Marshall Amplification Origin 20 Combo and Origin 50 Head

Author:
Publish date:
82_gpr1118_gear_marshall1011

Marshall’s new origin series of all-tube heads and combos strikes an impressive compromise between vintage looks and tone, contemporary functionality and appealing affordability. It does so largely by casting aside the multichannel bells and high-gain whistles found on many of the amp maker’s latter-day designs. And while offshore production keeps the line wallet friendly, the company’s British heritage is still evident in its style and tone. In fact, Marshall owns and manages the factory in Vietnam where the Origins are built. The company even produces its own parts there — everything from transformers to ribbon cables, along with finished Marshall amps.

The Origin series amps span five-, 20- and 50-watters and offer similar controls, features and styling. The narrow-wall cabinetry, small Marshall logo and pinstripe grille cloth are direct quotes from Marshall’s earliest, circa mid-’60s hits, and that’s exactly the image this storied maker is seeking to evoke. These review amps were tested with a Gibson 1958 Les Paul Reissue and a 1957 Fender Telecaster.

ORIGIN 20C COMBO

82_gpr1118_gear_marshall-41012

Within the Origin 20C 1x10 combo lurks a 20-watt chassis powered by a pair of cathode-biased EL34s, with three 12AX7s (ECC83s in Brit-speak) in the preamp. The move to produce less power from big tubes is a trend we’re seeing elsewhere. It’s a clever bid to maintain the classic big-bottle EL34 Marshall sound by reducing the voltage levels to the output tubes and bring them down to a maximum of 20 watts. A three-way output switch enables a further cut to three or 0.5 watts for decibel-challenged environments.

Controls include the traditional gain, bass, middle, treble, master and presence knobs, but there are also a couple of secret weapons. They include a tilt control to blend between Marshall’s seminal High Treble and Normal channels for a “jumpered four-holer” sound, sans the jumper cable. In addition, the gain knob has a footswitchable pull-boost that delivers a preset gain lift. The combo’s back hosts a series FX loop (also footswitchable), a DI out, and speaker outs for 16Ω and 8Ω loads, the former in use here with the 16Ω 10-inch Celestion V Type speaker.

A look inside the chassis reveals a design laid out across one main printed circuit board and two supporting boards. The preamp and output tube sockets are soldered directly to the boards, but the latter are reinforced with direct-chassis mountings. Otherwise, the wiring is tidy, and the componentry is much as you’d discover by peeking into many other production-line amplifiers.

While the boost, low-power (0.5-watt) option and master features are handy, the Origin 20C sounds its best set at least to the mid-power (three-watt) setting. With the master at three o’clock or beyond, the boost off, the gain set somewhere in the early afternoon and tilt around noon, the amp barked out a thick, crunchy rock tone via my Les Paul. Though it wasn’t a spot-on vintage “Plexi” Marshall sound, it went through the motions convincingly enough to put smiles on faces at the usual 100-seater club gig. Boost provided a useful lift to help solos cut through, though it added a little fizziness at some settings. The master control also behaved a little conversely. When turned down, it reduced not only the output level but also the overdrive content, rather than enabling easy preamp distortion at lower volumes. Nevertheless, I found it easy to work the various gain and power options to achieve the optimal sweet spot where this amp sounded pretty darned good.

The relatively small cab and single 10-inch speaker limit the Origin 20C’s abilities to sound like a raging Marshall stack, and they inevitably usher in a boxy-toned constraint. At the same time, they enable sweet lower-volume clean and mild crunch tones, while making the 20C a superbly portable rig. How would the Origin 20C sound through a bigger cab? Read on.

SPECIFICATIONS

Origin 20C Combo

CONTACT marshall.com
PRICE $649 street

CHANNELS 1
CONTROLS Gain, tilt, bass, middle, treble, master, presence
POWER 20 watts
TUBES Three ECC83 (a.k.a. 12AX7) preamp tubes, two EL34 output tubes
EXTRAS Three-way power output switch, foot-switch for FX loop and boost (included), series FX loop with send and return, DI output, dual outputs for 8Ω and single output for 16Ω
SPEAKER 10-inch Celestion V Type
DIMENSIONS 20.5 x 16.5 x 9.4 inches
WEIGHT 31 lbs
BUILT Vietnam

KUDOS Good edge-of-breakup and all-out crunch tones with archetypal Marshall flavor at an appealing price
CONCERNS The 1x10 combo inevitably constrains the amp’s potential, but makes for a very portable package

ORIGIN 50H

83_gpr1118_gear_marshall-21010

The controls, features and tube complement of the Origin 50H head are identical to those of the Origin 20C. What really differs is the bigger transformer set, which puts out a heftier 50 watts. As a result, the available power-reduction levels are scaled up to 10 and five watts. The output-stage configuration and available power definitely affect tone, however, and we can expect a meatier overall voice and more low-end girth, in addition to the greater volume of which this head is capable.

That the head will inevitably be played through a bigger cab obviously makes a difference too. The 50-watter is available in a 1x12 combo of larger dimensions than the 20C, and Marshall recommends pairing the head with any of its 2x12 and 4x12 extension cabs. I tested this one through my studio’s Port City 2x12 loaded with Eminence CV-75s (a Celestion Vintage 30–inspired speaker), and the heftier playing feel and sonic presence were revealed from the get-go, even with the Origin 50H set to its lower-output options.

Like its smaller sibling, this 50-watter doesn’t quite match the depth, articulation and haunting harmonic saturation of a $3,000 boutique Plexi clone. That said, at its $649 price tag, it’s certainly close enough for rock and roll and a bucket load of crunch-tastic goodness. The cleans will stand in for much of what you’d normally ask an American-flavored amp to accomplish, but the amp comes into its own with the gain and master controls dialed past noon and the tilt level adjusted to taste. There, you’ll find crushing AC/DC sounds, as well as singing Kossoff tones and a host of other shades of familiar and enjoyable British voices.

While part of the 50-watter’s appeal comes from the gut kick of a 2x12, the fun surprise is how big the Origin 20C sounds patched through the same extension cab. Its lower-powered EL34 topology belts out a far more convincingly Marshall-esque thump than it ever hinted at as a 1x10 combo. Should you take it as-is to smaller gigs and rehearsals, and bring your 2x12 or 4x12 for bigger stages? That’s certainly worth considering. Although the low-power options and masters on both amps will be useful for those who need to rein them in for low-volume situations, the Origin 20C and 50H really come into their own when pushed pretty hard. With their useful FX loop and handy footswitchable boost, each makes a great way for budget-minded guitarists to get their hands on a genuine Marshall and enjoy a hefty bite of that sound and style in a vintage-flavored package that would otherwise be unobtainable.

SPECIFICATIONS

Origin 50H Head

CONTACT marshall.com
PRICE $649 street

CHANNELS 1
CONTROLS Gain, tilt, bass, middle, treble, master, presence
POWER 50 watts
TUBES Three ECC83 (a.k.a. 12AX7) preamp tubes, two EL34 output tubes
EXTRAS Three-way power output switch, foot-switch for FX loop and boost (included), series FX loop with send and return, DI output, dual outputs for 8Ω and single output for 16Ω
WEIGHT 26 lbs
BUILT Vietnam

KUDOS A power tube head delivering good classic-Marshall tones for those on a budget
CONCERNS None

RELATED