Picking out the best guitar amplifier for you is always an exciting yet really thorough process. After all, the amp is responsible for a huge portion of your overall tone properties.
Some are even not afraid of saying that it’s the most important factor in one’s tone, although this is a very specific discussion and deserves an article on its own.
Either way, what most people do agree upon is that the good old classic tube amps still deliver the best tones. Although with substantially bigger price tags on them, and requiring expensive maintenance, they’re still a more preferred option for all the guitar lovers.
Here, we will be exploring one relatively rare but pretty interesting vintage-style tube amp called Atom. Made by a company called Satellite, it is used by some professional guitar masters out there, including Pearl Jam’s Mike McCready.
So let’s get into this review.
Satellite is a smaller company, mostly focusing on guitar amps and cabinets, although they also have some guitars, effect units, and different accessories in their arsenal. Looking at all of their products, it’s pretty obvious that they keep to their very simple formula, usually inspired by vintage products.
The same thing can be said about their Atom amp. First off, it has the total power of 36 watts. There is, however, no power attenuator (or power soak) switch or a pot so you’re pretty much stuck with only the 36-watt option.
When it comes to the controls, the Atom is (like any other of Satellite’s products) pretty simple. There are only two control knobs, one for volume and one for tone.
As for the main switch, there’s only one that controls power on and off, with the third position serving as the standby option. As we already said ñ pretty simple, straight to the point, with volume and one tone knob.
This is obviously a one-channel amp so all the distortion happens when the volume is turned up high. There are two inputs though, one high impedance and one low impedance. This might get useful if you have a variety of guitars with different types of pickups.
As for the tubes, the preamp section is packed with two 12AX7s, the power section features four EL-84 valves, and there’s also one 5AR or GZ38 rectifier tube.
However, you can switch between the tube and solid-state rectifiers. Of course, there are other tubes that you can put instead of the assigned ones, which can result in a completely different tone.
There’s also an option to order four different types of cabinets with the amp head. You can get either a two or four-speaker cab with either 12-inch or 15-inch speakers in them. The 12-inch ones are Celestion Creambacks while the 15-inch speakers are Celestion Fullbacks.
On the backside of the amp head, you can switch from different impedance outputs ñ there are 4 ohm, 8 ohm, and 16 ohm options. This is pretty useful and gives a lot of variety if you want to combine them with other brands of cabs.
As we mentioned, these are all made on order, like any other boutique amps. Aside from different features that you can choose from, there are a few design options that are available.
Of course, all of them have the same basic look, reminding us of some of those old amps, mostly old Marshalls. Looking at Atom, one might get easily tricked into thinking that this amp came out of a factory back in the 1970s.
And we don’t mean this in a negative way since the amp is very well-built, it’s just that the aesthetics remind us of the late 1960s and the early 1970s.
When it comes to different options, you can pick from a few different colors. Color options include black, dark blue, “racing green,” cream, and red. You can also order the “mystery” option where they pick the color themselves. But they accept no returns or refunds if you’re not satisfied, so this is a bit of a playful risky “wildcard” option here.
Overall, it’s a great looking amps targeted towards those vintage amp lovers.
Basically, the Satellite Atom sounds the way it looks. It’s a vintage-oriented boutique amp that will mostly get you those old British amp type of tones. Some may see the lack of power soak as a downside as you can use the amps full potential only at loud volumes. So Atom is not exactly a bedroom option.
The tone is comparable to the old Marshalls. It doesn’t bring an exact model to mind, but that overall British early heavy metal and hard rock vibe. A bit raw but can be controlled to an extent.
The fun comes with the different tube options. And the options here might get endless. Give the preamp ECC83 tubes and you’ll get a different twist to the overall tone.
You can put 6BW6 or 6V6 tubes as well instead of the EL34 ones. The solid state rectifier might be an interesting option as well, but you can always switch between that one and the tube.
There isn’t an FX loop option so you’d need to run all the pedals directly in front of it. This might get tricky if you’re using the amp’s natural overdrive, achieved by high volumes.
But the amp is designed for those vintage lovers. Some might not even use any pedals as the amp delivers some great options for bluesy hard rock tunes.
The new amp, however, costs somewhere between $2.3k and $2.9k. This might be weird for those who expect many features on an amp, seeing how the Atom has only a couple of knobs and not that many options with it.
You’ll need to bear in mind that this is designed for those with a very specific taste. The amp definitely sounds good, it works well, it has a great dynamic response.
But, if you’re looking for a more modern tone and variety of options, then you’d need to look somewhere else.