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Marshall Code: 21st century tone, or a boxful of bees?

Marshall Code: 21st century tone, or a boxful of bees?

Marshall are one of the most respected amplifier manufacturers in the world. Their name and logo are synonymous with rock music, and their genre-defining heads and cabinets are seen everywhere from the teenager’s bedroom to the biggest stages on the planet.

When they announced the release of the Code at NAMM 2016, the music world rightfully stood to attention. After all, Marshall have a been making exceptional amplifiers for half a century!


On paper, this thing looks like the amp revolution we’ve been waiting for.

  • Several power & speaker combinations to suit every player’s needs.
  • Created in collaboration Softube, well regarded VST creators.
  • Modelled responses from 14 preamps, 4 power amps and 8 speaker cabinets.
  • 24 built-in effects.
  • Tone replicas of classic Marshall amps like the 1962 Bluesbreaker, JCM800 2203, JCM2000 DSL100, and JVM410H.
  • Modelled responses from EL34, 5881, EL84 & 6L6 valves.
  • Controllable with your iOS or Android device via Bluetooth, or with your computer via USB.
  • Connect a music player with the minijack audio input to play along, and use headphones so you don’t disturb people.
  • Optional programmable foot controller can assign up to 30 presets or control panel functions.
  • Very reasonably priced

Hot, right?

I thought the same thing… until I saw demos on YouTube. Exhibit A...

Now we all know that demo videos do absolutely no justice to guitar amplifiers. Even if you’re listening through ultra-powerful studio monitors like me, the very nature of streaming videos – bandwidth compression, fidelity loss, noise floor, poor dynamic range, microphone characteristics – usually totally misrepresent how a guitar amp can fill a room with sound. That being said, there was something particularly irksome about the CODE.

marshallcodeTo my ears, it sounds like every amp in the series has a pretty steep high frequency roll-off and an overly compressed character. This will work exceptionally well for tracking guitars in the studio – for the most part, cutting high frequencies and adding compression are essential for seating electric guitar in the mix – but it simply won’t work in a live situation. Guitarists need a lively, dynamic tone that responds to their unique style, and to find the sonic ‘pocket’ amongst the rest of the band. Again – this is just opinion, albeit opinion from a record producer & mix engineer with tracks on rotation on national radio.

A lot of the focus in the demo videos seems to be heavily on the variety of effects on offer, and while there’s no accounting for taste with people’s tonal desires, I’ve found that almost every preset tone dialled in on the demos are way, way too effected. It’s difficult to gauge how an amp will truly perform when all you can hear is the cyborg-cat-being-strangled carrier frequency of a flanger. This style of “voiced for the studio” guitar processing is incredibly impressive out of the box, but can translate poorly in a performance situation.


This is not the code you are looking for…

I remember being absolutely blown away by my Line6 Pod XT Pro back in 2003. It had presets that sounded just like the guitar on the record! I religiously and exclusively used it at every opportunity, even on stage! Years and years later, I remember having to plug in direct to a rehearsal studios Engl Fireball because I’d left my Pod’s power supply at home. It sounded good. It sounded raw and powerful. It sounded like I’d been listening to guitar amps with ear plugs for a decade, and had just taken them out. It’s funny how used to “processed” guitar sounds you become, especially when you consider that it’s not really what guitars sound like at all.

Anyway – long-and-mostly-boring-story short – I’m in two minds about the Marshall Code. This post is obviously entirely speculation, and doing my research has left me intrigued and worried in equal measure. Specs-wise, the Marshall Code is a serious contender for anyone looking for a super versatile, well priced guitar amp. Sound-wise however, from the limited information I can ascertain from demo videos, it sounds like a boxful of bees.

I can’t wait to see how the Marshall Code performs in the flesh, and with Marshall’s track record of legendary tone I’m quietly optimistic. I’ll keep you up to date; as soon as we receive our first batch we’ll make a decent video review and let you know exactly how it sounds.

About The Author

Red Dog Music

Dawsons Music is delighted to announce that the Red Dog Music brand is now part of the Dawsons family. This is an exciting opportunity to bring both communities together and create a stronger, wider network of people passionate about music gear. We both share a common heritage to support musicians throughout the UK and Dawsons want to support Red Dog Music customers in their continued musical journey.

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