The most noticeable aspect of the Mercury's pristine AC30-like tone is its focused low-end. This Deluxe-sized amplifier delivers a uniquely powerful and clear bottom even at low volumes. When run clean, the Mercury creates the illusion of a higher wattage amplifier with multiple speakers, and it has none of the messiness or muddiness often found in low-powered boutique combos. When overdriven, the Mercury responds with a surprisingly-solid fundamental topped off with shimmering harmonics. Class-A amplifiers often sacrifice clarity for character when pushed into saturation, but the Mercury's low-end focus cleans up its overdriven sound, allowing harmonics to sing while retaining clarity in the lows and low-mids. The Mercury's sonic firmness may be partially due to its solid-state rectifier, but this combo's sound is worlds away from the bark of a Blackface Twin or other unforgiving diode-rectifier amplifiers. The Mercury's bottom has more of the feel of a tuned output stage that gives the player a lot of control and power, but is also graceful and forgiving; unlike a Twin the Mercury doesn't hit you like a ton of bricks every time you touch the string. Overall the Mercury has a beautiful tone, a graceful and balanced feel, and is one of the finest sounding all-tube combos on the market.

Under the hood, the Mercury features a single-ended, fixed-bias KT-66 output stage. It is constructed with the very best components including Solen polypropylene filter caps, George L's cables, custom paper-bobbin interleaved transformers, carbon-comp resistors, a Kingpin 60 speaker, and Mallory coupling caps-all packed into a dovetailed, solid-pine cabinet with a floating baffleboard. Although many high-end amplifiers use similar components, few use them to create such flexibility and functionality. For example, with a simple bias adjustment, a 6L6, KT-88, or an EL-34 can sit in for the Mercury's KT-66. The 8-Watt Mercury's built-in attenuator can send 2 Watts, 1/2 Watt, or 1/10 Watt to the speaker, allowing access to the full spectrum of the Mercury's tones at bedroom volumes. The Mercury's attenuator interacts with a three-position Boost switch and Volume, Treble, Bass, High-cut, and Reverb controls to provide a huge array of tonal possibilities at any volume.

At a $2095 MSRP, the Mercury costs twice as much as similar Fender and Marshall combos, but it sounds at least twice as good. Its tonal flexibility, small size, and ability to function at any volume make it very close to the ideal working-musician's amplifier. It would be truly ideal if the Attenuator, Boost, and Reverb functions were accessible via footswitch. The Mercury has all the functionality of the best outboard gear, but unfortunately it is not accessible in real- time. For those of us who could completely finance the Mercury by auctioning off our stompboxes on eBay, the added accessibility would more than justify the price.

But the bottom line is that the Mercury provides almost everything you can ask for in a combo. Sonically, it contends with the best similarly-priced boutique combos, and it far exceeds most of them in versatility. If you are looking for one amplifier to use at clubs, in the studio, at rehearsal, and in your bedroom at 1AM, you can't do much better than the Mercury.

Tape Op is a bi-monthly magazine devoted to the art of record making.

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