Positive Grid BIAS Mini Guitar Head
POSITIVE GRID TAKES ITS BIAS HEAD AND SHRINKS IT RIGHT DOWN TO ‘CHUCK IT IN YOUR GIGBAG’ SIZE. WORDS BY
Positive Grid’s range of amp modelling products occupies a unique niche, available in software and hardware versions in everything from smartphone apps to full-on amplifier heads. The company knows it’s on a winner with its BIAS Head and BIAS Rack units, but with the new BIAS Mini Guitar, they’ve managed to pack all that processing power into a unit small enough that you could probably even figure out a way to mount it on a pedalboard if you’re clever.
It occupies only half a standard rack space, but will just as happily sit on top of your speaker cabinet or on a desk in your home recording setup. And it only weighs about two kilograms, yet it packs a whopping 300 watts of power.
HONEY I SHRUNK THE HEAD
Let’s start with the controls: there are knobs for Preset, then Gain, Bass, Middle, Treble and Master (all of which go to 11 and you know why), then a rotary encoder with a Push To Select feature for dialling in the speaker output, line out, volume, FX send or headphone level. Around the back, you’ll find the Speaker Out (four-to-16 ohm), an XLR Line Out with ground lift, mini MIDI in/out jacks, a footswitch jack, and the effect loop send and return jacks.
More companies are going for these mini MIDI jacks instead of standard 5-pin MIDI plugs as of late, and though it does save space, it means more bits to fiddle about with. This unit is simply too small to include full-sized MIDI jacks, and it also includes adapter cables, so Positive Grid gets a pass here.
There are 16 onboard custom amplifier presets, though there are thousands more available on Positive Grid’s ToneCloud (including presets by shred legend Rusty Cooley). There are nine built-in reverbs and a built-in noise gate, and the effects loop is glitchless (it doesn’t mute at patch recall). There’s built-in Bluetooth for mobile control, which is really handy for onstage use. Whack an iPad on your mic stand and you’ll have access to your controls in realtime without having to walk back to your amp.
There’s USB for connecting to a Mac or PC, and you can load and sent custom impulse responses (IRs) to line outputs exclusively while running into a speaker cabinet at the same time. BIAS’s real secret, whether we’re talking about a hardware device like this or a software one like the apps and plugins, is its component-level modelling. While the front panel controls only let you access basic amp functions, the included BIAS Pro amp designer software lets you get right down to the nitty gritty of amp design, letting you choose between different preamp and power amp circuits, change the tubes and transformers (including the number of tubes, so you can basically do what Eddie Van Halen did when designing the original 5150: “That ain’t quite it, how about adding another tube?”), add clipping diodes and experiment with different rectifiers.
You can set all sorts of other parameters, too, like tube bias, high and low shelves, resonance and presence controls, and much more.
All that flexibility wouldn’t mean anything if the tone wasn’t up to scratch, and that’s where BIAS – in all its forms – really shines it where it counts. If you’re the kind of player who likes very even
dynamics, you can configure your sound right down to the finest component level in order to get a nice big compressed grind. If you like more air and dynamics in your tone, you can do that too.
Positive Grid has done something very clever by keeping all of that extra control away from the hardware interface of the amp, because frankly, you could lose yourself in all the options. What they’ve done instead is included 16 presets that run the full gamut from crystal clean to utterly pissed off distortion mayhem (with plenty of great, dynamic ‘in-between’ sounds that clean up beautifully with guitar volume knob tweaks) with the most simple amp-style controls, so you can’t get stuck in edit windows in the middle of a show.
It’s almost as if Positive Grid are saying, “Want more treble? Turn the treble knob. Want to change your power tubes to EL34 in the middle of a solo? No! Shut up and play your guitar and make the people dance, damn it!” That may sound restrictive, but it’s not: it puts the focus on the tone so you don’t disappear up your own butt. If that’s what you really want, you can use the software to achieve it. But Positive Grid knows that a guitarist’s real job is to sound great and make audiences rock out, not to stand there pressing buttons.
Are there any drawbacks to this system? Well, its reverbs sound great, but it would be nice to have more onboard effects. Again, however, that would add to the complexity. And if there were more effects like delay, then you’d probably want stereo outputs, which would complicate things on the back panel.
An LCD screen could be nice, but it would mess with the intentional illusion of this being a real amp. Instead, the idea here is that you’re supposed to forget you’re playing through a digital amp unless you’re editing sounds (hopefully prior to the gig, not during it). So really, all of these things would just get in the way of what BIAS Mini Guitar is meant to be.
THE BOTTOM LINE
If you’ve reached this far into the review, you already know if this is for you. Do you need the flexibility of digital but prefer the tactile interactivity of a regular amp, and you don’t need two dozen reverse pitch-shifted modulated delays at your fingertips? If so, you’ve probably already got a Helix or something of that ilk, and you’re quite happy. Positive Grid has been very clever in spotting a hole in the digital modelling market, and they’re creating the perfect family of products to fill it.