May 18, 2005

And what’s cool is that the two-channel Acoustic Pro’s preamps each sport a Blend control that allows you to mix the different amplification stages in any ratio—from 100 percent FET to 100 percent tube—to obtain the response that best suits your instrument and style. Both channels also offer balanced XLR and unbalanced 1/4" inputs, as well as independent Effects Level and EQ controls. The 1/4" and XLR inputs can be used together if desired, and 15-volt phantom power is provided on the latter for use with condenser mics.

The internal construction looks tidy and rugged, with most of the smaller components residing on the five PC boards, including the pots, front-panel 1/4" jacks, and a socket for the single Chinese-made Ruby 12AX7. However, the XLR and rear-panel 1/4" jacks, the finned aluminum heat sink, and the low-profile toroidal power transformer are all chassis mounted.

The Acoustic Pro’s DSP section offers 15 effects presets along with a set of Program (selection) and Level knobs for each channel. Other front-panel details include an input Clip LED for each channel, global Aux In and Master controls, and power amp Signal and Limit LEDs, which let you see at a glance how hard you’re pushing the 200-watt output stage. The amp’s speaker complement consists of a custom 8O neodymium 12" speaker (rated at 300 watts) and a compression “bullet” tweeter.

On the backside we find a bunch of rear-panel functions, including a 3-position Tweeter Level switch (on/off/-6dB), a 2-position Speaker Output switch (200 watts bridged mono/2 x 100 watts stereo), a trio of speaker outs (one at 8O, two at 4O), a cooling fan on/off switch, and the effects loop and Cancel jacks. Connecting to mixers, power amps, and other external gear is facilitated by three sets of balanced XLR and unbalanced 1/4" jacks that can accommodate Channels 1 and 2 combined (post–EQ) or separately (pre-EQ). A convenient Ground Lift switch also allows you to “float” the ground pin on the XLR outs to eliminate ground-loop hum. Lastly, there are both RCA and 1/4" line-level Auxiliary inputs for use with a drum machine or CD/mp3 player.

Residing on the bottom of the birch-ply ported cabinet is a spring-loaded handle that can be swung out of its recess to elevate the front of the amp. You can also use it for dual-person carry—a nice feature considering the amp weighs a hefty 50 lbs.

Minor complaints: The tiny front panel labels are difficult, if not impossible, to read under dim light, and the small dots on the knobs make it hard to determine settings when looking down at the amp.

Pro Sounds

It’s very easy to get happening tones from the Acoustic Pro. The preamp Blend control yields crispier textures when dialed to the FET setting, and progressively warmer tones as it’s rotated toward the Tube position. You can’t overdrive the 12AX7, but higher Volume settings do produce more compression. Once you’ve found a basic tone and dynamic feel that you like via this subtle-yet-effective tone shaping feature, it’s just a matter of making minor EQ adjustments to refine the sound. The active Low and High controls provide 15dB of boost or cut—same with the semi-parametric Midrange circuit, which has Gain and Frequency knobs, and covers a range of 250Hz-5kHz. This is a lot of EQ power, and whether using a new Taylor T5 or a Takamine EAN 16C equipped with a Cool Tube preamp, I only had to make very slight adjustments to obtain balanced, full-bodied tones. Thanks to its abundant power, the Acoustic Pro stays clear and focused at impressive volumes. But even when playing at very low levels—say in a recording situation—it’s nice to be able to switch off the fan to prevent its “whirr” from being picked up by a microphone.

The delays, modulations, and reverbs generated by the dual Alesis DSP processors all sounded satisfying and were amazingly quiet, too. The acoustic-friendly selections are heavy on reverb (eight total, in plate, room, and hall flavors), light on delays (short and long), and fairly buff in the modulation department (chorus, flange, rotary, and two chorus-plus-reverb settings). You can’t program anything other than a different effect on each channel, but if you need that kind of flexibility you can always run a dedicated processor in the loop and bypass it by using a footswitch (not included) in the Cancel jack.

With its tweeter in the Off or –6dB setting, the Acoustic Pro sounded cool for darker jazz-type tones—especially with humbuckers—and it required only a little high-frequency boost and a bit of low-end attenuation to elicit the right balance of warmth and clarity from the excellent sounding 12" speaker. Switching on the tweeter definitely brought out the bold shimmer from acoustic-electric guitars, and its smooth response was something to behold. Even high notes played on a solidbody Zeta violin sounded astonishingly full-bodied though the Acoustic Pro. An electric fiddle is an acid test for any acoustic amp, and the Acoustic Pro delivered substantially more midrange warmth and high-end richness than our reference Trace Elliot TA100R.

Genz-Benz has a winner on its hands with the new Shenandoah Acoustic Pro. This flexible and well-conceived amp has all the power and features needed to handle just about any gig, and its innovative preamp design and superb-sounding speakers make it a hip choice for anyone seeking to improve their amplified acoustic tone.

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