Right now I’m sitting in my studio listening to a recording from a show I played a few weeks ago. How was it recorded? Directly from my Fishman SoloAmp into my Mbox 2 Mini. (And yes, I have an audio sample for you.)
If you are a singer-songwriter or a solo musician of any kind, you really should do yourself a favor and check this thing out – the Fishman SoloAmp.
Need a PA?
Ever since I moved away from the Nashville area, I’ve been at a bit of a loss for places to play. As a singer-songwriter, you can usually get away with not having your own PA system. You can just show up to a writers night and use the house PA. Or if you’re opening for another band, you can just use their system.
But what if there is no PA? What if you want to play at a local coffeehouse or bookstore, but they don’t own a PA? Bummer. Or what if you’re asked to play a wedding reception, but they need you to provide your own PA system? Again, bummer.
That’s what I’ve been dealing with the last few years, until a few months ago. I had had enough. I broke down and got a SoloAmp, and I fell in love.
What is the SoloAmp?
The Fishman SoloAmp is an all-in-one, two-channel PA system designed specifically for solo performers. It has two mic/instrument inputs, a 3-band EQ per channel, and 220 Watts of power.
One of the best features of this bad boy is its size. It’s under 42 inches tall and less than 6 inches wide, and it’s only 25 pounds! It comes with a speaker stand and nylon rolling bag. You can literally have your guitar case in one hand and your PA system in the other.
Here’s a picture of the SoloAmp in action, featuring yours truly playing a show a few weeks ago. (Click to enlarge.)
It took me less than five minutes to set everything up for the show. I walked in, unzipped the bag, opened up the stand, and placed the SoloAmp on top. Piece of cake.
The Ins and Out
So what connections does this thing have? After all, this is a blog for home recording studio owners, right? Well, this thing makes it really easy to record a show.
Here’s a picture of the front. (Click to enlarge.)
Along the top there’s a master volume and mute button. There are also volume controls for the Aux and Monitor Inputs (more on that in a second).
At the bottom you’ll see that each of the two channels have an XLR and 1/4″ instrument input. The mic inputs do have phantom power (which makes me happy, since I use an AKG C5 condenser vocal mic). On each channel you can only use either the microphone or the instrument input. You can’t use both at once. Again, this is designed for a singer-songwriter — one guitar, one mic.
Each channel has a 3-band EQ and individual reverb level knobs. There are four different reverbs built in, and they sound great.
What about feedback?
Since the SoloAmp is a one-speaker system, it performs double duty, acting both as the PA speaker and the monitor for the musician. As you can see from the picture above, the SoloAmp is off to my right and a little behind me. That way I can hear what’s going on.
This obviously can lead to feedback problems, but Fishman smartly addresses this with the “Anti-feedback” knobs and the Phase buttons. The anti-feedback knobs are basically notch filters. When setting up the system, all you need to do is spend a few minutes turning up the mic until it begins to feed back, then adjust the anti-feedback knob and press the phase button a few times until the feedback dies down.
While it sounds like this may be a pain, it really isn’t much of an issue. A few tweaks to speaker and microphone placement, and you won’t have many issues.
Here’s the back panel. (Click to enlarge.)
While the SoloAmp is technically a 2-channel device, there are ways to get more inputs. There’s a stereo 1/4″ Aux Input on the back. This is designed to receive an input from something like an iPod, so you can play some music between sets.
You’ll also notice the “Monitor” section. This is designed to let you link two SoloAmps together, but you can also use the Monitor input as another balanced line input for your system.
Both the Aux and Monitor inputs have their own volume controls on the front, as I mentioned before. For my last show, one of the artists wanted me to accompany her on guitar. She was going to be playing and singing as well. Since she was taking up the two inputs on the front of the SoloAmp, I just brought along a small little preamp, and ran my guitar through that into the Monitor input on the back. It worked great!
If you’re dealing with more than one musician, you could even get a small mixer to feed this input.
What about recording?
You undoubtedly noticed the direct outs on the back panel. These are perfect for recording. You have two choices. You can record directly off of the “D.I. Out” to record both signals separately before they’ve gone through the EQ or reverb. Additionally you can use the “Mix D.I. (Post)” output for a mono summed mix of the signals after they’ve gone through EQ and reverb.
While using the mix output has its obvious drawbacks (you can’t go back and adjust the levels of each signal or the reverb), it provides an accurate representation of what the audience is hearing through the SoloAmp.
I’ve recorded both ways, but for the last show I used the mix output, and it turned out really well! So good, in fact, I’m posting one of the songs with this review.
Okay, specs are cool, but how does it sound? I have to say I didn’t expect much out of this skinny little box. I’ve come to be pretty critical of any and all music equipment. I don’t say things sound great unless they do.
This thing sounds great.
I was thoroughly surprised when I first set it up and listened to it. It has a crystal-clear detail to it, which sounds great on singer-songwriter guitar-based music. Much to my disbelief, it produces a ton of bass. I don’t know what kind of voodoo magic the folks over at Fishman use, but this little thing can rumble if you want it to.
And don’t even get me started on how loud it is. Whew. I haven’t played a show for more than 50 people or so, but I haven’t been able to come close to turning this thing half-way up. The Master Volume knob starts at 7 o’clock (all the way off) and maxes out at 5 o’clock. So far I haven’t turned it past 10 o’clock. It’s just too loud past that. Seriously. This thing could easily handle a huge wedding reception.
The SoloAmp currently sells for right around $1,000. While it’s not cheap, if you were to buy a mixer, powered PA speaker, speaker stand, and bags separately, you’d be coming close to $1,000 or more, especially if you’re aiming for something that has the same sound quality.
The SoloAmp is not for everyone. It certainly won’t handle a full band with drums, electric guitars, bass, etc. It’s designed for, as its name implies, the solo artist. If that’s you, you should check it out.
A Little Audio
Alright, here’s one of the songs from the latest show. Since I used the mix output to record this, there’s a bit more reverb than I would normally like. (It was hard to hear how much reverb there during the show.)
The song is called “Change,” written and performed by me. Enjoy!
Having trouble playing it? Download the mp3 here. (Right click and choose “Save Linked File.”)
Questions? Leave a comment!