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This article was originally published in issue #38
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US company Fishman has built a stellar reputation for its acoustic instrument pickups that, more than those of any other manufacturer, have allowed acoustic musicians to break free from the ties of the mic lead. Along the way, Fishman has developed some unique and ground-breaking technologies that have transformed pickup performance. Although well-known for its highly-regarded Loudbox range of conventional acoustic instrument amplifiers, Fishman has taken a typically innovative approach to the subject in the shape of the SA220 Solo Performance System for acoustic instruments.
Ideal for a singer/guitarist or solo guitarist, the SA220 is a slim, lightweight column loudspeaker that mounts on an included tripod speaker stand. It delivers its 220 Watts through six high-excursion 4” bass/mid drivers (200W) and one 1” neodymium soft-dome tweeter with level control (20W). The bass/mid rivers are arranged with three above the tweeter and three below.
The inputs (jack or XLR) and controls for both channels sit on the front of the unit, below the speakers which would indicate that Fishman expects the SA220 to be sitting behind the player, either directly or off to one side - the same position as you’d place an acoustic combo amplifier.
The channel controls are identical and comprise gain, switchable -10dB pad, 3-band EQ, sweepable notch filter and a reverb send. There are four reverbs, one short and another three settings that have progressively longer reverb times. Also on the front you have the volume controls for the Aux input (for connecting another source - perhaps an iPod with backing tracks) and for the Monitor input where you can connect a feed from another SA220 if your bandmate has one, or any other source that you need to hear when you’re playing.
A global phantom power switch, master volume and a master mute complete the front panel control complement.
Round the back you’ll find the effects send and returns for the channels, the Aux input, the Monitor input and output and three DI outputs - two pre-EQ channel outputs and one post-EQ mix of both channels and the aux input.
The tweeter level control, a footswitch jack to operate the master mute and a tuner jack output fed from Channel 1 round out the back panel.
Build quality is very good with a metal body sporting vinyl-covered sides, a central carrying handle at the rear and a grille over the speakers. The end caps are rugged plastic with a deep, secure pole socket for the tripod stand moulded into the bottom one. A sturdy padded bag with roller wheels at one end carries the loudspeaker itself. A second bag for the tripod is piggy-backed onto the first so that the whole lot is an easy one-hand carry (or pull).
In use, the SA220 is an easy carry, can be put up and taken down in seconds (literally), is easy to operate and sounds really good. The 4” drivers are capable of delivering a surprising amount of bass and you’ll find that the sound that you get from your acoustic instrument and vocals is very good indeed. Overall, the SA220 is a very natural-sounding system that offers both clarity and depth. The reverb is good, although my personal preference is for the shortest setting and the EQ is good at gentle shaping, rather than severe surgery. The notch filter can help keep feedback at bay although, because it can affect only one frequency band at a time, I’d recommend getting a specialist feedback destroyer if you need to play at high levels.
Since the speaker arrangement means that it operates as a line-array, the SA220’s vertical dispersion is well-controlled and its horizontal dispersion is wide - which is just what you want in the smaller gigs that you’d be using it in.
I’ve used the SA220 in the past, so I know how easy it is to set up and run. I find that it’s a better solution than a backline amplifier for small solo gigs where its wide, controlled dispersion means that (usually) everyone can hear you. The SA220 can be less successful in a loud band setting where the fact that its dispersion is so good can work against the PA. I’ve found that acoustic combo amplifiers like Fishman’s Loudbox series can be more suited to that situation.
For me, the SA220 is a great acoustic instrument amplifier that often gets overlooked. Anyone who plays an amplified acoustic instrument should be auditioning a Fishman SA220 Solo Performance System - it’s a PA and a backline in a one-hand carry - what’s not to like.