Fender Acoustasonic 150 Review

AG 232 April 2012 Cover

Posted by Adam Perlmutter

Fender had long been a revered name in electric guitar amplification when the company introduced its Acoustasonic line of acoustic guitar amplifiers in the mid-1990s. These excellent-sounding, smartly priced models finally granted acoustic guitarists access to what electric players enjoyed about Fender amps: consistently great sound in roadworthy packages. Building on the success of this line, Fender recently unveiled two new Acoustasonic combos, the 100 and the 150, both of which cram an impressive smorgasbord of features into small packages. We auditioned the higher-powered of the pair, the 150.

Compact, Lightweight Power

For an amp of its power, 150 watts (2 x 75), the Acoustasonic 150 is super lightweight, a mere 22.5 pounds. It’s also fairly compact at about 16 inches high by 10 inches deep by 22 inches wide. At a glance, the handsome amplifier—with its tan tolex covering and brown control panel housing brown knobs with white pointers—could be mistaken for an early 1960s Fender combo. Another vintage-inspired touch is a pair of metal tilt-back legs, which can be used to increase projection.

The layout of the control panel is nicely straightforward. At left, there’s a 1/4-inch instrument input, followed by a volume control; a feedback-elimination button; treble, middle, and bass controls; and a quartet of knobs that control the amp’s Voicing, String Dynamics, and effects types and level. The configuration is similar on the right side of the panel, but it excludes the Voicing and String Dynamics controls and swaps a combined 1/4-inch/XLR jack with phantom power (+15 VDC) for the 1/4-inch input. In addition, the right side has a mute button that bypasses the sound of the amp—perfect for tuning or changing guitars without having to fuss with the volume level.

On the rear panel is the amp’s power switch; a balanced XLR output with adjustable level, for connecting to sound-reinforcement equipment, a must for playing in larger venues; a stereo effects loop; and a USB port for computer connectivity, handy for direct recording applications and for when Fender introduces firmware updates for the amp.

Although all of these controls make the 150 more flexible than most of its predecessors, the new amp does away with a pretty handy feature: an auxiliary input RCA jack, which on earlier versions could be used for attaching a CD or MP3 player. But that’s a pretty small complaint about an amp that is so rich in other features.

Clarity and Control

To assess the Acoustasonic 150’s sonic abilities, I plugged in a Martin DC-28E with Fishman Aura electronics and set the tone controls flat and the Voicing knob to Pure Amp, thereby coloring the sound as little as possible. At low volume, I was immediately struck by the 150’s presence and its realistic, rich sound. It had plenty of depth and clarity and the amp was naturally resistant to feedback. Cranking the volume up revealed an impressive amount of headroom, more than enough to fill a medium-size club. Predictably, the Martin did issue a bit of howling at higher volume levels, but the Feedback Elimination button attenuated the irksome sound as promised, and the String Dynamics knob tamed a hint of harshness on the high end.

Not only does the 150 have a splendid basic sound, it provides plenty of soundshaping possibilities. The Voicing control, which is new to the Acoustasonic series, allows you to choose between several different modeling-based acoustic sounds—the Pure Amp that I tried first, along with Parlor, Dreadnought, and Jumbo. The latter two settings have four discrete notches each for further tonal variations. The Parlor and Jumbo settings did a fairly decent job of transforming the sound of the Martin, a dreadnought, into the sound one expects from those different body types. In an unaccompanied context these voicings probably wouldn’t fool a discriminating listener, but they would be perfect for a performing acoustic guitarist who wants to avoid bringing a battery of instruments to a band gig.

The Voicing knob can also transform the 150 into a modeling electric amplifier with Blackface, Tweed, and British settings, patterned after vintage Fender and Marshall amp sounds. To try out these selections, I plugged in a Gibson ES-335. While the 150 wouldn’t replace a prized old valve amp, the sounds were very good. The Blackface offers a sweet, clean sound reminiscent of a mid-1960s Fender combo, while at the other end of the spectrum, the British delivers a warm singing distortion typical of a cranked Marshall stack—tones perfect for an acoustic guitarist who doubles on electric but doesn’t want to have to schlep two separate rigs to a gig. As a bonus, the acoustic voicings gave the ES-335 a more subdued and woodier sound. A minor drawback: these settings are not footswitchable, so if you’ve got acoustic and electric guitars at the gig, you’ll need to change amp settings manually.

The 150’s high-quality digital effects include vibrato, chorus, reverb, and delay, alone and paired in various combinations. All sound pleasingly lush for both acoustic and electric guitar. The Reverb + Chorus 1 lent a nice shimmer to some fingerpicked arpeggios I played on the Martin while the Vibratone 1 (slow) setting added a gentle warble to some chordal riffing on the Gibson. The only potential drawback to the effects is that you can only adjust the level. A player could, for instance, change the intensity of the delay but can’t set the effect to conform to a song’s tempo. This shouldn’t be a problem for players looking to subtly shape their sounds with effects; for guitarists requiring greater adjustability, the effects loop makes it easy to add dedicated external devices.

Sophisticated Tone-Shaper

The Acoustasonic 150 takes Fender’s acoustic amp series to exciting new places with its comprehensive selection of sonic tools. Players who simply wish to make their guitars louder will appreciate the amp’s robust basic sound, while those with more sophisticated amplification needs will delight in the new features, particularly the Voicing effect, which makes it possible to both simulate the sounds of the most common acoustic body types and double on electric guitar using decent sonic replications of classic tube-powered amplifiers. In other words, the Acoustasonic 150 recommends itself to acoustic-electric players of all stripes.

SPECS: 150 watts (2 x 75). Separate instrument (1/4-inch input) and mic (1/4-inch/XLR combined input) channels with independent treble, mid, and bass controls and effects sections, including reverb, delay, chorus, and vibrato. Two 8-inch woofers with cloth surround. One high-frequency tweeter. Feedback elimination control; String Dynamics control for calming strident treble notes; Voicing control for simulating parlor, dreadnought, or jumbo steel-string; Blackface, Tweed, and British amp models for electric guitarists (all on instrument channel). XLR line out with level control and ground lift. 15 volts phantom power on mic channel. Stereo effects loop. USB connector. Five-ply hardwood cabinet with vinyl covering and tilt-back legs. Optional two-button effects control footswitch. 22.5 pounds. Made in Indonesia.

PRICE: $649.99 list/$499.99 street.

MAKER: Fender: (480) 596-7195 fender.com.

Excerpted from Acoustic Guitar April 2012

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