We’ve seen an influx of different amp builders coming to the market with smaller and lighter amplification designs, mostly in the head format (separate speaker cab needed). The most desired feature change these days has to do with the weight of the head, and secondarily, overall footprint (size). Players and roadies alike seem to have grown tired of hauling heavy metal and wood around, but they still want the same great tone and features of yesterday’s larger amplifiers.
The PRS Archon 50 strives to provide boutique tone and easy usability in a smaller and lighter head design, and to its credit, the amp succeeds. While smaller form factors for compact heads tends to limit the amount of real estate available for switches, knobs, tubes and transformers, we found the Archon 50 succeeds at fitting big amp guts in a small amp package. It provides excellent tone, control, accessibility, and function. PRS amps in the past have been praised as highly as the builder’s venerable instruments, and the Archon 50 continues to uphold the PRS tradition of excellence.
The PRS Archon 50 is a two-channel, non-master volume, high-gain amplifier that operates at a selectable 50 or 25 Watts, and sports a simple design with controls presented in a familiar and ergonomic layout.
The amp features six, JJ 12AX7 preamp tubes and a pair of EL-34 power tubes, though these can be swapped with 6L6 tubes if desired. Bias jacks on the rear panel allow for re-biasing without having to access any internal components.
Each channel features a dedicated three-band EQ (Bass, Mid, Treble), a volume control, and a switch for added brightness. Overall Depth and Presence controls are located next to the independent volume controls for the clean and lead channels. Players should feel right at home with this classic control scheme and uncluttered front panel layout.
Located on the rear of the head are the half-power switch for toggling between 50-Watt pentode operation and 25-Watt triode operation, 1/4” speaker outputs with selectable impedance, tube bias jacks, and 1/4” connections for the amp’s series, instrument-level, effects loop.
It should be noted that the effects loop has no settings for send/return levels, so it’s best reserved for effects and multi-effects devices that have their own, on-board mixers for wet/dry balance. There is no onboard reverb.
The Archon 50 is shipped with an LED-equipped footswitch that allows for channel switching as well as effects loop bypassing, and the amplifier is also available as a 1x12 combo that comes stocked with a Celestion G12T75 speaker.
We found the PRS Archon 50 head, straightforward in design, was a breeze to operate, and it had a few niceties that were added to enhance the tone as well as facilitate maintenance of the amp.
Each channel contains its own independent Bass, Middle, Treble and Volume control knobs, a nice touch given how many amps today are economizing with shared tone controls. These controls provided a very wide range of usable settings when tailoring our tone. The key words here are “wide range.” The Archon 50’s tone shaping controls provided a full spectrum of tonal options without being to brittle on the top end or to muddy o the bottom end, with no apparent dead zones through the entire sweep of each control.
The Volume knob for each channel controlled the input gain while separate Master Volume knobs for each channel controlled overall amp volume. This made it easy to adjust the amp’s response to a variety of guitars with different pickup configurations.
From a visual perspective, we found the white lettering over a black faceplate particularly easy to read in a variety of lighting/stage conditions.
We really enjoyed the little things… like having a Channel Selection switch on the faceplate for use when dialing in tones at the amp and not relying upon the foot control unit.
Our only concern was a familiar cost-cutting measure: the foot controller’s cord is hard wired at the box end and also relies on a 5-pin DIN for connection at the amp end. You’ll need to either carry a spare footswitch or be handy at soldering should the cable fail at some point. A detachable ¼” TRS plug, or even a 5-pin DIN MIDI cable, pluggable at both ends, would facilitate easy replacement (and different lengths).
We connected the PRS Archon 50 to a Mesa/Boogie Rectifier 2x12 cabinet (with Celestion V30 speakers) for the purpose of this review. To start, we plugged in our Gibson Les Paul Standard with its Seymour Duncan humbuckers to see just how rock n’ roll this little amp could get. The Clean channel stayed true to form at all volume levels—crystal clear and very articulate. The characteristics of the clean channel reminded us of a Fender clean, especially when using the bright switch. The combination of the Depth control and the clean channel Bass control added a nice round bottom end, giving it a defined punch without any mud. The Presence control dialed in just the right amount of sparkle without adding any harshness. Turning the Master down and the Volume control to 10 gave us just an ever-so-slight hint of grit, but still maintained the clarity and definition you would expect from a premium amp. It wasn’t even enough grit to call it a bluesy tone, really. Just a slight amount, enough to know it was there, which would be the kind of subtle dirt that helps a clean part cut through a dense mix without needing additional volume.
Switching over to the Lead channel was a pleasant surprise for us from start to finish. The Archon 50 falls into that wolf-in-sheep’s-clothing category for sure. With the volume turned all the way down, the amp produced a very nice, warm, bluesy tone—especially with the neck pickup position engaged. It produced just the right amount of warm overdrive to mimic flavors of your favorite blues artists. But in turning the Master Volume back down to 2 and slowly working the Volume control up, it was quickly apparent that the amount of gain on tap was bottomless, from a subtle growl to a saturated “red” type of overdrive and sustain. Over course everything in between was of equal quality and tonal bloom. This little amp definitely has some secrets under the hood. It easily covers everything from blues to hard rock to heavy metal where overdrive is concerned. There’s all you could ever need… and then some.
The Clean channel was silent, with no appreciable noise at all volume levels. The Lead channel on the other hand produced a typical amount of hum at higher volumes, and depending on the amount of gain saturation, we needed to work to control the feedback and/or squeal. A noise gate might be in order if you’re using this amp in high-gain situations.
Switching over to our Fender Stratocaster with single-coil pickups provided the same response—crystal clear, jangly tones on the clean channel and excellent bluesy tones to hard rock driven overdrive tones. Yes! Even through a Strat, we could shred with this compact amp. The Archon has enough saturation available to make your Strat squeal and scream with its more metal-minded peers.
Finally, we plugged in a pair of Eventide Factor-series modulation and delay pedals into the series effects loop of the amp. The loop provided excellent transparency without any unwanted noise or tone loss, and we dialed our effects blend to taste in the pedals.
Documentation and Product Support
The PRS Archon 50 head came with typical reference materials including Warranty Card, User’s Manual, Safety Instructions and of course the legendary PRS decal for your guitar case, car, whatever…
The User’s Manual is brief, but then the amp has little complexity operationally. There are no suggested settings for the amp as other builders often provide, so you’ll just have to find your own sweet spot in the amp (which isn’t tough given that it sounds great throughout its range of tones).
The PRS Archon 50 Head (MSRP $1,999) sells for approximately $1,600. Considering the wide range of tone, compact design, usability, and impeccable craftsmanship, we consider this amp to be well worth the price. The added security of the 5-Year Limited Warranty (to the original purchaser) also provides assurance that you’re purchasing a well-built piece of equipment sure to withstand typical use for a long time.
Paul Reed Smith Guitars
Overall Rating - Product Summary
|Documentation & Support||10%|
|OVERALL RATING = 3.5 Stars
3.6 stars or better: Outstanding, WIHO Award