Fender Showdown Part III - Super Champ XD

Wednesday, December 31, 2008| by Will Chen

Fender Super Champ XD Review

In prior years, most small powered amps featured a watered down version of the features of their higher powered cousins. However, it appears manufacturers have recently (and finally) been catering to those seeking smaller yet full featured amps. The market has been split into low powered Class A tube amps and small modeling amps until now. With the Super Champ XD, Fender has wisely released a hybrid amp crossover offering a 16 voice digital preamp coupled to a 15 watt 6V6 power amp feeding a 10 inch speaker.

The amp features two channels, a “dirty” channel featuring the 16 position voicing selector, volume, and gain knobs and a clean channel (mirroring voicing 4, Blackface clean, from the “dirty” channel) with a single volume knob. The channels share a two band EQ (high and low) and FX section featuring FX select and level knobs. Due to the stripped down controls, the amp captures the blackface vibe perfectly and from a distance you’d never know this wasn’t a traditional Fender tube amp. I would’ve liked to see metal amp corners, but the amp is small and light enough to likely avoid the accidental bumps which happen when transporting larger amps.

The amp’s tonal response is mixed. Across the board, the amp has a feel I can only describe as immediate. I switched back and forth between several different amps as I thought I was going crazy but there is a definite quickness to the attack which took a little time to get used to. Perhaps this is due to the inherently faster response of a 10 inch speaker versus 12 inch (all my other amps have 12 inch speakers). Some settings are very dynamic and respond fabulously to the guitar’s volume knob while on others it’s clear Fender is goosing the preamp with a compressor to emphasize emulated tube sag. So much so that a handful of models reach the maximum usable gain at around 2 with the rest of the dial simply further compressing the tone. That being said, many of tones from the amp are authoritative and accurate capturing the spit and spirit of the original amp’s tones.

Clean tones were particularly impressive; the complex Fender chime is here in spades. I was extremely impressed with the ability of the amp to get bright without sounding the least bit harsh.

As you would expect, the majority of modeled tones are of Fender’s own amps with settings 1-3 categorized as Tweed, 4-6 Blackface, 10 – 12 Hot Rod, and 15 Jazz King. The Tweed and Blackface settings are pretty nice; like an aural museum of historical Fender tones capturing the much of the character of those classic amps. Clean tones were particularly impressive; the complex Fender chime is here in spades. I was extremely impressed with the ability of the amp to get bright without sounding the least bit harsh. Equally impressive is the dark and smoky Jazz King setting. I didn’t like the Hot Rod sounds nearly as well, but that’s not surprising as I’m not a huge fan of their real world counterparts either. I was initially worried the lack of a mid range control would hamper the amp’s tonal abilities (note that this is similar to the original EQ configuration of the Champ), and my worries were somewhat substantiated. A few of the tones would have been absolutely glorious with a little mid range cut and a bit more oomph in the low end.

Settings 8 and 9 are Fender’s take on Marshall tones. While this pint sized amp can’t capture the girth of a stack, the tones were workable with a tight but somewhat attenuated low end (especially on the more modern voicing of setting 9) response and nice mid range bark.

The rest of the settings were uninspiring at best. The “bright jangly” (Vox) description they give to setting number 7 is actually pretty nice at higher gain settings but exhibits a very overly compressed tone at lower gain settings. The highest gain modern tone settings are cursed with a fizzy top end and a low end which sounded detached; you’d be far better off with a distortion pedal.

Across the board, I would’ve liked a bit more thump in the low end. However, I doubt the 10 inch speaker could handle it (note that a large group of dedicated users are subbing out the stock speaker with an Eminence Ragin Cajun and claim much improved performance).

Far less impressive are the effects which seem as if they were added almost as an afterthought with controls so limited they are of little use. Additionally, as only one effect is available at a time the knob stayed on reverb pretty elusively with tremolo being the sole exception. As such, I would have much preferred a traditionally implemented reverb and perhaps tremolo available simultaneously rather than the DSP effects section.

The amp is loud for its diminutive 15 watt rating, but don’t expect it to ruffle your pants. Cranked, the amp had some tube and chasis rattle which even further limits it’s usage at high volumes. Tones are fairly consistent across its entire volume sweep but loose a little low end headroom and begin to exhibit some power amp breakup with the volume up around 7. While plenty loud for practice and recording purposes, in pretty much any performance scenario you’ll need to mic it up.

Fender purposely limited the features of the amp to the bare necessities making the amp is a perfect introduction to those who would like to experiment with the flexibility of amp modeling without all the complex menu driven programming. It will be interesting to see where Fender goes from here…

Part I|Part II|Part III|Part IV

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