Posts Tagged ‘reason’

5 Tone Bones - Gear has stellar performance, value, and quality. This is definitely top of the class, best of breed, and it's a no-brainer to add this to your gear lineup!

Reason SM40 Head

Reason SM40 Head

Reason Amps SM40 HeadSummary: Deep, lush cleans, with bright, ballsy and aggressive overdrive. The SM40 is a classic rocker’s wet dream come true.Pros: Touch-sensitive and expressive. The voltage sag in the 5U4 is just enough to create almost a reverb quality as the signal fades. Truly lovely sound!

Cons: None.

Price: $2195


• Output: 40 watts RMS @ 10% THD
• (4) EL84 output tubes, in Class A Cathode Biased configuration
• (2) 12ax7 preamp tubes
• 5U4 Rectifier tube
• 3 way Stack switch – Normal, Stack, Bright
• Normal channel – Volume, Tone
• Bright channel – Volume, Tone
• StackMode™ – Bright & Normal channel controls are active, Stack Volume & Hi-Cut
• Oversized extra capacity power supply
• Harmonics Switch – works in the final output stage to change the harmonic structure of the
• Power Switch
• Standby Switch
• Half-power switch
• Independent output jacks for 4,8, 16-Ohm operation
• Footswitch access to all three channels/modes

Tone Bone Rating: 5 – This is a blues and classic rock machine!!!

This review is a long time in coming as I evaluated the SM40 over a month ago, but as they say, better late than never. As many may know, I’ve had a love affair with the SM25 that the Reason guys sent me to review, and that amp will be in my rig (see my review here). In my view, very few amps can match it in versatility. It is an extremely expressive amp that is capable of producing lush, ringing cleans, to searing overdrive. And according to both Anthony Bonadio and Obeid Kahn, the founders of Reason Amps, the SM25 Combo was built specifically with versatility in mind. It is very pedal-friendly, and StackModeTM is the greatest thing since sliced bread!

But sometimes, you just don’t want or need that kind of versatility because with versatility comes compromises. For instance, the SM25’s Normal or clean channel breaks up a little earlier than you’d expect though I actually rarely if ever play at the volume so it’s a none-issue for me. Since I play a variety of styles, versatility is a key factor in my decision on an amp. But that versatility is lost on those who just don’t need it. And mind you, that’s not a bad thing. It’s merely a matter of choice, which is why you have a number of amp options to choose from with Reason Amps. Premier Guitar already covered the SM50, which gives a fair picture of the SM50’s capabilities – though I do have to take issue with Premier Guitar giving it the “Loud As Hell” award. It’s not just a noise-maker. It’s just that you’d swear the SM50 is 100 Watts as opposed to 50 Watts. It’s an extremely powerful and expressive amp with classic EL-34 goodness.

The SM40, on the other hand is a very interesting take based upon EL-84 output tubes. Where the SM25 and SM50 are based on EL-34’s in Class AB fixed-bias configuration, the SM-40 is built around two EL-84’s operating in Class A Cathode Bias configuration. Like the other Reason Amps, the SM40 has two independent channels with the trademark StackModeTM “channel,” that combines the fully amplified signals from both Normal and Bright Channels in a series with an extra gain stage, while retaining both the volume and EQ control that each channel contributes to the combination.

The Story Behind the SM40

I called the Reason guys up to shoot the breeze a bit yesterday, but to also pick their brains about the SM40, Obeid Kahn (Reason’s amp designer) and I had a great conversation about the story behind the SM40. For all intents, and purposes, the SM40 was Reason’s first production amp. Obeid had gone through several prototypes before he finally produced the SM40 which included StackMode. Previous versions had completely independent channels with separate inputs, then evolved into switching between the two, then finally evolved into connecting the two channels in a series. So the SM40 could be considered the eldest sibling in the Reason amp line and the first successful incarnation of StackMode.

How It Sounds

The SM40 is targeted at blues and classic rock players, and it definitely shows that in the way it’s voiced. Moreover, there’s something really special about the clean tone of an EL-84-based amp. It’s naturally chimey and glassy, and guitars that have that natural quality bring that tone out even more. On the Normal channel, the kind of voicing is beautiful; chimey with lots of mid-range, but not overdone. And there’s TONS of clean headroom in this channel, which makes it ideal for use with pedals. Put a booster in front of this channel, and you get that AC-30-like breakup, which is subtle and smooth. Very nice.

The Bright channel, on the other hand, is actually not that much brighter than the Normal channel. In fact, the tonal differences between Normal and Bright are so subtle that you’d think there’s no difference at all. But that’s by design. Unlike the SM25 which was built around versatility, the SM40 is a much more focused machine, which is why you only get volume and tone on any channel or mode, as opposed to the SM25 which includes a 3-band EQ on the Normal channel. The idea behind that makes sense: Players who buy this amp will mostly play a certain style of music and don’t want to be bothered tweaking knobs to dial in their sound. Not that the amp can’t be used in a variety of genres, but players who play this won’t want to stray from the general tone the SM40 produces.

Similarities between the channels aside, the real kicker for me is the StackMode “channel,” which combines Normal and Bright channels in a series, while retaining both volume and tone shaping in both channels. This really opens up a whole new pallette of tones you can produce. It’s super-expressive, and because you’re essentially working with three gain stages in a series, this mode makes the amp incredibly responsive to volume knob and attack. Dime the volume on your guitar, and you can get tons of overdrive. Back it down and pick lighter, and the tone cleans right up. In my tests of both Reason amps, StackMode was pretty much all I used, unless I was playing something where I needed a pure, glassy clean tone for which the Normal channel excels.

An interesting switch labeled Odd/Even resides on the control panel. This is a harmonics switch that works with the phase splitter in the final gain stage. The idea behind it is that at super-high gain, you start getting a “notch” type of distortion. Flipping the switch smooths that out. I actually didn’t notice that much of a difference with the switch in either Odd or Even positions, but maybe that was because I was only 3 feet from the amp, and it was cranked! 🙂 For the most part though, the switch won’t have too much of an effect until you get into really thick overdrive.

Playing It

The SM40 was tested with a Strat copy and a Saint Guitars Benchmark with humbuckers. With the Strat copy, you’re immediately taken to the roots of blues. The chimey vibe really comes out with single coils, and I found myself closing my eyes to take in the sweetness. With the Benchmark, the SM40 grew big balls of steel. Not that you’d do metal with this amp, but humbuckers make the SM40 want to growl. It’s really nice.

Overall Impressions

The SM40 is a sweet amp, and like its sibling, the SM50, it’s really made for the stage. It’s expressive and ballsy, and is meant to be played hard. As both Anthony and Obeid have both told me, this amp is made for active musicians. And while I wouldn’t want to keep people from buying it because it sounds so good, by the same token, I wouldn’t recommend it for bedroom use. You wouldn’t be able to take advantage of its full range of tones.

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Reason Amplifiers

This is a continuation and expansion of the original new gear article I wrote previously

Riddle me this…

So what do you get when you cross a veteran cabinet maker with an electrical engineering guru? Right. A new amp manufacturer. But the two guys I’m talking about, Anthony Bonadio and Obeid Kahn, didn’t just want to create another boutique amp outfit; they had to have a “reason” to create yet another amp manufacturing company; and after putting their heads together they did come up with a “reason.” It’s called Reason amps!

I recently had the privilege to speak with Anthony Bonadio at length about his new company, and I’m incredibly impressed with the vision behind Reason amps. As Anthony put it, their new amp had to be different: Not just a re-expression of existing designs, but something truly different; otherwise there wouldn’t be a reason to build one (get it?). And at first blush, it certainly appears that they’ve realized their desire to be different. But in order to be different, you have to know what you can do against the existing paradigms, and both Anthony’s and Obeid’s pedigrees as amp cab manufacturer and electrical engineer respectively have given them a certain industry perspective that have allowed them to produce an amp that does indeed push beyond the current paradigms.

So what’s so different about Reason amps? You might look at the amp and say, “This is just another flavor of a vintage-voiced two channel amp.” And if all you used were the Normal and Bright channels independently, you’d be mostly correct. In fact, both Obeid and Anthony are vintage gear freaks, and wanted to produce a vintage-voiced amp – but take it elsewhere… And it’s the third mode of operation that makes this amp really stand out. It’s something Obeid coined “StackMode.” Make no mistake, StackMode isn’t just adding a gain stage to an amp. It’s actually running the two amp channels in series.

“So what,” you might say, “That sounds like a bunch of marketing mumbo-jumbo. There are lots of multi-channel amps on the market.” Not like this. In almost all multi-channel amps, the signal handling for each channel is performed independently. Channel switching is pretty much an internal A/B box. Some amps will have independent EQ on each channel, though most have a “Master” EQ that controls the EQ for all the channels.

StackMode is different – and more importantly, it hasn’t been done before (at least not that I know of).

With StackMode engaged, the fully amplified signal from the first channel flows into the next channel in a series, so what you do to the input gain, EQ and output from the first channel directly affects the signal of the second stage; hence the term, “StackMode.” So in reality, this is not just a different take on an existing pattern. It’s taking an existing pattern and creating a completely new application out of it.

In light of this, I asked myself, why hasn’t this been done before? It seems so simple in concept. But in reality, it’s not easy at all because of the power management issues that arise from essentially re-amping a previously amplified signal that has already gone through a gain stage. With the Reason amps, it’s all about the engineering behind managing the voltage and current, and that’s where Obeid Kahn’s engineering genius has come into play.

So to re-answer the original question that I started the article with: What do you get when you cross a veteran cabinet maker with an electrical engineering guru? You get a new amp that completely breaks the mold of existing amp designs. To say I’m excited about this doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface of what I’m feeling.

The Amps

Reason amps come in two tonal flavors depending upon the power tubes you choose, either EL34- or EL84-based. From the EL34 side Reason offers the SM50 head, SM25 head, SM25 combo for 50 and 25 Watt ouput respectively. On the EL84 side, there are the SM40 head and SM20 combo, with 40 and 20 Watts of output respectively. And of course, they 4X12, 2X12, and 1X12 speaker cabs for the heads as well. No matter what amp you choose, all come with StackMode, so all you have to decide upon is your tonal and power requirements!

Amazingly enough, prices are “Reason-able” considering the engineering that has gone into the amps and compared to other boutique amp manufacturers. Here’s a quick list:


SM50 Head – $2295
SM25 Head – $2195
SM25 Combo – $2395


SM40 Head – $2195
SM20 Combo – $2295


412 Cab – $995
212 Cab – $595
112 Cab – $395

So why are the prices for the different amps so close together? Simply because the circuitry is the same for each amp. The only significant difference between the amps is in the power handling for each amp, and according to Anthony, that doesn’t impact the production cost in any significant way.

Hybrid Construction

A lot of purists scoff at the idea that any PCB board is used in the construction of a vintage-style amp. But Reason actually uses a combination of turret boards and PCB boards to handle specific tasks for optimal performance. For instance, all signal handling (read: the tone producing stuff) is done with point-to-point wiring on turret boards, while all the switching is done on PCB boards to ensure fast response and reliability. All boards employed are high-grade, 1/8” thick, so even the PCB boards have ample traces to ensure great current flow. So the idea is to use the best and most appropriate components for a particular job. That’s just plain intelligent engineering.

Made by players for players

A lot of companies claim this, but with Obeid’s and Anthony’s collective experience as performing musicians, they really had the gigging and session guitarist in mind when building their amps. For instance, the amps are voiced bright by design, as brighter amps will be able to cut through a mix a lot easier. They also record a lot better. Case in point, even though I love my Fender Hot Rod Deluxe, I have to admit that it doesn’t record very well because of its naturally expansive output that makes it sound a bit muddy in a mix. It works great on stage, especially in the low volume venues I play. But in the studio, I tend to use smaller amps that have a real mid- to high-freq voicing because the guitars just sound so much better through them. But with a brightly voiced amp like a Reason, I wouldn’t have to rely so much on tiny, less “ballsy” amps.

One thing I do have to mention is that the volume knob on all Reason amps is a push-pull knob. When you pull it out, you get a high-freq EQ boost, to get more high-end freqs that’ll add extra sparkle and shimmer to your output. This is great for recording!

All that said, Anthony did stress that he didn’t want to alienate any players who didn’t happen to be gigging or session musicians; it’s just that those kinds of guitarists would definitely find an immediate advantage of using a Reason amp because of how it’s voiced.

My Take Overall

Yeah, yeah, I’m excited about yet another thing – if you read this blog with any regularity, when am I not? But really, it’s not too often that new gear totally blows me away. To me, the concept behind StackMode is a staggering achievement. As an engineer myself (though in software), I have a genuine appreciation for new and innovative solutions to different problems, and StackMode is something that really tickles the geek in me. Granted, I’ve only heard sound bites, but I’m soon going to be demoing the SM25 in the near future, and I just know I won’t be disappointed!

Check out the whole story at the Reason Amps web site. It’s awesome.

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