Fender Acoustic SFX Acoustic Instrument Amplifier
By Phil O'Keefe |
Fender Acoustic SFX Acoustic Instrument Amplifier
Is it an acoustic instrument amp or is it a mini-PA?
by Phil O'Keefe
Quick show of hands - who has ever plugged an acoustic guitar into their electric amp? While it may be something nearly all of us have done out of necessity at one point or another, an electric guitar amplifier is far from a good partner for your acoustic instruments. For starters the frequency response is tailored to electric guitars and doesn't have the full-range response needed to properly represent acoustic instruments. Of course you can always "go direct," but then you're at the mercy of the soundperson and whatever the excuse for a PA happens to be at the venue. Wouldn't it be nice to have some control over your own sound and what you hear on stage? And what about playing at home, or at other places where there isn't a PA? That's where having a good acoustic amp comes in handy, and leads us to the Fender Acoustic SFX we'll be looking at today.
- The Fender Acoustic SFX is a two channel stereo amplifier intended for use with acoustic instruments…and microphones. What you choose to point the microphone at is up to you - it works very well when miking both acoustic instruments and vocalists.
- Housed in an attractively curved 9-ply plywood enclosure that measures 19.5" H x 17.5" W x 10.5" D and that weighs 25 pounds, the Acoustic SFX is fairly small, compact and light. It's available in two different wood stain finishes - maple and walnut.
- Powered by a pair of 80W digital amplifiers for a total of 160W, the Fender Acoustic SFX has plenty of juice for small to mid-sized venues such as house concerts, clubs, coffee shops and churches.
- The way that the stereo system of the Acoustic SFX works is rather interesting. Fender calls it Stereo Field Expansion, and it's somewhat like a Mid-Side microphone array, except in reverse. There are three drivers housed within the Fender Acoustic SFX amplifier. A front-firing 8" woofer and titanium tweeter handle the main signal while a second 6" speaker is side-radiating and is mounted sideways inside the center of the amp in such a way that sound from the front of the speaker is sent out one side of the amp while the inverted phase sound from the back of the same center-mounted speaker is sent out the other side . When combined with the main speakers this internal speaker produces the stereo effect and contributes to the Acoustic SFX's expansive sound.
- The grille material is a visually complementary brown cloth that looks very nice against the wooden cabinet. In addition to the front grille there are three other openings on the amp that are also covered in the same grille cloth, including round port areas on both sides of the amp, and a rectangular one at the bottom rear.
- Portability is improved further by the built-in handle that spans the entire top of the control panel. Covered in rubber and shaped so that it fits your hand, it makes carrying the amp very easy and comfortable.
- Need to lift it from the bottom instead? There are two areas that are inset into the rubber-covered bottom surface of the Acoustic SFX amplifier to make it easier. The rubber bottom is also non-slip, helps protects the wood, and probably helps isolate the amp from the floor a bit too.
- The area beneath the top handle also serves as a cubbyhole that can hold small items like picks, slides and capos, and it also can hold your MP3 player, phone or tablet. An 1/8" stereo Aux Input on the amp's control panel allows you to connect these devices for music playback in between sets or for accompaniment.
- The control panel is top-mounted. It's also well-equipped. There are two identical channels. Each channel has a combo XLR / 1/4" input jack. Input impedance is 18.2 kOhm for the 1/4" input and 1.8 kOhm for the XLR.
- 16V phantom power is provided on the XLR inputs to support the use of condenser microphones. Phantom power is always on and is not defeatable.
- Each channel has a Volume control, as well as an effective EQ section with individual Low, Mid and High controls. The knobs are large and made from black plastic; the shape of the EQ knobs differs a bit from the other ones, but all of them are clearly marked with white indicators and are easy to read, even in fairly low-light conditions.
- Each channel also has a pushbutton phase reverse switch, which can be useful for reducing feedback in some situations.
- One area where the Acoustic SFX is very strong is the onboard effects. Each channel has a dedicated Reverb control, but while that's as far as the effects go on some competing amps, Fender also gave the Acoustic SFX two different types of Delay, as well as Chorus and Vibratone effects.
- The level of the selected effect for each channel is controlled by the channel's Effects knob. At the center of the control panel, four illuminated pushbuttons per channel serve triple duty. A single press turns on the effect and illuminates the knob, which blinks at the current tempo. Two taps on the active effect are all you need to adjust the tap tempo.
- Delay 1 is a single slapback with a default time of 130ms. Delay 2 has multiple repeats and defaults at 390ms. The tap range is 100-550ms for both delays.
- You can also use tap tempo to adjust the sweep rate of the Chorus; it defaults at 1.2Hz and is adjustable from 0.66Hz-10Hz. The Vibratone's speed can also be set by tapping, with a 5.66Hz default rate and a range from 0.66-5.66Hz.
- The strength of the stereo effect is adjusted with the Stereo SFX knob located in the center of the control panel. As you increase this knob more sound is radiated from the center speaker and thrown out of the two side ports. As with the mid mic on a M-S setup, one side will be out of phase with the other, and the two, when combined with the sound from the center channel 8" and high frequency horn drivers gives you stereo sound.
- The amount of reverb and effects you have dialed up with the channel controls will have an effect on how strong the stereo signal is, with higher settings of these controls giving you more dramatic stereo spread as you turn up the Stereo SFX knob.
- An 1/8" stereo headphone jack is also included and it automatically cuts off the Acoustic SFX's built-in speakers when you plug into it.
- On the back of the amp is where you'll find the receptacle for the IEC power cable, the fuse holder, as well as a on/off switch. A voltage selection switch lets you use the amp domestically as well as overseas.
- An optional two-button footswitch is available for switching the effects for each channel on and off remotely., and a rear panel 1/4" jack gives you a place to plug it in. The footswitch only works on the delay, chorus and Vibratone effects, and does not disable the reverb.
- Rounding out the rear panel is an XLR balanced output jack. A pushbutton switch lets you select mic or line output levels, so you can easily connect this amp to just about any PA system you run into. A ground lift switch is also included to help combat ground loop hum when connecting the XLR balanced output to other equipment.
- Fender thoughtfully includes a heavy-duty cover with every Acoustic SFX amplifier, which will help keep it looking nice. The cover includes a side pocket too, which is handy for carrying small accessories like a guitar cable, a tuner, and the amp's power cable.
- While having phantom power available is nice, with only 16V on tap the phantom power voltage may not be sufficient for all condenser microphones. Some may perform less than optimally when you try to use them with less than 48V.
- Any exposed wood on an instrument amplifier is subject to dings and scratches. Tolex covered amps tend to resist dings a bit better than finished wood does, but all amps are susceptible. Keep it covered when you're transporting it and you'll reduce the nicks and scrapes, but be aware that you're probably going to get some eventually.
- Only reverb plus one other effect can be used at a time per channel. You can have reverb and chorus on your guitar using channel 1, and reverb and delay on the vocal mic you have plugged into channel 2, but you can't use delay and chorus at the same time on the same channel.
Have you ever had the unfortunate experience of playing through a sub-par PA system? It's always a roll of the dice whether or not you'll be stuck with that whenever you play at a smaller venue for the first time, but with the Acoustic SFX in tow, solo artists will no longer be entirely at their mercy. Not only that, but with two independent channels you have all the tools you need to do solo vocal + instrument gigs with this amp alone, without needing a separate PA system. In fact, it can serve as a great sounding little "home PA" system for all sorts of things. I recently ran a Casio keyboard and mic into it to rehearse some songs at home and was nearly as impressed with the sound of it amplifying the keyboard as I was when using it with various acoustic instruments.
With the kind of good looks that it takes to win "spouse approval" the Fender Acoustic SFX can sit in your living room when you're not at a gig and not look too out of place; uncovered, it could easily be mistaken for a home stereo speaker or subwoofer. But don't be fooled - despite the domestic-friendly appearance it is still a very capable live performance amplifier for small and moderate sized venues, and it has the kind of pro-level connectivity and sound quality that allows it to feed the PA at even the largest gigs.
Like the general sound quality of the amp itself the effects sound very nice - they are simple to use and don't require an audio engineer to dial them up. At first I thought the Vibratone might be a bit out of place, but with it activated the Acoustic SFX takes on a mini-rotary speaker cabinet vibe that's quite cool, especially with a lot of Stereo SFX dialed up. Although you won't have as much control over all parameters as you would with a couple of dedicated effects pedals, having them built into the amp means that much less you have to cart to and from the gig, and that much less to potentially leave behind accidentally, and the effects do give your instruments and vocals a much more polished sound.
And that's what it's all about - the sound. If you've been dealing with lackluster PAs or other compromised ways of being heard, it's time to put those worries behind you. Leave the electric guitar amps for the electric guitars and get yourself a real acoustic amplifier! When you get ready to do so, the Fender Acoustic SFX is a very good one to check out due to its good looks, ample power, built-in effects and expansive stereo sound. -HC-
Fender Acoustic SFX Acoustic Amplifier ($899.00 "street")
Fender's product web page
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Phil O'Keefe is a multi-instrumentalist, recording engineer / producer and the Senior Editor of Harmony Central. He has engineered, produced and performed on countless recording sessions in a diverse range of styles, with artists such as Alien Ant Farm, Jules Day, Voodoo Glow Skulls, John McGill, Michael Knott and Alexa's Wish. He is a former featured monthly columnist for EQ magazine, and his articles and product reviews have also appeared in Keyboard, Electronic Musician and Guitar Player magazines.