Finding an amplification system that can balance a solo performer’s need for volume and portability can be challenging. For very small gigs, a small combo amp may be sufficient. If you’re lucky to be playing to extremely large audiences you may be willing to lug in a large PA, or hopefully use a large house system. But what about those cases in between? Manufacturers have responded to this need with a type of system often called a “Personal PA.” A system this size can fill the needs of a single performer or duo, have enough volume and projection to handle a moderate-sized room, and, ideally, be carried into the gig in a single trip.
Fishman introduced its original Soloamp, later rebranded as the SA220, back in 2009 as part of the first wave of personal PA systems, and it was an immediate hit among solo performers. Now, with the new SA330x Performance Audio System, Fishman raises the bar with a flexible component system that adds more power, flexibility, and features, while reducing the weight.
The Performance System consists of several components, some of which are optional. The core of the system is the SA330x, a 3 1/2 foot tall rectangular pole that contains six 4-inch mid-woofers and a 1-inch tweeter, along with a control panel on the front and assorted outputs and additional features on the back. The unit can be placed on a standard PA speaker stand, which is included.
For many performers, the SA330x alone will be more than sufficient. With a frequency response of 71Hz–20kHz you won’t get thunderous bass, but it easily covers the range of an acoustic guitar. The SA330x is intended to allow you to place it behind you, more or less, which provides convenient access to the control panel. There are two channels, each with a combo XLR (with phantom power) and 1/4-inch high-impedance inputs, as well as 3-band EQ. Each channel also has an input pad in case your guitar has an unusually high output level, phase switch, and a reverb level. The reverb can be set to one of four types, which affects both channels. Each channel has its own gain, and there is a master volume control and mute switch. The controls are well laid out, and easily accessible.
The rear panel supports an on-off switch, and a number of useful inputs and outputs. Each channel has its own individual DI out, in addition to a DI that outputs a mix of both channels. In addition to a subwoofer output and auxiliary input, the SA330x provides monitor inputs and outputs. The monitor out could be used as an additional send to any source, including a stage monitor, but Fishman has a more clever use in mind. If you have multiple performers, each with their own Performance System, the monitor connections can be used to send a signal to the other systems, allowing performers to better hear each other. A front panel control allows each performer to determine how much of the other’s they want to hear. This scheme could also be used to connect two Performance Systems for more coverage in larger rooms.
The second component, the optional SA Sub, significantly enhances the frequency range of the Performance System. The 30 pound, 300-watt subwoofer, which also serves as a base for the SA-330x, is a compact unit with a single 8-inch speaker that can handle frequencies down to 30Hz. When the subwoofer is plugged in, the SA330x automatically engages a high-pass filter that limits the tower’s frequency range to 100Hz and above.
Finally, for larger groups or more complex needs, Fishman has introduced the SA Expand, which adds four additional channels, each with the same controls as the pair of built-in channels, as well as an additional auxiliary input. The SA Expand is connected to the SA330x using a Cat-5 cable, and can be located at a distance from the SA330x or attached using an adaptor.
The many options may make the Performance System sound complex, but it is straightforward to use in practice. The SA330x alone offers the simplicity of a combo amp, and is lightweight, portable, and easy to set up. Most importantly, the sound is excellent—producing a warm, pleasing sound from all the guitars and pickups I tried. I was especially pleased by the quality of the reverb, which easily added anything from a slight sense of ambiance to full-blown spaciousness. The EQ controls are quite effective, as is the anti-feedback control. I was able to play at a surprising volume without feedback while sitting in front of the system, one of the benefits of the line-array speaker design, and of course it is possible to place the system farther away, or even move it out in front of you like a more traditional PA system.
Most acoustic performers will find the Performance System has enough power for medium-sized gigs, and the easy portability makes it useful for smaller venues as well. For larger gigs, the DI outs allow you to integrate with a house PA system, so the system could easily handle the situations most solo performers encounter.
I thought the guitar sound of the SA330x alone was very natural, with adequate low-end—until I plugged in the SA Sub and discovered what I was missing. The sub adds a substantial sense of power and depth to the sound of the guitar. It was especially impressive when I was using body
percussion to produce a “kick-drum” effect, but even for simple fingerpicking, the sub produced a significant improvement, and is worth serious consideration, even though it is one more item to transport and set up, and of course adds to the system’s cost.
The Fishman Performance System is an impressive option for solo performers, and by adding the SA Sub subwoofer and SA Expand, could be useful even for a small group. The ability to send a monitor signal to another system opens up intriguing possibilities for larger groups to leverage multiple Performance Systems. Although the price of a fully configured system approaches that of a small traditional PA system, the Performance System offers more portability and very easy setup along with excellent sound, making it a very tempting choice for many acoustic performers.
POWER: Bi-amped power section with 280 watts into six 4-inch speakers and 50 watts into a 1-inch tweeter, 71Hz–20kHz frequency response
CONNECTIONS: Inputs: 2 channels with 5M Ohm 1/4-inch input and 3k Ohm XLR combo jack, plus a 1/8-inch aux, monitor, and footswitch jack; outputs: XLR DI (each channel), plus 1 mix DI, sub, monitor.
EQ & EFFECTS: (Per channel) Low ±12.5dB @ 50Hz (resonant), Mid ±10.5dB @ 750Hz (resonant), High ±12.5dB @ 10kHz (shelving); anti-feedback range -14dB @ 15Hz–330Hz (hi-Q resonant notch); phase; pad; low cut; reverb; master volume; mute; aux in; monitor in.
DIMENSIONS: 41.4 x 5.5 x 6.7 inches, 20 lb. (without stand and carrying bag)
PRICE: $1,000 (street)
POWER: 300-watt subwoofer with 8-inch speaker, gain, phase, selectable crossover frequency (80/100/125Hz low-pass filters), frequency response 30Hz–125Hz
CONNECTIONS: 1/4-inch and XLR inputs
DIMENSIONS: 14.4 x 10.3 x 19.8 inches,
PRICE: $849 (MSRP); $549 (street)
4-channel mixer with preamps, 3-band EQ, phase control; Combo XLR and 1/4-inch inputs, 10dB pad, 48-volt phantom power, 1/8-inch mini-jack input
DIMENSONS: 2.2 x 10.7 x 3.4 inches, 1 lb.
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MADE IN: China
PRICE: $169 (street)
This article originally appeared in the August 2017 issue of Acoustic Guitar magazine.