First Impression: ZT Amplifiers Lunchbox2

June 4, 2009


The Lunchbox2 ($289 direct) is a combo amp the size of a transistor radio or, well, lunchbox, that lays claim to 200 watts of power. You read that right—a combo, not a head. Along with the amplifier section, the Lunchbox2 sports its own 6 1/2" speaker. All this is in a package weighing less than 10 lbs!

If I were reading this, right now I would be dying to know: A) does it really put out 200 watts, and B) does it sound any good? ZT claims specs of 280 watts maximum instantaneous peak power, 236 watts musical peak power, 130 watts RMS power, or 200 watts of sustained average music power. Amp manufacturers debate how wattage transfers to actual loudness, but ZT asserts that the Lunchbox2 puts out 125 dB (decibels) at one meter (a little more than a yard). Without a dB meter, I can safely say that if you crank the volume and gain, while putting your ear in front of the speaker, about a yard away, this amp will blow your head off. As to B), the short answer is yes—with specifics and caveats to follow.

The Lunchbox2 comes in a solid MDF composite wood casing, covered in a shiny metallic-looking vinyl, with a sturdy plastic handle. The top features Volume, Gain, Tone, and Reverb knobs. The back panel displays a speaker output, headphone/lineout jack with its own volume control, mini-phone Aux Input, and an on/off switch for the internal speaker; as well a voltage conversion switch, power cable input, and power switch.

The guitar input sends the signal to the gain section—an analog overdrive. It is then converted to 24-bit PCM digital at 44.1 Khz sampling rate and processed by a DSP section that controls the interaction of all the amp’s components. This is the part that handles the dynamics, the tone control, and the reverb. The Tone control is neutral at 12:00, adding highs when turned clockwise and mellowing out the sound counterclockwise. It is designed to operate like those in vintage amps—affecting mids as well as highs and lows. The reverb is designed to mimic open back or closed back speaker characteristics rather than to act as a typical reverb. Once processed, the signal is converted back to analog, and then sent to a pair of class A/B output stages, bridged across the speaker load.

I tested the Lunchbox2 with a 1965 Stratocaster, a Danelectro Dead On ’67, a Fernandes T-style, a Hofner Verythin semi-hollow, and a Stromberg Monterey. My initial impression was not how loud it was—though loud it was—but how big it sounded. In my experience, 6" speakers can sound acceptable at lower volumes but when you crank up the level, their essentially thin tone becomes problematic—not so this time. The ZT’s small speaker sounded as big as many 10" if not 12" models. The company explains that this is because the speaker's excursion is farther than that of a normal 6” speaker, farther even than any 10" or 12" model. Science notwithstanding, on a club gig featuring bass, drums and a second guitarist, neither the band, nor some musicians in the audience could believe the amount of sound coming out of this little box—myself included. While the bigness and volume of the ZT are undeniable, plugging straight into the Lunchbox2 can be somewhat like playing directly through a powerful solid-state PA. The analog gain warms up the tone somewhat, but fails to produce the “sag” of high quality tube preamp. Clean, I found the attack to be a little in your face, though this might appeal to some funk or jazz players. When the gain is cranked, the distortion characteristics were less than natural.

These issues were easily remedied by running an overdrive pedal, like a Reverend Drivetrain or Xotic AC+ between my guitar and the amp. With either effect’s gain backed way down, and the guitar volume set low, I was able to get the kind of picking dynamics a good tube amp provides, yet retain the clean headroom of the Lunchbox2. Turning up my guitar, and/or adding a second overdrive, produced a fat, singing tone worthy of a much larger amplifier—easily heard in the back rows, with no microphone on the amp.


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