Pros: Affordable, quality entry level combo amp...$429 US! Best Value for Money I could find!
Cons: What do you expect for $429...the best digital effects and tone money can buy?
Realistically speaking, Marshalls MG series solid state amps where designed as affordable/quality entry level gear. Drawn up by the same team responsible for the AVT series, the new MG series amps incorporate some new advances in technology that promises better performance than ever before available on solid state amps. And after test driving the MG100DFX, I agree with them, but more about this later...
The MG series comes in various power output configurations: MG15DFX (15 watts), MG30DFX (30 watts), MG50DFX (50 watts), MG250DFX (2 x 50 Watts), MG100DFX (100 watts) and the MGH100DFX (100 watts) in head format. There is no digital reverb on the MG15 and MG30 models. The MG100 and MG100H includes little extras such as a push button switch for Clean/Crunch and another push button switch to toggle between OD1 and OD2, and FX Loop Mix and Level control knobs.
Cabinet construction for the MG100DFX is 15mm particle board, covered in vinyl, closed back with no wheels. Sealed within this enclosure is a 12-inch custom-designed Celestion loudspeaker. The whole package weighs in at about 50 lbs. Portable enough to carry around, no problems there.
Control Panel Features:
The MG100DFX control panel is laid out in the usual Marshall straightforward manner. On the left, next to the single input jack, are the clean channel controls: gain, bass, mid and treble. The clean channel can be switched to a crunch mode via front panel push button only. This feature is not foot-switchable.
Between channel 1 and channel 2 sits the channel select push button and LED. Next to that are the overdrive channel controls consisting of gain, bass, middle, treble, contour and a channel volume control. The overdrive channel gets the familiar OD1/OD2 push button switch. As with Marshalls AVT amps, this latter switch lets you choose between a conventional Marshall lead tone (OD1) and a second ultra-high gain sound (OD2).
Next to the Overdrive Channel Controls you can find all the Digital FX controls. There's a knob marked preset/adjust which serves a dual function selecting one of four FX types (chorus/delay, delay, chorus and flange) and then adjusting the parameter as you sweep the knob through each FX segment. In the chorus/delay and delay effects only, the control varies the delay time, while in the chorus and flange effects it varies the modulation speeds from slow to fast. It's similar to the arrangement found on the Line 6 Spider. Once you've dialed in the effects setting you want, just set the level to taste with the FX level knob and you're ready to go. Next to this is the level control for the MG100's digital reverb, which is handled as a separate effect - it's a standard, useful, hall type reverb.
Then there's the global master volume, followed by a switch marked FDD which stands for Frequency Dependent Damping. This switch allows you to activate the MG's FDD circuit - a Marshall innovation which apparently mimics the way a valve amplifier interacts with its loudspeaker. Not to overly simplify things here, but I think it works a lot like an overall EQ boost. After activating this feature, why anybody would want to play this amp without it is a mystery to me?
Next to that is a handy CD input jack to connect a CD player or tape recorder. The last feature on the far right just before the power switch is a dual-purpose headphone/line out recording output which features loudspeaker emulation. This output takes its feed from the gain control on the clean channel and the overdrive channel volume control, so you can adjust the loudspeaker output independently with the master volume. For silent bedroom practice or recording sessions, set the master volume at zero and use the Clean channel Gain knob and the Overdrive channel Volume knob to control the output of the line out/headphones jack.
Moving around to the rear we find the loudspeaker output jack and a pair of send/return connections for the FX Loop with an FX level push button switch (+4dB for rack units and -10dB for pedals) and one foot-switch jack, which in fact is included with the amp and allows the user to change channels and toggle the digital FX on and off. As previously mentioned, the reverb is NOT foot-switchable. :(
So what does the MG100DFX actually sound like:
The first amp that came to my mind was the Marshall VS265R. This discontinued model had a chorus and reverb feature. The biggest difference here is with the added Frequency Dependent Damping (FDD) technology and other digital effects.
The clean channels full-bodied tone has plenty of headroom. There's more than enough range to handle single-coils and humbuckers with ease, and cranking up the gain control adds a nice growl which stops just a little short of going into a real crunch. With a Strat and a touch of reverb this is an excellent tone; if you need more gain then the MG100's crunch option adds a serious dose of distortion and volume. I really LOVE the clean CRUNCH setting. Sounds exactly like AC/DC. Great for old rock n roll...
The overdrive channel two modes of operation are OD1 and OD2. OD1 is the lower gain mode with a throaty drive and Vintage Marshall tone, perhaps more like a JCM800 inspired crunch, but I must admit that it actually sounds great at any setting of the gain dial. The key to getting the lead sound just right though is the contour control knob, which takes you from a traditional woody sound (when set at zero), to an exaggerated mid-range boost (when set midway), to a very aggressive scoop and modern sound with all the mids sucked out (when set at 10). It's a very powerful shaping tool and even a small change can make an audible difference. OD2 is a very modern high gain sound with an extremely tight response. The tightness is as a result of the enclosed cab. Looking for Metallica and Pantera sounds, youll find them here.
The MG series is not an all-valve circuit, but just like the AVT series, there's a responsive warmth and depth to the sound that makes them fun to play through.
Marshalls Frequency Dependent Damping (FDD) circuit definitely makes a big difference. With the FDD switch engaged everything jumps into focus, much more dynamic, just like adding a parametric EQ and adjusting it to enhance your amps tonal flavors! For best results, run everything, that is the clean channel gain and overdrive volume at high settings and you'll be rewarded with some seriously good tone. I really cant see any reason why anybody would want to play this amp without the FDD activated? Just leave it on all the time! (FDD - Marshall's proprietary FDD circuit accurately mimics the way an all-valve amplifier interacts with the loudspeaker(s) and adds a width and depth to your sound which has been unachievable in an affordable solid-state amplifier...until now!)
The Fender Strat sounded best on the clean and OD1 with a little DFX engaged and the Les Paul I used for the experiment simply excelled on OD2 at thrashing high settings and generous volume levels. :)
Funny thing happened after I finished playing with this amp at the music store. Another buddy of mine immediately plugged in after me with a Gibson SG and he also got a lot of attention. On our way out, the sales guy asked us to return, said he sold one of those units while we were testing them, best publicity they ever had. Important note here, I never recommend you buy an amp without testing it first yourself. I am a firm believer that good musicians can make just about anything sound good, remember that tone is in the fingers! Also, to all you folks out there who don't know this little fact, its really no secret that Ibanez and Gibson guitars sound really good going through a Marshall amp and those guitars simply roar and soar on this wonderful entry level combo amp! ;)
Although the range of each effect is somewhat limited, there's enough here to satisfy most needs. But, if you need a longer delay, or a different kind of chorus, there's always the external effects loop. The MG100's parallel loop, with its front panel mix control, is a very useful feature indeed. Using a rack processor set to output wet sound only, it took less time than it takes to read this paragraph to add a little extra candy coating into the mix for the production of some excellent sounds. The Digital Reverb is good, but not the best Ive heard. But the amp shines on its Digital Effects, they all sound very good, Chorus/Delay, Delay, Chorus or Flange. Although the Digital FX are somewhat limited in that you can only control speed and depth. I especially liked the delay on OD2 channel, it was so sweet.
I was not able to test Marshall's speaker emulation, I would have liked to see how it performed when direct recording. But just having the option to do this is an added bonus.
For what you will find in the MG100DFX price range, it's difficult to find anything to criticize here. Whatever kind of music you play, if you need classic sounds and tones, take a good look at the new MG series amps. Rock amps on a budget have never sounded this good. For the price, the MG100DFX simply has much more to offer than my Yamaha DG60-112.
What I wished the amp could do?
You cant foot-switch between the clean and crunch on channel 1 or between OD1 and OD2 on the second channel. That would be a big bonus, imagine if you had the option to foot-switch between 4 separate possibilities? The Reverb is not foot-switchable. Also, you cant set one effect for one channel and then set a different effect for the other channel. The FX would be more accessible if you could switch them on the fly, you have to select one effect at a time: Chorus/Delay, Delay, Chorus, Flanger, and then use the foot-switch to activate that one FX on or off. Tip: once youve found a preferred chorus setting, right it down. Do the same with Delay, Flanger and Chorus/Delay. Keep those settings close by so you could quickly make the changes for any given song or whenever the need arises. :)
The MG100DFX manual includes some suggested settings to start you off. I recommend them all as good starting points from which to develop your own FAV sounds. The designers are not tone deaf and those who say they are should build their own amps to begin with. Here are the suggested factory pre-sets:
Clean bright sound: Clean/Crunch select switch OUT, Channel select switch OUT, Gain 2, Bass 5, Mid 3, Treble 7, set Master Volume as required and Reverb to taste and to engage FDD push switch IN...Nice, eh! Now try adding a little FX to this sound for fun.
Classic Crunch sound: Clean/Crunch select switch pushed IN, Channel select switch OUT, Gain 2, Bass 9, Mid 2, Treble 5, set Reverb to taste and make sure FDD switch is pushed IN...and then add some FX for more fun. Master Volume should be set for whatever occasion your in...
Lead: Channel select switch pushed IN, OD1/OD2 switch pushed IN, Gain 8, Bass 8, Mid 5, Treble 5, Contour 5, and set Channel Volume above 5...keeping in mind the more volume the looser the amp will sound and feel especially with the FDD activated (must be pushed IN). Set Reverb to taste and Master Volume for whatever occasion...
Metal: Channel select switch pushed IN, OD1/OD2 switch pushed IN, FDD switch pushed IN (always!), Gain 9, Bass 9, Mid 4, Treble 9, Contour 8, and set Channel Volume high, Reverb and Master Volume to taste... :)
Just remember that this is NOT a tube amp, it is an entry level solid state amp and it is inexpensive gear at less than $500 US dollars. Dont expect the most amazing tone money can buy, there is a reason why a Boogie or a Marshall stack cost well over $2500 US dollars. The MG100DFX is a very good sounding intermediate practice amp that could double as a gigging amp ideal for beginners just starting out in a band.
Price of the unit I tested: $429 US!