Walrus Audio Badwater review: An essential tool for the accidental bassist

If you don’t fancy being chained to a real bass amp, the secret of proper low-down tone is a good-quality preamp. Enter Walrus’s extra-versatile thump factory.

Walrus Audio Badwater
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Review Overview

Our rating


Our verdict

A pocket bass amp that covers all the key tones including some nicely natural-sounding grind.

The bass guitar is a wonderful instrument and deserves to be taken seriously. Well, maybe not that seriously. But if you’ve been filling out the lower frequencies of your home recordings by plugging in direct and running those crudely-plunked root notes through a basic amp sim, Walrus Audio would like a word.

In fact there are plenty of options when it comes to bass preamps for both studio and live use, but the Badwater slaps down a new marker for useful features per square inch… yet remains simple enough even for part-time bassists to navigate with ease.

Walrus Audio Badwater

First in the signal chain is a one-knob optical compressor; then there’s a drive circuit with a clean blend control and three voicing options; and finally, all this runs through a four-band EQ section with two tunable midrange frequencies. The drive gets its own bypass footswitch, and as well as the usual jack sockets there’s an XLR output for running a balanced DI signal to the PA.

And the name? That comes from Badwater Basin in Death Valley, the lowest point in North America. Apparently it’s so grim it makes the rest of Death Valley look like the Cotswolds, but it’s certainly apt for a pedal that sets out to conquer the deep-down zone.

Walrus Audio Badwater

In use

We begin our bass explorations as Leo began his: with a Fender Precision. The two things we’re really looking out for here are a solid low-end thud and that split pickup’s famous midrange clank. With compression at zero and drive turned off, it doesn’t take much EQ tweaking to find plenty of both.

It’s the two ‘low mid’ controls that hold the real power here, allowing us to sculpt the body of our tone with a tailored cut or boost, while the ‘high mid’ tends to be more about adjusting presence. This is a smart tonestack that makes it easy to call up the right voice for just about any genre… even if, having switched that P-bass for a StingRay, we can’t quite find a sound to match the sheer punch of our trusty MXR M-80 in mids-scooped mode.

Where this pedal does pull down the MXR’s trousers is in the realm of overdrive. With both blend and drive controls set fairly low, we get just enough roughing-up to give aggressive lines a snarly edge – EQ-wise it does add some Screamer-style upper mids, but the distortion itself sounds totally natural and integrated. With the Precision back on duty, it’s perfect for JJ Burnel ‘angry piano’ pounding. The three-way voicing switch, meanwhile, lets you control how much low-end content runs through the drive circuit. This is an interesting idea, though for maximum beef you’ll want to keep it in the down position.

Walrus Audio Badwater

The compressor can’t be completely bypassed, but for the most part it’s extremely subtle and, crucially, transparent. If you like your bass compression to be felt rather than heard, or simply want the confidence of knowing your dynamics are being gently kept in line, this will do the job.

Whether you play a passive bass or an active one, and whether you prefer to attack it with your fingers or a pick, the Walrus Badwater will simply and effectively translate your four-string fumblings into professional-sounding lines, both clean and overdriven. That makes it possibly the most powerful argument yet for embracing the age of the compact bass preamp.

Walrus Audio Badwater

Key Features

  • PRICE £285
  • DESCRIPTION Bass preamp and DI pedal, made in USA
  • CONTROLS Volume, low, low mid + centre frequency (500Hz-2.4kHz), high mid + centre frequency (3.5kHz-7.5kHz), high, output level; drive, clean blend and three-way voicing switch; compressor sustain
  • FEATURES Jack and XLR outputs, ground lift switch; true bypass, powered by nine-volt mains supply only (300mA)
  • DIMENSIONS 123 x 99 x 58mm
  • CONTACT walrusaudio.com, face.be

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