The Esoteric Choice...

Esoteric’ is an apt name for this delightful bass amp from ATS (Advanced Telecommunications Systems)  which may be of interest to only a small number of people, but many of you will appreciate the classy design of the amp and certianly appreciate its character when you hear it! 

Built by Enrico and Maurizio Santagati and their family in Italy, this piece of audio wizardry has a lot going on inside the diminutive chassis. Firstly, let me introduce you properly. Ladies and Gentlemen, please welcome the 'ATS LBA-5 MK111’. Right, formalities over, let’s get up close and personal.

Construction/Features.

The amp’s size is small, I mean small at 23.5cm wide, 24cm deep and just 9cm high and weighs in at a mere 2kg. It’s metal body is reassuringly solid with two convenient grab handles at the front, which also serve to protect the controls from accidental knocks or inadvertant tweaks! 

The front face, with its black and pale grey livery, forms the background for two input channels. The top channel - labelled Input 2 - is a straiightforward three control affair of Gain, Level and Frequency. Basically, this channel is your no frills, flat EQ with a very subtle tonal shade provided by the Freq control. Although you can use this input alongside the main input and have two instruments - or instrument and voice, playing at once, it is most useful for those times you have two basses on the go (fretted and fretless?) making any changes quick and seamless. Here is the offical description of this channel: 'Channel # 2 of the LBA-5 MKIII is a ultra-linear channel and is a true reference channel, perfectly linear in frequency response and phase.'

The main input has the advantage of keeping you twiddling and tweaking into the small hours - almost the most fun you can have when wearing just your dressign gown! Along with the Gain control, you have a Contour, Bass and Treble control. Firstly, a word of caution, these controls are very sensitive and the slightest of tweaks makes a huge difference - you have been warned! The Bass and Treble controls are self explanatory but each offer the most amazing amount of range I have ever found on an amp. The Contour control is the magic button here and I would suggest leaving it set flat (centre) while you get the EQ set as you prefer. When turned clockwise, the Contour control intensifies the lows and highs while cutting the mids (yes, the ’smiley’ face) but this is a very musical sounding control and allows you to achieve some lovely jazz/fusion tones and, yes, it does make you want to slap too! Counter-clockwise, the mids are enhanced while slightly reducing the lows and highs. Some might say it’s a Precision to Jazz control but it’s far more than that and, again, slight movement makes a big difference - handle with care.

Finally, on the right you have a master volume, a limiter light and a vibrant blue light to indicate that you have power via the small on/off switch. There is also a Phones socket for those late night meanderings. 

On the reverse of the amp you have the mains socket and amp holder, the fan - which is extremely quiet - Speakon socket, DI and level control, Ground lift switch, Tuner input and effects send/return. Underneath the amp you have four sturdy, removal feet should you wish to use the available rack kit.

Sounds

Using a Ritter Roya, with a flat EQ, and the new ATS S112 cab, Input 2 produced a neutral sound that left virtually everything to your bass guitar EQ settings. A great idea if you simply love the sound of your bass (although you may never have really heard it before given some of the colouration provided by many amp manufacturers) or a really useful input for electro-acoustic instruments.

The main Input is where the fun begins and never ends. As previously mentioned, slight adjustments make big differences and it will take you a good while of tweaking to find that sound you can hear in your head. But, and this is where this amp excels, the sound that you have always wanted but never quite found is in there, it’s just going to take you some twists and turns, dead ends and various rouites to find it. This is by no means a detrimental comment but, let’s face it, if you could nail that sound immediately with any amp you’d have done it by now! Think of this as one of those computer games that requires you to go through several levels of learning and adventure before you reach the goal!!

Once the EQ is to your preferred sound then play with the Contour control and you’ll be amazed at what a vast range of tonal variation there is at hand. In fact, this amp could get away with just a Contour and Volume control - providing you can get the EQ on your bass and/or effects as you want them. Although, to be honest, you can throw away all those tweaky effect units and EQ boxes and simply enjoy the range of control provided by the amp. Keep it simple, it works!

Overall, the range of sounds can go from your reggae, dub thump through to your blues, jazz and, dare I say it, metallic crunch! At this point, I should say that the variable tweeter on the cab is amazing and never brittle or glassy.

Reliability

Apart from being built to a very high standard and feeling extremely robust, the amp has no flimsy controls or switches that are too apparent on amps these days. Everything feels solid and capable of withstanding years of musical endurance. 

Customer Service

ATS equipment is available from those extremely helpful folk at Bassgear. Apart from the UK connection, any questions or advvice is readily available from ATS

Overall

The old adage of “You get what you pay for” firmly applies here. The LBA-5 is in a similar price bracket to quite a few other, top quality manufacturers. The difference here is the attention to detail, everything being built by a small company who care passionately about their products and who have gone way beyond the basics to provide an amp that is not only built to last but built to entertain - both your ears and those of the general public who have become indifferent to the booming wooliness or raucous glassiness of far too many bass amps. 

The ATS LBA-5 (give it a pet name, it’s easier to remember) is a top quality, top notch product. It has been developed not only by a technical genius but by people who care about how you and the audience hear music. Highly recommended.   

 

© Pete Townsend 2015