Fishman Loudbox Mini Acoustic Amp Review
September 21, 2010
|Download Example 1
|Download Example 2
With Reverb and Chorus
|Download Example 3
|Download Example 4
Drop D with Gain
|All clips recorded with a Yamaha Dreadnaught with factory onboard preamp and undersaddle pickup.|
The latest addition to the company’s Loudbox amplifier line (which debuted in 1993), the Loudbox Mini carries on Fishman traditions of quality, sonic versatility, and practicality. Offering 60 watts of power in a small, super-light, and ultra-affordable package, the combo is a breeze to tote in one hand and powerful enough to fill just about any smaller gig space.
Rock Solid, Feather Light
Like most of the Fishman amps I’ve played, the Mini feels stout and appears flawlessly assembled. You get the feeling you can throw it in the back seat, take it on the subway— even strap it to your bike rack if you needed to—without worrying a lick about whether or not it will work when you get to the gig.
The understated little Fishman is also designed as elegantly as a mid-century hi-fi system, and its subdued brown-and-tan motif makes the controls easy to find, reach, read, and adjust. Each channel has its own simple control set. The far-left Instrument channel has a Phase switch, plus Gain, Low, Mid, High, Reverb, and Chorus knobs. A simpler set of Gain, Low, High, and Reverb knobs are on the Mic channel, and a Master volume sets the amp’s overall level.
The back panel features a D.I. out to feed the house system or a slave amp, 1/4" and 1/8" auxiliary inputs, and the power switch—all readily accessible without tilting the amp (or crawling around on hands and knees with a flashlight or lighter in the middle of a gig).
My only complaint about the design is that you can’t angle the Mini back any further (which might be nice for certain monitoring situations) without placing a book or some support under the front of the amp. The speaker baffle has 10 degrees of built-in tilt, which compensates to some extent. And given the Mini’s light weight, it’s no problem to elevate it with a light stool or milk crate. All things considered, the amp’s portability and small footprint are a fair trade for reduced tilt-back capability.
Big Bass for a Little Box
To run the Loudbox Mini through its paces, I used a Yamaha FG cutaway dreadnought with a factory-installed undersaddle pickup and preamp, a Taylor 312ce with a Taylor Expression System, and a Taylor 712 with a Dean Markley ProMag soundhole pickup. It was easy to get a warm and natural sound out of the Mini straight away with its tone controls set fl at, the Gain and Master volume about a third of the way up, and just a smidge of reverb.
The first real surprise came when I turned up the bass EQ controls on the Taylor 312ce and the Yamaha. With the low end kicked up on the guitars, the Mini’s bass response and character expanded drastically—becoming rich, colorful, and heavy without dominating the higher frequencies. Plugging in the Taylor/ ProMag combo and boosting the amp’s bass control produced a similar, if slightly woolier version of the same effect. But even at this low volume, the amp sounded much bigger and more powerful than its diminutive dimensions suggest.
Higher volume didn’t diminish the color or potency of the Mini’s bass sounds. With the bass control dialed up to 75 percent of maximum, fingerpicking and flatpicking arpeggios in DADGAD and C–G–C–G–C–C tuning coaxed low end that was detailed and rich in overtones and sustain. Even with a neighbor’s massive upright bass plugged in, the Mini held up just fine, kicking out colorful, well-defined low-end tones without muddiness or a hint of breakup.
Though the Mini’s bass response was regularly impressive, the treble response didn’t always have quite as much bloom or complexity as they might in a larger, more powerful amp with increased headroom. Using a flatpick with both the Yamaha and the Taylor 312ce sometimes drove the amp toward fairly compressed territory in the higher frequencies. But it was easy to dial in a bit more dimension and life for the trebles with a touch of reverb. And a slight roll-off of the bass always seemed to even the compression effect across the EQ band.
Players given to strumming will find a lot to like about the Mini. In fact, it often seemed much more balanced in a strumming, high-volume environment where the slightly compressed highs made complex chords a little airier and better defined. A percussive take on the Who’s “Overture” from Tommy—which combines fast, heavy strums, flatpicked runs, and a delicate arpeggio section—revealed not only the Mini’s punch and definition when hit with a Townshendian flurry of strums, but its dynamic range as well. And the amp went from a relative roar to a hush without a significant loss of detail or tone.
To test the Mini’s full gigging potential, I plugged a vocal mic into the Mic channel and summoned a nicely balanced guitar and vocal blend—complete with a dollop of digital reverb for my voice—that would work well for a small, not-too-loud café or house concert. I even had some fun cranking the reverb and chorus on the Instrument channel and the reverb on the vocal mic to do a little Neil-Young-via-The-Twilight-Zone set in my living room. It’s probably not what Larry Fishman had in mind for the Mini, but the amp performed gloriously anyway—maintaining harmonic balance, tonal integrity, and that impressive bass bloom throughout my experiments with its digital effects.
If you’re an acoustic player who rarely gigs out of the comfy confines of a coffeehouse, small restaurant, or bookstore, the Fishman Loudbox Mini may be the only amp you need. It’s surprisingly loud, projects well, and responds to a dynamic touch at high or low volume. The amp’s bass response is exemplary. And though fingerpicking and flatpicking styles that emphasize single notes can highlight the amp’s tendency to compress high frequencies, that same tendency can work well for strumming and pounding out complex chords. Whatever your musical style, the Fishman Loudbox Mini is an exceptional acoustic amp that sounds bigger, richer, and more expensive than its size or price would suggest.
you play small venues and need a high-quality, rich-sounding acoustic amp for a rock-bottom price.
you jam with a loud band or play larger venues where you can’t count on a PA.
Street $300 - Fishman Transducers - fishman.com