March 28, 2012 Chris 'Shep' Shepperson - Genz Benz Streamliner 900 (STM-900) Review
For the last few years I've been a devoted user of EBS amplification and honestly never thought I'd find something that would tempt me away. The furthest away I'd got was using a Crown XTi 1000 power amp along with an EBS-1 v2 pre amp. Being the owner of an EBS HD350, Fafner and TD650 it was clear to see that I was a BIG fan of the EBS tone. That was until this beauty came to play...
The Genz Benz Streamliner 900 (STM-900).
500w @ 8 Ohms / 900w @ 4 Ohms Class D power amp with Class A 6-stage tube driven pre amp Modified Bandaxall EQ for highs and lows Active tube driven mids with selectable frequency Mute & high gain switches Studio quality DI out 2x Speakon out connections Headphone out, aux out, effects loop & tuner out Advanced switching power supply for use anywhere in the world! Link to manufacturers site.
For the purpose of this review and all gigging/rehearing/recording I've done with it, the amp has been used with my Roscoe Century 6 fretless bass into a Barefaced Big Twin T bass cabinet. I also throw more effects and textures at the amp than you can shake a stick at.
FEATURES & BUILD QUALITY: 9/10
The Streamliner has a great build quality. It's tough and robust with good quality knobs and solid inputs and outputs. The tubes are contained far enough back that an unfortunate drop of the amp wouldn't cause the pots on the front to jerk back and damage them (god forbid) and while that are not set up to be quick to change (removal of a number of screws and the top plate of the amp) the tubes are much more securely seated than those in any tube amp I've owned before. My only niggle with the build is that the additional rack kit (which can be purchased separately) is a horrid rack try set up which weighs a ton and costs far too much, rather than nice rack ears like the Genz Benz 'Shuttle' series of amplifiers. I know it's a minor niggle, but a niggle all the same.
Features wise the Streamliner delivers what it set out to do - offer a slick and streamlined approach to bass amplification. it has a minimal EQ set up, but one which is very musical, with a choice of three selectable mid frequencies (220hz, 600hz & 2.5Khz) and shelving-style bass (at 55hz) and treble EQ (a single knob which boosts BOTH 4Khz & 12.5Khz). Compared to most modern high end amplifiers this is a somewhat stripped back approach to EQ, but really does work to the Streamliner's strengths.
The amp also has a high gain switch for pushing your tubes into audible overdrive if you desire a classic overdriven rock tone and a mute switch to make the of swapping instruments on stage a little easier (and quieter!). The back panel is somewhat more feature packed than the front sporting a very high quality DI with post/pre EQ, ground lift & mic/line level selectors. It has two Speakon outs for your cabs and will run in both 8 Ohms (at a very decent 500w) or 4 Ohms (at an unbelievable 900w!!!).
Yes I said 900w into 4 Ohms. In an amp that weighs less than 3kg!?! LOUD. Need I say more.
The amp also offers as auxiliary output, tuner output, headphone output & an effects loop as well as having a rather impressive switching power system - flick the switch and the unit will work in countries with either 230v or 110v mains voltage. Perfect for those on tour who don't want to have to rely on (or remember to use!) a giant power converter. The Streamliner has a cooling system that sucks air in one side and blows it out the other and boasts what Genz Benz call 'P.H.A.T. (Proprietary Heat Abatement Technology) topology'. This is without a doubt the quietest cooling system I have ever had in an amp... to my ear it is totally silent and I have to say that the amp hardly breaks a sweat. I have used this now on some fairly major Drum & Bass/Dubstep gigs and have thrown some huge sub-bass wobbles at it and the amp has never felt anything above lukewarm. I'm impressed. Even my drummer is impressed - and he's a drummer!
While it's clear to see that the stripped back EQ may put some people off (Genz Benz make the 'Shuttle' series for people that want a little more), the amp carries almost all the core features of a seious pro bass amp, with the exception of a dual channel set up (the 'Shuttle' series does have a 2-channel option, but the Streamliner does not).
TONE/SOUND QUALITY: 9/10
BASS!!! That's the 1st thing that hits you - massive bottom end. Coming form a man that plays Drum & Bass, trust me, that means there is a lot! This is in fact the first amp that I have used in 2 years that I run with the bass EQ at noon/flat. If I was to be playing most genres and playing with a clean bass tone then I honestly think the bass knob would be rolled back to around 10 or 11 o'clock!
The overall amp tone is warm and fat with some serious punch. The tubes add some real character to the sound which is obvious from the moment you turn it on (it is worth pointing out that the amp can do the whole 'hi-fi' thing well while remaining very clean and with great clarity) as its natural voice is that of fat finger funk (almost the flip of the 'Shuttle', which has an immediate hi-fi tone but the ability to dial in a warmer fat tone if desired). The musical strength in this set up comes form the mids - the 3 selectable bands have been well thought out and the EQ cut/boost knob is very interactive as tiny increments have quite an effect. When the mids are selected at 220hz overdrive & fuzz pedals really come alive, as well as making the mid EQ become suddenly more interactive when used in conjunction with the bass EQ. Flick the mids over the 2.5Khz point and it comes more interactive when used with the treble EQ allowing you to add some great body to slap tones.
In some ways I would personally prefer a broader range of centre EQ's on the mids (like on the EBS amps I have been used to using) but the frequency options here are very musical and well thought out.
The treble is lovely sounding, not abrasive or clanky, but smooth and glassy. In all honesty this was one of the reasons I had stuck with EBS for so long as the styles of music I play require a very full range sound with lots of top end clarity (I need to fill the space of a guitar and of synth pad's at times) and I can honestly say that the Genz is the only thing I've used which does it just as well. One thing worth pointing out though, which will not be noticed by many, is that is you have your tube pre amp gain past 1 o'clock and boost the top end as well as playing though a set up with a tweeter (I did say this was not going to effect many people), any dirt you add to the sound attracts some tube compression and grit before the rest of the sound... For most players and set ups you would still hear a solid sound with no change, but the extreme top end does take on a whole new character. Again I stress this is only when you are using sounds and tones not characteristic of traditional bass tones... I must also stress this is not really a negative, rather an interesting tonal characteristic that I am able to exploit due to my amp/cab set up and effects. It just apprears as though the tubes will compress/overdrive super highs (that most cabs won't reproduce) much earlier than the rest of your sound.
Finger funk players will love this amp. Hi-fi junkies should be excited by the fact they can get a clear & clean tone while still dabbling with a genuine tube tone when the mood takes them. Many bass player will need to be prepared to do the un-manly thing and roll that bass EQ back though :)
If you are a little more interested in what the core of this amp's tone sounds like, here is a fantastic review from the Bass Whisperer: