Gear talk for the GAS-afflicted.

Episode II – Revenge of the Lunchboxes

Episode II – Revenge of the Lunchboxes

May 19, 2012

Let me first assure you that by referencing the Star Wars prequel trilogy, I am in no way, shape or form voicing my support or approval of George Lucas’s bastard progeny. I think we can all agree that post-1986 George Lucas should not be allowed near a video camera, and should be smacked in the head every time he tries to CGI something.

In fact, the only really cool thing to come out of the prequel trilogy was that badass spiky motherfucker Darth Maul. And if a Dark Lord of the Sith was going to rock the fuck out on guitar, what guitar would he play?

A Gibson Les Maul, of course.

Okay, so it’s a feeble effort to surpass the amazing Darth Vader pic I posted on the first part of the review, but I thought it was worth a chuckle!

So – we’re here to compare the Carvin V3M and Mesa Mini Rectifier. If you missed out on the first part of the review, you can find it here. I covered the basic specs and the clean/low-gain tones, so now on to the good stuff – GAIN! I used humbuckers for all the clips in this part of the review.

 

It’s a long way to the top, if you wanna rock n roll.

Yes it is. As such, a great test of the medium gain capabilities of any amp is whether you can rock out with some AC/DC. Both amps can, and will do so. For the Mini Rec, you don’t even have to change channels – continuing on in Pushed mode (and this is still on the clean channel!), all you need to do is switch to humbuckers for a righteous overdriven roar to emerge from the speakers. On the V3M, set your phasers to Classic mode on either one of the overdrive channels, and you’re in Rockville, New Mexico. Check it out:

Pretty good, right? To my ears, the Mini sounds a little looser and more forgiving, while the V3M sounds a bit tighter and more focused. But how do they compare when you click the Mini over to its corresponding Vintage gain mode on Channel 2?

Yeah, you really got me going.

In “equivalent” gain modes, the Mini Rec sounds just a little more aggressive, but otherwise both amps exhibit a similar degree of wonderfully saturated tone.

Clean up yer act, son

Now for me, one of the more important tests of a gain channel is its ability to clean up using just your guitar’s volume knob. Obviously this applies within reason, but it’s important to me because of my playing style. I have to sing at the same time as play guitar, so it’s handy not to have to worry about stepping on a footswitch but instead just cinch the volume down. And it follows that using the volume control to access some cleans means that the volume levels usually match better – clean parts are quieter, while distorted parts are louder, and you can max the volume knob for solos. However, your mileage may vary, depending on your style and needs.

Anyway, some Foo Fighters will help prove my point, as well as showcase some modern rock abilities. Both amps did exceedingly well. First up is the Mini, then the V3M.

 

Play some fucking metal!

By now some of you must be thinking, “Satan’s Ghost, it’s a fucking miniature Rectifier and a juiced up baby V3, why the hell hasn’t he played any metal yet??! Jesus Christ!”

Well – your time has come!

I even went to the extent of putting in a scratch drum track in behind this tone clip, because I find chugging menacing riffs to be a bit laughable and difficult to believe out of context.

High gain modes – on the Mini this is your Modern mode, while on the V3M it’s Intense.

Be wary when switching between Vintage and Modern on the Mini Rec – Modern mode engages another preamp tube gain stage, and as such there is a BIG bump in volume. Like, your windows will break and small animals in the speaker path will die instantly. Keep your cat away.

A reader commented about fizziness at low volumes on the Mini Rec. Certainly true to an extent, but in my opinion this applies more to “polite” volume levels, e.g. when you want to have a jam early in the morning and don’t want to wake anyone up, then you keep playing for like half an hour and are subsequently late for your real job.

Oh, is that only me? Whoops.

Once you get the volume up a little more, the fizziness disappears. Or you can put it in 10W mode to get a bit more low level control. At any rate, get Modern mode cranking and it is pure motherfucking Recto goodness. And you don’t have to deafen yourself to get it. Through the right cab, you can get all the insane chest-thumping Recto roar you want out of this.

On the V3M, my high gain mode of choice is Intense. The Thick mode was just that – a bit thick sounding and not enough high end sizzle and presence for my liking, although I could see it being useful for sludgy doom riffs.

Hit up Intense mode and you’ll find a unique tonal character. It’s neither Marshall nor Mesa, but perhaps a bit of both? There’s no lack of bottom end thump, but it sounds a little looser than the Mini. It’s definitely refreshing to hear a mode that isn’t a cookie-cutter copy of either Mesa or Marshall high gain sounds, and it’s pretty much like I remember it from my full-sized V3.

Check them both out here (Mini first, then V3M) – excuse the playing, it’s been awhile since I’ve played metal seriously!

I know right.

And last up (but the review isn’t over yet, goddammit) I did some widdly diddly to compare high gain lead tones. Again, the Mini Rec comes off as being just that little bit more aggressive, while the V3M is smoother – which one works for you? You decide! (please don’t laugh too hard at the playing)

 

Yeah yeah but this shit ain’t for free

Good point. It’s all moot if you have two good sounding amps, but one costs 5x as much as the other one.

In New Zealand, these are the RRP for these high gain mini mofos:

  • Mesa Boogie Mini Rectifier – $1699 at NZ Rockhops.
  • Carvin V3M – head, $1790; combo $2090 at Jansen Pro Audio

So, pretty similar pricepoint really. The V3M combo is a good deal if you need a versatile amp rig to grab and go – however due to its small size I would probably recommend using the head with a dedicated speaker cab for optimum “big tone”. Keep in mind that you have to buy a Carvin MIDI footswitch – not entirely sure how much that costs. I’m sure either way, they’ll be happy to do a good deal for you.

Hey, you forgot something.

Yes – I realize that I neglected to talk about some of the features of the V3M. Reverb and emulated speaker out. Quickly – the digital reverb on the V3M isn’t particularly good, to be brutally honest. But digital reverb never really is, is it? It’s voiced a bit dark (which some may like of course), and I only really found it useful for clean tones.

Emulated speaker out? No. Just no. Emulated speaker out is rarely ever a viable option for non-modelling amps. Extra points for effort though.

Conclusion

Two very cool amps. Which one should you get, if you’re looking for an ultra-portable high-gain head?

Mesa Mini Rectifier

Pros:

  • Great variety of tones on tap, from crystal clean to amazing light-gain to chunky distortion madness.
  • Sounds eerily (awesomely) similar to a full-sized Recto.
  • Easy to use, easy to setup.
  • Super portable, and looks awesome.
Cons:
  • Only two channels – depends on your playing style whether this is an issue.
  • You may run out of pure clean headroom if you’re trying to run it at full-bore stage volume in a super loud band. If your band plays at sensible volumes and/or mics their setup, you’ll be fine.
Score: 4.5 F*ck Yeahs!

Carvin V3M

Pros:

  • Super versatile with 3 channels, reverb and boost (all footswitchable).
  • Unique high gain voicing that is neither Marshall or Mesa but somewhere in between.
  • Great clean headroom.
  • Controls may look daunting at first but are easy to use.
Cons:
  • Doesn’t do quite as well for slightly overdriven tones.
  • A little bit bigger/heavier than most “mini” heads.

Score: 4.0 F*ck Yeahs! 

Final verdict – I gave the Mini Rec a slight edge because I love what it can do on Pushed mode. I know, it’s weird that the thing I like the most about a Mesa Recto amp is to do with the clean channel. But it really just does sound amazing, which helps it cover the gamut of gain levels really well. That by no means counts the V3M out though – if you want a super versatile, uniquely voiced amp and need/prefer channel switching over guitar volume jockeying, this could just be the amp for you. At this price point, it’s up to you to decide.

See you next time – I have some very interesting content brewing, including a feature of an AMAZING piece of cutting edge amp technology for one of our local retailers (which will probably come out in about a month). Can you guess what it is? That one won’t be featured here directly though – so watch out for the email notification telling you where you can find it.

There’s also more great stuff coming straight to this website too, don’t worry!

Till next time – Samurai out!

 

Comments

  1. Hamish (@hamo_d) says:

    Great stuff Ed, cheers. One thing though: how does the Carvin fare through the speaker in the combo rather than through the Thiele cab?

    1. thesamurai says:

      Sup Hamish. The stock speaker in the Carvin combo won’t sound as big as the Thiele, largely because the Thiele is designed to sound as big as possible for its size. To be honest I didn’t spend a lot of time with the stock speaker since I wouldn’t have the time to break it in properly. My brief play with it did suggest that it was consistent with the size of the speaker box so to speak. Will sound good enough for most applications, but it isn’t a very deep combo, so it’ll always sound better through a bigger box.

      Hope that helps – I’ve still got the amp with me, if you’d like a gander just give me a yell. I’m sure Jansen would be happy to facilitate a special deal for you :D

  2. gapnap says:

    Great website with great content bro ! Keep it up ! :)
    Your clips sound very real .Love it ! Unlike those “youtube sound engineered clips” ..grrrrr

    1. thesamurai says:

      Haha thanks man. Yeah the aim of my soundclips is to apply as little post-processing as possible – basically the only thing done to it is a small amount of reverb applied post.

  3. Teko says:

    Awesome stuff…the Everlong clip was especially the most impressive! Amazing how the sound cleans up from what most would say moderate distortion.
    The metal clips do not disappoint either. At first I listened to them via my handphone and I was like ‘meh’. That was until I got home and listened to it again from my PC speakers. Now that’s the low end and girth that we’re toking about. I like the tone from both amps it’s really hard to say which it’s better though.

    1. thesamurai says:

      Thanks dude! Haha I can’t believe you tried to listen to it on your phone speaker – that’s dedication! Yup, they’re both pretty cool – as always it will boil down to each individual’s needs and preferences. :)

  4. Wesley says:

    Hi Samurai.

    I really enjoyed your analysis and comparison of mini heads. Congratulations.

    I have a Mini and I am thinking of swapping it for the V3M because of reverb, the three channels and more power. So, if you can enlighten me only two questions I’ll be even more grateful and take the best decision.

    1) It seems that in the V3M clean channel there is a background noise, which is not present in the Mini Rectifier. That’s right, or is there another explanation for the noise that I hear?

    2) There is much difference in volume of the Mini with 25w to 50w for V3M?

    Thank you again.

    Greetings from Brazil.

    1. thesamurai says:

      Hi Wesley,

      Wow, I’m really happy that this website has reached you in Brazil! Glad that you enjoyed it – please share it with your friends and feel free to subscribe to us either on Facebook or via email :)

      You’re certainly right – the V3M clean channel does certainly seem to have a little bit more background noise. I believe that is just a byproduct of the circuit design as all other conditions were the same.

      Like I mentioned, the reverb isn’t really that usable – so if that’s one of your main reasons for wanting the V3M, I wouldn’t go with it.

      Volume-wise I wouldn’t think there is a huge difference – as you already know the Mini’s Modern gain is LOUD! The only thing would be clean headroom is better on the V3M.

      What kind of music do you play?

      Cheers,
      The Samurai

  5. ariffdude says:

    Question, why do you go with modern really high gain amps if you’re not really playing hard rock or metal? Can get cheaper stuff like AC15 or a Blues Jr. I think high gain amps are ridiculously expensive, and even more so if it’s not fully utilize.

    As for me I prefer the Carvin V3M for its metal sound. But I think it’s ugly as hell as compared to the Mesa.

    1. thesamurai says:

      Ariff – I don’t really play metal anymore, but the music I write in my spare time is quite squarely in the hard rock camp (most of the time, haha). You can check it out here: http://www.facebook.com/TLoKBand

      I use a decent amount of gain most of the time, so stuff like AC15 etc won’t really work for me. I ditched my pedalboard a year or two ago and ain’t going back! :D

  6. Wesley says:

    Thank You, Samurai.

    You helped me a lot.

    I play hard rock and pop. Worship in churches.

    I love the Mesa, but I thought in a situation where I needed more volume, the V3M does not best serve me. Besides having three channels and a (bad) reverb. :)

    Cheers,
    Wesley

    1. thesamurai says:

      Hey Wesley, that’s cool man. Do you usually mic up your amp when you play live? I do, so the Mini Rec volume hasn’t been a problem with me – everything goes through the PA. To be honest, in your situation I would go with the V3M only if you needed more clean volume/headroom. I believe the overdriven volumes are fairly similar.

  7. Wesley says:

    Thanks again, Man.

    I have really liked the Mesa. I also use mic (Shure SM57) and really have not had problems with lack of volume.

    I wish you success.

    Big hug.

  8. Sloanthebone says:

    Thank you very much for taking the time to write a review like this. It should be the template for every review on the internet for amps.

    I have the Mini Rectifier (I love my mini!) and wanted to get a cheaper “change of pace” amp to play around with. I was pretty set on getting the v3m until I came across this review. I think these amps are too close to each other in sounds that I don’t feel it would be the change of pace I am looking for. I think the v3m sounds awesome and if I didn’t ready have the mini recti, I would buy the v3m.

    I guess i should go back to checking out the Mesa TA-15 (Vox, Fender, Marshall tones) or maybe one of the Asian amps but I really want to stick to an Amercian/British made amp. Any suggestions?

    Any chance you will be reviewing a Carvin Legacy 3? Might be too loud for my needs but I would love to pick up a Carvin, they seem to pack a lot into a small package at a great price.

    Rock on!
    SB

    1. thesamurai says:

      Hey man, glad to hear it was useful for you! You’re right, the V3M and Mini Rec do cover a lot of the same territory, so if you own one already it’s probably not worth getting the other.

      What kind of music would you be playing with the next amp you buy? The Mesa Transatlantic definitely does sound cool but you sacrifice high gain capabilities, so I guess it depends on your priorities.

      I would very much like to review a Legacy 3 – Jansen Pro Audio (who supplied me with the V3M) are the official distributors of Carvin in New Zealand, so hopefully if I ask really nicely, the next bit of gear they send me might just be the Legacy 3! Make sure you check back, or subscribe for updates. :)

      Cheers,
      thesamurai

  9. Ken says:

    What a great, comprehensive review! Loved the playing samples! Which do you think would work better as a bedroom amp?

    1. thesamurai says:

      Thanks Ken! Hmmmm… I think both will do well as bedroom amps as they’re quite preamp-gain centric, and thus don’t need to be cranked too much to get good tone. Personally, I preferred the Mini Rec though.

      1. Ken Kim says:

        I’ve read in other reviews that the Mini has a nice tube “sag” feel to it, as opposed to some amps which are a bit stiff and unforgiving. Did you find this to be true and how would the Carvin compare in that department? Also, have you played any of the H&K Tubemeister lunchboxes yet?

        1. thesamurai says:

          Hey Ken – the Mini Rec does indeed have that classic Rectifier sag to the low end, which to an extent you can dial in and out a little using the wattage controls. Low wattage mode for more sag, full wattage for a little less.

          From memory the Carvin was a little bit stiffer, yes.

          Unfortunately I haven’t got my hands on a Tubemeister yet! The only shipment into the country was VERY swiftly sold to a customer so my retail contacts are still waiting on the next shipment. Definitely putting that on the list of things to look at.

  10. James says:

    Dude, what an awesome review. I am looking for a medium/high gain micro amp (80′s metal & van halen) and have narrowed it down to these two. I had the chance to play the mini rec and liked it, but on paper the Carvin has more versatility. I use solo boost on my other amps to go to 11 to cut through in a band during leads and having that on the carvin looks good. It may come down to price. Over here in the US you can get the carvin head and a 2×12 carvin cab for just under the price of the mesa head. So the mesa would work out quite a bit more expensive when you add cabs etc. With that context would the mesa be worth the extra few hundred $? Luckily I live near LA and they have a carvin and mesa store next to each other in Hollywood so I’ll probably grab my favorite ax and a/b them before choosing. Thanks for your hard work putting together such a good review.

    1. thesamurai says:

      Hey, thanks James!! Welcome to the site, hope to see you around more in future – by the way, quick plug for the giveaway we’re currently doing which you can find here: http://sixstringsamurai.co.nz/2013/01/07/lets-kickstart-2013-with-a-giveaway-12-gauge-microphones/

      I think between these two amps, you have to balance both their tones, and your practical needs. Personally, tone-wise the Mini Rec wins for me – but as you said, you usually use a solo boost, and that’s something the Mini Rec lacks, unfortunately. However, if you try them both and prefer the Mini, where there’s a will there’s a way, and I’m sure you could adapt your stage setup with pedals or volume control solutions to give you a lead boost instead. For me, the Mini Rec would definitely be worth a slight premium. It’s also slightly more portable, which is a plus for me.

      You’re definitely right, the best way will be for you to go to a store and play them both and judge for yourself! The clips here can give you a good idea, but you’ll KNOW for certain when you’ve got both right in front of you. Hope that helps!

  11. Adrian says:

    Great review, very informative, and excellent playing/recording!
    I was deciding between these two amps + the H&K tubemeister 36, and decided to get the Carvin, because I could find one for 900USD from Japan (since I live in Australia I cant get the 600USD Price), as well as the apparent tonal versatility+3 channels and the higher output. Oh, and also because of your review of course, it made the decision a whole lot easier!

  12. Alan says:

    Great review! I just purchased a mini and I’m trying to find the sweetspot for this amp. Of all the reviews I saw on the net, yours is one of the best written and with the best sounding demos. Would you mind sharing the settings used on the everlong clip? Thanks for the review!

    Cheers from Argentina!
    Alan

    1. thesamurai says:

      Thank you Alan! Welcome to the site, always great to talk to a new reader :)

      Unfortunately that clip was done awhile ago, so I can’t tell you the exact settings off the top of my head – but knowing me, it’ll be with all EQ pointed around 6-7 (out of 10), same for the gain. It would have been on the Vintage gain mode. Try that and let me know how you get along!

      1. Alan says:

        Thanks!! I’ll try those settings and let you know how it went!


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