Hands-On Review:Fishman SoloAmp


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Clear, powerful sound for solo guitarists/singers

By Dan Day
Musician’s Friend Staff Writer

 

My buddy Dave calls himself a semi-pro musician. He plays 15 to 18  gigs a month, singing and playing guitar at retirement centers and  nursing homes. He plays songs that people know, mostly sing-along  standards from the ’30s, ’40s, and ’50s including cowboy songs, pop  favorites, and a gospel tune or two. He really likes the sound of his  current setup—an acoustic guitar amp, a PA with a powered amp/mixer with  two 15" JBL speakers, and another amp that serves as a monitor. But  lately Dave has realized he has more equipment than he needs, especially  for some of the smaller rooms he plays. Loading and unloading the gear  into his SUV is cumbersome, especially the 15" speaker cabinets. Even  using a cart to haul his gear, it takes 20 to 25 minutes to set up, with  10 to 15 minutes spent just setting up the PA. Some days there are only  45 minutes between gigs. Dave would like to cut down on teardown time  so he can safely drive to the next gig, set up and have time to  socialize with the audience—a key component to building rapport.

 

Surprisingly portable

 

When I told Dave I was writing a Hands-On Review of the new Fishman SoloAmp, he agreed to critique it. When he stopped by to pick me up for the gig, I used the SoloAmp’s  rolling carrying case to bring it out to his waiting SUV. Expressing  surprise over its compact size and light weight, he observed that he  could have put the SoloAmp in the trunk of his Jetta, which gets better gas mileage. At 35 pounds, he easily lifted the SoloAmp into his SUV. Dave had left his PA rig at home, but brought along his acoustic guitar amp and monitor in case the SoloAmp didn’t meet his sonic requirements. He learned soon enough that there was no need for them.

 

Setting expectations

 

As we drove over to the gig, Dave told me he was looking for clarity  and deep low-end response that’s soft, yet full. He wanted a PA that  easily adjusts to the size of the room. He explained that dining rooms  with high ceilings can be too echo-y while rooms with a low ceiling can  create dead zones. He wanted a PA that fills the room but isn’t too loud  and overpowering. He wanted a system that supports his voice and fills  in the background so he can lay his voice on top. He emphasized that  lack of depth and bass for his guitar was a major concern. He had tried  another portable PA system but thought it lacked depth, which is why he  bought a system with 15" cabinets. His old-school thinking dictated that  bigger speakers equal better sound. But as he would soon hear for  himself, that’s not necessarily true. Instead of giving Dave a big sales  pitch, I decided to step back and let him discover for himself what the  SoloAmp offered.

 

Setup

 

At the retirement center Dave set up in the upstairs recreation room  with a 25' cathedral ceiling—a setting where sound could easily get  swallowed up. It took about a minute for him to remove the stand and  combination speaker column/amp/mixer from the carrying case and set it  on its stand behind his stool and mic stand. While examining the  forward-facing array of six 4" midrange drivers and 1" neodymium  tweeter, he told me he had expected the speakers would be mounted all  around the column. He would soon appreciate the wisdom of the forward  facing array. Taking just a minute to look over the inputs and controls,  he then pressed the phantom power button on the panel and plugged in  his vocal mic using the XLR input of Channel 1. After setting the master  volume at 10 o’clock, he adjusted the high, mid, and low frequencies  and selected the first and lightest of the four reverb settings. Dave  then plugged his Taylor guitar into the 1/4" input of Channel 2 and,  after setting the EQ, used the guitar’s volume control to set the  balance between voice and instrument.

 

Performance

 

For the next hour Dave took his audience down memory lane with such  favorites as “Babyface,” “Waltz Across Texas,” and “All of Me.” Because  the speakers were positioned right behind Dave the vocals and guitar  sounded centered and natural—not disembodied coming from speakers to the  right or left of the audience. The SoloAmp does what a PA is supposed to do: make the voice and guitar loud and  clear without coloring the sound or overwhelming the audience with  artificial “PA sound.”

 

Evaluation

 

On the drive back, Dave gave me his evaluation: “The SoloAmp was better sounding than I expected. It had more depth and more bass  than I thought was possible. I was also worried that with its speaker  array it would be too treble-heavy. But that wasn’t the case. It has  plenty of power and should easily handle any of the venues I play. I  liked having the speaker column right behind me so I could hear  everything just the way the audience did. I liked the acoustic guitar  sound. It reproduces both the guitar and vocals clearly with no  distortion. It took only five minutes to set up the SoloAmp versus 15 minutes for my PA. Because it’s so light and compact I can use my Jetta to haul it.”

 

Here’s the kicker: I asked Dave to give me a price range for what he would pay for a SoloAmp. The actual price was at the bottom of his range. Could there be a PA trade-in on the horizon for Dave?

 

Features & Specs


  • 220W - Class D power amp and power supply
  • Ultra-high excursion custom drivers and a servo power design eliminate need for subwoofer
  • Universal voltage compatibility
  • Compact line array design
  • Drivers:  6 - 4" cone midrange (200W), one 1" neodymium soft dome tweeter (20W) with tweeter level control
  • 2 XLR and 1/4" mic/instrument input channels with 3-band EQ, phantom power
  • Balanced XLR D.I. outputs for both channels, plus main mix
  • Input gain with 10dB pad and clip indicator
  • 4 digital reverb effects with individual channel reverb level
  • Dedicated effects loops for each channel
  • Feedback-fighting phase and notch filters
  • Auxiliary stereo input with level control
  • Monitor I/O allows for monitoring of your partner’s SoloAmp
  • Channel mute with optional remote footswitch input
  • Tuner output
  • Stand and rolling padded carry bag
  • Dimensions: 5-3/5" W x 41-1/2" H x 6-3/5" D
  • Weight: 25 lb. without stand/35 lb. with stand and carry bag