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Quilter Labs Aviator Cub UK 50W 1x12 Combo Amp

   
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Paul Revere was right: The British are coming, but they've packed light for the trip. Hot on the heels of the their Aviator Cub US, the new Quilter Aviator Cub UK is a 50W lightweight combo amp that is essentially an AC-30 than won't give you a hernia. With 3 separate preamp sections channeling classic combo British amp tones, the Aviator Cub is a compelling and very portable gigging amplifier designed for hobbyists and pros alike.

The Quilter Aviator Cub UK features:
  • 50 watts class D solid state power
  • 3 Separate channels with dedicated preamp sections: AC-30, Top Boost and JMP
  • Gain control
  • Volume control
  • Limiter to control overall headroom and loose/tight feel
  • 3 band active EQ
  • Reverb with series effects loop
  • Line out
  • Headphone out
  • Custom design Greenback-voiced Eminence speaker
  • 22 pounds
  • 16.5”H x 16.5”W x 10.8” D
  • Includes ballistic nylon cover

When it comes to modelling or solid state amps, we've been slow to convert. Yes, they can often do exceptional renditions of high gain and metal -- which is not all that much about tubes -- but often come up short when it comes to critical clean and slightly-clean tones. We've learned that Quilter has taught us to expect more from solid state, and the new Quilter Aviator Cub UK delivers on all fronts.

Quilter is the "Q" in QSC, a pioneer in solid state pro audio and studio amplification. Quilter Labs has taken that knowledge and put it into a line of high performance guitar and bass amplifiers. The Aviator Cub UK is one of their smallest models, but in terms of features and sound quality it does not disappoint.

Looking over the controls you see some interesting features including three separate inputs and a limiter. The inputs all have a high 2 Meg input impedance which keeps your signal from being loaded down, improving detail and touch (much like a buffer). The limiter control is effectively a headroom control that limits the dynamic range of the amp. Why? Dialing up the limiter can make the amp feel "tighter" and compressed while also affecting how the amp responds to the gain control. Rolling off the limiter provides greater clean headroom and more expansive dynamics. In addition there is a fairly traditional responding gain and volume control, where low gain settings yield the maximum clean headroom and higher gain brings on increasing levels of grit and grind. Now let's look at those three inputs:

The UK series has three voice settings that correspond to classic British amp tones. The "AC" is their AC30 emulation, with the glassy bouncy feel of hot running EL-84 cathode-biased tubes; while the "AC Top" is essentially the Top Boost channel for a little more high end sparkle without being harsh or jarring. The "1979 JMP" has a noticeable boost in volume, a thicker more pronounced midrange, and the heavier feel of a big British amp pushing EL-34's.

The "AC" and "AC Top" are fairly similar, but in either case have the scooped midrange, glassy top "AC" tone. But it's not a cartoonish or exaggerated AC tone that some modelling amps have. It's sounds British but not over the top. Think black face with and extra dose of presence. If you want to tweak your AC, you'll be impressed on how well the 3-band active EQ controls work. These are much more powerful than typical passive controls on a tube amp, and can easily compensate for speaker cabinet, room, or guitar.

The "1979 JMP" has the big burly tone of a Marshall, and sounds nothing like the AC setting, which it shouldn't. Using the Gain and Master controls you can get a real hard rock grind going. As with the AC inputs it's not overtly  bright, and with those active EQ controls their is nothing you can't dial in. Our only lament is that the Aviator does not channel switch, as it would be a blast to easily switch between the AC and JMP. But Quilter felt it was important to have discrete analog input circuits. But this does not stop you from getting and AB switch.

Special mention goes to the gain control, which is gradual and attack sensitive. And in the case of the AC settings goes from mild clipping to the hot and bothered tone of a cranked AC with no negative feedback. On the JMP setting it's a hard rock demon with more overdrive potential, more overall volume, and great harmonics and texture. The aforementioned limiter control is felt the most when using higher gain levels, and can mimic the feel of a spongy small amp with lingering harmonics, or the tight punchy feel of a closed back large amplifier.

And there are other thoughtful features such as an effects loop in series with the Reverb, a line-out for going into a PA or DAW interface, and a headphone output (which defeats the speaker). But if there is one characteristic that deserves special mention is how big this amp sounds. Not loud, but large, deep and dimensional. It's compact but does not sound that way; and the 11" deep cabinet design is not by accident. No doubt the specially designed Eminence speaker is not your typical guitar speaker either. Coming from years of high performance sound reinforcement, Quilter did not just assemble and amp, they engineered it and it shows.

We love the Aviator Cub US, but maybe that experience has helped Quilter make an even more impressive Aviator UK. This is not a modelling amplifier, but an analog amplifier that happens to be solid state. However they do it, the Aviator UK has the touch, nuance and organic response that makes playing an electric guitar such an enjoyable experience. If it feels good and sounds good, don't get hung up on the technology.