Nick Epifani’s eponymous amp company was an early adopter of two technologies that are now entrenched in bass amplification: Class D amplifiers and neodymium-speaker-equipped cabinets. I recall my early encounters with Epifani products — and Nick’s Italian-accented evangelism for his products — fondly. At the time (the mid 2000s), Epifani gear was cutting-edge and sophisticated and boasted an enviable roster of endorsing musicians, including Anthony Jackson, Matt Garrison, and Oteil Burbridge. Aiding Epifani in its early growth was the office’s close proximity to Fodera’s legendary Brooklyn workshop. Many a visting artist (myself included) would pilgrimage to Fodera and then make the 20-second trip downstairs to visit with Nick and see what Epifani was cooking up.
Since then, Class D amps with switchmode power supplies and accompanying neodymium cabinets are mainstream, with even the most affordable entry-level gear utilizing the technology. What, then, can set Epifani apart from its many contemporary rivals? The answer, one hopes, is sound. Epifani has always had an excellent sonic reputation, largely due to the well-textured, harmonically rich midrange of perhaps its most classic amplifier, the UL502. Released a decade ago, the UL502 paired a Class D power amp with a linear power supply in an exceptionally useful and well-designed two-channel head. With the UL901 reviewed here, Epifani is revisiting its “UL” preamp design, but has revised the power amp to reflect the almost ubiquitous shift in the industry toward IcePower Class D/SMPS modules. Epifani has also moved manufacturing to China, like almost every other amp manufacturer, although design and development is still done Stateside.
Keep It Simple
Inside and out, the UL901 is about as simple an amplifier as it comes, at least in terms of features. The well-labled and laid-out front panel consists of just a few knobs and buttons. The typical gain and master controls are there, in addition to a simple 3-band EQ that has a couple of extra features, including the option to shift the treble filter’s knee frequency, and a switchable and gain-adjustable mid cut control for insta-slap tone. The rear panel includes all the stuff one expects to see on a professional bass amp, including a tuner output, effect send and return, pedal jack for remote muting, and a full-featured di output. The 1,000-watt head offers only a single Speakon jack, so any multi-cabinet rig will require that your cabinet has a parallel speaker jack in addition to the one used to connect to the UL901. I was glad to see that Epifani went with the always-useful Neutrik combo jack, which allows use with ¼" or Speakon cables.
The interior of the UL901 is a spartan place. The small preamp board is mounted parallel to the front panel, which means the potentiometers and buttons are all mounted directly to the PCB, rather than via flying leads. This arrangement can make the board more vulnerable if the amp is dropped on its front. The relatively massive ICEpower 700AS1/X Class D amplifier and SMPS dominates the bulk of the interior volume, although it’s hidden by a large bent-aluminum shield. While some manufacturers try to make their ICEpower-fueled amps as small as possible, the Epifani is bigger than its components strictly require. This can be an advantage in terms of reliability, as it allows for better cooling — an important quality in this amp, given that it has no fan.
An Epifani UL502 used to be my primary amplifier — it accompanied me on many gigs through the late 2000s. Eager to see how the latest UL-series amp stacked up against my old favorite, I paired it with an Epifani 4x10 cabinet and let it rip in my studio. One obvious thing off the bat: The latest Epfiani amp is way louder than the UL502 ever was. There’s been a ton of development in Class D/SMPS amps since the 502, and it shows in the UL901 — there is enough power on tap for the biggest gigs one can imagine. As I’ve experienced with other high-power ICEpower modules in bass heads, the Epifani wasn’t just loud — it was also extremely fast, with the sensation of near-instantaneous transient response. Plus, the power never faded, even as I really laid into my B string over several minutes. Beyond the amplitude, the UL901 has a lot of the sonic character that made the UL502 a success. It has a colorful and rich midrange, particularly, although I found it a bit drier and deeper-sounding. I loved being able to quickly scoop the mids for a stereotypical smiley-face slap sound, and while the EQ isn’t especially flexible, it’s at least well voiced.
The UL901 is a deserving descendant of the early amps that made Epifani so celebrated among top pros. While it may be light on features compared to similarly priced amplifiers, what it does offer is effective and thoughtfully designed. Those looking for a no-nonsense, super-loud amp with a proven track record should include the UL901 on their shopping list.
Pros Powerful and compact head with a distinctively buttery midrange.
Cons Feature-set is a bit spare for a $1K head.
Bottom Line The UL901 is a return to form for Epifani, revealing the colorful sound that made the company’s reputation.
Power rating 700 watts, 4Ω; ~1,000 watts, 2.7Ω
Tone controls bass, ±22dB @ 40Hz (shelving); mid, ±17dB @ 550Hz; treble, ±22dB @ 3kHz xlr di output differential opamp-driven balanced output with ground-lift, pre/post switch, and level control
Power amp topology Class D
Power supply Switchmode
Speaker jacks Neutrik Speakon combo
Made in China