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Cycling through effects
Fast-forward a couple of decades: There are a lot of acoustic amps for those that ply their trade in small theaters, clubs, coffee houses, and the like. But Trace has jumped back in the fray, with the same striking looks as the original, but loaded with oodles more features and, in the case of the TA200, packing power to spare.
You Can’t Judge an Amp By Its Cover
When I picked up the TA200 for this review, I was rather daunted. “It’s huge!” I cried woefully, looking at the case. I lifted it, expecting to have to lug it out to my car, and was very pleasantly surprised—it’s not heavy. In fact, it weighs a comfortable 20 pounds. For an amp that pumps 200 watts through four 5" Celestion speakers, that’s incredibly light. And when I unzipped the top of the rather plush and sturdy fitted-canvas cover, I found a modest-sized, attractive black cabinet with a familiar curved front and black metal grille.
Sporting radioactive-green accents, the TA200’s front panel has two channels, one with an instrument input and one with a combination XLR 1/4" jack. The instrument jack is a smart stereo input, so if you have a stereo pickup and you use a TRS cable, the jack splits the stereo signal between Channel 1 and Channel 2. However, if you need to use Channel 2 as a mic input, it turns the stereo signal into a mono signal. Very clever.
The front panel gives you the usual set of Gain, Lo Trim, Hi Trim, Notch, the effects' Parameter and Setting controls, plus a 6-band EQ and a Master Volume. There are also several LED indicators that relay information about the amp’s functions. Conveniently, the Trim controls all have a center detent setting you can feel. When the trim controls are set to the detent position and the Shape control is off, the frequency response is flat.
On the back panel, you’ll find a power switch and AC cord socket, a switch to turn on back-lighting for the front panel, sends for plugging into a mixing board, returns for direct connection to the stereo power output section, a ground-lift switch, two balanced DI outs with a pre/ post switch, a jack for connecting a tuner, and (drum roll please) the 8-pin DIN socket for the really big and impressive AFC-6 foot controller.
One knob you don’t have is a control for the built-in compressor, which is a soft-knee circuit with what Trace calls adaptive attack and release times. Here’s how it works: The TA200 has Gain knobs on each of the channels, and by turning up the gain you increase the amount of compression on the signal. Compression can add a nice flavor to acoustic guitar, help you pop out in a mix, or help you contain an erratic dynamic range—all good things. The compressor has four stages, and an LED indicator shows you where you are. Unlit means there is no or very low signal; green means signal is present, below the compressor threshold and thus uncompressed; orange means that the signal is high enough for the compressor to kick in; red means a very high signal is present, and you’re in danger of clipping and distorting. The higher you turn the gain, the more compression you add. Clever idea, but I doubt I’m the only person who would appreciate having a way to turn it off in some situations.
For feedback busting there’s a tight-bandwidth Notch filter and a Phase switch. When feedback starts up, you slowly turn up the Notch knob until it goes away. That’s pretty darn idiot proof, and fairly effective, but if that’s not enough, then you can use Phase switch to reverse the phase of either channel, and that frequently does the trick. When phase is reversed, a blue LED lights up. One cool feature about the AFC-6 foot controller is that Phase is among the controls you can switch from the floor. If for some reason you continue to have feedback problems with both Notch and Phase engaged, then you can fiddle with the 6-band EQ. But it’s always good to keep in mind that Notch and Phase have very little impact on tone, so it’s best to go there first for feedback control.
Above the sliders on the 6-band EQ, you’ll find Frequency Locator LEDs, which can help you identify frequencies that are causing feedback. When you hear feedback, you will see one of the LEDs above the EQ section light up, even if nothing is being played. At that point you can simply slowly pull the slider down until the feedback stops.
Shape is another feature that comes in handy, and can be controlled with the AFC-6 as well. It lights up a yellow LED to let you know it’s active. This boosts the highs and lows and cuts the mids, which can help make some lower-quality pickups sound less nasal and more natural, and sometimes it can help a vocal come through better. The foot controller lets you quickly pop in and out of the Shape function.