PRS 30 and Sweet 16 Guitar Amplifiers
PRS Guitars, prsguitars.com
PRS 30 head, $1,899.00; PRS 30 combo, $2,079.00; Sweet 16 head, $1,659.00; Sweet 16 combo, $1,858.00; 1x12 cab, $499.00; 2x12 cab, $699.00
Originally published in Guitar World, February 2010
The PRS 30 and Sweet 16 may not be cheap for single-channel amps, but this is definitely an instance in which you get what you pay for.
Over the past 25 years, Paul Reed Smith has deservedly earned a reputation for having a golden ear for great tone. When PRS finally debuted its long-awaited line of tube amplifiers in 2008, expectations were very high among amp connoisseurs, and the first products to hit the market—the Blue Sierra, Dallas and Original Sewell—proved that the wait was worth it.
The secret behind the success of the new PRS amp series is that Smith found a worthy design partner in Doug Sewell, whose boutique Sewell amps earned unanimous praise from even the most jaded amp fanatics. With the marketing muscle and production expertise of PRS behind him, Sewell’s designs triumphantly made the bold leap from boutique to mainstream without sacrificing the quality and character that made his amps some of the most desired objects of lust among discriminating players.
Just in time for the landmark 25th anniversary of PRS, the company has introduced two new PRS amp models: the PRS 30 and the PRS Sweet 16, each available in head and combo versions. These new models deliver the same impeccable tone and performance characteristics as the previous highly esteemed PRS amp models, but they offer slightly reduced output and sell at much more affordable prices.
Like their big brothers, the PRS 30 and Sweet 16 are single-channel amps that are stripped down to a minimal feature set to keep their tone big, bold and beautiful. Both models feature a bright switch, short-pan reverb, EQ controls for treble, middle and bass, and volume and master volume controls. The master volume control removes itself from the circuit when turned all the way up, giving you all the sonic and electronic benefits of a classic non-master volume amp. Instead of separate power on/off and standby switches, the amps feature a single three-way off/standby/on switch (which also eliminates age-old confusion about standby settings when powering up the amp). The back panels on both models are similarly spartan, offering only a speaker output jack, an extension speaker jack and a four-/eight-/16-ohm impedance switch—no effect loop, line out or other frills.
The PRS 30 and the Sweet 16 differ from the previous PRS amp models by offering cathode-biased circuits in a near Class A push-pull configuration. While a cathodebiased amp may slightly decrease output compared to fixed-biased design, the payoff is extremely responsive performance, rich harmonics, and overdrive imbued with smooth high end and singing compression. The PRS 30 features four EL84 tubes that deliver 30 watts, while the Sweet 16 is based around a pair of 6V6 tubes that pump out 16 watts.
The combo version of the Sweet 16 includes a Celestion G12H Vintage 30 12-inch speaker, and the PRS 30 combo offers a single WGS ET-65 12-inch speaker. For those who prefer separate head and cabinet configurations, matching speaker cabinet options include closed-back 1x12 or 2x12 cabs loaded with Vintage 30 speakers. The speaker and combo cabinets feature solid pine construction that provides enhanced resonance.
Most boutique amp models have tone personalities that lean heavily toward either American (Fender-style) or British (vintage Marshall or Vox) sounds, but somehow the PRS 30 and Sweet 16 manage to cover both territories quite effectively while maintaining their own distinct personality and vibe. The Sweet 16, with its 6V6 tubes, leans toward tight, spanking Deluxe Reverb tones, but when you crank it up it pumps out rich, ripping rock tones that come very close to a 30-watt Marshall “Bluesbreaker” combo. The PRS 30 starts off with clean tones that blend the high-end chime and bell-like resonance of a Vox AC30 with a Fender Super Reverb’s bark, bite and big-ass bass. Push it to the limit, and it winds up in pristine Marshall “Plexi” territory.
The magic of both amps can be found in how they respond to touch and dynamics. Both models feel like an extension of the guitar itself. Whereas some amps force you to play a certain way to produce the best tone, these amps respond to every nuance of performance dynamics, from the lightest touch to the funkiest string snap. Who needs channel switching when you can summon a full rainbow of clean, overdriven and singing-distortion tones just by manipulating your guitar’s volume control?
Although the combos’ cabinets are not true open-back designs (there’s just an open four-inch gap to keep the tubes cool), they pump out slightly looser bass and more accentuated treble than the head/closed-back cabinet configurations. If you prefer genuine Fender-style reverb-drenched tones (the spring reverb in both the Sweet 16 and PRS 30 sound phenomenal), you may want to opt for the combo versions, but if you tend to dwell in overdrive/distortion territory and love big, bold, punchy bass and in-your-face midrange, a head/cab configuration is a better choice.
THE BOTTOM LINE
The PRS 30 and Sweet 16 may not be cheap for single-channel amps, but this is definitely an instance in which you get what you pay for. Both models deliver the classic tube tones most of us have spent a lifetime (and a fortune) trying to duplicate with a variety of vintage and boutique amps. Think of your favorite blues, country, funk, jazz and classic rock tones, and chances are pretty good you can dial them in on the PRS 30 or Sweet 16 with little effort.
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