Mark­bass Ninja 102 500

SMALL IS GOOD. LOUD IS GOOD. SMALL AND LOUD IS GREAT.

Australian Guitar - - Contents - BY STEVE HEN­DER­SON

In less than 20 years, Mark­bass has be­come the pre­miere, got-to-have-it amp/cab builder for bass pro­fes­sion­als and am­a­teurs alike, push­ing aside more es­tab­lished brands and con­tin­u­ing to re­fine the line with in­no­va­tive ideas and no-non­sense prod­ucts.

The range is quite di­verse, but the re­cur­ring theme is great tone, sim­ple con­trols and amaz­ing porta­bil­ity. To say that they are lightweight is like say­ing Paul McCart­ney has writ­ten some nice tunes. You can eas­ily pick up a 410 cab with one hand and an 800-watt, full-func­tion bass head will fit into the pocket of your gig bag.

Like­wise, their gui­tar lines (un­der the DV Mark ban­ner) are lightweight, full of fea­tures and tone­ful, with mon­sters like Frank Gam­bale find­ing “the sound” within the sim­ple con­trol lay­out of a stan­dard DV Mark amp.

EV­ERY­THING IN THE RIGHT PLACE

The Mark­bass Ninja 102 500 is vir tu­ally the per­fect prod­uct: sim­ple to use, easy to lug and sat­is­fy­ing to hear. The cab part is a rear-ported, two-by-ten plus su­per tweeter-loaded box that is barely wider than the speak­ers and just tall enough to in­cor­po­rate the 83 mil­lime­tre high Lit­tle Mark Ninja head.

The Ninja is a 500-watt (into four ohms) brain that fea­tures in­put gain and master vol­ume con­trols (the yel­low knobs), line out (also yel­low) and six tone con­trols (sort of). The back panel has a speakON out, tuner out, an ef­fects loop, a pre/post switch, a ground lift switch and a built-in DI with an XLR out­put. It’s only 276 mil­lime­tres wide, too.

The Ninja de­liv­ers like no other com­pact bass combo I’ve heard. Played with an alder-bod­ied Pre­ci­sion Bass (with a Jazz Bass tre­ble pickup), with all amp tone knobs at noon and the VPH/ VLE cir­cuits off, the Ninja 102 of­fers a warm and woody sound that seems to bloom richly in to the room. The at­tack is fast and full, but there’s an ‘af­ter­taste’ that spreads out to en­ve­lope the lis­tener, like a com­pres­sor open­ing up.

Place it in a cor­ner or against a wall, and the bloom is fairly quick; place it fur­ther from the re­flec­tive sur­face, and there’s some la­tency in that bloom, sort of like a pre-de­lay. Sit it up on a chair or in an amp cra­dle or stand, and you’ll hear a sub­sonic im­age com­ing back from un­der the amp. The P-Bass pickup sounds mighty through the two tens – a woody at­tack fol­lowed by a har­monic sus­tain. Dig in a bit for that fab­u­lous Pre­ci­sion grunt, where it sort of growls a lit­tle on the at­tack of the note.

This is a rock’n’roll tone that fits into al­most any style of the genre, from emo to blues. The J-bass pickup has a snappy at­tack and plenty of cut­ting power, and if you’re in the mar­ket for some funky tones and porta­bil­ity, look no fur­ther. The Ninja de­liv­ers funk like it was de­signed specif­i­cally for the Broth­ers John­son.

A BONAFIDE WIN­NER

That said, the folks at Mark­bass ac­tu­ally had Richard Bona in mind. Play­ing some­thing more in line with his style re­veals a smooth sweet­ness in the Ninja that is even more in­fec­tious than those other clas­sic sounds.

The Ninja has a level of sub­tle­ness to its de­liv­ery that is not im­me­di­ately no­tice­able. This is where the touch-sen­si­tiv­ity of the Ninja kicks in: play brashly – maybe with a pick – and you’ll

find a plethora of great rock tones. But play dy­nam­i­cally with fin­gers and there’s loads of nu­ance to be found.

The Ninja can present four-string bass chords with­out any grind or clash. Har­mon­ics sit sweetly through a cou­ple of oc­taves above the fun­da­men­tals, and those ten-inch speak­ers ef­fort­lessly han­dle the com­plex­ity of the over­tones so that they don’t rub up against each other. There’s no dis­tor­tion of fuzzi­ness – just clar­ity and har­monic depth.

The VPF and VLE con­trols should be used spar­ingly at first – the more you get to know the amp, the more ef­fec­tive th­ese cir­cuits be­come. Think of them as a cou­ple of ex­tra tone con­trols that work with, but out­side the scope of, the main tone stack. The Vin­tage Loud­speaker Emu­la­tor is par­tic­u­larly ef­fec­tive in adding some or­ganic feel, but a lit­tle goes a long way.

In ef­fect, it takes out some of the bril­liance for an old school vibe – some rock’n’roll thud. The VPF high­lights the lows and highs while cut­ting the mids for a wood­ier tone, which is very cool if your bass has a preamp (this will soften it) or if you’re just into that scooped tone and softer at­tack.

Just for fun, I plugged in a Ma­ton MSH-210D acous­tic-elec­tric and found that the Ninja is equally happy with six strings an oc­tave up. If you need an acous­tic amp with oo­dles of juice and plenty of bot­tom-end, this may be what you’re af­ter. The two tens are per­fect for the body of an acous­tic tone, and the su­per tweeter adds some top-end sparkle.

THE BOT­TOM LINE

With the Ninja 102 500, Mark­bass have re­ally nailed the power and tone ver­sus porta­bil­ity is­sue. Un­less you’re af­ter that whole heavy metal sub­sonic thing, the Ninja will de­liver a sweet and even tone across the fre­quency spec­trum with­out break­ing your back or bank ac­count.

One of the most com­plete pieces of gear I’ve ever seen, the Ninja is gig-ready and stu­dio qual­ity; the sound is au­dio­phile with­out the steril­ity; the at­ti­tude is hi-fi with hear t.

RRP: $2,395

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