Review Date: Monday 8th of October 2012 03:27:17 PM Last Updated: Thursday 1st of January 1970 01:00:00 AM Reviewed By: Richard Purvis
If you like the sharp-toothed Jim Root Tiny Terror but fancy slightly more traditional sounds plus a wooden box, then the OR15 matched with an old-school 4x12" cabinet could be for you.
And so it rolls on. Ten years ago, if you wanted an all-valve 15W head you’d probably have to make it yourself out of Meccano. Now there are hundreds of the little bleeders – and any amp-maker without at least one in its line must feel like the last horse-drawn carriage dealer in town.
One reason for this phenomenon is the success of the Orange Tiny Terror, and the main reason for the success of the Orange Tiny Terror looks awfully simple in hindsight: 15W is loud enough for some modern gigging needs but not too loud to crank at home, and everyone wants real tube tone in a compact, easily portable package. The growth of cut-price Far Eastern manufacturing made it viable, and so Orange made it happen.
Now you’ve got several Terrors to choose from, including a combo version and a handwired head that’s made here in the UK; but does a little metal box really look the part for serious touring?
Not really, and that’s why the bigger amps in the Orange catalogue are not in any danger of plunging out of fashion, with their sturdy wooden shells and roadie-harming weight… and now, crossing the gap between the two types like a brightly-painted footbridge, comes the OR15. Nu-skool thinking, old-school build.
There’s one thing here that takes us right back to the early days of this great British brand: the OR15 is sure to be a hit with Egyptologists because, as on the original OR80 and OR120 of the early ’70s, the names of the controls on the front panel are in hieroglyphics.
Or at least, they’re certainly not written in English, relying solely on Orange’s quirky graphics to tell you what you’re tweaking. The most notable (and understandable) exception is the Standby switch, which is a three-way job with full power at the top and 7W mode at the bottom.
The three small knobs in the middle, as you may have worked out, represent a three-band EQ section. If that sounds familiar, and if in fact the whole control panel looks familiar, that might be because it is – everything we’ve described up to this point is exactly as it is on the Orange Signature #4 Jim Root Terror.
A call to Orange HQ confirms that this amp is indeed based on the same circuit as the high-gain Root model, but with a tonestack voiced for more vintage sounds. Other than that, it’s all about the timber – and you’re unlikely to have any complaints about that part of the OR15’s construction. The amp is so small there’s actually more frame than bits in-between, so most of the shell is in effect 3cm thick. It feels a lot more substantial, and drop-proof, than any Tiny Terror.
All the valves stand upwards but even so the two EL84s are very snugly bracketed, so there’s no danger of back-of-the-van mishaps. Not for the first time, though, Orange has put compactness before ease of maintenance: an extra inch in height would have made access to the preamp valves much, much easier – as it is you’d be hard-pushed to get a bony hand in there to change one without taking the chassis out of the cabinet, which is not a swift procedure.
Beneath that chassis you’ll find two printed circuit boards, the smaller one just for the five rear jack sockets (three for speakers, two for the valve-driven FX loop) and the main board carrying everything else including all six valve bases.
The cab Orange sent us with this amp is the PPC412 Compact, a closed-back 4x12" that’s relatively small – the speakers are just millimetres apart – but still looks like a bit of a mismatch for a head of such dinky dimensions. It’s solidly made and spine-bendingly heavy, with thick plywood runners along the bottom, and the speakers are ‘specially-designed’ Orange-branded units with a power handling of 60W each.
Going by the generally accepted rule that the ideal ratio of amp RMS to cab rating is somewhere around 1:2, it’s fair to say that a 15-watter into a 240W cab is not likely to give a whole lot of spongy responsiveness; but Orange is all about rock these days, and that means the bigger the better.
The OR15’s basic clean tone is very nice indeed, with plenty of sparkle if you push the Treble a tad, but always remaining distinctly British. Well, it’s a nice tone if you can find it – because this amp has possibly the most unforgiving Gain control in the history of amplification.
It comes to life at around half past nine on the dial, but by 10 o’clock it’s breaking up significantly, and anything beyond that is pure dirt. A longer stretch of pot travel for winding through that transition would have been welcome, but at least all the tones are there. As is so often the case, it sounds better the higher you’re able to crank the master Volume.
With Gain maxed out the four preamp stages are all cooking and the result is a smooth but monstrously heavy overdrive, accompanied by a fair bit of background noise to remind you how high you’re flying if you are reckless enough to stop playing for a second. Slam the Mids down to zero and there’s a nice scooped metal sound, but the OR15’s essential voice with everything around halfway has more authority. It’s classic Orange rock.
The half-power switch works well if you need to bring things down to a level that will get the engineer off your back, although with the drop in plate voltage you inevitably lose some impact. The effect is even more pronounced with Gain set high, and you may find your edgy rock tones coming over just a tiny bit blunted at 7W. Of course, if you’re bedroom-bound, that might be just what you need.
The compact cab will not sell you short for bottom end – it’s still a 4x12", after all – but it can get rather shrill and fizzy at the top. Through a 2x12" with Celestion Vintage 30s the treble is smoother, and the midrange a little more punchy to boot; V30s are in fact the speakers that Orange uses in most of its other cabs, so the obvious advice here if you want something more ‘classic’ in tone is to go for something like the PPC212 instead.
Here's a video demo:
An amp with four gain stages that’s closely related to a Slipknot signature model – you’d be forgiven for expecting nothing but hard metal from the Orange OR15. But the metal in this case is encased in solid, old-fashioned wood – a bonus in terms of road-readiness, and a handy metaphor for the amp’s fiery but refined British voice.
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