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Bass amps typically require a lot of power to move air in those low frequencies, and that usually means big components, which in turn means the amp is going to be big. Trace Elliot’s micro-head, the Elf [buy now], has turned things on its head. The new Elf is a teeny-tiny bass amp, with more than enough power to run your rig (yeah, we didn’t believe it either, at first).
Size wise, it’s about 7” wide by 4” deep. That’s smaller than an iPad. And with just enough thickness for input jacks and knobs it’s under a 1.5” thick. There are sandwiches at a cheap deli that aren’t this thick!
The front panel has a 1/4” input jack, as well as a 1/4” headphone connection for private practicing. Gain, EQ, and volume controls sit here as well. The back is just as simple: an XLR output for DI, as well as a single 1/4” speaker output.
The gain knob acts as the main input control of the amp. It also has an onboard compressor that interacts with the input signal. An LED input indicator lights up from green to red, indicating how hot the signal is. At higher settings it, it warms up the sound with a bit of overdrive that still maintains clarity.
The EQ section is active; at noon things sit with a flat response, and to the left they attenuate the frequencies, cutting them. Going to the right, they enhance them. Even at extreme settings there’s no hissy or flubby loss, it’s just more or less, without any compromise. Just as it should be.
The volume control affects the overall output, and balancing this with the gain control can make things go from hyper clean to warm and organic. A limiter kicks in at higher settings, preventing unwanted distortion from the amp’s output.
Pairing it with a variety of bass cabinets, the Elf delivers. With a 4-ohm cabinet, it clocks in at 200watts, and at 8 Ohms, 130Watts. That’s more than enough for just about any gig. The EQ is adjustable enough to get clarity out of an 18” speaker, and get plenty of low end out of a 4×10. Basses with active and passive electronics responded equally as well in our tests.
The amp feels transparent, in a sense, as it’s not overriding the instrument, just bringing more of it into the fold. With the active EQ, it’s easy to carve out a sonic space that is great for low-end thump, as well as upper register chordal or finger work (for all the Jacos in the crowd), making this great for any playing style. Acoustic/electric basses have plenty of cut and clarity, while not being tinny or weak. Regardless of the bass, it just gives more of what’s already in the instrument’s sonic signature.
It comes in at $299, which isn’t a lot considering it’s a small bass amp that isn’t just a novelty “look how small we can get things” approach that usually skimps on volume and tone. Regardless of the gig — from coffee house to large stages, there’s more than enough flexibility to be found in the little Elf. Bands on the road can save a ton of space in their van, considering this amp could easily fit in the glove box. The small “lunchbox” amp phase may be over, and the Elf could be the forerunner of the “glove box amp” movement that is sure to begin.
Small, powerful, works well with any cabinet, great EQ.