Monday, October 27, 2008

A Review of the Fishman SoloAmp

When I told my buddy Richard Malcolm about the new Fishman SoloAmp he asked, "How are you going to get any exercise if you don't haul a lot of heavy equipment up and down stairs?"

To give Richard his due... if you're a working musician and the only exercise you get is hauling sound equipment then the new Fishman SoloAmp isn't for you. The SoloAmp is an all-in-one sound system designed for the gigging singer-songwriter. It weighs about 25 pounds complete and comes in a padded gig bag with wheels on one end. You can load in and set up for a gig in about 5 minutes without breaking a sweat.

The Solo Amp utilizes linear array technology to pack a lot of sound into a compact package measuring about 6" x 6" x 40". The speaker array consists of six specially designed 4" drivers and a single soft dome tweeter. This sits on a single collapsible stand that is included. The downloadable manual tells you to place the SoloAmp behind you and to one side. The front of the SoloAmp features a two channel mixer. If you are a singer-guitarist you'll play into one channel and sing into the other. The mixer includes, digital reverb, phantom power, phase reverse switches, and notch filters for feedback control. The rear of the SoloAmp provides an output for a guitar tuner and a monitor output which can be used as a send to another SoloAmp in case you are working as a duo with another musician also using a SoloAmp. There are also effects sends and returns for each channel in case you want to use external effects. 

I'll admit that I was skeptical when I ordered my SoloAmp. I had read a couple of positive user reviews on the internet and had talked at length with Fishman's Customer Service Manager Frank Padellaro. I've also had experience with Fishman products in the past and have found them to be of professional quality. Nonetheless it just doesn't seem possible that something so compact and portable could really put out enough sound to fill a room.

The first place I set up my SoloAmp was in my photography studio. I set up the amp according to the instructions and started playing and singing. In a few minutes there was a big smile on my face as I called up my musician neighbor Frank Farentino to come over and give me a reality check. In short, the SoloAmp works as advertised. It reproduces the full range of guitar and vocals and distributes the sound evenly throughout the room. When Frank arrived I put him in the performer's seat so I could move around the room and listen from various locations. The sound level was constant throughout the room and there were no hot spots or dead spots. At first the sound was a little bright for my taste but it was easily tamed with the tweeter control on the back of the amp. Now that I've put in a couple weeks of playing time I find the sound of the amp has opened up and smoothed out a bit--not unusual with brand new speakers.

Any working musician knows that the real test of gear is how it performs under real world conditions at an actual  gig. So I scheduled an afternoon concert at the PD Bean Coffeehouse here in Santa Fe. I've performed there before and thought it would be a good test for the SoloAmp. When I arrived and set up the SoloAmp Dan, the owner, asked if I wanted him to turn off the refrigerators. Apparently he was concerned that the compact SoloAmp wouldn't be heard over the ambient noise generated by his kitchen appliances. I told him to leave everything as it usually is. 

When I sat down and started to play and sing Dan's eyebrows went up and he smiled. I asked if he could hear me OK and he said that it might be a little louder than necessary. I turned the volume knob down to about 8:30 (7:00 is off completely). Customers around the room all indicated that they could hear fine and that the sound was good. 

One of the customers present that afternoon was Michael Kott, a virtuoso cellist. Michael is classically trained but his musical taste spans several galaxies. Michael offered to sit in on viola so I gave up my vocal channel and plugged his viola in. For about an hour we jammed out on various modal patterns and folk melodies. We could hear each other perfectly well and according to other folks present the sound quality and the music were both to their liking. It's obvious that the SoloAmp delivers what the folks at Fishman promise and that it has plenty of power and headroom to spare for small and medium sized rooms. That includes most all of the hotels and bars here in Santa Fe.

Next came the ultimate test of any sound system--breaking down and loading out quickly. At closing time Dan announced that he need to get out fast so that he could pick up his tax forms and get them to the Post Office before they closed. In a few minutes I had the SoloAmp and stand in the gig bag. Michael grabbed my guitar and mic stand which left me with one hand free to unlock the back of my trusty Subaru. If you've ever worked bars or cafes you know how it is at the end of the night when the staff are ready to go home. If they have to wait while you pack up and load out they will remember it forever. With the SoloAmp it's never going to be a problem. Oh how I wish this marvel of a sound system had been available back in the days when I was gigging five nights a week and working those tiring doubles on weekends! 

I love my SoloAmp. It makes gigging so painless that I'm going to start playing out more often. The folks at Fishman understand that it's all about music... not gear. The gear should make things easier for the musician.The SoloAmp does just that. They've hit a home run this time. 

The Fishman SoloAmp is available from most major music retailers at a street price of around $1,000.00 U.S. You can get more info about the SoloAmp and other Fishman products at their website at


Dan Hogan said...

Thanks for the mention of pdbean. I thought your review of the equipment ,... from my layman's ears ... was honest and on target. It's a great piece of equipment. And your skills as a singer/songwriter aren't so bad either.

Thanks for coming by. You're welcome any time.

Donnie Cox said...

Reviews of the Soloamp are rare, for now, so it's good to hear positive remarks, as I'm about to take the plunge.
Donnie Cox
Huntsville, AL.

C said...

As the previous commenter said, reviews for the SoloAmp are rare. And I'm about to take the plunge as well. It sounds perfect for my needs. Thanks!

Alan Acuff said...

Thanks for your comments. I think if you take the plunge you won't regret it.

Poppa D said...

Will the Soloamp handle a miked acoustic instrument, a keyboard, and a vocal mike without an additional mixer? I play hammered dulcimer, my son plays keyboard, and my wife sings. We need a portable system like this, if it will work. Thanks.

Britt A said...

Thanks for the review! I went out and bought one (you sold me) and I am so impressed. I can even run my computer through it to play bass, synth, rhythm guitar, or other instruments to back myself. It's sweet! I've mixed "karaoke" versions of some of my songs that are harder to sing, and now instead of playing guitar AND singing, if I want I can hold the mic and focus on singing while the computer plays the accompaniment. And it sounds like a million bucks, not like karaoke! You can get extra inputs this way too, because the USB device that exports audio from my computer also has additional inputs. I can use the computer to add effects too like compressors. Pretty cool.
Check out my website,
-Britt from Alaska

Alan Acuff said...

Poppa D,

You can add inputs by using a small mixer going in to the SoloAmp. Alternately, you can link two SoloAmps together. This gives you the advantage of having 2 separate mixes. Either way it's no problem to expand your system.