I’ve had the Marshall CODE 50 for over a year now. It does a decent job of getting a plethora of distinctive Marshall tones that encompass Marshalls 50+ years of Rock and Blues history.
The CODE 50 is compact. It’s just large enough to accommodate the 12” speaker and it’s a lot lighter than I expected. Even though it’s made of particle board, the build quality feels pretty good. The back is only ¼ inch thick so there is some resonation. It has no corner protectors and being at the more affordable entry level budget price. I assume Marshall see this more as a beginner through intermediate practice amp.
The controls are on the top towards the back which isn’t ideal if you like to practice seated a few feet away and want to see them. If you are used to amp and effect modeling software on computers then the controls on the CODE 50 are pretty straight forward. You have a row of buttons that represent your complete effects loop. They are as follows.
Pre Effects Pre Amp Modulation Effects Delay Effects Reverb Effects Power Amp Cab Simulation
Each of these effects has its own illuminated on/off button with a red LED indicator to show you at a glance which are active. Each of the effects has a bunch of extra settings that can be found in the amp’s sub menus that are displayed on the small backlit LCD display or via the mobile Bluetooth app (or various editors for the PC).
Beneath the FX loop buttons you have a set of fairly standard EQ/Channel knobs which include:
Gain Bass Middle Treble Volume Master Volume
These knobs basically shape your sound like an equalizer on your regular stereo.
There are a couple of additional knobs. They are preset which cycles through the 100 stored presets on the amp and an edit knob which doubles as a push button which is the primary way to navigate the menus on the control panel.
The CODE 50 has a Mini USB socket, ¼” mono instrument input, 1/8” (3.5mm) Line In for mp3 or other audio sources you might use for backing tracks. 1/8” (3.5mm) Headphone out ¼” Foot Switch socket (for the Marshall code 4 button footswitch which is sold separately)
The Mini B USB port can be used as a USB interface with a desktop computer for recording and/or MIDI interface through your computer or via a MIDI to USB adaptor. It’s automatically recognized as a recording device and doesn’t need drivers.
The Marshall CODE 50 is a pretty nice sounding amp that duplicates the sound of a range of classic Marshall amps spanning several decades of Marshall’s history as well as a couple of classic American non-Marshall amps. It has a general purpose selection of digital effects so that you can get a broad variety of tones without needing additional pedals. Included with the effects is an adjustable noise gate to dial out any hiss or hum from higher gain presets as well as some of the noise your guitar pickups may pick up.
My first impression was a bit mixed. Sure, it sounded better than my old solid state practice amp. But it was pretty bass heavy and a little flat sounding, boxier than I expected and somewhat directional. Some of the presets were initially unusable because of the boomy lows.
After a few hours of play, it became obvious that some speaker break-in is necessary. Over a couple of days the speaker leveled out and became smoother with fewer harsh transitions across frequencies. So the speaker does require some time at decent volume for it to reach its full potential. Even then it is somewhat boomy; it almost sounds like they chose a boomy speaker to give the impression of a big 4×12 cabinet. It kind of works but also makes it sound a bit more muddy compared to my DSL Tube amp.
Getting acquainted with the amp
This amp grew on me with time simply because I got the amp before Marshall worked out all the bugs. It didn’t take long for me to realize that Marshall rushed the CODE to market a little too hastily. The CODE 50 ships with the exact same presets as the much smaller CODE 25. So all the presets have their mids and low frequencies boosted to compensate for the tiny speaker in the small cabinet of the 25. The presets have too much presence and resonance probably for the same reason. And the noise gate for cutting out high frequency noise is set very high even on clean presets. Many are as high as 6 or 7 out of 10 when low gain to mid gain presets only need 1 – 2.5 out of 10 to sound good. All these factors combined resulted in some of the muffled bass sounds and too much noisegate introduces fizz as the sound tapers off, especially with higher gain tones.
Thankfully over the first 6 months most of the initial bugs have been addressed By Marshall. The amp has had a firmware update that fixed glaring problems including distorted noises and strange clipping when recording from guitars with hot pickups. A host of bugs in the Gateway editor for Android and iOS mobile devices were also fixed.
Since I bought the CODE I’ve received another more expensive amp with wireless and I used that for a time because the wireless worked so well and was so convenient. The sound was decent out of the box with a lot less fiddling. I used it almost exclusively for a month and then came back to the CODE. It was then that I got all the updates and dug into the third party editors created by enthusiasts on the Marshall forums.
The CODE 50 experience had improved a great deal since I first bought it. The factory presets don’t really do it justice. About half a year ago Marshall added their MyMarshall site which has cloud storage and a database of presets including user created ones. It is here that you will find presets that show what the code is capable of. It sounds nice and is VERY loud for a solid state amp. One problem that still persists is that the volume knobs don’t really register below 1. So getting bedroom volumes is quite tricky. The potentiometers in the knobs just aren’t capable or setting the volume between 0.1 and 1.0 which is where the conversation level volumes are to be found. You have to use an editor like the Bluetooth Gateway app or the editors that work from computer via USB hookup to do it.
The Marshall CODE was shipped too early. Because of this it got a pretty mixed reception and you had to have patience and be willing to fiddle to get good sounds out of it. It is a really nice amp but I feel that Marshall skimped a bit to meet their target budget. The CODE 50 is let down by a cheap speaker but still sounds good. I would have happily paid an extra $50 for the exact same amp with an upgraded speaker.
I did find a couple of solutions to dial out some of the speaker’s limitations. Initially a cheap 10 band EQ pedal let me dial out some of the lows for a more balanced sound and now I have added a really nice Overdrive pedal. Similar to a Tube Screamer but with separate bass and treble. It is a lot better than the on board digital effects and can be quite subtle while doing an excellent job of shaping the lows.
When I first got the CODE, I held off writing a review despite being one of the first to purchase one. I was disappointed and felt that despite great potential in its initial state it could with honesty only rate 3 stars. About 9 months later with lots of new competition out there in the modeling amp market, Marshall have addressed all the glaring issues and the CODE 50 easily gets 4 stars in my book. With the addition of my Hardwire CM-2 Tube Overdrive pedal it’s very close to 5 stars. It sounds like a Marshall, has a ton of flexibility and is good for many genres from classical, folk, blues, through rock, hard rock, and early metal. It is pretty dynamic and articulated my playing well and though it is still a little bass heavy, it sounds rich with a lot of detail.
Despite all the niggles it is a keeper. I only wish that Marshall had aimed a little higher. As I said earlier, an extra $50 retail could have given them room to include a better quality speaker and maybe a line out. Perhaps that is what the new 100w Combo and Head address.
I think it was well worth the $250 I paid for it. Thought it was a bit of a bumpy ride, I really like it and use it often. I find the direct USB recording works well and saves the clutter of extra cables and microphones. To get the most out of it, it’s best to raise it off the floor which seems to suck some frequencies away and make it a little more muddy sounding.
In conclusion, with most of the bugs worked out it is now a good practice amp that gets close to the classic amps it emulates. It’s good for recording but doesn’t quite have the feel of a real tube amp. So if you’re looking for a good practice amp, I would give Marshall CODE 50 a try.