FISHMAN SA330X / SA SUB / SA EX­PAND

IS IT A LARGE ACOUS­TIC GUI­TAR COMBO, OR IS IT A SMALL PA? BY

Australian Guitar - - Reviews - STEVE HEN­DER­SON

Re­cently, the folks at Fishman have come up with a string of in­ter­est­ing and prac­ti­cal gad­gets, al­most all de­signed to de­liver or en­hance as pure an acous­tic sound as pos­si­ble – the ex­cep­tion be­ing their fab­u­lous Flu­ence se­ries of elec­tric gui­tar pick­ups. The di­ver­sity of their prod­ucts – from piezo-based trans­duc­ers and mag­netic/mi­cro­phone hy­brids, preamps and mod­ellers to am­pli­fi­ca­tion sys­tems – means there’s bound to be some­thing for every­one. Artists as di­verse as Jerry Dou­glas, The Oak Ridge Boys, John Oates, Steve Earle, Match­box 20, Ben But­ler, Steel Pan­ther, John Hy­att, Greg Koch, Lisa Loeb, John McLaugh­lin, Sonny Lan­dreth and James Tay­lor have all made Fishman de­vices a part of their rigs.

A GREAT CATCH

Full dis­clo­sure: I am a Fishman owner. I have owned a Loud­box Mini and an SA220 since their re­spec­tive re­leases, so I can at­test to their great sound and long-term us­abil­ity. The Mini is 60 watts of eas­ily lug­gable tone – I don’t know why any­one with an acous­tic or elec­tric wouldn’t want one of these tiny dy­namos. And the SA220, espe­cially, is a clever and prac­ti­cal am­pli­fi­ca­tion sys­tem de­signed so that the live per­former has what they need at their fin­ger­tips, but doesn’t have to be a rocket sci­en­tist to drive it. With that in mind, a new SA model is wor­thy of in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

The SA330x is a slightly more com­plex ver­sion of the SA220. It’s still a light­weight line ar­ray sys­tem, but it ad­dresses the real or per­ceived short­com­ings of its pre­de­ces­sor: the power, bot­tom end and chan­nel lim­i­ta­tions. If noth­ing more, these up­grades make the sys­tem more of a ver­sa­tile set-up. As for the panel lay­outs, these are very much the same as the orig­i­nal 220, with the chan­nel in­puts and con­trols on the front and the ex­tra out­puts and in­ter­fac­ing on the rear. The 330 still al­lows for only two chan­nels by it­self (which we’ll talk more about later on), each with a com­bi­na­tion XLR/phono in­put, a full tone stack and ded­i­cated re­verb and anti-feed­back con­trols. There are even a cou­ple of LEDs to il­lu­mi­nate the front panel, which is a nice touch.

The new power rating gives us a 50 per­cent in­crease over the SA220, adding a bit more weight and punch to the de­liv­ery. Six four-inch woofers bi-amped with a one-inch neodymium tweeter pro­duce 330 real watts, which is plenty of juice to fill a small to medium venue. Dis­per­sion is wide rather than long, so it spreads through­out the venue and the au­di­ence hears the real thing no mat­ter where they are sit­ting. And, al­most mag­i­cally, there’s no need for stage mon­i­tors: per­form­ers hear their sig­nal from the front-of­house feed. You’ll love this if you’re an acous­tic player, be­cause acous­tic gui­tar feed­back hap­pens when the sound­board and the stage mon­i­tors face each other, loop­ing the sig­nal. With the SA sys­tem, feed­back is elim­i­nated to an ex­tra­or­di­nary ex­tent.

THE REAL TEST

Tonally, the SA330 is sim­i­lar to the 220 – very de­fined and very ac­cu­rate. If you’re a gui­tarist or vo­cal­ist, the 330 does the busi­ness with a sweet, even tone that kind of en­velops you. How­ever, if you’re us­ing keys or bass, the low end might be a lit­tle thin, in which case Fishman has de­vel­oped

a small, light­weight sub­woofer de­liv­er­ing 300 watts through a switch­able cross­over – it also acts as a base for the 330 to min­imise the whole sys­tem’s foot­print. To­gether, the two units present a beau­ti­ful, ar­tic­u­late and hi-fi tone with no hard knee through the cross­over point. Tested with a Ma­ton MSH-210D, an old Wash­burn F-style man­dolin, a Stingray Fret­less, a Godin 5th Ave and a va­ri­ety of vo­cal mics, the SA sys­tem per­formed fault­lessly, pre­sent­ing each source with a vi­brant and un­coloured re­al­ism (ex­cept when we added some re­verb – we love our re­verb).

The tone is ab­so­lutely true to the each in­stru­ment: the man­dolin was bright and chirpy, the 5th Ave was warm and dy­namic, and the Ma­ton dread­nought was rich and woody with plenty of low end thump. The spread is re­mark­able. There’s no ‘on-axis’ edgi­ness or ‘off-axis’ dull­ness un­til you steer more than 90 de­grees off axis – even then, there’s not much tonal vari­a­tion. It all makes for a very even distri­bu­tion of sound.

CHAN­NELLING GREAT­NESS

The main cri­tique of the pre­vi­ous SA is the lack of chan­nels, and given the num­ber of duos or soloists with tracks, this is en­tirely jus­ti­fied. Two SA330s can in­ter­face for four chan­nels, but Fishman have now cre­ated a four-chan­nel minia­ture, yet com­pre­hen­sive mixer that can be fit­ted to the 330 for a com­plete six-chan­nel, sin­gle-unit sys­tem. The 330’s op­tional trol­ley case (it ships with a sim­ple padded cover) even has a spe­cial pocket for the mixer. The mixer chan­nels each have vol­ume, a full tone stack, re­verb con­trol, phase and pad switches, and phan­tom power. It plugs in with a sin­gle multi-pin lead, but al­ter­na­tively, any mixer can be con­nected to a 330’s aux in port.

The ba­sic sys­tem is the SA330x, which is a self-con­tained two-chan­nel, 330-watt PA ‘col­umn’ with a padded cover and tri­pod. Add the mixer, and it’s a six-chan­nel sys­tem; add the SA Sub to ei­ther of these op­tions, and you’ll have some se­ri­ous wattage (630w) and great cov­er­age; add the sub, and you’ll have a broader range with plenty of warm bass. It’s an easy lug, too: the SA300x is only 12.5 kilo­grams (with the stand) and the sub is just 12.4 ki­los. It’s ex­pand­able – any num­ber of de­vices can be chained to­gether as re­quired, which is very clever. But even by it­self, the 330 is a great unit. The SA330x/SA SUB sys­tem is a prac­ti­cal, pro­fes­sional au­dio source for the soloist, duo or small combo.

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