Pros: Powerful, warm, flexible, durable
Cons: Mid-heavy distortion, heavy, weak reverb.
I originally wrote a review for my Mesa/Boogie Rect-O-Verb 50 several years ago, and I felt that it would be useful to update my review based on the time I've spent with it.
The Rect-O-Verb 50 is one of the most affordable amps in Mesa's lineup, coming in at just under 1400 dollars. It features a single 12" Black Shadow speaker built into a solid, mostly closed-back cabinet. The amp has two distinct channels, and in its original incarnation each channel had two seperate voicings that could be toggled using a panel-switch. I believe that the current version of the ROV has an added channel voicing in the "Rhythm" mode, but I'm not sure what it sounds like. There is a separate volume control for each channel, as well as a master volume knob allowing for high gain at low volumes. Like most tube amps, the ROV is equipped with a standby switch.
The Rect-O-Verb is rated at 50 watts, but it is impressively loud for its size. When compared to similar Marshall combos, for example, it stands well above the competition in terms of sonic punch. By closing the back of the cabinet, the amp achieves a huge bottom end which I like. Depending on the channel voicing you've selected, you can get a great deal of clean headroom without unwanted distortion. I have never been able to turn up the clean, rhythm channel loud enough to appreciably distort without blowing out my eardrums.
When it comes to tone, I have developed mixed feelings about the Rect-O-Verb over the years. Originally, I loved the distorted tones and tolerated the clean ones. My opinion has now done a complete 180 turn, so here is my updated review of this amps voicings:
Rhythm/Clean: Very clean, very sharp--surprisingly Fender-like, but with a pronounced bass response thanks in part to the cabinet. The gain control can be used to push just enough without destroying the shimmering tone, and the equilizer knobs are very responsive. Perfect for clean rhythm playing, as advertised.
Rhythm/Pushed: I have grown to love this setting, but its a bit difficult to deal with at first. Here, the folks at Mesa are trying to imitate the sound of a cranked Fender Twin with enough distortion for blues without sacrificing the clarity of the rhythm channel. The tone is very thick, punchy, and LOUD. Switching from the clean to the pushed voicing produces a significant increase in volume, so you have to do some adjustment at the guitar while you're playing. This is one of the few settings on any amp where I don't crank my guitar's volume to 10. I love playing blues with this setting, particularly with my 52 resissue Telecaster and my Reverend Slingshot with P90's. Raw tones, but very warm and organic.
Drive/Vintage: This was my favorite setting on the amp when I first bought it, but my love has faded over the years. Mesa distortion is, by design, heavy on the midrange frequencies and produces a thick, almost boxy tone. The designers at Mesa have tried to voice this setting so that it closer to the warmer tones of 60's/70's classic rock. Unfortunately, I have found that even cutting the mids out at the panel doesn't allow me to get the tone I like...it is just a bit too midrangey and thick for me. For a guitar player less interested in blues and more interested in "rawk", this would be a desireable effect. It's just not for me.
Drive/Modern: Similar to the vintage voicing, but with a sharper edge to the tone. This gives everything a lot more punch than the thicker vintage sounds, but it also makes the tone more harsh than I like. Once again, this is a perfectly serviceable tone for metal players but it just doesn't suit my style.
The distorted tone on this guitar has been frustrating to me, because it almost (but not quite) gets me to where I want to go. The clean and pushed tones, however, are wonderful and justify the cost of the amp by themselves.
The reverb on this early version of the Rect-O-Verb is pretty terrible. There just isn't much there, to be honest. At high volumes, you can tell that there is a bit of reverb there, but its slight even with the setting at 100%. I've heard that the newer models have improved the reverb, but I have not verified this for myself.
The footswitch included with this amp is solidly built and includes a toggle swith for reverb, channel select, and a "solo" setting which jumps the volume control to an altogether separate knob which can be adjusted on the panel. This allows you to play solos at a higher volume than rhythms by simply stomping on the switch. This is a great feature for live playing, though I rarely use it.
Construction quality on this amp is excellent. Its built like a tank with a nice, clean design to the switches and knobs. My biggest complaint about the design is that the footswitch is an enormous pain to connect because of the closed-back cabinet. There is an effects-loop included, which I've never used, as well as a slave-out and outputs that can be sent to extension cabinets. It's a heavy bugger, and the single handle is awkward to deal with, but no worse than any other tube amp in its category.
Overall, this is a very nice amp from Mesa/Boogie in a good price-point for intermediate and experienced players on a budget. If you're looking for a blues-amp, this is one to stay away from. However, the rhythm channel is flexible enough that the Rect-O-Verb should satisfy more than just dedicated metalheads.