You can’t accuse Orange amps of being wallflowers, and the new, weighty, improved
50W combo has extra features and it rocks like a demon.
Ever carried a Fender Twin up two flights of stairs? If so, you’re probably getting a twinge in your lower back just thinking about it.
With that in mind, cop a load of this. It’s bold, it’s striking… and it’s 11 kilos heavier than a blackface Twin.
That’s an extra 24 bags of sugar, or two and a half Les Pauls. Have a lie down for a bit, then we’ll continue.
This new, improved Rockerverb 50 combo shows substantial changes from the MkI.
There’s now a Mids control on the clean channel, the FX loop has more transparency, and the reverb is powered by a full pair of valves instead of one doubling up.
Most significantly, the output stage has changed from four 6V6s to a pair of EL34s. ‘You can’t get good 6V6s any more,’ asserts Adrian Emsley, the amp’s designer. ‘The only reliable one is the JJ, and it doesn’t sound like a 6V6.’ Sorry about that, Champ fans!
You’re not stuck with EL34s, though – a power valve selector switch enables instant conversion to KT88s or 6L6s. Rebiasing is recommended, but Adrian says the switch will give you a ‘ballpark’ voltage good enough for gigging.
The control panel has moved from the top of the amp to the front, which brings a minor drawback. Standing in front of the amp at about 45 degrees above the panel, those familiar quirky graphics are half-obscured by the lip of the cab, and the words below are totally obscured by the knobs.
A piffling gripe, but let’s hope for a Fender-style angled panel on MkIII.
So yes, this amp is bloody heavy. It does at least have proper recessed side handles, as well as full-length plywood runners instead of rubber feet, and Orange has tried to keep it as compact as possible – the speakers are an ultra-tight fit and there’s even a chunk carved out of the baffle to squeeze in the mains transformer.
The flawlessly covered cab is 18mm birch ply, and inside we find two large PCBs, one for the preamp and one for the output stage; all the valves are mounted to these directly, but they’re not flimsy boards and are bolted securely to the chassis on either side of each valve base.
The dangling power tubes are JJs, clamped in place by sprung brackets; the preamp valves are unbranded.
Orange has stuck with G12 Vintage 30s. Rated at 60W each, they’re perhaps a little over-stiff on paper but should stay tight when the storms move in.
If you like more springiness, the new 1×12" version sends all 50 watts into a single Vintage 30, though Orange is looking at other – presumably higher-rated – options.
On comes the amber light, and the first thing to report is a hint of a scratchy overtone on certain notes that might have something to do with those anonymous ECC83s. That aside, a Telecaster through the clean channel sounds solid, ever so slightly bottom-heavy and pleasingly boxy in classic Brit style.
Don’t expect Vox sparkle, but the tone controls are tastefully responsive and there is just enough brightness to cut through when needed.
Things begin to crunch up sweetly around noon, staying tight and controlled all the way up to full gain in a way that bodes extremely well for channel two – and when we get there, we find a very different voice on our hands.
Flip-flopping between the two channels with the gain levels roughly matched, the difference in character is quite striking.
The dirty channel has noticeably less bottom and a whole heap more mid-range bark, which can sound a little lo-fi at mild crunch levels but makes sense when you start piling on the grit.
It’s clearly been carefully voiced to get as distorted as you could possibly desire without ever succumbing to flabbiness.
Push the gain past halfway and you’ll get the point – it sounds magnificent. Choppy downstrokes have a gloriously woody impact that dissolves into a sweet, beautifully balanced purr of sustain. It’s unbelievably smooth, like having warm treacle poured directly into your brain.
This, by the way, is with the channel volume on full blast, and it’s a big old racket. The Rockerverb responds reasonably well to being held back at the output stage but does begin to sound a wee bit bored below the half-volume mark. Hey, if you want it less loud, stand further away.
With humbuckers and P90s the lack of fizz is even more evident on the clean channel. Just as predictably, however, the overdriven tones have even more punch.
With everything on full you are invited to lose yourself in zany metal widdlage and fat, controllable feedback. This is very much a rock amp, then, but we should spare a word for the reverb, which is about as lush as it gets.
You may find it too dark, though there’s a lot of fun to be had by turning it way up and hearing your notes drown in the maelstrom.
Finally, a couple of interesting experiments. Popping in a pair of 6L6s brought a softer, more elastic tone on the clean channel, but the overdriven sound became slightly coarse and unfocused by the high standards set by the EL34s.
And secondly, plugging into an external cab with 25W Greenbacks opened up the top end a touch… but the more disciplined V30s proved a better match for the amp.
I'll be sorry when Orange asks for this back - mostly because that'll mean humping it back down two flights of stairs, but also because it really, really rocks. The clean sounds are maybe not the most inspiring, but just about everything on the hairy channel is spot-on. It is, however, a fair whack more expensive than the average British-made 50W combo with printed circuitry. It might just be worth it, but you'll have to use your own ears to decide.