If you don’t think of amps when you hear the name PRS, that’s OK. While the company is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year, it has spent the majority of those years focused squarely on making some of the best guitars money can buy. However, when renowned amp designer Doug Sewell joined the PRS team a few years ago, that all changed. Doug has a reputation for building outstanding amps and with him on board, PRS began making amps that are equal to its guitars.
I recently had the chance to spend a few weeks with one of their newest offerings: The Archon Twenty-Five. The Archon line is comprised of a 100-watt head, 50-watt head, 50 W 1X12 and 25 W 1X12 with each configuration capable of switching to run at half power. The Archon amps are modern high gain amps, but they aren’t strictly for the high gain or metal crowd. I’m typically a player of low- to mid-gain, single-channel, non-master volume amps, but I found plenty to love in the Archon.
Let’s first talk about specs: The Archon Twenty-Five features six 12AX7 tubes in the preamp section, a duo of 5881 tubes in the power section, and a solid state rectifier. It puts out 25 watts in full-power mode and 13 watts in half-power mode. All of this power is funneled into a Celestion G12-75T. Upon opening the Archon, the build quality and attention to detail is impressive. The amp is hand-wired and the parts are laid out neatly on a series of heavy duty PC boards. The pots are all high-quality Alpha pots and the tubes are mounted directly to the chassis. In other words, it’s built like a (a beautiful) tank. The amp weighs in at a relatively svelte 34 pounds and measures roughly 22” x 11” x 18”. It fits nicely in the trunk or the passenger seat and is easy to carry in one hand.
The Archon offers individual Volume, Treble, Middle, Bass, Master Volume, and Bright switches for both the Clean and Lead channels and global Presence and Depth controls. The Clean channel is rich a dimensional and stays clean to almost full volume. The Lead channel starts out in hot-rodded Marshall territory and quickly works its way up into modern high gain tones. As long as you keep the Lead volume below noon, you can always clean things up with the volume knob on your guitar. If you crank the Lead volume beyond noon, you probably aren’t the kind of person that cares about clean or semi-clean tones.
I spent most of my time with the Lead volume around 9:00 or 10:00 and used the Master volume to set my overall level. I quickly fell in love with the range of dirt tones and the way in which the Archon allowed the nature of each guitar I used (a PRS S2 Mira Semi-Hollow, and Reverend Pete Anderson, and a Malden Mozak) to shine through. The three-band EQ adds a ton of versatility. You can scoop the mids for more modern sounds or push them for classic rock tones. With Treble and Bass at noon, Middle at 4 o’clock, and the Bright switch off, the Archon is a ‘60s and ‘70s rock monster. For good fun, I ran a VFE Tractor Beam phaser in front of the Archon and placed a Catalinbread Belle Epoch in the effects loop and had the best VH1 tone I’ve ever heard.
For an amp with this amount of gain, the Archon is amazingly low noise. To the extent that even hitting the above-mentioned classic rock tone with the extra gain of a Park Fuzz Sound didn’t add any hum or hiss—it did make for a ripping lead tone, though. The fact that the Lead channel can handle the extra gain and harmonic content of a fuzz pedal demonstrates just how articulate the Archon is.
While many folks will buy the Archon for the Lead channel, the Clean channel is just as great. Once again, the versatility of the three-band EQ lets you dial in tones from across the decades and across genres. Placing the Treble and Bass around 3 o’clock, the Middle at 9 o’clock, and the Bright switch on, the Archon is capable of a surprisingly accurate blackface approximation. Playing the Malden Mozak (think Tele) and running a Mr. Black Deluxe Plus in the loop, I could easily cover all of my country and surf rock needs. Dialing the Treble and Bass back to noon and cranking the Middle to 3 o’clock creates a more British sounding clean tone.
Cranking the Clean volume and Master volume makes a sound that made me think of Pete Townsend and his Hiwatts. The tone has a little power tube grit to it, but it’s big, rich, and percussive. You have to pinch yourself to believe that this much sound is coming from a package this small.
It should come as no surprise that with the rich distorted tones of the Archon, my collection of dirt pedals were neglected. But pedal fans fear not, the Archon is one pedal-friendly amp (especially with the versatile EQ). Dirt pedals come out sounding large and natural. Pairing the Archon with a VFE Merman gave me instant access to four distinct tones from pristine to mean. The effects loop on the Archon is also great, and even better, it can be switched off and on via the included foot switch.
The only thing I found myself wanting was foot-switchable solo boost. Placing a clean boost in front of the Clean channel gives you all of the volume lift you could ever need. The same can’t be said for the Lead channel. The best workaround I found was to place a clean boost pedal in the effects loop. It’s not as simple as having a built-in boost, but it gets the job done.
What we like: The Archon offers a shocking amount of firepower in a small package. And with the 75 watt speaker, it has surprising headroom for an amp of this size. Bringing the famous PRS build quality and attention to detail to amps is a great thing.
Concerns: The lack of a built-in boost is a minor drawback. Your dirt pedal collection will likely start gathering dust.