The Marshall Code series was launched last month at NAMM. The amps are based around modelling software that recreates classic Marshall tones. Marshall’s older MG series of digital amps are widely despised so it’s probably a smart move for Marshall to move forward with a new format in this area. The Code amps are not going to sound like a full-tube Marshall but they do sound pretty tasty for the price. The series includes a 100-watt head, a 4×12 cabinet, a 100-watt 2×12 combo amp, a 50-watt 1×12 combo and a 25-watt 1×10 combo.
Highly customisable digital amps
The Marshall Code amps are fully programmable. The preamp, power amp and speaker cabinet models have been developed in collaboration with Swedish audio company Softube to create Marshall-Softube modelling for classic and contemporary Marshall amp sounds. The amps have 14 preamps, 4 power amps and 8 speaker cabinets. The 24 available effects include: Compression, stompbox distortions, auto wah, pitch shifter, chorus, phaser, flanger, tremolo, delays with tap tempo and reverbs. The preamps are modelled after the following amps: JTM45 2245, 1962 Bluesbreaker, 1959SLP Plexi, JCM800 2203, JCM2555 Silver Jubilee, JCM2000 DSL100, JVM410H and more. The power amp voicings are EL34, 5881, EL84 and 6L6 MST, while the speaker cabinet models are 1960, 1960V, 1960AX, 1960HW, 1936, 1936V, 1912 and 1974X. The Code amps include 100 presets and all of these can be edited to create custom presets. The huge number of preamp, power amps and cabinet options mean that the Code amps can be used to create unique combinations on the fly that would not otherwise be possible.
The amps can connect via USB to use Code as a DAW interface to record, and to stream audio from a computer. Code can connect via Bluetooth to control the amp and to stream music on your iOS or Android device using the new Marshall Gateway app. MP3 players can also be connected to play along with tracks through the amp. The free Gateway app is fairly intuitive, allows quick changes to settings and deep editing of each preset. The app allows loops to be created or played back slowed down, and also editing in real time of the presets while playing back. Settings changed on the amp controls track in the app in real time, and vice versa. All amp functions can be altered on the amp itself, so the app is not a requirement.
The amps are understated and have a sleek design and appearance. The recessed knobs are a sensible design choice, and each amp has a digital display to help navigate the presets. Despite the digital origin of the amps, it seems Marshall have deliberately given the amps a traditional look. It’s a smart move, given guitarists’ general suspicion of anything that looks too newfangled or modern.
The Marshall Code amps truly excel at rock ‘n’ roll and metal lead sounds, and the built-in delay and other effects help create stage-ready sounds quickly. Sustain and feedback roll in naturally on held notes like a tube amp. Rock rhythm sounds also sound fairly respectable. The metal rhythm tones are passable but no one is going to mistake a Code amp in this regard for the roar of a real tube stack. The built-in noise gate is a handy feature in this area, and quickly tames any excess hum. The delay and reverb tones sound convincing. However the Code series does outstretch itself with some of the effects. The auto wah, phaser and tremolo effects do not sound authentic. It’s not surprising that an amp that is so ambitious and also affordable cannot hit all the marks it aims for. Nonetheless, the aforementioned effects are hardly the main focus of the amp. If you are just looking for chunky rock and metal tones on budget, you could do much worse than the Code series. The clean tones are tasty so the amps could be applicable for jazz, blues, country and other styles which require plenty of clean work.
It seems like Marshall has really got it right with the features, pricing and tone available from the Code modelling series. This will definitely be a major player in this area. The Code amps seem well suited to people who want to get a stage-ready solution on a budget. It would also appeal to people who want a range of options in the studio and garage guitarists who want an interesting and flexible set-up to tinker and experiment with.