Review: Quilter Tone Block 202

The Tone Block 202 should be a real consideration for anyone who does fly dates, has a home recording setup or is just looking to scale back to something that can be carried in a shoulder bag.
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The latest in Quilter’s 200 series of Tone Block amplifiers, the 202 is a pint-sized device that features a hefty complement of controls, including gain, limiter, three-band active EQ, reverb and master, along with a Voice switch that selects three amp profiles: Vint (Fender-style tone stack), FullQ (a neutral EQ setting that preserves the natural voice of the guitar) and FRFR (intended for systems that use external cabinet modeling).

To facilitate use with a DAW or a P.A. mixer, the 202 has a Sig Out (TRS) on the front panel and an accompanying Pre/Post switch that, in the former position, provides a full line-level signal that’s independent of the master setting. In short, this optimizes the 202 for situations where speakers aren’t needed. For stage applications where a speaker cabinet will also be used, there’s a balanced XLR direct out on the back, which outputs a mic-level signal for the console feed. It somehow uses the actual speaker as part of its tone-shaping system, so it’s more than just a direct out. Switching to the Post setting allows headphones to be connected to the Sig Out for silent practicing. Also note that the aforementioned Voice switch is always available whether the 202 is driving speakers or not.

Plugged into an open-back Bogner 1x12 cabinet and driven with a Reverend Gristlemaster T-style guitar and a new Gibson 60th Anniversary Les Paul, the 202 served up an impressive array of sounds. It has excellent clean range, and the three-band EQ is very accommodating of humbuckers and single-coils. The Voice switch sounded best to me on the Vint setting, and it was easy to cop tones similar to those of a Fender Deluxe Reverb, even though the 202 has much more gain potential. I even connected the 202 to my Deluxe’s speaker for comparison and it sounded similar to the Deluxe with the tone controls in roughly the same positions. The 202’s reverb provides a fine-sounding spring simulation, and the circuit is situated post FX loop for best results with delays, envelope filters and anything else in the loop that reacts dynamically to your playing.

The 202 sounds great when the gain is cranked up, and settings of five and higher produce ever increasing amounts of tube-like distortion. To my surprise, I really liked the limiter when going for overdriven tones because it gently smooths out the peaks and keeps things from sounding harsh or ratty. It only had to be at around three to do this, and, best of all, it’s nonintrusive and doesn’t mess with picking dynamics the way a compressor can. Turn it off and you instantly hear the difference. I kept it on most of time.

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Then 202’s master control works by varying the wattage, so the amp can go from zero to 200 watts in a sweep of the pot. The highest I ever ran it was halfway up (indicated as 50 watts), and the thing was intensely loud. The abundant headroom is great for pedals, too, and a variety of distortion, fuzz, delay and modulation boxes all sounded excellent though the 202.

The Tone Block 202 is well equipped for a bunch of different applications and should be a real consideration for anyone who does fly dates, has a home recording setup or is just looking to scale back to something that can be carried in a shoulder bag (which the company offers as an option for $39). All in all, Quilter’s efforts to evolve its Tone Block series amps make the 202 an enticing contender in the micro-amp market.

SPECIFICATIONS

Tone Block 202
CONTACT
quilterlabs.com
PRICE $575 street

CHANNELS 1
CONTROLS Gain, limiter, bass, mid, treble, reverb, master, 3-way voice switch
POWER Zero to 200 watts depending on master setting
EXTRAS Built-in cab sim. Effects loop. Sig out and pre/post switch. Dual speaker outs (4Ω, 8Ω, 8+8Ω). Isolated/balanced direct out
WEIGHT 4 lbs
BUILT China

KUDOS Excellent range of clean to overdriven tones. Smart features. Abundant power
CONCERNS None

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