Crate CA120DG

December 29, 2004

Guitarists are always looking for ways to improve their amplified acoustic sound, and Crate’s new CA120DG ($699 retail/$499 street) offers a combination of features that make it an attractive choice for anyone who performs with a pickup-equipped acoustic. Specifically designed for stage use, the CA120DG has two independent channels, each with 1/4" and XLR inputs, dual Gain controls, 3-band EQ with quasi-parametric midrange, and a DSP/Effect Send knob. You also get Tweeter Cut and Master Level knobs, a DSP effects section on Channel 2 (with Mode, DSP Level, and Aux In/Effects Return controls), a CD input with Level control, and an easy-to-use Feedback Filter that works on either channel. Housed in a sealed-back cabinet covered in woodsy-looking green Tolex are a 12" woofer with a polypropylene cone (rated at 175 watts RMS) and a high-efficiency piezo tweeter (110dB @ 1watt/1 meter). The U.S.-made amp packs 120 watts of solid-state power, and it measures a compact 18" high x 171/2" wide x 151/2" deep. Weight is a manageable 46 lbs.

With a Martin D-28 equipped with a Sunrise soundhole pickup, it was easy to get a full and balanced sound from the CA120DG simply by adjusting the bass and mids on Channel 2 until the amp’s tones jibed with what I was hearing from the guitar. Cranking the Gain knob until the LED clip indicator just began to blink and then turning up the Master produced a big, loud tone that was limited only by the onset of low-frequency feedback. However, by activating the Feedback Filter circuit and pushing button 1, the low howl immediately disappeared. Increasing the volume caused a different feedback frequency to emerge, which I was quickly able to nuke with a press of button 2. Though each of these filters introduces a 15dB notch at the offending frequency (the effective range is 10Hz to 4.8kHz), their narrow bandwidth minimizes any impact on your tone. That said, being able turn the filters on and off via the included three-button metal footswitch is definitely a boon if you only need some feedback assistance here and there during the course of a show. I was pleasantly surprised by how loud I could play through this amp, and it’s worth noting that feedback squeals occurring above the filters’ range can be controlled using the Tweeter Cut control, which allows you to tailor the amp’s high-frequency response to suit your instrument, the room, and the volume you’re playing at. It’s a cool feature.

The CA120DG needed only minor control adjustments to deliver happening tones from a piezo-equipped Martin DC-16. In fact, with the guitar’s EQ set flat, I found it easy to obtain a reasonably natural sound by scooping out some midrange and using the Tweeter Cut knob to tame the zinginess of the piezo. A Finnish-made Versoul resonator guitar also sounded sweet and vibey through the CA120DG, which makes it easy to understand why Dobro ace Jerry Douglas is using and endorsing the amp.

Digital effects are de rigueur for most acoustic amplifiers, and the CA120DG’s are well-implemented, easy to use, and very satisfying overall. I like the multitude of good-sounding reverb and delay presets, the tasteful utilization of chorus on two of the five multi-effect programs, and the Doubler preset, which, by adding a second signal that’s slightly out of sync with the original signal, provides a more organic sounding alternative to standard chorusing. It seems a bit odd that both the DSP/Effect Send and the DSP Level controls have to be turned up to hear the effects, but the ability to footswitch between any two effects is a big plus. Another is the quietness of the effects—even turning the DSP Level all the way up did not cause an increase in the amp’s moderate noise floor.

The CA120DG is an ideal amp for working players who need the flexibility afforded by two channels. It has enough power to maintain good clarity at stage volume, and its useful selection of effects means you can quickly find the right texture without having to dodge around the presets that are too “effecty” for an acoustic gig. Bottom line: Whether you’re working coffeehouses or concert halls, the value-packed CA120DG has everything it takes to get a happening sound. •

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