50 watt vs 100 watt amp tightness

Discussion in 'Gear & Equipment' started by Hollowway, Feb 23, 2018.

  1. Hollowway

    Hollowway Extended Ranger

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    So, I started wondering about the tonal differences (i.e. frequencies) between 50 watt and 100 watt amps from the "single vs dual rec" discussion on here. As I understand it, a 100 watt amp will have more low end and high end, and sound a little more "scooped" than a 50 watt amp. And, apparently, this has mostly to do with the transformer, caps, etc, since taking 2 tubes out of a 100 watt amp doesn't make it sound like it's 50 watt brother. I also understand that there is more headroom, and less chance for the power tubes to saturate at a given volume in a 100 watt amp.

    But, I also know that when, in metal, and down tuning, we want to tighten up the sound, we reduce the lows, and increase the mids. Much in the way a TS type boost operates. So, my question is: wouldn't the natural lack of low end in a 50 watt amp also serve that purpose? Assuming that the amp is being played at relatively low volume levels, and power tube saturation is not occurring, a 50 watt amp would have less low end that needs to be cut, or EQ'd out. I've read Doug West (of Mesa/Boogie) say, "In the world of EL34 tone, 50-watt heads have always been a secret treasure. They’re tighter, crisper, and the highs seem to respond quicker. It’s got a lot to do with the 50-watt transformer being smaller—it lets those high-end harmonics fly through faster." And, on top of that, there are a number of new amps aimed squarely at metal and down tuning that are only 50 watts: The Victory Kraken, the Maxwatt/Hiwatt, and the new Fortin Meshuggah.

    So am I crazy to think that if I want to play super down tuned, tight riffed metal that would not get lost in a mix, a 50 watt amp would be good? Loads of people say that the 100 watt ones are tighter, but that only seems to be the case if the power tubes get distorted, and you end up with sag. At low volume and recording levels, it would seem that the 50 watt would be better than the 100.

    And, since I have yet to find a frequency spectrum of a 100w vs 50w amp, I would assume that you could EQ whatever differences there are between the two. I assume that's what these new 50w amps have done in terms of their voicing.
     
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  2. diagrammatiks

    diagrammatiks SS.org Regular

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    The headroom issue is real. Given how wattage operates the difference could be just a single number on the dial before you hit the headroom limit. So that’s an issue if you need volume to get the sound you want.

    2 tube push pull amps will behave a bit different then 4 tube push pull amps.

    Other then that differences can be down to the rectos.

    I don’t really believe there are any inherent flaws in lower wattage amps other hen the fact that their recording sweet spot might not sound right in the room.

    The 50 watt version and the 100 watt version of the same amp will behave a bit differently. But there’s no reason a 50 watt amp can’t be as tight as a 100 from a design perspective.
     
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  3. Hollowway

    Hollowway Extended Ranger

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    Yeah, so I guess there’s the lack of low end in the 50, which implies tightness, but then also the lack of headroom, which implies looseness.

    Is there any way to determine at what point power tube saturation occurs? I know people always talk about KT88s sounding like crap when they distort, so I always assumed 60 watt KT88 amps wouldn’t run out of headroom until pretty high up in the dial. (But maybe different for EL34s.) I figured if I played with the gain way down, and played clean, I could listen for that early breakup, and that would give me an idea of what volume I would hit before the running out of headroom.
     
  4. MaxOfMetal

    MaxOfMetal Likes trem wankery. Super Moderator

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    There isn't some "barrier" to hit before you "lose" headroom. It's all a gradual curve.

    I think you just need to go out there and play a bunch of amps at volume to really understand how this all works.
     
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  5. diagrammatiks

    diagrammatiks SS.org Regular

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    2 issues

    There’s really no standard for how tube wattage is measured. Tube amps aren’t regulated under the same laws as consumer electronics that have to display thd or how the wattage is measured.

    Tube wattage is determined by the circuit with the tube type acting as an upper limit. 2 kt88s can be 60 or they can be 20. They can be designed to run maximum clean and sound kinda bad distorting or not.
     
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  6. Hollowway

    Hollowway Extended Ranger

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    Yeah, I’m trying to understand this conceptually, too, because there’s just so many variables. I feel like if I strictly do it on what amps sound like, I’ll be wanting to try dozens of them. And searching online can be confusing, because there are so many conflicting reports and subjective terms. But I may need to just try to A/B similar amps and get a feel for what the differences sound like, and then do research that to understand what is actually occurring.
     
  7. laxu

    laxu SS.org Regular

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    I would not worry about 50 vs 100W at all. Without an attenuator you are unlikely to play at volumes where headroom becomes an issue. Tightness is certainly not it and 50 watters don't lack bottom end at all. I'd say the more important factors are the big transformers and EL34/6550/6L6/KT88 tubes depending on your preferences and the amp in question.

    Lower wattage amps often have EL84 power sections and to me those always respond "spongier" and sound rougher which is not what you want for metal. You want a fairly clean power section for tightness. Then it's up to individual amps how they compress, for example the old VHT Ultralead is the tightest amp I've ever played to the point where it felt TOO tight, making it harder to play. Based on the model in my Axe-Fx 2 it does pair well with something more traditional sounding in a dual amp rig to provide punch and clarity.
     
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  8. mnemonic

    mnemonic Custom User Title

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    There are too many differences between amps to really draw a broad conclusion such as 100+watt = deep and scooped, and 50watt=less bass and more mids.

    A 50 watt amp can be designed to sound a certain way with more depth and punch and less midrange, likewise a 100+watt amp can be designed the opposite.

    I think it just comes up a lot with regard to rectos since there are 50, 100, and 150 watt versions of essentially the same amp (at least from what I understand, the preamp channels are all the same apart from the 50 being 2-channel, and the poweramps are all the same general circuit except bigger/smaller) so they are a hell of a lot more comparable.

    Maybe Mesa could have designed the Triple to sound less deep so it’s more like the dual, and maybe they could have made the 50 deeper and thicker and more like the dual. Be it over/underbuilt transformers or circuit tweaks or whatever. Or maybe some of those characteristics aren’t 100% attainable without the additional headroom that more power provides.

    It’s an interesting question, a good one for an amp builder who is also an electrical engineer.
     
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  9. budda

    budda Guiterrorizer Contributor

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    Think of 60's overdrive tones. That's not tight at all, right? Once you get power amp overdrive, you're adding a looser type of saturation - not the tight preamp saturation you know and love.

    I'm not versed in electronics so this comparison is a bit off, but think of it like this: the diode versus tube rectifier switch on the rectos. Diode is going to give you that tight low end response whereas the tube rectification is going to make things sound more loose. Mesa designed it so you can get your vintage 70's rock on, flip a switch and then play your ATG cover set.

    What a 50W amp will do before a 100W amp is compress (because adding gain is adding compression, and the 50W overdrives sooner). If you want a raw overdriven tone, you're going to want the headroom to achieve it. That's not saying that a 50W amp doesn't have headroom, but chances are its 100W relative has less compression (higher headroom) and therefore sounds more "open" "raw" etcetera. And if you've ever ran "too much gain" on a modern head, you know that too much gain/compression doesn't improve things.

    Find a marshall dealer and try a 50W DSL next to a 100W DSL (especially if they both came in new at the same time). Try a single and triple rec, the TA50/100, vox AC15/AC30, etc.
     
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  10. KailM

    KailM SS.org Regular

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    I have both a 120-watt 6505 head and a 60-watt 6505+ head (made from a 6505+ 112). I modded the red channel on the 6505+ to original 5150 specs, so it sounds virtually identical to the other head on the red channel.

    Honestly, I could be really happy with either one. There is barely any difference at any reasonable volume. The 60-watter still has GOBS of tight low-end all the way up and beyond gig levels. About the only difference with the 120 watter is it can go beyond that into "stupid" volume levels and still stay tight in the low end whereas with the 60-watter I can start hearing more sag. But again, that only occurs at a level that would be too loud for a gig. That said, I don't tune nearly as low as what I think some of you are doing. I only play 6-string guitars and one of them is in D Standard and the other is in C#/Drop B. That's as low as I go, so it's likely I am not running into problems with headroom as some of you might.

    Low-end takes a lot more power to reproduce. If you don't have the power, you are simply amplifying harmonics of the lows instead of the fundamentals. Hence the 150-watt capabilities of a Mesa Triple Rec. But at least at my tunings, 60 watts seems to be plenty of power.
     
  11. budda

    budda Guiterrorizer Contributor

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    Kailm, have you tried putting a jumper in your fx loops, turning send and return to max and engaging them? You may notice more of a difference when they are running "full power".
     
  12. TedEH

    TedEH Cromulent

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    I find a lot of these kind of discussions come about from a mash up of buzz words based on hard-to-describe sounds, marketing, and people not really knowing what they want. Tightness generally means less low end, but people want tightness AND all the low end, which is a contradiction. Same as how we want to scoop all our mids out so we can pretend we're Metallica while needing ALL THE MIDS so we can djent with it at the same time.

    If an amp has a lot of low end, is it "boomy", or "muddy", or is it "warm"? Depends on whether you like it or not I guess.
    If you've got lots of high end, is this "singing", or it is "fuzzy" or "harsh"?
    Are mids "harsh" or "cutting"?

    The same thing happens with bass a lot -> I find that in order to get a sound that really works with a band, you need to dial things in very counter-intuitively. You think you want to crank the low end and take the mids out cause it sounds cool when you play on your own, but as soon as the guitarist joins (who has dialed the same way, inevitably) you both get lost in all the low end, and nobody has any space to themselves. I actually dial my bass super bright, even with an already-very-bright jazz bass, because the high end makes things audible without having to introduce more mud into the room.
     
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  13. KailM

    KailM SS.org Regular

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    I'm unfamiliar with that technique; could you elaborate? I do use the effects loop in both amps primarily to put an EQ pedal in there, but also reverb and delay. There is no way on either amp to change the effects loop level, that I'm aware of, anyway.
     
  14. Cynicanal

    Cynicanal SS.org Regular

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    This is more of a gain structuring thing. The idea is that tubes amplify the midrange more efficiently than they do lows, and lows take a lot more power to amplify well, so when you've got tubes being pushed into clipping with a low-end heavy signal, they get swamped trying to amplify that signal, and the result is mushy, muddy, garbage. However, most modern high-gain amps are designed to run a heavily distorted pre-amp section and a fairly clean power-amp. The EQ controls on your amp work on the pre-amp section, so they can tighten things up (depending on the design of the pre-amp and the tone stack, that is; the earlier the tone-stack comes in the pre-amp, the more ability it will have to control tightness vs. looseness), but the deeper bass in a 100 (or 150, or 180) watt amp vs. a 50 watt amp happens in the power section, which, on most modern amps, isn't being pushed into clipping, so having more bass there isn't going to make things loose.

    To put it another way, think about how you dial in a Mesa Mark. Bass way down, Mids and Treble up in the pre-amp EQ (since it comes before *every* gain stage on a Mesa Mark), and then a big scoop on the graphic EQ, right? A bigger power-amp giving you a deeper bass is basically giving you the same effect as the "big scoop" on the graphic EQ.

    (And, as you note, 100 watts generally come with a bigger OT, which means punchier and tighter than their 50 watt cousins).

    (Also, the Single Recto has a different pre-amp design than the Dual or Triple, so it's not really a 50-watt-apples to 100-watt-apples comparison.)
     
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  15. Shask

    Shask SS.org Regular

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    That is because the TS does it before the distortion, and the final poweramp is after the distortion. The "tightening" effect works differently.

    As said above, reproducing low frequencies takes a lot more energy, so having more bass in the poweramp can "slow down" the sound, which can make 100W amps not sound/feel as tight as 50W.
     
  16. Shask

    Shask SS.org Regular

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    This too. This is not an automatic "100W vs. 50W" thing. To really notice the difference, you have to play the same matching model. Like Budda said, play a DSL50 and DSL100 back to back. The DSL100 will be bigger, bassier, kind of more scooped, etc... and the DSL50 will be more crunchy, mid-forward, and just comes of the speaker into your ear more. The 100W is almost like one of those "Loudness" buttons on a stereo.

    However, a 50W Mesa vs. 100W Marshall probably wouldn't compare in the same way. The individual design of the amps would make a larger difference.
     
  17. budda

    budda Guiterrorizer Contributor

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    I could do it on the JSX where there was a send and return level, could have sworn your amps have it too (though the send may be the volume of the channel you're on, in which case ignore me). If you don't have send and return levels it's not likely to work though.

    But yeah, how to access full power with fx loop send/return levels: dime them.
     
  18. Hollowway

    Hollowway Extended Ranger

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    Ok, @Cynicanal and @Shask, that makes sense. Because prior to that, it always confused me why people would put a TS in, and then scoop the EQ. It sounded counter intuitive.
    I ask the questions for two reasons: first, it bugs me when people use subjective terms to describe objective things, and they don’t actually know what it is they’re talking about. It makes it exceptionally hard to really know what an amp, pickup, etc is going to sound like when you find discussions and people are talking about “notes leaping off the fretboard,” “crushing,” etc. And like I say, prior to a month ago, I always assumed that 100 watts was the go-to for metal. But then all these new 50 watt amps specifically aimed at Uber tight percussive metal came out.

    The second reason is that I have a Fryette 50CL that I use at home for practice. I can get reasonably loud, but not live-level. And I wonder if I would do better with a 100CL. But, because it’s easier to find a three legged ballerina than a Fryette, it’s not like I can easily A/B the 50CL and a 100CL.
     
  19. budda

    budda Guiterrorizer Contributor

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    You have to decide if it's worth the risk (but if it's just the big brother, realistically how likely are you to not like it as much?).

    I've only ever tried a 100CL and it was pretty sweet. Granted that was years ago.
     
  20. Shask

    Shask SS.org Regular

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    Pre-distortion EQ works MUCH different than post-distortion EQ. Before distortion bass gives the sound a fat, fuzzy sound. It takes a lot of energy to amplify that, so that is how you end up with those fat doom metal type sounds. Pre-distortion treble gives you that scratchy, fizzly high end, which again, can work for something like doom. However, if you reduce both of those, that just leaves the mids. If the amp only has to amplify the mids, it focuses the gain stages into a much clearer distortion. However, too much, and you get the cocked-wah tone. This is why TS's are so popular. They reduce the bass and treble, and amplify the treble. This is why they focus amps into having tighter distortion.

    Post-distortion EQ works like you would expect... like the EQ on your stereo or something. Bass up, mids, down, etc... Much more dramatic than the pre-distortion EQ. Many times I have read pre-distortion EQ as effecting feel, where post-distortion EQ effecting tone. However, when you remove all the bass and treble from before the amp to focus it, it comes out sounding thin like an AM radio, so you have to add the bass and treble back in to balance out the tone. That is where the scooped EQ comes from. It is a way of balancing the pre-distortion EQ to adding the missing frequencies back into the tone. This is the classic recipe for metal tones.
     
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