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Test Drive: Quilter Aviator Series Amps

October 23, 2013
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THE RAPID EVOLUTION OF QUILTER amps is evidenced by the new Aviator series, which veers from the original MicroPro 200’s tan/orange color scheme and multitude of panel lights toward a more traditional format that features a black Tolex-covered cabinet with a silver grille, and a simple array of controls and a jeweled pilot light. The three amps in the Aviator series differ mainly in speaker complement: The Open Cockpit Twelve has a Celestion Classic Lead 80 12 in an open-back cab, the Twin Ten is also an open-back with two Celestion G10 Vintage 10s, and the Ultralight Eight is closed-back design with a single 8. All of them use the same 2-channel, 200-watt solid-state amplifier and feature an effects loop, a balanced XLR direct out, an external speaker jack (4Ω/8Ω), and digital reverb with mix and dwell controls.

Designer Pat Quilter (who also founded QSC) is obviously an aviation buff, and the theme carries throughout the manual (a.k.a. Aviator Pilot’s Handbook), which features images of vintage airplanes, ’40s-era stewardesses, and the use of terms like “flight controls,” “indicated airspeed,” and “altitude,” etc., to describe basic amp functions. It’s all in good spirit though, and unlike most flying machines, Aviator amps require little more than a cursory glance at the instructions to operate.

In a holdover from the previous Quilters, the Aviators have two inputs: The Aux jack is a mono or stereo-summing input that only works on Channel 1 and is intended for use with mp3 players, keyboards, modeling and effects processors, preamps, and anything else that outputs a line-level signal. Below it is the Guitar input, which is optimized for magnetic pickups. Channels are selected via a small front-panel button or with the optional 2-button footswitch, which also turns the reverb on and off. The switcher connects to the amp with a standard network cable, which seems pretty light duty for the realities of gigging. However, in a pinch any CAT 5 (or higher) cable with RJ-45 connectors can be substituted.

Plugging a PRS SC58 guitar into the Twin Ten, the first thing I noticed when playing through Channel 1 (which has just Volume and Tone controls) is the abundance of clean headroom. The tones were sparkling clear, with the kind of pristine detail you’d expect from a good hi-fi amplifier. It was virtually impossible to be anything other than loud and clear with this channel, and only when the Volume was dimed and the speaker began to break up a little did any distortion come into play. Players who get much of their sound from pedals could find this channel to be an ideal platform for modulation effects, delays, auto-wahs, etc. Switching to the Open Cockpit Twelve yielded much the same response as the Twin Ten, though its single 12 moved the tone in a slightly heftier direction, trading some of the Twin Ten’s brightness for more low-end extension. It’s probably the better choice for single-coil guitars, and even pedal-steel players might enjoy what this model has to offer.

Pressing the tiny front-panel Select button (or the channel button on the footswitch) activates the distortion channel, where the controls include Gain, Bass, Mid, Treble, Master, and Hi-Cut (basically a “presence” control that attenuates high frequencies when turned clockwise). This channel responds in a more classic solid-state fashion (i.e. it’s not the sort of tube realism that a high-end digital modeler delivers), but there’s something in that overdriven voice (a touch of vintage Standel perhaps?) that sounds cool for old-school blues and roots rock. There’s not a huge amount of gain on tap, which limits the Aviators’ utility for heavier styles, although you can always nudge things in that direction by adding a distortion pedal—with the added benefit of having effectively three channels to play with.

In all modes, the Aviators’ digital ’verb is useful for putting some air in the tones, but I liked its sound best at lower mix and dwell levels, where it integrated more harmoniously with the amps’ core sound.

Which Aviator to choose really depends on the speaker configuration you prefer. At a shade over 22 lbs, the Princeton-sized Ultralight Eight is an impressive performer that offers a surprising amount of punch in an easy to carry package. The Twin Ten and Open Cockpit Twelve are aimed at players who like the more dispersed sound of a classic open-back combo, and both have plenty of volume for stage use. In all versions, though, the Aviators’ combination of power and features makes them interesting alternatives in the amplifier market and well worth an audition.

MODEL

TWIN TEN

CONTACT quilterlabs.com

PRICE $899 street

SPECIFICATIONS

CHANNELS 2
CONTROLS (Channel 1) Volume, Tone. (Channel 2) Gain, Bass, Mid, Treble, Master, Hi-Cut. Global Reverb and Dwell
POWER 200 watts
EXTRAS Effects loop. XLR direct out.
SPEAKER Two 10" Celestion G10 Vintage
WEIGHT 33.8 lbs
BUILT USA
KUDOS Excellent clean tones. Abundant power and headroom. Thoughtful features.
CONCERNS Footswitch not included.

MODEL

OPEN COCKPIT TWELVE

CONTACT quilterlabs.com

PRICE $899 street

SPECIFICATIONS

CHANNELS 2
CONTROLS (Channel 1) Volume, Tone. (Channel 2) Gain, Bass, Mid, Treble, Master, Hi-Cut. Global Reverb and Dwell
POWER 200 watts
EXTRAS Effects loop. XLR direct out.
SPEAKER One 12" Celestion Classic Lead 80
WEIGHT 33.8 lbs
BUILT USA
KUDOS Excellent clean tones. Abundant power and headroom. Thoughtful features.
CONCERNS Footswitch not included.

MODEL

ULTRALIGHT EIGHT

CONTACT quilterlabs.com

PRICE $699 street

SPECIFICATIONS

CHANNELS 2
CONTROLS (Channel 1) Volume, Tone. (Channel 2) Gain, Bass, Mid, Treble, Master, Hi-Cut. Global Reverb and Dwell
POWER 200 watts
EXTRAS Effects loop. XLR direct out.
SPEAKER One 8"
WEIGHT 22.6 lbs
BUILT USA
KUDOS Abundant power and headroom. Thoughtful features. Punches above its weight class.
CONCERNS Footswitch not included.

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