How can so small sound so huge?
One of my favorite tube amplifiers ever is the old 2-channel Mesa Boogie Dual Rectifier! In my early days as a guitarist in a metal band, I played one of the very early revisions. At that time I thought that this was the best sounding amp and I couldn’t imagine anything better. This was about 11 years ago!
Since a few days, I am checking out the new Mesa Boogie Mark Five:25 head and I am in awe! In the past years Mesa Boogie released some amp models that I didn’t like so much. Not because they weren’t good, but they were so far away from what Mesa Boogie meant to me. The Mark Five:25 changed that dramatically. This is, hands down, the best Mesa Boogie I have had the chance to play since that old Dual Rectifier. The difference is… the Dual Rec had just one, maybe two killer sounds coming out of it. The Mark Five:25 has a ton of different sounds and flavors under the hood.
Versatility and power in a compact housing
I already liked the big Mark V, although you really have to push the amp for ultimate response and “that” tone. But it seems like its smaller brother, due to the smaller power amp, achieves this goal a lot quicker and with just little adjustment of a few controls. Channel 1 alone does everything from crystal clean to angry crunch!
And if you want the really angry breakup… both channels can be reduced in wattage thanks to the Multi-Watt circuit, designed by Mesa Boogie. The classic graphic equalizer makes the whole package even more versatile and can also fine-tune your favorite tone, if you’re playing with a different cabinet than usual. I testet the amp at first with a Mesa Boogie Thiele 1×12” cabinet and the sound and the punch were just as “there”, like if I was playing through a half-stack.
The front panel
The Mesa Boogie Mark Five:25 is a 2-channel amp with six identical controls for each channel, including Presence and Master Volume. The two channels are not divided into clean and lead/distortion per se, as every channel features three different modes, Clean, Fat & Crunch for Channel 1 and MKIIC+, MKIV & XTREME for Channel 2. So you could use a crunch sound in the first channel, while using Channel 2 for heavy rhythm and lead tones.
But it doesn’t stop there! Randall Smith developed a Mid control circuit for Channel 1, which behaves like a regular Mid control until 12 o’clock and turns into a mid-boost past that. This is a lot of fun, especially for crunchy lead tones. Combined with the switchable power amp (25/10 watts) and the shiftable 5-band graphic equalizer, the result is a wide range of different tones and colors. But the handling is very intuitive, so don’t worry about spending huge amounts of time finding the tone you’re looking for.
Channel 2 offers some of the most popular and renown Mesa Boogie rhythm and lead tones of all times. Starting with the MKIIC+, which was the last model out the MarkII series and features a more sensitive lead channel due to a dual cascading drive stage. It can be used to create a low-gain rhythm tone, but when you crank up the gain it becomes a fluid lead tone with lots of sustain and harmonics.
The MKIV mode enhances that and starts right where MKIIC+ ends. It does sound fuller and has more body and an enhances high-end range. My favorite thing about this mode is that full chords are ringing out super transparent, while power chords are sounding focused and straight forward. Perfect for rhythms or arpeggiated passages.
XTREME pretty much says it all. This is something you would expect from a high-gain monster on fire! It sounds full and tight, with slightly enhanced mids, focused lows and an open high-end. There is a difference in volume between this mode and the other two in that channel, so you might wanna adjust that when changing to XTREME. I personally liked to add a bit more high-end, using the 5-band graphic equalizer.
The back panel
The Mark Five:25’s back panel is well-equipped for such a compact amplifier! Apart from the serial effects loop, you will find the controls for the built-in reverb. Each channel can be adjusted separately! Your cabinet can be connected by using the loudspeaker jacks (2x 4 ohms or 1x 8 ohms). Now let’s move to the more interesting features!!!
Thanks to the built-in CabClone circuit, you can deactivate the speaker jacks and the Mark Five:25 will just operate via the headphone jack or the XLR line out. When you’re preparing for a show or practicing at home in the middle of the night, the headphone jack comes in handy. The volume is adjusted with the master volume for each channel, but it will depend on your headphone’s impedance on how loud the signal will be.
The XLR line out sends the signal directly to your mixing desk, audio interface or anything similar. In comparison to the “outboard” CabClone, the features are a bit reduced, as you can only choose between “Closed Back” and “Open Back” cabinet simulations. To my ears it also sounds different, as if it was exactly tailored to the Mark Five:25’s power amp section. Further options include a Ground/Lift switch to deal with eventual buzz, when connected to external gear and a “Speaker On/Off” switch.
DI Out vs. Cabinet
The CabClone circuit does a very good job, whether connected to a PA system or to an audio interface, sending the signal into a DAW. The raw sounds really breathe and leave enough room for post-processing of any kind. Although, you do not need to work that hard, to make the recorded sounds shine in your mix. I tend to use the Open Back simulation for most of the clean tones and some crunch, while for 80% of all lead and distorted sounds, the Closed Back setting works out really good.
I also connected the Mark Five:25 to a couple of cabinets. The very first one was a Mesa Boogie Thiele 1×12″ with Celestion C90 speaker, which is one of my favorite cabs. And to combine it with the Mark Five:25 absolutely makes sense, as they work perfectly together and as a mini-stack they also look great together. If you just want to carry a small cabinet but you want the sound of a big one, the Thiele 1×12″ is your weapon of choice.
Then I also tried a Marshall 2×12″ with Celestion Vintage 30’s as well as a Diezel 4×12″. While the Marshall cab sounded well with clean tones, it wasn’t quite able to handle the pressure when playing distorted rhythm tones. The Diezel cab sounded well with all channels and modes, due to its well-constructed chassis and the powerful Celestion G12K100 speakers.
In the end there’s nothing that beats a properly mic’d up cabinet in terms of sound quality and impact. But when you are faced with a situation of not having the time or the space during a live show, the built-in CabClone makes it easy to connect your setup and will enable you to have a good sounding performance. It even gets more interesting, when you combine a connected cabinet with the CabClone line out. The only thing you have keep in mind is the possibility of phase issues.
In terms of sound and handling I am totally blown away by what Mesa Boogie did here! The Mark Five:25 features a ton of different tones for pretty much any musical style or genre. It is loud enough to get into the fight with drummers and bass players and will connect quick and easy in almost every possible situation. All the sounds in the embedded Youtube video below were tracked through the amplifier’s CabClone XLR line out directly into my RME audio interface.
- Designed and crafted in Petaluma, USA
- 25/10 watts power amp (Multi-Watt Technology)
- Tubes: 2x EL84 power amp, 6x 12AX7 preamp
- 2 channels
- 6 different modes (Clean, Fat, Crunch, MKIIC+, MKIV, XTREME)
- Controls: Gain, Treble, Mid, Bass, Presence, Master Volume (each channel)
- 5-band graphic equalizer
- Fully tube-buffered effects loop (serial)
- All-tube spring reverb w/individual controls for each channel
- Built-in CabClone cabinet simulator with XLR line out and headphone jack
- 2-button footswitch & slip cover included
- Weight: 7,5 kg
- Dimensions: 355,6 x 203,2 x 222,2 mm (w x h x d)
If you like what I do and you want to support me making my blog easier to find and share, and you also think about purchasing the Mesa Boogie Mark Five:25, you can do so by clicking the following link.