Reviewed: February 12, 2007
MSRP: $59.99 Amp Only
Guitar and game bundles also available
I have to admit I was pretty excited when I heard about the new Thunderbox Amp 28r. Guitar Hero and its sequel are easily two of my all-time favorite PS2 games, and judging from the empty shelves in stores where this game is usually stocked, the rest of America agrees.
While the game is amazing fun to play and creates an intense urge to continually better your previous efforts (thus the long-lasting appeal) I think the biggest reason this game has done so well is it secretly fuels everyone’s fantasy to be a rock star. Just look at all the videos popping up on the Internet of people, not just playing, but performing with this unique title.
So what better way to cater to the entire rock star image than to actually be able to play the game using an authentically styled amplifier, exactly like the ones you see on stage during a real concert. The Thunderbox 28r nails the look and feel and especially the sound of playing a real guitar, making it the perfect component to complete your rock star image.
Installation - 7
The Thunderbox couldn’t be easier to plug in and hook-up if (and it’s a big “if”) you are using the original PS2 AV cables. Simply plug the AC power cord in to any available 3-prong wall outlet and the back of the amp then hook up the red and white audio cables to the stereo input on the front of the amp and you are ready to rock and roll.
But wait…what if you aren’t using those original cables? What if you are using component cables for high-def video output and a fiber-optic for Dolby Digital/DTS audio? Well my friend, you might need the assistance of a few roadies to get this amp in service. Yes, I am detailing my own personal experience, but I can’t be the only one who has this setup, so be warned.
My particular set of PS2 component cables has a large wire that goes from the back of the PS2 to my HDTV. The single cable ends at a reinforced junction where the cables then split off into their RGB and red/white connections, each about 6-inches long. Are you seeing my problem? This means that I can either purchase a pair of audio extension cables or my Thunderbox can only be about 8-inches from the back of my TV.
Since I didn’t have any extension cables handy I was lucky enough that my normal sub-woofer was positioned in just the right location that I could put the Thunderbox on top of it and the audio cables would reach – although I did have to lay the amp on it’s side to make the connection. It ain’t pretty but it works until I get some longer audio cables.
Frankly, I’m not sure how TAC could have foreseen or remedied this problem in advance, so I am in no way blaming them. Just be warned that if you are using any type of advanced cabling with your PS2 there will be some extra effort hooking it all up. I suspect the same problem will occur when the Xbox 360 version of the game ships later this year.
On a side note, now that I have my PS3 and really only use my PS2 exclusively for Guitar Hero (and a few light-gun games), I’m working on a design to mount the PS2 to the back of the Thunderbox for a totally portable Guitar Hero solution. Blueprints coming soon…
Aesthetics - 10
OK, I have to admit this amp looks ultra-realistic, mostly because it is a real amplifier and not just a speaker posing as an amp. The design looks just like any amp you would see in a garage band or stage show with black wood construction, metal reinforced corners, handle on the top, and a bank of control knobs, inputs, and rocker switch for power.
The grill is a fine silvery mesh that allows you to see the silhouettes of the three speakers within and they even mimic the classic Fender font and style with the TAC logo in the corner. It’s an awesome looking piece of hardware that will make you feel like a rock star for just having it in your living room.
Durability - 10
Well, the aforementioned “wood construction” and “metal reinforced corners” probably hinted at the fact that the Thunderbox is extremely durable. Unless you are planning on taking this amp on your next rock and roll tour and have some clumsy roadies, the Thunderbox should probably outlive you, unless you get all crazy and kick it across the living room during an encore.
Performance - 10
I was pretty skeptical (and slightly annoyed) going into this review for the simple fact that I was being asked to unhook my PS2 from my 1000w, THX-certified, home theater audio system and plug it into a 30w (100w max) standalone amp. I was positive that the $60 Thunderbox would pale in comparison to my $3,000 audio setup. Boy, was I wrong.
Not only does the Thunderbox Amp 28r totally rock the house at audio levels well beyond comfortable human tolerance, the frequency response range is just incredible, and I was hearing new subtle parts of the songs I had never heard on my fancy home theater.
The guitar solos, especially in songs like “Sweet Child O’ Mine”, “You Really Got Me”, and the bonus track, “Gemini” sound amazing with all the high-pitched squeals and twangs I’ve heard in real concerts but never in Guitar Hero, that is until now. You might not get all the fancy surround sound separation and thunderous bass from a home theater rig, but what you end up with is a much purer guitar experience for a fraction of the cost.
The only way they could possibly make this amp work any better is if they could somehow process the complete audio signal, split off just the guitar component and play that part through the amp while passing the vocals, back-up band, and crowd noises on to your regular sound setup.
It’s also worth noting that the Thunderbox is not just a Guitar Hero or even a PS2 accessory. It works with anything that outputs to a red/white audio cable, so you could plug in any other game console, DVD player, MP3 player (with a Y-adapter), or just about any other non-amplified source.
There are also two 1/4” inputs, each with their own separate volume controls, so you can hook up real electric guitars, microphones, or any combination of the two and mix their output levels. Separate bass and treble knobs let you tweak the highs and lows and the master volume can crank this amp loud enough for the neighbors to call the cops.
Value - 10
I hate to admit that this $60 amplifier actually put my $3,000 home theater system to shame, but only for this game. I would never trade in my Dolby Pro Logic II, Dolby Digital, or DTS surround, especially on other games that rely on immersive 3D audio.
Arguably, there is no real practical need for the Thunderbox if you have any type of existing audio system at all. Obviously, if you are playing your PS2 audio through the TV speakers then this would be a massive improvement for all your video games – not just Guitar Hero.
Ultimately, you have to ask yourself, “How much is it worth to feel like a rock star?” and if your answer is at least $60 then you should probably get this amp. Just be warned that you might have some connection issues, but even those are a small price to pay when you hear just how amazing the Thunderbox sounds, especially when reproducing that distinct guitar vibe.
Overall – 9.5
The Thunderbox Amp 28r is a fantastic piece of audio hardware that will delight any Guitar Hero fan who plays just a single song using it. TAC really nailed this product and its open-ended design allows you to use it with any console or find other non-gaming uses like Karaoke or even for use with a real electric guitar.
Simply put, the Thunderbox will “rock your world”.