Back in the glorious ’80s, tons of players were going with rackmounted preamps and processors for their tones, and they needed occasionally massive power amps from folks like VHT (now Fryette) or Mesa/Boogie to amplify those sounds. In the modern era of lightweight digital modelers, many guitarists are shying away from heavy tube power amps, opting for compact, digital class-D power solutions. That’s where the folks at Seymour Duncan come in, with two elegant ways to take modelers, pedals, and preamps and make them louder.
The PowerStage 700 ($699 street) is a sleek, beautiful piece that is awesomely easy to use. It features discrete stereo ins and outs, pumps out 350 watts per side at 8Ω (700 watts per side at 4Ω), and has a simple but powerful 3-band EQ for quick adjustments to compensate for different rooms or different instruments. It also has a pair of speaker simulated XLR outs, providing even greater routing flexibility onstage or in the studio.
They really nailed the form factor with the PowerStage 700. Every detail reeks of quality and durability. And, at 6.3 lbs, it has just enough heft to inspire confidence, but not so much that you can’t throw it in a backpack or a gig bag. The knobs are smooth and the jacks are snug. I plugged in a Kemper Profiler and went through some sounds. The 700 reproduced them with depth and body and lots of volume. I didn’t find the tones to be appreciably different or better than those same profiles going through the Kemper’s built-in power amp, but the Kemper has just a single speaker out, so the effects are summed to mono. The PowerStage allowed me to easily run to two cabs, with delays ping-ponging between them. Advantage Duncan!
One thing that Seymour Duncan strives for with their power amps is a direct clean tone that can stand on its own, like an amp. The idea being, with a distortion box and a PowerStage, you can turn any cab into a two-channel amplifier. I was skeptical, but I gave it a try with a Duncan 805 Overdrive. It really works, especially with a subtle bump to the Bass and Treble controls on the 700. It was light years beyond the thin, buzzy tone that you typically get when you try to run an overdrive into a power amp or direct into the board. And speaking of running direct…
The 700’s XLR outs feature Duncan’s proprietary True Cab Circuitry, for speaker-simulated sound live or in the studio. Now, I can do that with my Kemper, but what I can’t do is run a pedalboard straight into my DAW. With the 700 you can—in stereo—and it sounds great. If you only need mono, send your pedal tone on one side and a clean, dry sound on the other to be used with amp sims or for reamping later. Lots of possibilities.
This is a very well-thought-out piece of gear, and despite its simplicity, it can do a ton of cool stuff. It’s a no-brainer for Fractal or Helix users, but the PowerStage’s usefulness goes way beyond that. Anyone who is looking for additional power or a cool recording solution should check it out, as should players who have to do fly-out gigs or rely on sketchy backline rigs. Well done!
KUDOS Great sound quality. Compact package. Elegant form factor.
CHECKING OUT THE “LITTLE DUDE”
It’s not really fair to characterize a mono 170-watt amp as “little,” but given that the PowerStage 170 ($399 street) doesn’t deliver 700 watts per side like the stereo PowerStage 700—or offer cabinet simulation—it’s definitely a more demure beastie. However, the tremendous benefits here are a small footprint that’s perfect for mounting on pedalboards and tank-like toughness (even at just 2 lbs of “lug weight”)—both of which make for a “fly rig” that’s light and super compact. Even better? You’ll never have to plug into a busted house or rental amp that messes with your sound ever again. Take the 170 along, and you’ll always know your baseline guitar tone. Just have the venue provide a decent speaker cabinet, and you’re set.
Whatever cabinet you use, however, sonic bliss is all about matching your signal chain to the PowerStage 170. I plugged different guitars straight into the unit, and I tested them through a Mesa/Boogie 1x12, an Orange 2x12, and a Marshall 4x12. Every configuration yielded a fine clean sound with good definition and headroom, and the 3-band EQ was musical enough to dial in wonderful jazz, country, and funk tones. To my ear, the sonic results were a bit too polite for rock, metal, and blues—good, but not much “personality.” You can bring on the appropriate attitude with pedals, of course, but this is where auditioning your overdrive, distortion, and fuzzboxes is critical. As you’re not getting the grit and vibe of the “usual suspect” amps, the pedals you choose must collaborate with the PowerStage 170’s transparent sound to produce the kind of roar and gristle that makes your ears buzz with happiness. It’s not hard to do this, and if you put in the work, you should be rewarded with a sound about as badass as that of any monster rig—and without the potential damage transporting such a brute can inflict upon your muscles, tendons, and joints. Go small! —MICHAEL MOLENDA