Better than a practice amp
Behringer Ultrabass BXL1800A
A solid, compact but somewhat overrated budget bass amplifier with a good range of useful features.
BXL1800A Front View
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The Behringer Ultrabass BXL1800A is a budget, compact Bass Amplifier package which certainly has a respectable kick for its size. It is however no light-weight at almost 22Kg (45 lbs). That said, this amp is more than adequate for rehearsals and will hold its own in smaller venues.
The provided DI (balanced Direct Inject output) makes shunting the Ultrabass to a mixing desk, PA and/or recording gear very simple. Thus also handy if you should need that extra bit of grunt via the PA or another amp.
The Ultrabass part of the name is for the built-in octave divider which can be used to provide some additional bottom end. The Ultrabass effect can be switched in/out from either the front panel or by the provided foot-switch. I'm not sure whether they all shipped with a footswitch, as the one I have was given to me as a collection of parts. The footswitch is however readily available online and also would not be a challenging project to build.
All up, the Ultrabass BXL1800A is not a bad little amp, but as mentioned, in its day it was at the budget model end of the scale (currently the domain of the Joyo JBA100 and Beta Aivin BP80), and it really is a classic case of 'you get what you pay for'.
While the Ultrabass BXL1800A does a respectable job as a bass amp, it's never going to live up to the ridiculous and all pervasive marketing hype which seems to have been 'cut-n-paste' copied for almost every review of this amplifier.
The suggestion from the marketing hype is that the Ultrabass BXL1800A is an awesome piece of kit and includes statements like:"When a stack is too high and a practice amp just doesn't cut it ... [insert more BS here] ... With 180 Watts of output horse power, your performance will never run out of breath."
Hmm, measuring an amplifier's performance in horsepower now ... that's novel, I guess.
For those interested 200W = 0.268097 hp (electrical).
Doesn't really sound that impressive when you actually do the maths, does it? ;-))
The last of these amps that I saw for sale new were around AUD $450 (or less) and that included shipping.
It really would be amazing, if this amp could deliver anything even close to a real 180 Watts of output for that price. So what do I mean by 'a real 180 Watts' ? Very simply, I mean the RMS rating, which is also referred to as the continuous power output capability of an amp.
Now, in fairness to Behringer ... a couple of important points to note:
- Firstly, Behringer have been very careful not to mention the RMS suffix anywhere in their Bass Amplifier literature. Therefore they can't be directly accused of false advertising.
Given that Behringer don't mention that it's peak power either, I would consider that to qualify as at least 'a little misleading'. The meaning and interpretation of Behringer's specifications are, it seems, left to the imagination of the prospective customer.
- Secondly, there seems to be almost a tradition amongst some (dare I say many) amp manufacturers to use the peak output power of an amp, in the amp's model number.
Take that old classic the Acoustic 450 Lead/Bass amp from back in the '70s. While it could deliver an honest 170W RMS, it could readily handle 450W peak. Of course in the case of Behringer, they've also added an extra "0" (zero) at the end of the model number (making it 1800 instead of 180). I guess that indicates that they believe that it goes even harder ;-)
There are however some obvious clues as to what the BXL1800A can, or perhaps more correctly 'can't' deliver.
One rather obvious clue is is that the 12" Bugera speaker provided with the Behringer BXL1800A has a stated power handling capability of 120 Watts. This rating is mentioned in the specifications, just a few lines below the amp's 180W power rating and is also stated on the actual speaker. Again, there is no mention of either Peak or RMS power in either case.
Electronic engineering, common sense and most musicians would suggest to you that, if you were to put a continuous 180W of power into a speaker rated at 120W, you wouldn't be doing so for very long. In fact, the speaker voice coil is very likely to end up toasted. That suggests that the amp's claimed 180 Watts of output would very likely be peak or momentary power handling capacity only (variously referred to as PP, Peak Program or Peak Power).
Generally speaking, manufacturers will roughly double the RMS figure to provide a peak output level. Following that logic the Behringer Ultrabass BXL1800A is in reality likely to be something along the lines of a 90W to perhaps100W bass amp. More on that later ...
Unlike most reviews or descriptions of the Behringer Ultrabass BXL1800A amplifier, I have the advantage of having repaired and restored a BXL1800A with a toasted Power Amp / Power Supply board (shown below at close to actual size ).
In other words ... I've seen its guts, as well as the physical result of someone thinking that they were going to get 180 Watts out of this sucker.
Long story short ... it's not a good look.
So this review is based on a Behringer BXL 1800A that has been, quite literally, brought back from the dead. Which in fairness, may actually be far more meaningful if you are considering purchasing one of these amps.
Some of the immediate up-sides to all of this are that I can tell you that:
- A replacement Power Amp / Power Supply Module for the Behringer BXL1800A is relatively affordable. Which if nothing else, makes a Power Amp repair a realistic option (assumes all the other components are still functional, particularly the transformer).
- Replacing the Behringer BXL1800A Power Amp / Power Supply module is relatively straight forward ... for an electronics technician / repairer.
IMPORTANT: I would not recommend this as a novice DIY project, since there are lethal voltages involved and the final setup (specifically, biasing the output stage) requires the amp to be powered up.
Also the newer amp modules are slightly different and you will need to swap over some components from the old module (not at all as easy as it sounds, since there are surface mount components that must be handled and/or avoided during this process).
- Assuming there are no other issues, a full Power Amp replacement could probably be done for between AUD $200 to $250, by most competent technicians / repairers ... which would still be less than half the price of a new BXL1800A or similar 'budget' bass amp.
If any other components were also damaged (particularly the power transformer), then I would classify what was left as either ready for the recycle bin, or at best, spare parts. There is nothing so awesome about this amp that you'd want to keep any of it for sentimental reasons.
On to some specifics. I will cover the Power Amp module first, then go into the amp's "features".
Behringer 180W Power Amplifier and Power Supply Module (7/10)
The almost minute Power Amp module for the Behringer BXL 1800A also houses the Power Supply for both the power amp (±45V rails) and for the Pre Amp / EQ circuitry (±15V rails) and an also an unused 24V rail for use with a fan. The photo provided is of a brand new module sitting on a standard CD case to give a size reference ... and yes, it really is that small.
The business end (output stages) of the power amplifier board are two well spec'd and quite robust IRFP9140N HEXFET® Power MOSFETs.
Essentially the power amplifier design is that of a simple symmetrical output stage where the actual power output is limited by the Supply Voltage (in this case ±45V) and the available current from the transformer. The transformer is actually the most expensive part of the whole amp if it is damaged.
The problem with the BXL1800A Power Amplifier board is not the final output stage, but the less robust components and PCB (Printed Circuit Board) tracks that come before this. I would simply call it over-engineered. That is, trying to cram too much into too little circuit board realestate.
As evidenced by the previous photo of the failed power amplifier board (which had already been modified and/or repaired at least once before), over heating was the primary cause of failure. Most likely via gradual and incremental degradation of the printed circuit board over an extended period.
Even the built in thermal protection is quite obviously not sufficient to prevent the inevitable self-destruction of the power amplifier board. A search online will reveal that these 'over-heating related' failures are not uncommon.
I was told by the former owner that the amp had been reliable and lasted for around 3 to 4 years before failing. Given the low initial purchase price and the 3 year manufacturer's warranty, this would have to be considered acceptable. I still consider this yet another fine example of designing for failure. If nothing else, I guess it keeps your loyal customers thinking about upgrades every few years.
It does not bode well though for those thinking of purchasing a used BXL1800A bass amp. Without examining the power amp circuit board, there is no way to know how imminent a failure might be. Unless of course the current owner has evidence that the Power Amp has already recently been replaced.
In summary the BXL1800A Power Amplifier board is a fine example of modern circuit design efficiency. Everything is neat, tidy and built to the minimum specification (minimum cost) required to do its job. A slightly larger, better cooled and more robust design would have lasted longer ... but why do that? right? That won't sell more/new amplifiers.
Behringer Bugera 120W Hard Attack Bass Speaker (8/10)
The Bugera 120W Hard Attack bass speaker is a surprisingly robust unit that can survive quite a bit of punishment and still perform well for a 12" bass speaker. I had to panel beat the speaker chassis back into shape after it fell from a height of around 2m (just over 6'). There was no audible degradation. Even the cat that caused the event survived ( -1 life ;-)
Given that the Behringer Ultrabass BXL1800A is a budget model bass guitar amplifier, it should come as no surprise that the included Bugera 120W Hard Attack bass speaker is similarly a budget speaker. Albeit, a well made one for a pressed metal chassis. The 'A' suffix at the end of the model number (BXL1800A) denotes Aluminium cone.
While the Aluminium cone and 50mm (2") Aluminium voice coil will no doubt assist in heat dissipation, the rest of the construction is fairly ordinary. The speaker chassis is lightweight and pressed metal (not cast alloy), and the magnet is unimpressive. This immediately suggests that the efficiency of the speaker will be average at best. Behringer again cleverly avoid providing information like the speaker's efficiency or SPL. SPL stands for Sound Pressure Level, which is usually described as the number of dB (deciBels) measured at 1 meter with a 1 watt input.
The image below provides a simple comparison of two aluminium cone speakers, the 12" Bugera Hard Attack bass speaker (at right) and a 12" JBL bass speaker (at left).
Note the substantially larger magnet on the JBL bass speaker.
While magnet size is one of the more obvious signs of the magnetic flux a speaker is likely to produce, the voice coil area within that region of flux and the size of the gap that the voice coils sits in, also greatly effect a speaker's efficiency. The JBL speaker pictured has a larger 75mm (3") aluminium voice coil, partly because it is rated at 300W RMS and quite simply requires a heavier gauge of copper wire. The JBL speaker shown would also cost several times as much as the Bugera, so the JBL is shown purely as an example of what a more efficient speaker might look like. Frequency response and tonal accuracy are also required of a good speaker and sometimes efficiency is sacrificed to achieve them (particularly in Audiophile speakers).
Put simply ... a speaker rated at an SPL 98dB (@ 1 watt, @ 1 metre) will be 6dB louder that one rated at SPL 92dB. To our ears, that equals twice as loud!
Whenever a manufacturer has a speaker with an efficiency above SPL 95dB, they usually like to mention it ... it's essentially bragging rights.
Advantages of an Aluminium Voice Coil
Aluminium speaker Voice Coils have been used for decades. They excel in high power musical instrument speakers thanks to their light weight, rigidity and good heat dissipation. A speaker with an Aluminium voice coil can run closer to its power handling limit for longer periods with reduced likelihood of physical distortion (flexing/warping) and/or failure of the voice coil.
Advantages of an Aluminium Speaker Cone
Aluminium and aluminium alloy speaker cones provide both low mass and rigidity, which are desirable features in speaker design. An aluminium speaker cone (when properly attached to an aluminium voice coil) essentially acts as an extended heat-sink for the voice coil. This again slightly raises the power handling capacity of the speaker with respect to heat dissipation, without requiring a heavier voice coil construction.
Disadvantages of an Aluminium Speaker Cone
Using a metallic speaker cone, by its very nature, will result in a brighter overall tone. This is great for reproducing higher frequencies and harmonics, but perhaps somewhat of a drawback for a dedicated bass speaker, where the emphasis should be on the 'bottom end'. I suspect that Behringer tried to head off comments exactly like these by naming/describing the speaker as 'Hard Attack'. No doubt a direct reference to the 'brightness' of this supposedly bass speaker. Note that other manufacturers also make Aluminium cone bass speakers.
While speaker cone rigidity is good for improved frequency response and reduced distortion, it can be problematic if the cone is damaged. Unlike paper / polymer cones that might pop back into shape after receiving a knock, an aluminium cone may end up deformed/creased and literally require some gentle panel beating to restore to its proper shape. If the cone shape distortion is not remedied the voice coil may develop a 'ringing' at certain frequencies caused by the voice coil rubbing against the magnet. A cone repair/replacement may be required.
Sadly there appear to be no meaningful specifications provided for the Bugera 120W Hard Attack bass speaker (like: SPL, Frequency Response, actual RMS power handling). In cases like this I tend to assume that this is information that the manufacturer does not want you to know. Generally, you don't need to be a genius to work out why that might be.
Sound of the Bugera 120W Hard Attack bass speaker
The resulting sound of the Bugera 120W Hard Attack bass speaker in the provided BXL1800A dual ported cabinet is surprisingly good for a single 12" bass speaker. I tend to use it without any EQ because I don't mind some brightness and harmonics with my bass sound. Not surprisingly, the Bugera 120W Hard Attack speaker provides very good presence and also a solid kick for such a small package.
Though it can certainly move some air (you can feel it shake your innards), I suspect the speaker cabinet dimensions and porting provide the tuning that keeps the speaker's frequency response down low where it needs to be. The BXL1800A works fine with guitar also, just FYI (some EQ'ing required).
Behringer Ultrabass BXL1800A Pre Amp & Controls (7/10)
One thing you certainly could say about this amp is that it is different. How sound the logic is behind that difference ... well ... you decide.
On the front panel ...
The Behringer Ultrabass BXL1800A is a single input amp, with two selectable and independently gain controlled channels.
Channel A has only a Gain Control and is intended as the 'clean' channel.
A Channel A/B selector switch sits between the Channel A and B controls (the Footswitch can also be used to switch channels).
Channel B provides some extra tonal variation and dirt by providing a Gain Control, Shape Control (preset tone control options), then finally a Level Control. This allows for some interesting tonal variations and distortion if the gain is ramped up. It's interesting to note that the Shape Control is actually a multi-position switch with no indents, meaning that there are a series of specific predetermined settings available. There is however no documentation or description for or about any of these settings. Apparently, the preamp schematic is a closely guarded secret (you've got to be kidding me ;-)
FBQ Equalizer - The traditional Tone Controls have been replace by a 7 Band Graphic EQ with a respectable 12dB of boost/cut. When not in use, the FBQ Equalizer lights up with all LEDs on. When switched on the LEDs act as a Spectrum Analyzer allowing level adjustments to be made accordingly. In short, the Spectrum Analyzer is a bit of a gimmick, it doesn't really provide much in the way of useful visual information.
Compressor - There is a useful built in Compressor available, which has a single depth control and In/Out switch. It is a seventies tech optical LED and LDR (Light Dependant Resistor) combination. While simple and electronically very basic, it is reasonably effective for providing some extra punch and reducing overall dynamic range. Use sparingly, as the sound can get very muddy with high compression settings.
Ultrabass - And of course there is the 'Ultrabass' function (in Begringer speak the Switchable Ultrabass subharmonics processor), which is actually an octave divider circuit with a blend knob to control the effect's overall depth. This has a front panel In/Out switch and/or may be controlled by the accessory footswitch. In fairness, if you are not into the sound of Octave Dividers, this effect won't impress you. It can however add some sub harmonics (extra growl) to the overall bass sound when used cleverly/sparingly. So, it's not at all wasted electronics. It is however, another throw-back to the late seventies.
And finally, a Master Level knob sits appropriately at the end of the controls, allowing the overall level to be capped, followed by the Headphones Socket and Power Switch.
On the rear Panel ...
Direct Inject & Line Out - Providing a Balanced Output (500Ω) is a nice touch and makes hooking this amp up directly to a mixer or recording desk nice and simple, as it should be. This is followed by an equally useful and standard 6mm (1/4") mono Line Out (100Ω) socket.
FX Insert - An FX Send and Receive line are included to allow connection to external bass effects pedals (sadly, actual level information is not provided). These in/out points are electronically located immediately after the EQ section.
CD In provides two RCA inputs (for L/R) each of which is simply summed via a 20kΩ resistor (i.e. mixed down to mono) and added directly to the output just prior to the Master Volume control.
The Footswitch (if available) is provided with a very generous cable length and controls the Channel A/B Select and Ultrabass On/Off.
Altogether, a very useful if basic set of options. It's a bass amp, it does that job well and does not require a pilot's licence to operate.
The original Sales Pitch ...
Powerful 180-Watt 2-channel bass amplifier with wedge-shaped cabinet
Original BUGERA 12" Hard Attack aluminum-cone speaker
Clean channel with dedicated Gain control
Distortion channel with dedicated Gain, Shape and Level controls.
Ultra-musical, active 7-band graphic EQ with FBQ Spectrum Analyzer Revolutionary "see what you play"
FBQ frequency indicator for instant sound shaping
Switchable Ultrabass subharmonics processor for unbelievable low-end power
Integrated Compressor smoothes out volume peaks when playing dynamic slaps
Musical opto-limiter for ultimate volume without distortion
Dual footswitch for channel select and Ultrabass function included
Separate Headphone output—perfect for quiet practicing
Balanced XLR DI and Line outputs for direct connection to your mixing console
CD input allows you to play along to your favorite music
Dedicated FX Insert for external effects devices (stomp boxes, rack effects, etc.)
3-Year Warranty Program* Designed and engineered in Germany
--- and, there's more ...
Not every gig calls for a huge bass rig, so we designed the incredible 180-Watt BXL1800A specifically for those occasions – and we loaded it with amazing features and awesome functionality! With 180-Watts pumping through an original BUGERA 12" Hard Attack aluminum-cone speaker, you'll have more than enough sound to serve up tight and punchy bottom-end for a wide range of performance applications. But power is not all the BXL1800A has to offer – you get 2-channel operation for everything from super-clean tones to sweet distortion-laced grind; a 7-band graphic EQ, with our revolutionary “See-What-You-Play” FBQ frequency indicator that allows you to instantly call up your favorite sounds; a switchable ULTRABASS subharmonics processor for massive depth; a built-in Compressor, for your slap licks – and a host of other professional features and I/O options.
Secret Weapon #1 Tone. That's what it all comes down to – and the BXL1800A really delivers! Channel 1 provides squeaky-clean operation for the most true-to-life sound of your bass. If you prefer a more aggressive sound, switch to Channel 2 via the front panel button or the supplied dual-function footswitch, and use Gain 2 to dial in the perfect amount of grind. For even more tonal variation, we've provided our proprietary Shape control, which lets you call up a broad range of sounds – anything from mild to wild! And if your gig calls for two basses, say a fretted and a fretless, you can use Channel 2 and the Shape control to fine-tune the sound of that second instrument.
Onboard 7-Band FBQ Equalizer Our revolutionary FBQ Equalizer allows you to “see-what-you-play”. In normal mode the individual frequency bands can be raised or lowered to fine-tune your sound; but when you engage the FBQ button, you get the power of a dedicated spectrum analyzer right at your fingertips. Now the LEDs on the frequency sliders illuminate in varying levels of intensity, showing you exactly which bands need to be adjusted for optimal performance. This is especially handy for eliminating the low-frequency feedback typically associated with hollow-body, electric-acoustic and upright basses.
Studio-Quality Compressor - Stairway to Heaven. Our studio-grade compressor is based on classic and famous studio equipment from the 70's. This totally transparent and musical compressor design allows your full dynamic range to shine through until your signal reaches the compression threshold, which is indicated by the highly visible status LED. The compressor increases sustain and gently smoothens out signal peaks, which is especially handy when you're laying down the funk, à la slap and pop – or hammering home your most-aggressive metal lines. The resulting output level lets you unleash powerful and impact-laden bass lines, while still sitting right where you need to be in the mix!
Well, the Compressor design (which works ok) uses a simple, shitty little opto-coupler circuit which is definitely from the seventies and which is just as definitely NOT 'studio-grade' (then or now).
~ Damn!, I wish I could bullshit like that! ;-))
Build Quality of the Behringer Ultrabass BXL1800A (7/10)
The Behringer Ultrabass BXL1800A is made in China to Behringer's German design and specifications. This is a fairly common approach to producing affordable audio gear. As such, the build quality is quite reasonable for the price space the amp occupied when first released. For the most part, it is a solidly built piece of kit that can suffer some abuse and still earn its keep. Good but not exceptional.
Durability & Reliability of the Ultrabass BXL1800A (6/10)
The BXL1800A that was repaired outlived its warranty period of three years, but not by much. Whilst, as mentioned earlier, the power amp design is somewhat wanting, the rest of the amp is actually quite solidly built. The failings of this amp come squarely down to the power amp PCB design (the German part) not the manufacturing (the Chinese part). So the flaws were designed in, as it were (inadvertently or otherwise). Since the same power amp module is used across multiple Behringer bass amp models, well there is really no excuse, is there?
- Ease of Use - 8 / 10 (largely set and forget)
- Features / Controls - 7 / 10 (the FBQ Equalizer is a bit strange)
- Sound - 8 / 10
- Build Quality - 7 / 10
- Durability & Reliability - 6 / 10 (probably not the best choice to purchase used)
- Value for Money - 7 /10 (if looked after and not thrashed)
- Overall Average Score, a good but not remarkable ... 7 / 10
Your comments and contributions are greatly appreciated!
180000 - Be the first! ;-)
Editor's Note: patiently waiting ...
Incept Date: Wizard - 150520 - posted 180315
Last Update: Wizard - 180719