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Gear Review: TC Electronic RH450

TC Electronic RH450 - front view

Technology is a beautiful thing, and TC Electronic’s RH450 head unit is just another reminder of how sweet it can be. The amp is a solid-state head with a built in multi-band compressor, semi parametric EQ, and tube simulator. It features 450 Watts with a switchmode power supply and Class D power amp. With a handful of cool studio-quality features packed into a very portable housing, this amp is built for the gigging audiophile.

Let’s Get Physical

TC Electronic RH450 - handleThe first thing you notice about the RH450 is its size. It’s small enough to fit inside of an upright’s gig bag pouch, and almost looks like a paperweight on top of a 2×15. The amp weighs in at about 10 pounds and features a hefty handle that is built in as part of the frame. Getting this thing around is a breeze, and the handle’s design guarantees it won’t rip out, like some plastic ones can. I found it just as easy to stick it in a bass gig bag, though TC makes an RH450 gig bag, as well as a rack mount adaptor, which takes up a 2U space.

Once you power up, all the knobs except the Master are encircled by red LEDs and are incremental, similar to a high-end mic preamp. Each “click” lights up another LED around the knob. The chromatic tuner also lights on startup, and it is always active. The tuner uses triangles to display if you’re sharp or flat, and a circle to say you’re in tune. Getting the circle dead-on takes some patience, but pressing the mute button gives you an easier visual by using the LED ring around the Bass knob to show you how sharp or flat you are. When the LED at 12 o’clock is lit, you’re in tune. You can even change the tuner’s reference pitch by holding the mute button on start up. Honestly not a feature I use too much, but it’s nice to know it’s there when you need to tune with certain wind instruments.

The LEDs also indicate which of the three memory locations is active on startup. The memory locations save all your settings, except the Master. This means all your Gain, EQ, Spectra-Comp, and Tube Tone settings can be set up for three different basses, styles or songs. This is just another example of versatility and ease of use that makes life a little better. Saving your settings to memory is easy, just hold the MEM button for a few seconds, and voila! You have your sound for your Fender P, or your Ibanez, or your upright. If you want to change these between songs, the RC4 Footswitch accessory is available. The RC4 offers switches for the mute and three user memories, as well as another tuner indicator. Though the memory locations are simple to use, the Footswitch is really necessary to switch completely on the fly.

There’s only one input, which adapts to either active or passive basses. From there you hit the gain, which TC Electronic suggests you turn up until the overload light flickers, then back off a bit. From there you can turn your master to the desired stage level. There are six knobs on front to control your sound: Gain, Bass, Low-Mid, High-Mid, Treble, and TubeTone. The first five are obviously your input gain and EQ, but the TubeTone is a unique tube amp simulator. What sets it apart is that the process recreates both a tube preamp and power amp to give a realistic representation of tube characteristics. I found it to be a real winner. Adding just a touch gives the warmth that’ll make you smile, and the more you push it the heavier it gets until it is a ballsy overdrive that’ll smack that smile right off your face.

Dual Functions

The cool part about the knobs is that they all have double functions. Press the SHIFT button, and what do you know, you’re in Shift Mode! Here, your gain becomes your Spectracomp control. Spectracomp is the onboard multi-band compressor. A multi-band compressor differs from a normal full-band compressor in that it compresses different frequency bands separately, providing a smoother, more transparent compression. At first I was expecting it to be a complicated process, but it’s simply the one knob. The frequency bands are set, and it features an auto make-up gain, so all you have to do is turn the knob and enjoy. Again, just adding a bit tightens up your sound, but it goes all the way to squashing, if that’s what you want. You even get a visual display of how much compression you are getting when you play, as the LEDs around your GAIN react by reducing to what seems to be the threshold when you exceed it. The Spectracomp is really easy to use, and it sounds great.

The EQ controls become the center frequency controls for each band, essentially making it a semi-parametric EQ. The EQ bands have default frequency centers, but here you can change them around to boost or cut frequencies you choose. For example, the Bass frequency control defaults at 280Hz, but you can use shift mode to change that anywhere from 71Hz to 1120Hz, and then switch out of shift mode to adjust the level at that frequency. The amount of control you have over your tone is amazing. My only hang-up is that there are no numerical cues on the face for reference. Although it is best to find your tone by using your ear, if you know the frequencies you want to boost and by how much, it’d be nice to just jump to it. The TubeTone control becomes the Preset Level, and controls the level of your selected MEM/preset.

Back Door

TC Electronic RH450 - back panel

The back of the RH450 gives you plenty of connections. First is the speaker out, which is a Speakon connector with a 1/4” jack in the middle. Next is the Remote in for the RC4 Footswitch. Then comes a curveball: a digital out, which outputs 96kHz/24 bit AES/EBU format and S/PDIF compatibility. This is especially handy for recording geeks – including yours truly – who want a high quality digital signal to go straight to a Digital Audio Workstation, like Pro Tools or Logic. If that’s too much for you, there is still an analog out from the Line Driver Out, which works nicely for recording or hooking into a PA. (Note: hitting the Mute button will also mute the line out, so you can tune without everyone hearing it in the PA.) Also on the back are an effects loop, and a stereo aux-in for plugging in a device, such as an iPod. What’s more, TC was nice enough to throw in an RCA to 1/8” adaptor for you to get going. However, when you plug in to rehearse with an iPod, you can only use the headphones out, and using them definitely sounds like you are playing bass through headphones.

The Sound

Set flat, the amp sounds warm with a tight response, and overall I would call it a balanced sound. It’s almost hard to give this amp’s sound one description, because it is so versatile. Just about any sound you want to achieve, you can, and then you can switch among your favorites with the memory slots. I tried the RH450 not only with a few electrics, including a trusty vintage Fender P-bass, but also with my upright. Even then, the response was nice and it provided a clear, tight representation of the bass and pickup, which was a Fishman Full Circle.

The Spectracomp and TubeTone are like the two secret weapons that this amp has up its sleeves. EQing can do a lot, but these features really adjust to easily give your tone some character. The compressor can bring out harmonics and subtleties or crush everything for effect, and the TubeTone gives you warmth or straight-up grit. Anyway you put it; they push the sonic possibilities a step further.

At 450 watts, this amp is great to pump for medium to large gigs. Sure, a little more juice could be nice, but 450 is nice enough to stand on it’s own, and if you need bigger, you’d probably be going through a PA anyways.

The RH450 is chock full of cool and easy to use features that are actually useful, not superfluous like some loaded amps tend to get. Not only is it easy, if you want more a more accessible explanation of all the features, TC Electronic’s Uffe Hansen hosted a whole series of YouTube videos demoing the ins and outs of the amp.

Though I would have liked to see some more numerical cues on the settings, and maybe inclusion of the Footswitch, there is no denying that this is a smart, versatile, and portable amp that is worth looking into.

The RH450 has a street price of $999.00. Check in at the TC Electronic website for more details.