FISHMAN SA330X / SA SUB / SA EXPAND
IS IT A LARGE ACOUSTIC GUITAR COMBO, OR IS IT A SMALL PA? BY
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.
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.