Orange Thunderverb 200 head and PPC 412 HP8 cabinet

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METAL GUITARISTS ARE forever searching for ways to produce low-tuned tones that won't go soft and flabby or break up with distortion when cranked through an amp. The new Orange Thunderverb 200 may be the amplifier they've been waiting for. The 200-watt head combines Orange's Extended Tone Range (ETR) technology, tube engineering and uniquely engineered output transformers to produce punchy, distortion-free tones down to 30Hz! In this respect, the Thunderverb is also one of the few guitar amplifiers capable of delivering equally impressive performance to bass players.

THE BASIS FOR the Thunderverb's ground-breaking (and ground-shaking) design is extremely high-quality componentry, something that is evident with every turn of a dial and flip of a switch. Within the 2mm-thick zinc-plated steel chassis, expensive silver mica and Vishay capacitors and double-sided PCBs with gold-plated tracks offer further proof of the Thunderverb's superior build. Truthfully, I've not seen higher quality parts, tighter construction or smoother operation on any piece of high-end audio equipment.

Behind the candy-white faceplate lurk four 6550 power tubes that generate 200 hard-hitting and musical watts. If this sounds like a lot of power, rest assured, it is. However, a marvelous attenuation circuit allows you to dime the amp's output but reduce the final sound level down to a whisper, for thick output tube distortion that won't wake the baby. The refreshingly simple preamp benefits from four warm ECC83 tubes, while two low-gain AT7 tubes drive the Accutronics spring reverb.

Channel A offers controls for volume, treble, middle and bass. Channel B has its own volume and gain knobs, but trades the three-band EQ for a single Shape control. Rotating the Shape knob counterclockwise accentuates the mids and reduces the bass and treble; turning it clockwise inverts the EQ curve, sucking out the mids and boosting highs and lows. The amp's backside features a quartet of speaker outlets, a tube-driven effect loop and the three-way power-level switch. Should a player want more versatility at his feet, three dedicated foot-pedal jacks will work with standard latching switches to separately activate the channels, the reverb or the attenuator.

Orange's PPC 412 HP8 4x12 cabinet also borrows from high-end audio physics. The cabinet is built from 18-ply birch, to aid in projection and eliminate spurious cabinet vibrations. Instead of wheels, thick skid plates link the cabinet to the floor to help produce clear midrange and tight bass. My stereo-capable test cab also came with a 400-watt rating, thanks to its family of Celestion G-12K 100s. In addition, the Thunderverb can mate to a variety of guitar and bass cabs rated from four to 16 ohms.

UPON PLUGGING INTO Channel A and striking a note, I was dumbfounded by what I heard. This was the sound of 200 glorious watts pumping audiophile-perfect tone through four 100-watt Celestions. It wasn't just a loud and clean open E; this sound was massive yet, simultaneously, soft and enveloping. I enjoyed the luscious tube-driven reverb and found that a little went a long way: even relatively low settings drove the springs into outer space echoes and erratic delays.

The amp remained clean on Channel A until I pushed the gain past noon. With the gain at about one o'clock and the volume set almost halfway up, the Thunderverb started to produce a furry edge and ear-tingling overdrive, which I could control with the weight of my attack. Channel A with the gain topped was tone nirvana and should be officially labeled "AC/DC." This dimensional and sensitive tenor is the caviar of British crunch tones and should complement any guitar.

The essence of Channel B is identical to the first channel, but it's thicker and sweeter. There's plenty of gain on tap here and an abundance of even-order harmonics. From metal to country, the style of tone is entirely dependent on how you set the all-powerful Shape control.

This world-class amplifier merits a second review for its performance with bass. I only tried it briefly, but I can assure you that the amp is quite competent in this role. The same ETR technology that accurately delivers all of the bass register also gives detuners and seven-string players brilliant definition.

THE ORANGE THUNDERVERB 200 offers boutique British tones that dazzle the ears. It's supremely responsive and built from the ground up using the highest-quality parts. As an added bonus, the attenuator lets the amp achieve its full potential at any volume.