Orange Amplifiers Limited-Edition OR50 Amplifier
Orange Music Electronic Company, Ltd., orangeamps.com
Originally printed in Guitar World, January 2009
Orange's limited edition OR50 is a fitting and modern tribute to company’s 40th anniversary and the “Pics Only” amp that made Orange a household name.
Orange Amplifiers is sometimes referred to as Britain’s first boutique amp maker. The company’s namesake orange attire is unmistakable, as is its mix of classic Brit-type midrange punch and densely detailed top end. For a short time in the Seventies, Orange amplifiers were among the most popular in amplification, but the company never kept up with the demand for its products until recently.
Over the past couple of years, thanks in large part to the brilliance of amp designer Adrian Emsley, Orange has made up a lot of ground and is again becoming the hot ticket for superstars that range from Prince to Slipknot. Its latest achievement is the limited-edition OR50, a 40th anniversary tribute to both the company and the venerated 1972 “Pics Only” amp, so named for its use of pictographs on the front panel in place of descriptive text. The OR50 is more like a modern interpretation than a reissue, and it easily achieves everything from dimensionally diverse clean sounds to maniacally morose mega-gain tones.
Impeccable build quality is part of the Orange Amplifiers legacy, and this is well evidenced in the OR50. Everything on this amp is nicely overbuilt, from the custom eight-leaf transformers to the superduty basic components and 2mm-thick chassis. It’s easy to see the high-end audio influence that undoubtedly inspired Orange’s massive rack handles and oversized control dials. Inside, two EL34 power tubes generate the amp’s 50 watts, and three 12AX7s produce tons of front-end gain without clouding the signal’s dimension. On the backside, there are three speaker outputs: two eight-ohm and a single 16-ohm. Although the OR50 is a single-channel affair, the amp’s variety of gain and EQ settings manages to eclipse a number of multichannel super amps.
Like the “Pics Only” amp, the OR50 features icons common to engineering and music on its Plexiglas front panel to indicate each control’s function. Controls include gain, bass, treble, middle, HF (High-Frequency) Drive and master volume. Orange calls the HF Drive knob the amp’s “secret weapon” because it simultaneously increases presence and poweramp gain. This translates to attack and intensity, which can be dialed to achieve tones that range from angelic to anarchic. The master volume allows highgain tones at low volumes and spanking clean tones at extreme volumes. If you prefer the shortest possible signal path and most organic escalation of volume and gain, the master volume can be defeated with an optional footswitch that plugs directly into the front panel.
Orange's OR50 is like a living entity, because its harmonic response doesn’t always behave as expected. The amp’s dynamic power and preamp section fire overtones like pellets from a shotgun: no two patterns are exactly the same; they always have a wide impact and they bloom unpredictably. This is the joy of playing a truly great tube amp; it responds to every touch and can be adjusted to complement any guitar or style of music. Even though this is an EL34-driven amplifier, it reveals all of a Stratocaster’s round jangle, rattling lows and chiming sparkle.
Likewise, my Les Paul’s woody warmth came through the Orange with a tone that was smoky and sweet, rather than dark and mellow. With the gain pushed past nine o’clock, the tone grew touch-sensitive fur that was ideal for blues or classic rock. Turning the volume high at this gain level made the amp churn out inspiring Angus Young tones. Moving the gain past the 12 o’clock position introduced mean and saturated tones, culminating in a symphony of high-gain nuance. This thick distortion is definitely heavy enough to play metal, and the Orange’s characteristically wide note separation remains fully intact at these settings. An attractive byproduct of this is an almost hollow resonance, which adds dimensionality rarely heard in the company of high gain. Even more attack, gain, harmonics and power amp distortion can be created through careful manipulation of the HF Drive circuit.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Orange's limited edition OR50 is a fitting and modern tribute to company’s 40th anniversary and the “Pics Only” amp that made Orange a household name. The special high-frequency power amp circuit and uniquely tuned controls prove that you don’t need a lot of knobs to achieve a phenomenal range of tones.
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