Review: Marshall CODE 50 and CODE 25 Modeling Amps

The long history of Marshall has resulted in scores of amplifiers and speaker cabinets that have given guitarists a lot of latitude when it comes to selecting rigs that best suit their needs.
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The long history of Marshall has resulted in scores of amplifiers and speaker cabinets that have given guitarists a lot of latitude when it comes to selecting rigs that best suit their needs. Marshall may be new to the modeling game, but its recently introduced CODE Series amps—which include 25-, 50-, and 100-watt combos and heads—aim to capture a lot of these great sounds (as well as those of other classic American and British amps) in a convenient and user-friendly package. CODE not only provides a selection of over 100 presets that you can use to get up and running right away, but it also lets you mix and match preamp, power amp, and speaker cabinet emulations to create custom “amplifiers” that never existed in the real world but can bring very interesting tones to your bag of tricks. These high-quality digital models were created by audio software company Softube, hence they are referred to as Marshall-Softube or MST.

CODE 25

Aside from wattage and speaker, the CODE 50 and CODE 25 combos on deck here have essentially the same features: Top-mounted controls for Gain, Bass, Middle, Treble, Volume, and Master; Preset and Edit knobs (one knob performs both functions on the CODE 25), and buttons for Pre FX, Amp, Mod, Delay, Reverb, Cab, and Exit/Store (the latter also incorporates an LED to indicate Bluetooth and store modes). All I/O connections are on the top panel and there is no effects loop or extension speaker jack.

A backlit display screen shows the presets and edit functions, but using a smartphone to select amp, cab, and FX models, and tweak parameters is really the way to go. Courtesy of the amps’ Bluetooth connectivity, you use your iOS or Android device to program up to 100 personal custom presets via Marshall’s Gateway app, which is a free download on iTunes and Google Play. Besides controlling CODE functions, the app also allows you to store presets in the Gateway library and/or share them with friends. Gateway offers an intuitive and easy way of putting the amp/cab elements together so you can hear right away what, say, a 1962 Bluesbreaker preamp paired with a British Class A power stage (read Vox AC30) and a Marshall 1960V cabinet sounds like. Add effects like tremolo and spring reverb (five effects can be used simultaneously), and now you’ve got a rig that sounds like nothing else exactly. Load a track into Gateway (or simply play songs from your phone) and you can jam along in realtime using your new “maverick” amp. Very cool for practicing, working out solos, etc.

CODE 50 (above) and CODE 25 control panels.

That’s just one example too, as CODE’s MST menu consists of 14 preamps, including Marshall JTM45 2245, 1962 Bluesbreaker, 1959SLP plexi, JCM800 2203, JCM2555 Silver Jubilee, JCM2000 DSL100, and JVM410H. There are also four MST power amps (EL34, 5881, EL84, 6L6), eight Marshall speaker cabinets (1960, 1960V, 1960AX, 1960HW, 1936, 1936V, 1912, and 1974X), and 24 nice sounding effects, including compressor, classic stompbox distortions, auto wah, pitch shifter, chorus, phaser, flanger, tremolo, delays (with tap tempo), and a variety of reverbs.

Marshall’s Director of Marketing & Artist Relations, Nick Bowcott, offered to program some custom sounds into these two CODE amps before sending them to GP, so I suggested songs with very identifiable guitar tones by Billy Gibbons, Eric Johnson, Keith Richards, Robben Ford, George Benson, SRV, and Dimebag. This turned out to be a cool thing because these handcrafted tones showed the capability of CODE to create everything from dead clean to demonically overdriven tones, all without wading though the factory presets and rolling down effects to get to the, well, core sounds. Exploring these and other tones created using the presets as starting points revealed how well the MST pre- and power-amp models are able to cop the compression and harmonic texture associated with tubes, and create a similarly tactile response to picking dynamics. It would have been nice to listen to them though different speaker cabinets, but only the CODE heads give you that option.

The ability to concoct just about any “rig” you can think of is an interesting thing in itself, and the stout selection of quality effects makes it possible to cover a big spectrum of tones that can be recalled instantly using Marshall’s optional PEDL-91009 4-button footswitch ($69 street).

Marshall’s Gateway app lets you use iOS and Android devices to program up to 100 personal custom presets via Bluetooth.

While the CODE 50 and 25 are functionally identical, the larger model has some clear advantages for live performance, while still being very portable for a 1x12 combo. It’s attractively priced for everything it does, and it’s a little easier to get around on thanks to the larger display screen. If size matters, the CODE 25 is a stout little powerhouse that’s loud enough for playing in smaller places and only takes up about as much floor space as a 5-watt tube amp. At any rate, these CODE models represent some new thinking from a company whose reputation is so rooted in vacuum tube technology, and, based on their performance, it’s clear that Marshall has gone to great lengths to ensure you’ll be impressed by what CODE has to offer.

SPECIFICATIONS

CODE 50 AND CODE 25

CONTACT marshallamps.com
PRICE $249.99 street; $199.99 street for the CODE 25
CHANNELS 1
CONTROLS Gain, Bass, Middle, Treble, Volume, Master. Preset and Edit knobs.
POWER 50 watts; 25 watts for CODE 25
TUBES None
EXTRAS 14 preamps, 8 speaker cabinets, 4 power amps. 24 digital effects (five simultaneously). Controllable via Bluetooth or USB. Tuner. Aux input. Headphone/recording output. Footswitch jack for optional PEDL-91009 4-way switcher.
SPEAKER 12" custom design; 10" speaker for CODE 25
WEIGHT 28.6 lbs; CODE 25 13.4 lbs
BUILT China
KUDOS Versatile array of amp, cab, and effects models. Easy programming on iOS and Android devices via Marshall Gateway app. Streams music from your phone or tablet over Bluetooth for practice or solo gigs.
CONCERNS Desktop editor not available. No extension speaker jack.

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