If sales of battery powered amps and loop pedals are any indication, Bourke Street Mall must be nearing a 1:1 ratio of buskers to change-throwers by now. With the high voltage guitar heroes of yesteryear giving way to their spongier, more sensitive Sheeran-esque descendants, it seems like every player and their dog wants to take to the streets to profess undying love for a childhood sweetheart through song. For the longest time, Roland’s CUBE Street range has been the go-to for those not able to live off the grid, but these days there are more contenders to the throne than ever before. Fishman has been the pickup and preamp choice for discerning acoustic players almost since their genesis. Its line of Loudbox acoustic amplifiers has risen through the ranks thanks mainly to its unprecedented attention to sound quality, and throwing the Loudbox Mini Charge hat into the busking ring could well see them knock the black, angled box off the top spot.
On the whole, Fishman’s Loudbox range is a definite standout in the niche market of acoustic amplification. It has a particular sense of confidence and honesty that is refreshing in a world where transparency is paramount. The three-band EQ in both the instrument and mic channels is perilously sensitive, allowing you to micro-adjust the tone of either side in as precise a way as possible. The Loudbox Mini Charge’s reverb stage is assignable to either or both sides and its long, dark plate tonality adds a graceful amount of space where it is needed most. If your guitar begs a little extra glitter, the instrument side is replete with a chewy chorus that goes from subtle thickening to classy glisten at its utmost.
Comparing them side by side, the Loudbox Mini Charge has its competitor pipped at more than one post. First and foremost, it has its own Lithium Ion battery which, at full charge and a reasonable playing volume, affords you around an extra hour of performance time – plus, you don’t have to scramble to find a milk bar that carries AAs if you get caught with your power down. There is also a battery life indicator, which means you can time your street stage exits more gracefully. At 60 watts it is far and away a gutsier unit; you really have to push hard on the input gain before it starts to break up, as all of that power seems expressly interested in cleanliness over sheer volume. On top of that there are a few accoutrements like DI out, 1/8th” aux in and phase control switch that render it suitable in more than one situation. You could take it on stage and use it as a DI and monitor or just fang along to your favourite tracks in your room; anything and everything you could think to do with an acoustic amp is firmly implanted onboard.
Working at a guitar store in the heart of the CBD, I’ve answered this question more times than I dare to count. If a prospective coin hound is not brave, rich or savvy enough to rig up a system around the beating heart of a marine battery, then Roland has had them covered for the longest time. The CUBE Street has until now been the benchmark for mobile performance functionally, but to my ear there is a little lacking in the sound quality department. With a Fishman Loudbox Mini Charge on display, I can finally give a more discerning customer an option that not only competes in the back pocket stakes, but almost wipes the floor where tonal altruism is concerned.
Hits and Misses
Absolute cleanliness and honesty with a longer battery life than its competition
Coffee and tan isn’t everyone’s aesthetic