Review: Markbass Mini CMD 121P + CMD Jeff Berlin Players School

This time Kitarablogi.com takes a look at two different Markbass bass combos – one is already a bona fide classic, while the other is a brand new, affordably-priced signature model.

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Markbass Mini CMD 121P – front

The Markbass Mini CMD 121P (current price in Finland: 799 €) is one of the company’s best-selling combos, as it manages to put all of Markbass’ trademark features into a compact, hard-to-beat package.

The Mini CMD 121P comes loaded with a lightweight, but powerful 12-inch neodymium speaker with Markbass’ cool yellow cone, as well as a piezo tweeter in the top right corner.

Markbass Mini CMD 121P – back

The back-ported cabinet is covered in a hard-wearing carpet style exterior, and comes equipped with sturdy plastic corner protectors.

Markbass Mini CMD 121P – top

The whole combo measures only 38 x 43 x 36 centimetres (w x h x d) and weighs in at just above 13 kilos, which makes it easy to carry around by its single top handle.

Despite its diminutive dimensions the Markbass Mini CMD 121P packs a very hefty punch, delivering 300 watts at 8 ohms or 500 watts at 4 ohms.

Markbass tend to use existing amp head models in their combos by simply sinking the amp units into the cabinet from the top. This combo uses the Markbass Combo Head II amp, for example.

Markbass Mini CMD 121P – side

Ample ventilation is provided thanks to a side vent, as well as a (quiet-running) ventilator next to the bass-reflex port.

Markbass Mini CMD 121P – control panel – large

Markbass’ excellent preamp is definitely one of the features that originally put the Italian brand on the map:

The Combo Head II makes all the volume knobs stand out from the EQ-section by using yellow controls. We have an input gain control (with its corresponding blue indicator LED), a level control for the balanced DI output, and the master volume control.

The EQ-section comprises a four-band EQ, and Markbass’ special VLE and VPF controls.

VLE stands for Vintage Loudspeaker Emulator, and it allows you to take your tone from modern, fresh and wiry to vintage-style thuddy – and all points in-between – by the simple turn of a knob.

The Variable Pre-Shape Filter, or VPF, lets you dial in a pre-EQ curve with a dip in the lower mids, should you prefer a more Hi-Fi-type sound.

A built-in, automatic two-band limiter protects the Mini CMD 121P’s speakers from damage, even when you run the combo flat out.

Markbass Mini CMD 121P – back panel

As the amp head has been sunk into the cabinet with its controls facing up, the back panel faces floor ward. This isn’t the most practical of solutions on a dimly lit stage, but over time you will learn which connector is which.

The Markbass features a balanced DI output with pre/post-switching and a secure ground lift feature, an effects loop, a tuner output, and a Speakon connector for hooking up an expansion cabinet.

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Markbass CMD JB Players School – front

Bassist extraordinaire Jeff Berlin has long been a vocal supporter of Markbass amps. Now Mr Berlin and Markbass have come up with an affordably-priced, but fully-spec’d bass combo to go along with Jeff’s position as the director of The Players School of Music.

The new Markbass CMD Jeff Berlin Players School combo (current price in Finland: 499 €) is aimed directly at the ambitious beginner/intermediate bass player (or anyone on a tight budget), who wants maximum tone from a gig-worthy combo. The CMD JB Players School combo gives you the genuine Markbass experience with a couple of twists specifically requested by Jeff Berlin.

Mr Berlin likes to hear a fat, organic bass sound, and he simply hates all types of tweeters in bass amplifiers, which is why he requested a special, deep cabinet for the Players School –model, loaded with an all-black 15-inch speaker, but no treble horn.

Markbass CMD JB Players School – top

Jeff Berlin also requested a chunky metal handle for the 46 x 46 x 48 centimetres cabinet. Despite its larger cabinet and speaker the CMD JB Players School model still only weighs just under 16 kilos.

Markbass CMD JB Players School – back

This combo is also rear-ported…

Markbass CMD JB Players School – side

…and features an air vent for the fan-cooled amplifier.

Markbass CMD JB Players School – control panel – large

The Players School model comes equipped with a Little Mark 250 amp, which dishes out 150 watts to 8 ohms, or 250 watts at 4 ohms impedance.

The amp’s features are virtually identical to the Mini CMD’s, offering a four-band EQ-section with additional VLE and VPF knobs.

Markbass CMD JB Players School – back panel

The CMD JB Players School offers the same array of outputs on its back panels, namely balanced DI, effects loop, tuner output, and Speakon speaker output.

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Markbass Mini CMD 121P + CMD JB Players School – stacked

It’s easy to see why the Markbass Mini CMD 121P has become such a mega seller for the Italian maker: There aren’t that many professional bass combos around that manage successfully to glean such an amount of volume, punch, versatility and sheer quality of tone from such a compact 12-plus-one setup.

The Mini CMD 121P’s basic tone is surprisingly full (for a 12-inch speaker) and balanced with a nice, juicy upper midrange nose, as well as lots of lower-mid character. The extremely musical EQ-, VLE- and VPF-controls make it very easy to dial in the sounds you hear in your head.

You will be able to do most of your gigs just by running the Mini CMD by its own. For larger venues, simply add one of Markbass’ bass cabs for additional girth and volume.

You don’t need to be a prophet to predict a huge success for Markbass’ CMD Jeff Berlin Players School combo, too. A genuine, full-blown Markbass bass combo for 500 euros, you’ve gotta be kidding me!

I’m not sure how they’ve managed to do this, but actually, despite its lower wattage, the Players School amp doesn’t seem that much quieter. I’m sure you can play most restaurant gigs, functions, and small clubs with this combo. And should you need more power, there’s always the option to use the excellent built-in DI output to connect to the PA-system.

The CMD JB Players School combo has a gorgeously round, deep and warm basic tone with a wide dynamic range. I’m not a huge fan of the additional click and trebly scratch that many tweeters seem to add to your bass sound, which made me feel right at home with the Jeff Berlin CMD, and its modern tone and silky top end.

I’ve recorded both combos with similar settings using a single Shure SM57. These demo tracks all follow the same sequence: Jazz Bass (fingerstyle)/Mini CMD –> Rickenbacker (plectrum)/Mini CMD –> Jazz Bass/CMD JBPS –> Rickenbacker/CMD JBPS.

Here are the combos on their own:

The same track with the drums added:

The full arrangement with the bass tracks mixed high:

And, lastly, a more balanced mix of the above:

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Markbass Mini CMD 121P & CMD Jeff Berlin Players School combos

Mini CMD 121P – 799 €

CMD JB Players School – 499 €

Distributor: Musamaailma

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Pros (both combos):

+ size

+ weight

+ versatility

+ power

+ sound

Cons (both combos):

– back panel access

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