Pros: Incredible versatility with quality tone
Cons: May be too complicated for some people; try before you buy.
The Transformer 212 is a modelling amp with a difference. Instead of digital frequency transforms alone being the basis of the amp, Peavey has used its patented Transtube solid state architecture to model the response of the actual amplifier being emulated. Preamp and amp characteristics, cabinet response are all swirled into the mix and even the tone control type and tapers are emulated just as they would be on the real amp. If you know how to work a Soldano-modified Marshall, you'll get the next best thing to it out of the Transformer.
This amp shares circuit design with the XXL head for the preamp and amp sections. The XXL head has been praised as the ultimate solid state head by those who have reviewed it.
In all, you get 12 different amplifier types, from the old Tweed amps through the Soldano-modified Marshall, to the Marshall itself and other classic types, all of them tube-based. I think the sound on these is great but it gets better. You can also mix and match cabinets for a particular tone. 8x12 means 96 total combinations. One would have to have spent $50,000 to have the actual amps and keep them in service.
The main thing, though, is the tone. Nearly everything of consequence on the Transformer is adjustable, from the noise gate to rotary speaker settings for that true "Surf Tremolo" style of sound. The tone is, to me, very good. I'm not, personally, looking to emulate a particular type of sound of a given amp and speaker combo. What I AM looking for is a large family of tasty tones. And that I get.
One of the things people often overlook is that one can take an amp like this and plug it into a house PA system or mixing board, and still get the sound of the emulated cabinet. Yes, it appears at the electronic outputs as well as at the amplifier inputs. So this amp has a lot going for it.
In addition (if all this weren't enough to get you curious) there is a modelling reverb for every amp, a digital delay, and with this you can load up one of five effects - flanger, phaser, rotary speaker, tremolo and chorus. You get to use only one of this last 5 at any one time, but it is quite enough. There is a master volume, clean and lead channel, 16 presets and many of the effects can be switched in and out on the 6 button footswitch (metal-cased and very rugged). Besides the 16 factory presets, there are 16 user presets that you can load up and balance any way you please. Finally, most of the presets from the user bank have two settings for each effect and two boost settings you can use.
There is a lot going on with this amp. And that bring us to the down side. And there is one.
There is so much going on that it is tempting to play with the amp instead of playing guitar. Tone, as any decent player will tell you, starts with the fingers. A good amp can help, a lot, but if it's not in the fingers to begin with, it won't come out of the amp at all. This amp won't make you any better at anything. And - it can be a distraction.
I paid $800 for my Transformer 212 out the door, in CA where there's 8.5% sales tax. This is about as much as a 100 watt XXL head and XXX 412 cabinet to go with it. But I'm not at all sorry for having the Transformer.
It plays loud enough to cut through in most clubs or churches (if your church does contemporary music). It will plug in for those larger venues to the house PA with no muss, no fuss, no bother. My unit has been absolutely reliable for the past year and has gone through everything but being beaten on with a hammer. Don't drop it, for pete's sake, but the usual moving bumps don't seem to hurt anything.
In short, if you're serious about guitar, in a cover band, or just want a lot of sonic signatures, this amp deserves a good look.