Fender Showdown Part II - Cyber-Champ

Wednesday, December 31, 2008| by Will Chen

Fender Cyber-Champ Review

The baby of the Cyber series, Fender’s Mexican made Cyber-Champ shares many of the same features of it’s older siblings such as the digitally controlled analog Virtual Tone Interpolation (VTI) preamp engine which virtually reconfigures the gain stage/tone stack/DSP (reverb) relationship to mimic the actual circuit topology of the emulated amp and 65 watts of solid state power though a 12 inch Celestion G12T-100 speaker. However, unlike its brethren, the Cyber Champ doesn’t have a manual mode to custom design amp configurations nor an amp dial to select preamp voicings. Instead, you are limited to the 21 amp presets which can be tweaked and stored in one of 7 user slots. Fortunately, the presets contain a fairly wide range of sounds which provide a good starting point for nearly any style.

Cosmetically, Fender was definitely going for the blackface vibe and they almost pull it off. However, the multitude of flashing lights and extra buttons are sure to tip off even the novice that this is not a vintage Fender amp. Likely, the incessantly brightly blinking lights were part of its lack of appeal for many players. With a weight of approximately 30 pounds, I expected the amp might feel a little flimsy but I was wrong. The amp feels very solid with metal corner protectors and the bottom and back of the top (the front top is angled eliminating the square corners).

When the Cyber Series was initially released, one of the biggest criticisms of modeling amps in general was that they just didn’t capture the feel and sag of cranked tube amps. Fender cleverly addresses this issue using compression to emulate tube amp sag. I must admit the effect is fairly convincing…with the gain cranked and your guitar’s volume knob on 10. However, Fender’s design shows its true colors as you back off your guitar’s volume knob. On traditional amps, backing down to around 5 to 7 will clean up your signal significantly minimizing the characteristic sag on all but the most inefficient small tube amps. To get a similar dynamic on the Cyber-Champ, you must roll your volume knob much further down. Strangely, Fender also didn’t choose to couple the simulated sag to the gain knob so on some of the models, most notably the Vox AC30 model, the sag still exists when the amp should be operating cleanly within its linear range.

The biggest tonal surprises from the amp were the emulations of Fender’s propriety solid state Dyna-Touch circuitry where the tones have a full low end, barking mids, and smooth high end with nearly infinite sustain...

As you might expect, Fender did an excellent job mimicking their classic amp designs. The ’49 Champion very effectively captures the small-amp breakup you might expect from the original. If anything, the emulation is too good capturing the characteristic lack of low end headroom common with the design; hitting the amp with a hot neck humbucker resulted in a muddy mess. However, the model’s mid range richness comes alive with single coils. They’ve also included Deluxe flavors spanning the 50’s 60’s series amps which captures much of the vibe of their real world counterparts effectively. Both have a nice high end chime moving subtlety into breakup, though I would have liked a tad more robustness in the low end on cleaner settings and a little more gain at the high end.

The biggest tonal surprises from the amp were the emulations of Fender’s propriety solid state Dyna-Touch circuitry where the tones have a full low end, barking mids, and smooth high end with nearly infinite sustain which mates particularly well with humbuckers. These voicings are also a little more receptive to volume knob changes and the tones are usable across the amp’s entire gain range eliciting hot rodded Marshall style break up to everything short of modern metal. Excellent.

The 65 watt rating is legit; with the master to around five the amp is loud enough to feel. I was very impressed with the Cyber-Champ’s tonal consistency across the volume sweep and the ability to deliver a powerful, chest thumping lows at louder volumes.

As you turn up the gain on any of the settings, the Cyber-Champ is a bit noisier than similar amps and hums even with humbuckers. Fender has thoughtfully included a digital hum reduction circuit to remedy this. However when listening very carefully with the circuit engaged, it sounds as if there is a very subtle modulation on the signal. Also, the amp has a constant slightly strange hum regardless of the amp’s settings which the hum reduction circuit doesn’t squelch; not the typically pink noise you might hear from an amp with the gain cranked. Again, it sounds as if some type of subtle modulation is happening. The hum is most prevalent when using the amp at low volumes in a quiet environment where at times it became a slight distraction.

Speaking of cranking the amp, this is an amp which can without a question handle stage duty. The 65 watt rating is legit; with the master to around five the amp is loud enough to feel. I was very impressed with the Cyber-Champ’s tonal consistency across the volume sweep and the ability to deliver a powerful, chest thumping lows at louder volumes.

The Cyber-Champs effects section is full featured with independent sections for modulation, reverb, and reverb each of which is implemented using the traditional Fender method of a single knob to select the type as well as mix of the effect. Tap buttons are additionally offered to set the time of modulation and delay effects. All of the effects sound very good even if slightly limited in tweak-ability from the front panel. Per the manual, additional parameters can be set user specific MIDI continuous control messages with an external MIDI device (or computer). One little niggle here, Fender opted not to include a traditional bypass switch for the effects. Instead, bypass is accomplished by dialing the effect mix to 0. While one might argue the effect is similar, on higher gain settings there is some “bleed” which exhibits itself as a slow pulsing of the background hum.

Given the tonal diversity and solid performance at varying volume levels, I’m surprised the amp wasn’t more of a success when initially released. Perhaps it was the original street price of nearly $500 USD or just limited marketing and availability which turned off consumers. All in all, the Cyber-Champ is a surprising nice sounding amp and a great choice for someone who needs a light weight portable solution covering practice, performance, and studio scenarios.

Part I|Part II|Part III|Part IV

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