By Doug Young
Getting a big sound that can fill a room used to require an amplifier with a size, and often price, to match. The trend lately, however, is toward amplifiers that won’t break your back or empty your wallet but can still deliver plenty of power. Fishman’s latest in its Loudbox line of amplifiers stands just over a foot tall and weighs in at just 25 pounds, but it delivers plenty of clean sound and volume and has a compelling array of features. The Loudbox Artist replaces the older Loudbox 100, bringing slightly more power, some subtle changes in features, and a redesigned appearance.
The Loudbox has a classy look, with brown Tolex side panels, brown grille cloth, and a beige aluminum control panel. The cabinet is designed to tilt back, which helps aim the sound upward and provides a clear view of the front control panel. A comfortable handle makes the amp seem even lighter than its 25 pounds. The cabinet contains an eight-inch woofer and a one-inch cloth tweeter that can be attenuated by up to six dBs. In spite of the light weight and small size, the amp feels sturdy and solid. Rubber feet provide a firm base, and protective corner pieces on the side panel should help the amp travel well.
The front control panel has two identical channels, with combination ¼-inch/XLR inputs; gain, bass, mid, and treble controls; and an anti-feedback notch filter. One useful change from the previous Loudbox 100 is that XLR mic inputs with phantom power are available on both channels. Each channel also has an individual pad control, a phase switch, and an effects level control. The master section on the far right side of the panel has a master volume control, headphone jack, channel mute, tweeter level control, a switch for activating phantom power, and control for the auxiliary input, which is suitable for connecting an iPod, CD player, or rhythm machine. An especially nice touch is the way the pushbutton switch’s embedded LEDs light up when activated.
The Loudbox has an especially flexible and powerful array of effects, with two separate internal effects sections, plus separate effects loops for each channel for external processors. Internal effect system A applies to both channels and has two reverb algorithms: (single) echo and (repeating) delay. A single Time control affects the behavior of each of these effects, while the per-channel level control adjusts how much of the effect is mixed with the channel. Effect B has two chorus settings, a flanger, and a slap echo effect, with a single Depth control. A switch on each channel controls whether Effect B is applied to the channel, with the Depth control determining the overall amount of the effect.
The back panel contains a power switch, individual DI outs for each channel, a master Mix DI output, ¼-inch jacks for effect send and return on each channel, ¼- and 1⁄8-inch jacks for the auxiliary input, and a TRS jack that supports a dual footswitch for muting the amp and activating Effect B. The individual channel DIs are pre-EQ, which is useful for sending to a house system a direct signal that remains independent of any adjustments you make onstage.
The Loudbox Artist does not have a tuner out, although you could use one of the effect sends for that purpose, and the effect sends also could serve as an unbalanced line out. Also missing is a single TRS input for dual source pickups, along with the ability to power an internal guitar microphone, which was included on previous generation Loudboxes.
After plugging in, it became apparent how the Loudbox got its name—the amount of sound coming from this small amp is quite surprising. The amp sounds warm and full, even with all EQ controls set flat, and it responds well to magnetic pickups, USTs, and soundboard transducers. The gain control provides enough range to accommodate both a high-output pickup system with an onboard preamp (a D-Tar Wavelength) and a very-low-output passive soundboard transducer that usually requires a preamp (K&K Pure Western Mini) on the guitars that I tried the amp with.
The three-band EQ provides quite a bit of control over the tone. With the tweeter all the way up, the 15 kHz shelving treble control is capable of producing a crisp sheen. The bass control, centered at 50 Hz, provides a substantial low-end boost, while the mid control at 750 Hz allowed me to dial in some warmth or reduce muddiness as needed. The well-laid-out controls make the amp easy to operate, while offering a lot of flexibility. For example, having separate anti-feedback controls for each channel will be very helpful when using the two channels with a pickup and mic, each with its own feedback potential.
I was especially pleased with the sounds provided by the two internal effects banks. The reverb sounds are quite good, and in spite of the simple, limited controls, I was able to create effects that ranged from a subtle ambience to a long ethereal reverb tail. Chorus is an easily abused effect, but the two sound choices in the Loudbox are very musical, capable of both dramatic effects and an almost subliminal acoustic enhancement. The flanger effect was also a surprise. Rather than the overdone ’70s-era swoosh, the Loudbox flanger adds a fairly gentle sense of motion that is useful for fattening up anything from a strummed rhythm part to gentle fingerpicking.
With its easy portability and big voice, the Fishman Loudbox Artist would be a useful tool for most gigging guitarists and a good choice for home or studio. The amp occupies a spot in the middle of Fishman’s line, and guitarists who need less power or flexibility might opt for the similar-looking 60-watt Loudbox Mini, while those playing larger gigs might want to move up to the SA220. Solo artists can use the Loudbox Artist’s multipurpose inputs to support a guitar and vocal, blend a pickup and guitar mic, or add a drum machine or iPod for backing tracks. The amp could easily fill a small- to medium-size venue, and for more complex setups and larger rooms, the flexible DI outputs and effects loops can accommodate almost any situation you might encounter. Best of all, the Loudbox Artist lets you walk into your gig with guitar in one hand and amp in the other, without giving up sound quality or features.
SPECS: Two channels with ¼-inch and XLR mic inputs, three-band EQ, and anti-feedback controls on each channel. 120 watts, bi-amped. Aux input. 24 volts phantom power. Eight-inch woofer, one-inch tweeter. Internal effects with reverb, delay, chorus, and flanger, plus effects loop. Headphone out. Master and individual channel DI outputs. Channel mute footswitch. 13.5 x 15.5 x 11.5 inches. 25.5 lb. Designed and engineered in the USA. Built in Korea.
PRICE: $769.15 list/$499.95 street.
MAKER: Fishman: (978) 988-9199; fishman.com.