I’m not a penny-pinching dude when it comes to gear. I’ve bought enough cheap stuff to know that you usually get what you pay for. These days, if I need something, I’ll invest money up front and get the best I can afford. Quality over quantity.
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But every once in a while there is a product that offers such bang-for-buck value that my rule of thumb gets kicked in the butt. This has repeatedly been the case with the $329 Fishman Loudbox Mini. A stunningly good amp for ukulele in a small package, and at half the price of most comparable items.
My first experience with the Loudbox Mini was hearing my friend rave about his. He used it with his acoustic guitar to great success and even ran his electric guitar rig through it!
After that, the fiddle player in my band started using one. This was the first time I heard it in person and I was impressed with the clear, powerful tone from such a small box.
Finally, the local farmers market bought one for guest musicians to play through. Our market isn’t huge, but it’s outside and takes up probably about a 50 yard square area. At about half-volume, the Loudbox fills the space, no problem. I knew I had to get one after the first time I played through it there myself.
What it is – Specs:
The Fishman Loudbox Mini is a two-channel, 60 watt acoustic amp perfectly suited for a solo ukulele artist.
- Weight: 20 pounds
- Dimensions: 12″ high, 13.7″ wide, and 9.7″ deep
- Speakers: 6.5″ woofer and a 1″ dome tweeter
- Inputs: 1/4″ instrument, XLR, 1/4″ and 1/8″ auxilary
- Outputs: XLR post-gain DI
The instrument channel has a 3-band EQ section (high, mid, low) plus digital reverb and chorus. The microphone channel has a 2-band EQ section (high, low) and digital reverb. Each channel has a gain knob and is controlled further by a master volume. This simple interface gives you plenty of control without any distractions.
Usually the downfall of plugging your ukulele into an amp is that it sounds thin and wimpy – or is a muddy feedback nightmare. Acoustic-specific amps are designed to produce a clean, round sound without feedback. But they are not created equal.
The Fishman Loudbox lands itself a spot on my top 5 favorite acoustic amps list with a crisp, punchy sound. If you keep the EQ section flat, the amp produces a woody tone that makes it feel like the speaker box itself is doing half of the amplification. Scooping the mids a bit and boosting the highs gives your uke a clear and full tone.
It’s not the cleanest amp I’ve heard, but the coloration that the Loudbox adds to your uke is pleasant – a little warmth and a snappy attack. And of the great sound? There’s lots of it to be had. The amp’s 60 watts of power is more than plenty for most applications. If I felt I needed more volume at a gig, I’d be bringing a PA anyways.
The Loudbox in “Real Life”
Since the beginning of amplification, musicians have had the problem of carrying too much gear to gigs. Generally, the louder and better your sound, the heavier your gear and the more of it you need to carry! Even most “small” acoustic amps are 30-40 pounds and the size of a suitcase.
With the Fishman Loudbox, I can get all I need to the gig in one trip. Fishman in one hand, uke on my back, a bag of gear in the other hand, plus a mic stand stuck under one arm. And all this is, more or less, manageable because of the Loudbox’s weight and size!
When you need to move beyond the volume of the amp by itself, there is a DI output on the back for sending your signal to a PA. With this feature, you can place the amp onstage next to you and use it as a personal monitor. By adjusting the master volume you can turn what you hear up or down without affecting the signal sent via the DI out. Super useful for the gigs where you don’t have much time for soundcheck or control over the monitor mix and you want to hear yourself.
Lastly, the aux in can double as a third channel. I’ve sat in on a friend’s coffee shop gig numerous times just by plugging into the back of his Loudbox and adjusting the volume on my uke. It’s simple – no EQ of effects – and I’m not sure how well this would work in a loud setting, but for a casual jam and a slight volume boost for your buddy, it’s a great trick.
What I’d Change if I Was Fishman
There’s really nothing missing on the Loudbox Mini that’s a deal-breaker for its size and price, but a couple tweaks would make it perfect.
First, I would add phantom power so you can use higher-end mics with the Loudbox. As it stands, you’d have to run an external preamp in order to use a condenser microphone with the Mini.
Second, the lack of a parametric mid EQ on any piece of acoustic gear is a bummer. It’s the single most powerful tool you can have on an amp or mixer interface to fine tune your sound and really zoom in on problem frequencies. For most players and setups, the single knob controlling the mids will be sufficient, but if you have a wild pickup that needs to be tamed, you’ll probably still want to run an outboard preamp with EQ.
For the money, the Fishman Loundbox Mini has to be one of the best acoustic amps you can buy for ukulele. I have yet to see any other product that even comes close to providing comparable tone and power in such an affordable package. It’s not “the best.” Very rarely, if ever, will you hear me claim that for anything. But for a little more than $300, it’s pretty hard to beat. Highly recommended.