When the Fishman Loudbox Mini Charge arrived at my door I knew I was in for some quality time, and what a time of quality we had together…
Most acoustic guitarists will be familiar with the Fishman brand, particularly their acoustic guitar pickups. For 35 years Fishman products have been helping guitarists worldwide to reproduce the truest acoustic sounds through the latest available technology.
More recently into amplifier building, Fishman currently have four ‘Loudbox’ acoustic amps on offer, ranging from the huge 180W Loudbox Performer down to this review’s 60W Mini Charge, the smallest and most portable sibling. But don’t let its small footprint fool you!
The Loudbox Mini Charge has a nice vintage brown skin finish. It’s pretty lightweight and can be carried easily with one hand (acoustic guitar in the other hand – obviously!) and will fit almost anywhere for easy transport, cafe performances and busking etc. Specifically, it measures a mere 31cm high x 35cm wide x 25cm in depth, and pocket-wise comes in at $1195 rrp.
Although housing just a humble 6.5” paper cone woofer and 1” soft dome tweeter, this little box of fun packs some real volume. After a bit of time playing around with it I forgot about the amp’s small stature and started thinking about how I could use it on stage in my full band live shows, either as a foldback (using the XLR Mix DI output on the back to send to the mixing desk), or just as a standalone acoustic amplifier on stage.
If you are jumping ahead and thinking that feedback could be an issue, Fishman are waaaay ahead of you. They’ve added a Phase button to help the bass response when playing at quieter volumes and also reduce the risk of feedback when playing at louder volumes.
On the instrument input there is the usual Gain control to determine how much of your instrument signal you’d like, and the standard three EQ knobs – Low, Mid and High.
I play a Martin 00016GT with K&K pickups and the sound coming out of this little box proved fabulous! I attenuated the low end and mid-range slightly for my sound and discovered the Fishman Loudbox naturally had some very nice crisp frequencies in the high end. I found the EQ to be very accessible and easy to find a sound that worked for me and my guitar.
The instrument input offers just the two effects, Reverb and Chorus. The Reverb is particularly sweet. Turning it up a little and I got that shimmer of ambience. Going full Reverb also didn’t disappoint. It wasn’t a big wash of space that never tailed off, more a dreamy shower that still reproduced the impact of the dry signal.
The Chorus effect worked just as well. In small doses and set to ‘mild’ on the amp it added a notch of the classic ‘de-tuned’ effect. Likewise, turning up to ‘heavy’ Chorus created a wet signal that was very noticeable but again not overpowering of the dry signal. Used along with the Reverb, you can easily create some dreamy acoustic guitar sounds.
Just like the instrument input, the microphone input is very quick and easy to plug in; adjusting the gain and EQ controls, you’re ready to go within minutes. The microphone input has no ‘Mid’ EQ knob which would have been nice to be able to give a little more control to the vocal sound. Reverb is also the only effect on this input. I didn’t need much of it in to get the desired effect. Unlike the instrument input, going ‘full reverb’ did prove to be too much for me in terms of the dry/wet signal, and it became overpowering in the vocals. I was happy to leave the reverb to just tick along under my voice.
If you want to plug in a phone for backing tracks, there’s an aux cable input in the back of the amp. I enjoyed playing my favourite songs from Spotify and reckon this amp would actually be great to take to the bach, or even camping.
If you’re not a cable guy/girl then a welcome advantage the Loudbox Mini Charge has over other amps is its Bluetooth compatibility. Holding down the Bluetooth pairing button for five seconds will allow your phone or device to pair with the amp as an alternative way to play backing tracks, or your favourite Miller Yule song!
Music or backing tracks played via Bluetooth or the aux cable sounded clean, unaffected by any EQ settings on the instrument and microphone inputs. However, the low-end bass of the music was ever so slightly quieter in response than the mid and highs. This can likely be put down to the physical limitations of the size of the speaker and I’d say has nothing to do with Fishman’s quality parts.
The most obvious advantage I haven’t mentioned about the Loudbox Mini Charge is (hiding in plain sight) right there in its name… it has a battery you can charge! Using a typical DC plug the battery takes a slow 10 hours to fully charge, but then it will provide an estimated 18 hours of playing at low volume. Used at an average volume you can expect a useful 12 hours – but down to four hours at full tilt.
Most importantly though, this is an excellent sounding amplifier. To be honest I’ve always been dubious of acoustic amplifiers compared to plugging directly into a D.I box for live shows. But this Fishman Loudbox Mini Charge has changed my mind. The sound from both instrument and microphone inputs is crisp, clear and full, with plenty of room to personally adjust as needed.
This is the perfect (Christmas present!) friend for acoustic artists and singer/songwriters. The rechargeable battery, Bluetooth compatibility and convenient size make it ideal for remote songwriting, busking and house concerts. The volume flexibility and feedback controls would allow it to be used on stage as a standalone amp or as a monitor for larger venue shows too.
With an rrp of $1195, I am sure the Loudbox Mini Charge would make a great investment and prove a worthy recruit to the arsenal of any serious performing artist.
Miller Yule is a singer/songwriter, composer and an audio engineer. www.milleryule.com