Hands-On Review:Fishman Loudbox Mini
Great sound, features, and power for unplugged players
Fishman continues the award-winning Loudbox series with its latest and lightest version yet, the . This small, self-contained combo will amplify any acoustic instrument as well as your own voice, so it's ideal for instrumentalists, singer/songwriters, and any singer/players looking to augment their sound with more volume, greater dispersion, or both. At 60 watts, and with plenty of tone-shaping controls, effects, and other features, this Mini delivers in a mighty big way. Let's see why this box will make you want to shout out loud.
The is a two-channel, all-solid state 60-watt amplifier with a 6-1/2" midrange woofer and a 1" tweeter. It's a compact enclosure, standing just 12" high. Despite its impressive 60-watt output, the Loudbox Mini is quite light—only 19.7 pounds—and any time you can get 60 watts at under 20 pounds, you're doing very well. If you've ever had to haul around a tube combo amp in the 60-watt range, you can hardly believe that any amp delivers the same power in such stage-friendly dimensions and at roughly one-third the weight. But the Mini does it.
The may stand only about shin-high, but before you go looking for a chair or stool to elevate it, consider that Fishman has designed the front speaker baffle with a 10° upward tilt. This aims the sound of a floor- or stool-dwelling Mini more toward your ears, and helps bleed the sound into an open vocal mic. Speaking of angles, the control panel is also angled, making it easy to read from a standing position, or if you're seated on a high stool. Aesthetically, the cabinetry is very pleasing: its various planes—the padded side panels, control panel, and grille—are all muted earth-tone browns and matte-black finishes. The overall effect is that the LM is less "electronic looking" than some shiny, all-black amp systems.
Touring the front panel
The front panels offers two inputs, which can be used simultaneously. The instrument input has a 1/4" jack and features a phase switch (to help manage low-end frequencies, and to eliminate feedback and any phase problems created when a direct and miked signal interact), and six knobs: Gain, Low, Mid, High, Reverb, and Chorus. The Mic input is a three-pin XLR jack that accommodates most live-use dynamic microphones. The Mic Channel's four controls are Gain, Low, High, and Reverb. At the far right of the panel is a Master volume control and a power status LED.
A controlling interest
The tone controls bear exploring because they function in a slightly different way than on most guitar amps. In the Mini approach, the 12:00 position is flat—with no boost or cut—or as if the control was completely out of the circuit. Turning the control to the right of 12:00 boosts the selected frequency range, while turning it to the left cuts, or reduces, frequencies in that range. All tone controls feature a center detent, which is a helpful "slot" that allows you to find, by feel, the center/neutral position very quickly. The Reverb control ranges from completely off in its full counterclockwise position to a deep canyon-like echo when fully cranked. The Chorus knob actually controls two separate and distinct chorus effects: a mild, gentle chorus from full left to center; and—past a detent that helps divide them—a thicker, more complex effect from 12:00 to full right.
Over on the back panel are three auxiliary connections: an XLR out for taking the combined signal from the two inputs (post Gain/EQ/effects, pre Master volume) to a mixer or recording device; and a 1/4" TRS and a stereo mini jack for patching in an external source, such as an MP3 or CD player. Also present are the On/Off rocker switch and the AC receptacle. The back panel is beveled upward as well, like the front, which lends a symmetrical look to the panels and also points these rear-panel functions upward for easy viewing and access.
Making a joyful noise
I plugged several acoustic instruments into the , including my Gibson J-45 equipped with a Fishman Ellipse Aura, a K&K Twin Fusion transducer mandolin, and an undersaddle-piezo Dobro. Following the manual's advice to start with the volume levels low and the EQ flat, I gradually brought each of the instruments up to performance level. I found that in the majority of cases, I really didn't need to tweak the onboard EQ much.
The voicing of the controls were such that the neutral settings of the amp, more often than not, brought out the best qualities of each of these varied instruments. With some judicious EQ, I got the mandolin a little warmer and less strident, and my Dobro more glassy and less dull. Though the Gibson was right where I wanted it with flat tone controls, I got a more punchy, bluegrass sound when I kicked up the Bass to about 2:00.
On vocals, I tried a couple of microphones: an AKG D880 and a Shure Beta58. For these, I dialed in just a tad of high end to give some air to the sound, but that, plus a little reverb (with the knob about 10:00), and I was good to go. Fishman's experience with amplifying acoustic instruments really comes through in the EQ department, and even though there are only two EQ knobs on the Mic channel, they were enough because, unlike passive tone controls on a typical combo amp, they provide both boost and cut functions.
I particularly liked the inclusion and implementation of the Chorus on the Instrument channel, and ended up using it more than I thought I would. Though there's only one rotary controller, you can choose between two chorus types, divided at the 12:00 position, giving you a wider range of sounds than if it were, say, just one effect with a knob that went from barely detectable to overly warbly. For slow fingerpicked ballads, and for jangly strumming on Tom Petty tunes, the Chorus effects really enhanced the sound and provided a nice variety from just straight guitar. The Mild and Deep were each distinct but both produced musically useful effects through the entire range of the control.
The build quality, aesthetics, and core sound of the Loudbox Mini are all up to Fishman's usual excellent standards. When you combine those with the features of a quality reverb, sophisticated EQ, and a musically useful chorus—plus the 60 watts of pure, powerful sound in a compact and lightweight package—you've the perfect amplification companion for all your acoustic instrumental and vocal needs.
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