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This article was originally published in issue #21
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German Pro Audio specialist HK Audio (the pro-audio wing of the backline amp maker Hughes & Kettner) is a proven contender in the world of compact PA systems. Its award winning Elements series combines power by the bucket load with small PA portability but the tiny HK Nano 300 scales things down even further. This diminutive 230 Watt mini-PA is primarily designed for solo/acoustic performers or duos that regularly work in small pubs, bars or restaurants and whilst ‘cute’ isn’t an adjective often reserved for PA systems the Nano 300 boasts an ingenious and very contemporary looking modular design that is both elegant and very practical.
The Nano system comprises a compact 8" subwoofer and a pair of 3.5" satellites that mount inside the sub’s chassis during transportation, detaching to either stack vertically on top of the sub via cable-free connectors, effectively creating a mini line array system. Alternatively, the satellites also mount on speaker poles for wider sound dispersal and the Nano can be configured to operate in either stereo or mono.
The Nano’s sleek visual appeal is further compounded by its impressive portability; even bundled together for transportation the complete system only weighs a fraction over 10 kilos (around 22lbs) and one person can easily carry the Nano in one hand whilst holding an acoustic guitar in the other. HK also offers a combined trolley/soft bag as part of a range of accessories, but more about these later.
The Nano 300 has three separate input channels which are located on the sub’s control panel: Channel 1’s input can be configured to function as a microphone input or switched to accept line level signals from an external mixer (which may prove necessary when there are more than two vocalists, due to the Nano’s limited EQ and inputs). Channel two will similarly accept a mono signal - typically an acoustic guitar or a second microphone - but can also be switched to accept a stereo signal, a keyboard for example. Channel 3 is a dedicated stereo channel with stereo RCA jack inputs and dedicated MP3 mini jack, providing a handy location for playing backing tracks during mid-set breaks.
The Nano can be employed in a number of different musical scenarios including amplifying a PC and a home entertainment system but viewed from a gigging musician’s perspective this compact little rig has enough power to easily overcome the general audience chatter in a restaurant or small pub-type venue.
The Nano 300 packs a total of 280 Watts (peak) that is divided between 160 Watts for the sub’s class D power amp and 35 Watts apiece for the twin satellites (a combined 70 Watts when both satellites are configured in mono).
In its basic form the Nano conveys an engaging sense of ‘plug in & go’ simplicity. It feels very intuitive to use and there is more than enough power to deliver a clean, pristine sound with plenty of headroom to spare. In fact the overall sound quality is very good, both in terms of the warmth and the impressive level of projection that can be coaxed from the Nano’s tiny speakers.
The only apparent downside is the lack of built-in reverb and the somewhat limited EQ. If a third vocalist is required, you will need to use an external mixing desk due to the Nano only having two dedicated mic channels. However, the sub’s dedicated level control helps to create a workable balance between the sub and the satellites by enabling the user to dial-in the right type of ‘feel’ depending on whether the Nano is being used for live sound or playing back pre-recorded tracks.
Viewed as an acoustic guitar amplifier, the Nano delivers an accurate and punchy tone with crispness and clarity on a par with most, though if guitar is your main interest, you might want to consider a dedicated acoustic-electric amp with added vocal capacities as an alternative. Without wishing to harp on about the lack of built-in reverb, most guitarists will probably get around the issue by using an external multi-effects pedal. Singers might be tempted to similarly sweeten up their vocal with some form of processing, either from an external mixer or else a stand-alone vocal effects processor.
The Nano 300’s sleek and innovative modular design - not to mention its outstanding portability - makes it a very appealing prospect for gigging musicians looking for a compact PA. It transports easily and sounds amazing, its tiny size notwithstanding. However, to get most bang for buck from the Nano we would suggest that you will need to check out at least one of the accessory packs that HK offers for the Nano system.
Add On Pack 1 includes speaker poles, a tripod leg and two speaker cables, all contained within a handy nylon case. There is also the aforementioned trolley/bag combo, which isn’t totally necessary but is nevertheless handy for making transportation just that bit easier.
Add On Pack 2 simply comprises two desktop mounts that can be angled for attaching the satellites to a wall should one choose to use the Nano to amplify the sound system in your state of the art metrosexual crash pad!
For the solo performer or duos, particularly for anyone who doesn't fancy having to lug around even a typical modern mini-PA, the Nano represents a significantly easier way of tackling small gigs. In fact, as we say, it's so small and so attractive that it could just as easily find a place at home, doubling its value to the owner. But size along isn't enough - it sounds great, too and gives every appearance of being a well made product.