Review: Phil Jones Bass Buddy

Phil Jones Bass BuddyThe Phil Jones Bass Buddy is one of those boutique bits of gear that you probably don’t realize how useful it is until you have it, and at about $350 (or more depending on where you get it) that a fair chunk of cash to take a punt on something with. But there’s something about gear from smaller manufacturers like Phil Jones that you can’t beat: the attention to detail, the functionality, the design without compromise.

Item: Phil Jones Bass Buddy

Inspiration: I’d seen a lot of comments about the Bass Buddy on Talkbass.com and it was rated very highly. The primary reason was to get a high quality practice amp that wasn’t just a one trick pony. I remember reading a review that said it was the kind of unit that didn’t disguise anything and was really good at developing your touch and feel because of it.

Image: I love the look! The clean and polished finish is beautiful and it’s very solid.

Investment: As mentioned, $350+ is a lot for something like this, but it is a piece of gear that you will have for a long time and probably never need to replace.

Intrinsic Qualities: So what is it? In a nutshell, it’s a very portable practice/recording headphone amp that’s also an active DI box with a bass compressor/limiter, an EQ dedicated for bass instruments and a pre amplifier with enough guts to power an amp and even an external speaker. As I said, the practice amp was the first purpose and it does that really well. Plug in your bass, plug in your iPod, adjust the levels for each and away you go. An interesting feature here is that the stereo aux input is only sent out through the headphone jack. If you want to listen to a song and play along with it while you are recording through the DI, none of the iPod source material will show up in your recording.
Speaking of the DI, this one is super quiet and an excellent interface for recording. The EQ is simple but effective, and the compression is pretty straightforward and set at a 3:1 ratio that you can dial in or out.
The Phil Jones Bass Buddy will also power a cab at 10 watts. When I did this I was amazed at just how loud it was – certainly enough for practice or even playing with a couple of acoustic guitars.
As a step up from this I’ve used it as the preamp before a Acoustic Image Focus SA power amp and into an Acoustic Image Contra EX cab. This makes for a very small but pretty loud practice rig! You can see it here.
Finally, I have used it through the Focus SA power amp into a Schroeder 212 cab. Much, much louder but again the very clean and transparent nature of the unit comes to the fore and it has performed very well in that way.

Intangibles: A big part of buying cool gear like this is that it’s, well, kinda cool! There’s no doubt that I could have found a similar tool for the job at a lot lower cost, but grabbing a bit of Phil Jones kit was hard to resist. I also happened to buy it when I was on a business trip in New York and ended up finding one at David Gage’s very cool specialist bass shop, so whenever I use it it brings back nice memories.

If not this then…: As a jack of all trades the Bass Buddy is hard to beat. If I was after a preamp, EQ unit or compressor then there would be a bunch of stuff I’d have to consider. And if it was just as a headphone amp I’d probably look at something cheaper (I used a Korg Pandora unit for ages this way) or go though an iPhone/iPad or laptop.

The format for doing a brief reviews of the various bits of gear that I use is called the “I” Test: 7 categories that are a bit different from the standard review that reads like it’s lifted from a guitar magazine. My “I Test” takes into account not just the performance characteristics (as normal reviews do) but also addresses the real reason we buy stuff: the 7 “I”s – what’s the Item, Inspiration (why did I get it), Image (what’s it look like), Investment (bargain or just lust), Intrinsic qualities (what does it do), Intangibles (sometimes the reason you got it doesn’t fall into any other category!), and If not this then… (did I look at alternatives).

 

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