o clock (remembering that there's no separate eq for the dirty channel). I got set the bass knob about 11 o’clock, the mid about 12 and the high about 1 and found that worked pretty well for a “battlefield adjustment”. Equalization aside, I’m very picky about my clean tone (I use it at least 40% of my set and there's a ton of good sounding distortion pedals but there's no pedal that makes turns a distorted amp into a great sounding clean one) and I found the nb15s clean channel quite useable. I found that the gain channel without the solo boost was more of an overdrive than a 4 on the floor glugglugglug of a super saturated modern high gain tube amp. This turns out to be very good for what I’m doing but your needs might vary. Engaging the solo mode thickened the distortion but it sounds more like a modded Marshall that everyone and their brother used in the 80s and not so much like modern high gain amps. Again, this tone works very well for what I do but your needs may vary. Once I set the gain around 2 o’clock and switched to drop d I got a nice chunky rhythm tone.  However I can tell you that my greatest epiphany happened with the ole Washburn with its volume knob rolled back to 7 and the tone knob cranked when using the dirty channel with both the solo mode on and off. I noticed that when I switched from the bridge pickup to the neck pickup, my tone when from rock to one of the sweetest “slightly dirty blues” tones I’ve ever gotten. I can't remember the last time I played an amp this responsive. With my modeling amp, I had the mindset of  “it doesn't make that much of a difference which guitar or pickup I use” but this amp is making me rethink that.

With the Ibanez, I noticed that the clean channel could get spanky clean. I played my neo-acid country craziness here and even without my compressor pedal, it sounded on. The extra low-end which was almost overpowering with the humbuckers served to fatten up the single coils. This would also accommodate some chicken pickin' if you were so inclined. Switching to the gain channel I noticed that the responsiveness remained incredible when using single coils. Without the solo button engaged, the  tones range from bluesy to edgy. With the solo button engaged, the harmonics were lively and dive-bombs “sang”. Tapping worked best with the solo button engaged and the gain set @ 2 o’clock but it does better with an extra boost of overdrive (a la overdrive/ distortion pedal). Remember that if you chose to stack a distortion/ overdrive pedal on top of the gain channel, you need to pick something to complement the amps distortion, not fight it. I had pretty favorable results using an mxr distortion+.

Plugging in the semi-hollow with a Floyd Rose (a Kramer Nightrider in case your curiosity was unbearable), I found the clean tone to be even more to my liking. In fact, I found the best clean tone was with all of the eq knobs set at 12 o'clock. I also found that the overall tone seemed less tweedy than with my solid body Washburn (the other dual humbucker guitar used during this test drive). No surprises here really. Everything rang and chimed just like you'd want it too. Just in case you were wondering, I'll tell you, I rolled my tone knob back to around 7 or 8 on my Kramer for this test. Anyway, if you've played semi-hollow guitar before you know that distortion/ gain can be tricky. Once I switched over to the gain channel, I noticed that there were 2 distinct places for the gain knob. The  first was @9:30/ 10 o'clock, which is where the gain has to be set for the level to be somewhat normal. The other was around 1:30/ 2 o'clock, which I'll call “the point of no return”. With a semi-hollow guitar, you can turn the gain knob past 2 o'clock but by that point, your tone will probably be mush. I noticed the same responsiveness when switching from the bridge pickup to the neck pickup.

Overall, I've noticed that this amp shares characteristics of build to resemble other amps in that the gain structure is somewhat different from the original. You will need to throw out what you know about the original amp and go with your ears. Once you find the sweet spot, it's more than worth it.         

Reliability/ Durability Unknown

I’ve only had it a few weeks and it's only went to practice twice so I can't really speak much about how it holds up. It was built in china (along with almost every other consumer product available in the Western Hemisphere) which bears a stigma. The amp I received showed up at my door with no loose parts or screws. The construction feels solid all the way around. I can't remove the knobs to see whether the shafts they rest on are metal or plastic (I hope for metal).

Overall Review 76 Extremes out of 100

this amp sounds really really good for what it is: nuno bettencourt's signature amp. I'm not a huge nuno fan but I totally expect this amp to be the way he wants it to be. Does it sound all deth-metally? Nope. If you play black metal, tune down to A and Cookie Monster is your singer then this amp isn't for you. It does give you a ton of volume and loads of low end but the  gain isn't of the deth-metal sort. It's more Marshall than mesa (especially on the boost setting). With the boost off, it takes you towards that vox territory. This amp is a pretty good and more portable alternative to my “big gig rig” (mesa stiletto w/ 212 cab) so it works for me. If you've got something similar but would like a lightweight alternative that will be in the same sonic ballpark, this might work for you too.