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Mesa/Boogie TA-15 TransAtlantic - Tone Evaluation

Discussion in 'Amp Central Station' started by AxemanVR, Mar 13, 2015.

  1. AxemanVR

    AxemanVR Tele-Afflicted

    Dec 27, 2011
    Minnesota USA
    Mesa/Boogie TA-15 TransAtlantic - Tone Evaluation - PART 1


    I tried searching the internet for any meaningful info regarding my Mesa Boogie TA-15 TransAtlantic guitar amplifier, but after relatively fruitless results (other than brief reviews revealing nothing specific) I decided to take matters into my own hands and even came up with a couple simple, yet profound "enhancements" along the way.

    In fact these so-called enhancements are so stupidly simple that I'd just wanted to make sure it's understand that my goal here is to do more than just pass on a couple of quick fixes, but also briefly describe the TA-15's various attributes as well as point out whatever pros or cons that may apply to it. I did this for the benefit of anyone looking to better understand their amp or are perhaps considering getting one, so please forgive my fairly long-winded tirade...


    First a little background info:

    As of the year 2015, I have been playing guitars, working on guitars and even sleeping with guitars (not that way sicko!) for about 35 years. I enjoy live performance as well as recording and can attest to how difficult it can be to get a great sound and how rewarding it is when you do.

    My main guitars currently include a 1988 PRS Custom 24, a 1991 Gibson Les Paul Studio, a 2003 Fender AVRI '52 Telecaster and a 2012 Fender American Standard Stratocaster.

    I plug my TA-15 into a Mesa Boogie "wide panel" speaker cabinet with a 3/4 closed back design. Inside is a special - made for Mesa Boogie - Celestion MC-90 "Black Shadow" 8 ohm, 90 watt speaker.


    Before I continue I'd like to give you my first helpful tip pertaining to the TA-15's sound - actually it's more of an observation than a tip - and that is to let the amp sufficiently warm up before expecting optimal tone from it.

    More often than not, when I first turn the amp on, it doesn't seem to sound quite as good as the last time I played it and of course I'd start fiddling with knobs - only to find that after about 15 to 20 minutes it would sound great. It could be my imagination, but I've also noticed a similar short delay after coming off "Standby", no matter how long the amp has been on. Any amp experts or physics majors are welcome to chime in, otherwise it's just something to consider.


    Overall the TA-15 has full, rich, well balanced sound with a wide variety of tonal possibilities, from crystal clear to blues, classic rock and heavy metal, so not surprisingly I was interested in getting at least two main types of sounds out of this amp: "clean & dirty".

    I won't go on and on about the high gain overdrive/distortion parts of this amp, except to say that I feel Mesa Boogie has done an excellent job getting as much as you could reasonably expect considering its size and stature, and, with a little help, I'm sure most people will be thoroughly happy with what it's got (more on this in a bit).

    I did initially have some trouble getting the cleaner sounds to come out the way I wanted but happily it didn't have anything to do with the amp itself and I managed to find an easy solution to that dilemma as well.

    Something else to mull over if you are seriously considering getting one of these amps is the perceived output. Although there is a remarkable amount of volume available from this little firecracker, there's still reason to be concerned if you plan to use it in live performance situations.

    The higher gain settings can certainly push some air and may potentially be able to handle a decent size club. The cleaner sounds are also capable of cutting through in most modest sized gigs, but, at only 25 watts, it's no surprise that clean headroom starts to diminish fairly quickly after a certain level.

    My point is this: If clean "live" playing is your main goal, then you may need to think about getting something with a little more power in order to make sure you have the necessary leeway needed to actually pull it off. Also, clean or dirty, as you crank up the gain the amp eventually starts to lose some lower end tightness.

    So basically the TA-15 is designed for medium to small sized venues (unless you can mic it) or for recording purposes. Either way I can pretty much guarantee that you don't want to be standing in between the guy with a 100 watt Stack and the crazy drummer with a heavy hand! You WILL be pummeled mercilessly into the ground :,(

    Now on to my arguably ingenious improvements...


    First I'll address the overdrive/distortion sounds.

    Soon after getting my new TA-15 in 2010 I began to realize that, if left to its own devices, it would be no "Recto-Monster" - at least not without a little help. I just don't think those little EL84 tubes have enough "oomph" to push the amp into the super-saturation zone by themselves. Some people may disagree with me but, from my experience with other Mesa Boogies, I knew there should be more.

    Fortunately I came up with a brilliant solution: Push the front end of the amp with a booster pedal!

    OK, I can't really take credit for this idea since it has been a trick used by many players to get a little more juice out of their amps, but whatever works, right? And does it ever!

    I personally use an Xotic EP Booster to turn up the heat, and it does it in spades! I love this pedal for the way it adds some extra dimension to my sound without actually coloring it. In fact, sometimes I just leave it on (set at the lowest level) to add a little magic to everything.

    Now when I need that over-the-top, delicious, harmonically rich sustain all I have to do is kick in the booster and I'm in crunchy, wailing, tube clipping heaven! The amount of gain available now is enough to melt your face and definitely enough to please even the most ardent distortion freak.

    Even cleaner tones can benefit with the booster trick too. I couldn't really get the punchy tone I wanted out of my Strat's bridge pickup, then I kicked in the booster and it went into blues overdrive heaven!

    Anyway, as far as the TA's overdrive/distortion goes... Problem solved!


    Now for the cleaner side of this amp:

    For clean single note solos, double stop riffing and vast arpeggiated soundscapes, the TA-15 is a real joy to use. This is how I play (clean-wise) most of the time and I am extremely satisfied with how the TA-15 performs.

    However, I ran into trouble when full chordal bashing was required and, yes, I do realize some finesse is required here. The problem mainly involved chords (especially open chords) and anything played on the more trebly side of the fretboard. In that case the sound could go from a nice chimey, bell-like delight to an ear-splitting, ice-picky treble hell in an instant! Plus there was this mid-rangy murkiness that seemed to drown out certain notes, blurring the overall sound.

    Backing off the volume/tone controls on the amp and/or guitar only made things sound weak, muddy and drab. EQ's and other external processors also failed to deliver. The only conclusion I could come up with is that it had something to do with the speaker or the amp voicing itself.

    I couldn't have been more wrong!

    Before I go any further, I'll just cut to the chase and give you the moral to this story: If you aren't entirely happy with the sounds you are getting from your setup (assuming you are using high quality stuff), try replacing the guitar cable first!

    At any rate, here's the wrong way to approach the problem:

    My first impulse was to try different speakers. At the very least this is a "hit or miss" approach. At the very worst it can be very expensive. Well, after spending a great deal of time (and some money) trying out several speakers I wound up staying with the same MC-90 speaker that I started out with. Luckily I already had most of the other speakers on hand. I suppose at least one good thing that came out of this endeavor is that I now have a a much greater appreciation for the quality of the original speaker.

    My next venture was to try changing out the preamp tubes. I have various 12AX7, 12AT7 and even a couple 5751's laying around, so after a lot of serious tube swapping - guess what? - I ended up keeping the original Mesa 12AX7's that came with the TA-15!

    I was starting to get quite frustrated by now and even contemplated looking for a different amp when I decided to try one more thing... testing different guitar cables!

    I had read where this can significantly affect your tone but never quite gave it the consideration it so rightfully deserved - until now! Duh! Well, I am here to testify that it is all true. After doing a little research I decided to go with a cable from and was quite literally blown away! Note that there are a lot of good cable companies out there so please don't limit yourself to my choice, however, keep in mind that spending more money doesn't necessarily guarantee you'll get a better sounding guitar cable either. Caveat Emptor.

    So, with this one simple change (see I told you it was easy) suddenly everything fell into place. The piercing highs were gone as well as the mid-range muck. Chords are now clear and warm, while still being sparkly and bright. It's like I put the perfect EQ between my guitar and amp.

    I know, you probably feel gypped by my totally lame solutions, but the good news is that the TA-15 is a well designed, awesome amp right?

    Anyway, who'd of guessed that such ridiculously easy results saved me from total financial ruin! Ok, no so much. I only mention all this so that other's may avoid my folly.


    Last edited by a moderator: Mar 13, 2015

  2. AxemanVR

    AxemanVR Tele-Afflicted

    Dec 27, 2011
    Minnesota USA
    Mesa/Boogie TA-15 TransAtlantic - Tone Evaluation - PART 2


    For the rest of this commentary I decided to focus more on a generalized view of the sounds I'm getting out of the TA-15 using various guitars rather than to detail every specific channel, mode and power setting possible - which could easily make up an entire article all by itself!

    The only exception I have is to remind you that the different power setting choices definitely aid in sculpting your sound as much as anything else, so if you aren't quite getting what you want at, say, 25 watts, going to 15 watts might be the ticket... and don't under-estimate the 5 watt setting either!

    As far as the "Vox, Fender, Marshall" thing goes, I'd go as far as to say it's "Voxy, Fendery and Marshally", rather than spot on challenges to their counterparts (of course it's undoubtedly Mesa Boogie-y").

    The "Vox" clean sounds have a buttery, chimey sweetness to it, maybe not quite as Beatlesque as a genuine AC15/30, yet still very nice, while the "Fender" sound is perhaps a little too chimey in some ways, but not necessarily in a bad way and is also very nice. I'd say it has more of a modern Fender sound too rather than a vintage one - of course if I ran it through an old Jensen speaker that perception could possibly change.

    The "Marshall" distortion (Hi 1) is actually very convincing and has everything I need, while the Mesa Boogie distortion (Hi 2) is actually fairly similar with arguably a tad more aggressiveness. The Vox distortion (Top Boost cranked) has a sweetness to it that definitely leans in the Vox direction and is great if you want a smoother distortion sound.

    My AVRI '52 Tele is the sweetest sounding guitar in my lineup and is my "go to" guitar for most clean playing, but it is also so harmonically rich that it can almost be "too phat" through the TA-15, making it somewhat more difficult for clear chording, especially while trying to accent specific notes. Backing off the gain helps but this can be problematic since that also reduces the output level. However, for pretty much everything else besides certain strumming requirements it's superb! Bell-like and glassy are a couple of cliche' labels that apply here, and I'm here to tell you that the TA-15 does this very well!

    My Strat is a close second when it comes to sweet cleanness but with more of an open, airier sound, and of course a touch of "quack" in every setting. So chording is clearer than the Tele, but it is also more "colored" due to this. In other words it's easier to get the "twang" out of the Tele than it is to get the "quack" out of the Strat.

    Otherwise the setup on my TA-15 is fairly similar for both the Strat and Tele, with the main exception being the tone controls; less treble and more bass on the Strat due to its inherent brightness. What's really great though is that the TA-15's harmonic richness gives the Strat some much welcomed girth. It's also one of the few amps I've owned where I can get a great sounding Strat bridge pickup sweetspot tone - without having either the infamously thin ice-picky, treble assault or a completely drowned out tone when attempting to counteract the brightness.

    Both the Strat an Tele can pull off some great Blues and Classic Rock sounds as well, but they stop short of providing a truly convincing hard rock or heavy metal tone - although they can fake it reasonably well in a pinch. Of course each has their own voice and excel at different things, and are still without question two of the more versatile guitars I own.

    As the gain goes up things start to get fatter and both Fenders respond with a bolder gritter sound, but after a certain point the higher frequencies start to become increasing brittle and crass, so careful attention when applying the gain is important here. Using a compressor can improve the sharp edged attack, but once a certain uncomfortable threshold has been reached I turn to my humbucker guitars...

    My PRS is somewhat of a hybrid, with its various humbucker, coil tapping, series and parallel settings. Overall it's a fairly bright guitar on all but the neck pickup humbucker setting, which is comparatively darker. It has a couple of nice clean sounds (one even has a fairly convincing Strat-like spank to it), but nothing that can match my Fenders.

    Even though it's able to pull off a wide variety of sounds, it seems to be better suited for medium to higher gain stuff in my opinion. With the TA-15's gain cranked the bridge pickup really sings. It's a very bright and clear sounding humbucker which takes even the heaviest distortion settings without flubbing out. I like using this guitar when hearing every note counts.

    I have yet to get an exceptionally clean sound out of my Gibson LP but I'm not too concerned since I love what does do well, in other words; it's a rock machine! Bold and powerful is the name of the game here. With the 490R and 498T pickups bluesy stuff is about as clean as you can get, so it does somewhat lack the versatility of the other three, but it also can't be beat for all-out hard rock mayhem!

    When set up for a bluesier vibe the TA-15/LP combo has plenty of punch and attitude which works great for both chunky palm muting and pile driving forceful riffing. As you crank the gain further the humbuckers start to literally, well, hum! (I mean that in the best way of course). The TA-15 responds well throughout the entire overdrive range and delivers plenty of sustain.

    One test I use in this area is "pinch harmonics". Once you find the gain's sweet spot, and with the help of the booster trick I mentioned earlier, I can effectively conjure up ZZ Top La Grange-like pinch harmonics practically anywhere up the neck. Fun! Solos are dynamic with a singing, vocal like quality that's profoundly emotional (think Pink Floyd's Comfortably Numb).

    Power chords are equally satisfying, with a crunch to die for and sustain that lasts forever, often going into controlled feedback without even trying.

    In other words; AWESOME!!!!!!!

    At this point I'm sure I sound completely biased and, although I don't think I've over-exaggerated the perceived quality of this Mesa Boogie product, there still the main question of "who it is right for?" Thus...


    To summarize my overall critique of the Mesa/Boogie TA-15 TransAtlantic:

    * Small and light weight.
    * Well designed all-tube amp with a lot of versatility and great sounds.
    * Good volume for its size - nice choice for recording or smaller venues.
    * Rich in harmonics.
    * Nicely voiced for guitar.
    * Tone controls have subtle but profound affect on sound.
    * "Cut" control on channel 1 is a really nice touch.
    * Giant rubber feet! (for its size)
    * Attractive styling with cool blue LED display

    * Although it is small, you will still need to lug an external speaker around.
    * Relatively expensive compared to other amps with similar power.
    * May not have enough volume to cover larger clubs.
    * Dialing back the harmonics (fatness) requires sacrificing some output volume.
    * Although voiced well, lack of Mid-range control is still limiting.
    * Clean headroom at performance levels may be difficult to attain.
    * Distortion modes need a little help to push it over the edge.
    * The Ch2 distortion options (Hi 1 & Hi 2) sound fairly similar.
    * Bass can lose tightness on certain settings and at higher levels.
    * The tiny machine screws that hold the cover on seem flimsy.


    So, is this the perfect "lunchbox" amp? ...of course not, but for what it is - and what it can do - the TA-15 is impressive.

    On the contrary, I also have other amps that seem to match better with certain guitars, so there's that.

    If the "perfect" amp exists I haven't found it yet, but considering the wide variety of sounds that the TA-15 can conjure up in such a small package, it's definitely at the top of its weight class.

    In conclusion, the TA-15 aims to please and is definitely worth a look, but like anything else it has to be right for each person's needs.

    Decisions, decisions right?

    If you want to know my personal honest opinion, here it is: I love my TA-15 but wished it had a little more power (without spending $700 more for a TA-30) and an effects loop... so there you have it.

    Good Luck!

    Last edited by a moderator: Mar 14, 2015
    LordByron and uriah1 like this.

  3. uriah1

    uriah1 Doctor of Teleocity Ad Free Member

    Feb 12, 2011
    tks for review...curious on the (3) amp type claim..
    is there a foot switchable pedal

  4. AxemanVR

    AxemanVR Tele-Afflicted

    Dec 27, 2011
    Minnesota USA
    A footswitch comes with the amp. All it does is switch between the 2 channels.

    One nice thing about how the TA-15 channels are setup is that each channel has a clean and overdrive option. That way you can have a nice Vox clean sound for rhythm in one channel and an awesome Marshall lead sound in the other (or vice versa with the Fender clean and Vox overdrive instead).

    That said, you would have to manually switch modes if you want to switch sounds on the same channel...

    Last edited by a moderator: Mar 14, 2015

  5. rider7

    rider7 Tele-Meister

    Apr 15, 2014
    Very nice and in-dept review.

  6. teleamp

    teleamp Poster Extraordinaire

    Thanks for the review. For what it's worth I play through a M/B Mark V:25 and absolutely like the cleans and overdriven tones.

    With my detuned 1 X 12 I can play large/loud venues, or with a 2 X6 custom cab from Ear Candy play at comfortable SPL levels at home, or in the studio...

  7. PastorJay

    PastorJay Tele-Holic

    Apr 12, 2014
    Just picked one of these up. Got a nice deal as they are discontinued. But I would have paid the initial asking price for the great clean low volume tone.

    Oh My Gosh! Amazing!

    I've wanted a vox sound for years now but never found the right small amp--including the small vox amps which didn't sound right to me.

    The Clean and more gain top boost sounds are amazing even at 5 watts. Still working on finding the right sound on the fender/marshall/boogie side.

  8. homesick345

    homesick345 Poster Extraordinaire

    Jan 20, 2012
    Beirut, Lebanon
    good, thorough review

    Mesa perfected the concept, & did come indeed with the "perfect lunchbox amp" -= it's the Mark V:25

  9. AxemanVR

    AxemanVR Tele-Afflicted

    Dec 27, 2011
    Minnesota USA
    As fruitless as it may seem (since this amp has been discontinued) I decided to do a long term review of my Mesa Boogie TA-15 TransAtlantic head, just in case someone else is still interested in getting one (I see them on eBay for $500 these days).

    Assuming you read my original review above, you probably already know I've had my TA-15 since 2010, and so far it has worked perfectly!

    Pretty much everything I said earlier still applies and I've changed the output tubes once since I first got it, but probably didn't have to.

    I've also been pretty careful with it, so it shows very little wear, otherwise everything works smoothly and quietly (and of course sounds fantastic).

    In fact, I liked the TA-15 so much that I got a TA-30 as well (for bigger gigs). Here is a review I did on that:

    The TA-30 is similar to the TA-15 but with more power as well as Reverb, an Effects Loop, a Boost switch on Ch2 and more versatile footswitch functions. This is my high powered rig and it should be able to handle most of the live performance situations I'm apt to encounter these days.

    The TA-30 did have some quirks with the reverb, which can be noisy at lower levels (but is not as noticeable when cranked), otherwise it has much of the same character as the TA-15.

    Anyway, if you are still in the market for the TA-15, I for one can highly recommend it!

    Good Luck!

    Last edited: Feb 14, 2017
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  10. snottyboy

    snottyboy Tele-Meister

    Nov 5, 2010
    SCS, MI
    Yep, read your initial reviews not too long ago as I'm interested in the 15/30. I would snap at a 15, but do like to use a touch of verb, which it does not have, nor a loop for a verb pedal. I would use the amp at home and also small venues, so I think the 15 would be better suited in that regard with the 5 watt option. Any thoughts that might apply to my situation? Have you tried a reverb pedal in the front end of the 15, and if so, how were the results? Thank you for following up your initial review, very informative!

  11. Flakey

    Flakey Friend of Leo's

    I like the TA for the Vox thing. I thought it missed on the Fender sound part. Good amp but I don't need all the bells and whistles. Used market; a tremendous value. I ABSOLUTELY LOVE THE TA 23 inch 1X12 cabinet!!! I use 2 of them with my Hiwatt Custom 50 head. Light but enough bottom end for that nice low end Hiwatt thump and great roar and chime! The Celestion C90 in that bottom is a fantastic speaker.

  12. Jakeboy

    Jakeboy Tele-Holic

    Jul 26, 2008
    Sedalia, MO
    I think the TA15 is indeed the perfect Lunchbox amp. I got one in Sep 2016 just for the Vox channel and OMG I love every channel and mode. The Vox is awesome, the Marshall really does sound like a Marshall JCM type. Boogie, well they had better make it sound like a Boogie. I am not a fan of BF Fender so I don't use that channel much. For cleans I lean towards the Vox channel, but I recorded a song for my latest album with Vox on one side and the Fender channel on the other and it turned out great. I need to experiment with the Fender mode more. I have lots of tweeds and Browns which are the Fender types I love so I haven't messed with that mode much. Best overall, most versatile amp out there period.

    Sure it doesn't do what my other amps can do, but then they do one thing...their tone. The TA does 4 different amps. Very well done. Blows my mind they aren't more popular.

  13. AxemanVR

    AxemanVR Tele-Afflicted

    Dec 27, 2011
    Minnesota USA
    Well, I guess my short answer is this: If I had to choose between the TA-15 or TA-30 right now (to cover all my bases) I'd have to go with the TA-30.

    If you recall, I ended my initial review stating how I wished the TA-15 had a little more power and an effects loop.

    Plus, since you can get a TA-30 for around $800 these days, it's definitely more affordable (although you still need to purchase an external speaker cabinet).

    On the other hand, I'm still keeping my TA-15.

    Why? Because it works great in the power range to which it was designed and if you're absolutely sure that level of volume/headroom will be enough AND that you can live without an effects loop AND you don't need built in reverb (more on this in a moment) then I say go for it!

    But! I should point out a couple things first...

    In the 5 watt power mode the sound you get is sweet and full with the Volume/Gain set around "noon", but as you crank either channel up higher, the cleans loose headroom fast and the overdrive can get bloated and loose definition. In other words; the 5 watt mode is best suited for very low level performances and recording. Of course you always have the 15 or 25 watt modes if you need more. Otherwise reread my first review pertaining to "live" performance considerations.

    As far as reverb goes, I did run my Electro Harmonix Holy Grail Reverb into the front end of the TA-15 and it was "do-able" but not "optimal" meaning, it does the job but seems to lack some "richness" in my opinion, but of course ymmv.

    Speaking of reverb...

    The reverb on the TA-30 is a little "curious" for lack of a better word.

    At lower levels there is a noticeable hum associated with it (which seems to be worse in the "red" Fender channel), and is not particularly full sounding. On the contrary, when you crank either channel up to performance levels, not only is the noise effectively covered up, but the reverb suddenly becomes deliciously rich and lush! In fact I'm often forced to back the reverb off it's so damn thick!

    Unfortunately, by what I'm reading from you, the built-in reverb in the TA-30 probably won't do you much good if you need it at lower levels (although the "green" Vox channel has much less noticeable hum).

    Side note: I discovered by accident that you can get the reverb hum to disappear by removing the top cover from the TA-30, so there certainly appears to be some sort of issue with interference when it's on. I'm obviously not going to take the cover off all the time, but perhaps it does mean that the combo version is not affected since the reverb tank is moved away from the electronics... something worth looking into...

    I suppose the best solution, if you get the TA-30 head, is to run an external reverb pedal through the effects loop at lower levers and use the built-in reverb at higher levels.

    All of this is probably why the TransAntlantic series was discontinued. Even though each is packed full of features, neither perhaps fully hit the mark.

    Anyway, features aside, I plan to stick with my TransAtlantic amps for no other reason than they both possess undeniably excellent tone...

    Good luck!
    Last edited: Feb 14, 2017
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  14. PastorJay

    PastorJay Tele-Holic

    Apr 12, 2014
    Axeman's response is obviously much more detailed than mine. I bought the TA-15 specifically for low volume gigs, particularly the church conferences I do a couple times a year. Set at 5 watts and the clean vox sound. I put a T REX Soulmate (TS style OD, Mudhoney (Rat-style) based Distortion, delay, reverb and a clean boost) and Boss Trem in front of it. Keep the reverb on all the time. Mostly use the distortion, with the distortion set low and the volume higher, when I want some dirt or a little volume boost. And use the trem on the stuff that really ought to sound like an old amp.

    I've used the Marshall sound a little bit and want to experiment with the Mesa sound, which I think I'll like better than the Marshall when I get it dialed in.

    It's a great amp for low volume gigs. I've used it occasionally for other situations set at 25 W and it works for that too.
    snottyboy likes this.

  15. ebb soul

    ebb soul Poster Extraordinaire

    Jun 7, 2016
    Smyrna georgia
    To many.
    I'm amazed electrons can find their way out!

  16. AxemanVR

    AxemanVR Tele-Afflicted

    Dec 27, 2011
    Minnesota USA
    It's really just a two channel amp.

    Each channel lets you set up various "power" and "mode" options, but after that it's really very simple, and (whatever the case) it must be well designed since everything sounds superb!

    imho of course...

    snottyboy likes this.

  17. snottyboy

    snottyboy Tele-Meister

    Nov 5, 2010
    SCS, MI
    Hey, I grew up a Fender-simple guy. The TA-15 hardly appears to be complicated if you understand the layout and what it's intentions are. In fact, the idea that it packs all of these possibilities into such a seemingly easy layout, along with user accounts that support its success in achieving those possibilities is what really intrigues me. And then I like a good old 18-watt with volume/tone, too.
    AxemanVR likes this.

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