Palmer Macht 402 – powerhouse – test report by Gitarre & Bass
A rack power amp? Haha, that’s a truly exotic idea nowadays. But is that really still the case? These compact energy sources may soon appear on the market more often again. Not because we’re seeing the revival of the 19” era, but as a highly effective addition to modelling preamps. Compact, stereo and practical. But good? We’ll see. Macht, here we come.
This power amp weighs a whole 3.8 kilograms yet still has a maximum output of 2 x 200 watt or 400 watt mono/bridged. This is naturally only possible because the circuitry uses class-D technology, meaning that the signals can be (quasi) digitally amplified via pulse width modulation (PWM). Incidentally, optimally designed class-D power amps achieve an efficiency level of 100 percent! This is one of the factors that enable the beneficial weight/power ratio. Furthermore, these kinds of power amps don’t need a ‘fat’ and heavy mains transformer.
The Macht 402’s name bears the tagline ‘Specialized Guitar Power Amp’, indicating that it has been specially designed for use with guitars. This explains why there is a two-band sound control for each channel (bass/treble) – an unusual feature for power amps. The power amp also offers other useful extras as well:
1. A rumble filter with an on/off function, which suppresses frequencies under 40 Hz to enable the bass area to optimally unfold its energy, especially at high levels.
2. A limiter that restricts the maximum output power to prevent any clipping distortion due to accidental input overloading. Such distortion not only sounds awful but could also damage the speaker(s).
3. Ground lift function for suppressing ground loops.
4. An optional standby function, which automatically switches the power amp to an energy-saving mode with power consumption of just 0.5 watts after 20 minutes in an idle state. As soon as the input receives a signal, the Macht 402 instantly becomes fully active again.
Three levels of input sensitivity can be selected (-10/-2/4 dBU) and the mode switch enables the user to choose whether the power amp’s channels work in stereo (separate inputs), parallel (combined inputs) or bridged (mono operation, 8 ohm!). LEDs on the front of the power amp indicate the functional status. The Protect LED acts as the only external indicator that the protective circuits are ensuring operational reliability by protecting the Macht 402 against overvoltage, DC voltage, short circuit or overheating damage. There’s just one more detail that we need to mention, which is rarely seen on guitar equipment: the inputs are not only in the form of jack sockets but also (electronically) symmetrical XLR inputs. Good, good, this all seems befitting for products with professional needs. The same applies to the Speakon sockets as outputs. As is to be expected of Palmer, there is not the slightest of complaint with regard to the workmanship. The electronics are mechanically solid and optimally housed in the ultra-robust sheet steel enclosure, suitable for use on the road.
So the tube is clearly still the measure of all things. Why else would Palmer provide descriptions that emphasise that the Macht 402 offers similar quality to tube technology? For example, in relation to the original sound: “This instantly produces a genuine feel of a tube amplifier.” Aha, is that so? Now, the clever ones are those who pay close attention to the choice of words. There is no question about it at all … when it comes to the power amp’s address (its signal energy and dynamism), the Macht 402 (meaning ‘Power 402’) fully lives up to its name. Please note though that in making this evaluation, we are being fair and keeping our feet firmly on the ground, not drawing comparisons with sinfully expensive top-of-the-line tube power amps.
The playback is suitably powerful and you can definitely say that the power amp interacts with the musician – a kind of saturation compression even ensues at higher levels. The sound itself, however, isn’t quite as fleet-footed when crossing the finish line. Although details come through clearly, the bass sound isn’t optimally transparent. The second, considerable restriction is in the way in which the Macht 402 works in relation to treble. Even with all freshness, the treble range at high power sounds somewhat strained; sometimes even intrusive and slightly artificial. Sensitive musicians/listeners can hear this in the direct sound in the area in front of the speaker. The phenomenon causes the wrong note to sound in the miked signal. This tends to occur if the band or playback plays densely arranged titles.
Want another quote? We’re happy to oblige: “The High and Low knobs enable extensive sound variation and make it possible to set several guitar sounds.” One second; I really have to assert a veto here. This statement creates high expectations. The bass and treble really don’t work efficiently enough to be described as forming diverse sounds. This should only irritate us a very little though as its frequencies enable the device to elegantly master another task entirely: depending on the room size, the required volume and the boxes/speakers used, the Macht 402 can balance the basic sound in an instant.
Irrespective of this, the Macht 402 produces a high end output – certainly sufficient for pop, blues and, if not played too loudly, rock. However, you need to consider that the maximum yield of 2 x 200 watt is only available with a speaker/box impedance of 4 ohms. This halves at 8 ohms and again at 16 ohms; in this case, the reserves are no longer intoxicating. This brings us to the question of usage options.
Example #1 is the classic: preamp and FX processor connecting to the power amp. This creates a light, compact setup.
Example #2: a device like the Axe-FX from Fractal Audio Systems, the profiling amp from Kemper or similar plus the Macht 402 – a highly variable central sound system is ready.
Example #3: thanks to the power amp’s high input sensitivity, it can even be connected straight to a pedal board. Ideally, such an effects board should have at least one graphic equaliser, which can act like a clean preamp. Before the graphic equaliser there should be one or two overdrive pedals of different types, likewise in terms of distortion; after the graphic equaliser should be the chorus, flanger, tremolo, vibe etc. followed by reverb/delay
… then out to the power amp and we’re ready. As you can see, a conventional amp/combo can actually be unnecessary. That said, the best solution is still always a wet/dry/wet three-way system: it can never be airier and more transparent. In addition to providing good sound, the Macht 402 also guarantees that the enjoyment of listening to music won’t put too much strain on the body.
The bottom line is that the overall result is very positive – the Macht 402 passed the test with flying colours. After all, when and where else can you find so much functionally sensible and efficient technology for relatively little money?! It’s slightly irritating that, in absolute terms, the playback quality isn’t at the top of its game. However, the Macht 402 has more than just a hint of tube character in its blood. So, in view of the great value for money, we rate this product as highly recommended.
+ Sound quality
+ Address, dynamics
+ Power yield
+ Luxurious features with high practical value
Model: Macht 402
Device type: stereo power amp for electric guitars
Country of origin: China (‘Designed in Germany’)
Technology: semi-conductor structure, class-D circuitry
Power: max. approx. 2 x 200 watt/4 ohm
Enclosure: 1 HE rack slot, sheet steel, active ventilation
Connections: back: per channel: XLR-in (balanced), jack-in, 5 speaker ports (2x Speakon, 2x jack, 1 x jack-bridged), power socket
Controllers: front: volume, low and high knobs for each channel, switches: front: power, rumble filter on/off for each channel; back: ground on/off, limiter on/off, input level (low, mid, high), mode (bridged, parallel, stereo), standby-on/off
Opt. indicators: front: 10 status LEDs (bridged/parallel, protect, clip, signal, power)
Special features: limiter
Weight: approx. 3.8 kg
Dimensions: approx. 482 x 440 x 244 mm (W x H x D)
Source: Gitarre & Bass magazine, 03/2016, Germany: http://www.gitarrebass.de/
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