By Teja Gerken
One thing is immediately clear when I plug into this amp: AER is not reinventing a successful wheel. For the most part, the new Compact 60/3 is virtually interchangeable with the previous version, the trusty AER Compact 60.
What do I mean by that?
Well, this amp has great transparency, which means that it faithfully reproduces what you put into it. Some players prefer an amp with more coloration, which may help get a more natural sound from certain pickups or guitars. But if you’re in search of accuracy, the AER is hard to beat.
In the two decades since it was founded, in 1992, Germany’s AER (their slogan is “the Acoustic People”) has become one of the most respected makers of amplifiers dedicated to reproducing acoustic instruments. Almost since the beginning, the Compact 60 has been the company’s workhorse—small, powerful, and transparent sounding—and the amp is now in its third generation.
The Compact 60’s success is due, in part, to its businesslike demeanor. Completely devoid of bells and whistles, the unit is basically a black box with an easy-to-navigate control panel. With the exception of a different effects-control knob and rearranged jacks in the amp’s back, the 60/3 looks identical to its predecessor. There are two channels, one optimized for guitar, the other designed as a microphone channel, but with its combination XLR/1/4-inch input, it can also serve as a second instrument channel.
OK, so the changes to the amp’s design are minimal. What about its sound? According to AER’s co-founder Udo Roesner, the company tried to make the amp slightly more open, dynamic, and modern sounding. So, armed with my trusty custom Martin OM, which has an L.R. Baggs Dual Source system installed, I set out to test the 60/3, keeping my own earlier version of the amp set up as a reference.
I immediately got a sound that was fat, yet crisp and also dynamic.
Part of the secret to AER’s ability to get so much volume out of the Compact 60/3—it’s definitely loud enough to compete with a drummer or to play a small gig with no other sound reinforcement—is through the use of a dynamic type of compression. While it becomes audible at higher volumes, it doesn’t sound unmusical. I tried the amp during a rehearsal with a percussionist playing cajon and cymbals, using an Alvarez ABT60 baritone guitar equipped with a Fishman Rare Earth Blend pickup, and it was impressive how this little amp was able to keep up with the low baritone rumble.
Still, there are some subtle differences between the new 60/3 and the older Compact 60. First, the new amp is slightly lighter. More importantly, the guitar channel’s midrange control is more effective than on previous versions. For example, with my own second-generation Compact 60, I usually add an external preamp with EQ to the signal as a way to expand on its built-in EQ offerings. With the 60/3, there is much less of a need to do this.
I also found the 60/3’s reverb to be slightly richer sounding, especially when listening to its decay. Another effects-related difference is that the 60/3 no longer offers a combination of chorus and reverb. Also, I wish that the amp allowed the effects to be sent through the DI output, as this would be useful in many settings. As it is, the effects are only audible through the speaker, or the 1/4-inch line output—the same arrangement as in the amp’s previous versions.
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With its clean design, easy-to-carry dimensions, and punchy, transparent sound, AER’s Compact 60/3 is a great amp. There are acoustic amps with more features, louder volume, and lower prices, but it’s hard to argue with the smart overall utility and natural voice that AER specializes in.
Specs 60 watts. One eight-inch twin-cone full-range speaker. Two channels. 1/4-inch input (with optional nine-volt phantom power), high/low switch with 10 db pad, gain, color, bass, middle, and treble control on guitar channel. Combination 1/4-inch/XLR input (with 24-volt phantom power), line/mic switch, gain, bass, and treble controls on mic channel. Digital effects with two reverbs, delay, and chorus. Master volume. XLR DI-output. Line out, tuner, out, and headphone outputs. Effects send and return, and TRS effect footswitch jacks. 10.2 x 12.8 x 9.25 inches. 14.3 pounds. Padded carrying case included.
Made in Germany. Distributed by Musiquip, Inc. aer-amps.com
Price $1,299 list; $1,099 street.
Teja Gerken is a contributing gear editor.