Fishman Loudbox Mini Charge - GuitarPlayer.com

Review: Fishman Loudbox Mini Charge

Fishman’s Loudbox Mini Charge is a great-sounding little amp that delivers a ton of mobile tone for the buck.
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Fishman’s Loudbox range is one of the most successful in the acoustic amp arena, and the Mini Charge is an exciting prospect because battery power and Bluetooth connectivity promise a troubadour’s dream—cutting the cord without tonal sacrifice. Such satisfaction must truly be hard to deliver, as there aren’t many battery-powered options on the market, and some of those simply use off-the-shelf batteries. Fishman claims that the Mini Charge delivers 60 watts for about 12 hours at “average volume” via its built-in rechargeable battery and special power management circuitry. I jumped at the chance to test a Mini Charge slightly in advance of its debut at the Winter NAMM Show.

At first glance, the Mini Charge appears similar to the standard Loudbox Mini with a different cosmetic makeup. Instead of a dark brown grille, a light tan face, and smooth brown tolex sides, the Mini Charge has a tweed grille, a dark tan face, and textured brown tolex sides. The basic layout remains the same. The guitar channel has controls for Gain, Low, Mid, High, Reverb, and Chorus, plus a phase button. The mic channel offers an XLR input, and the same controls sans Mid and Chorus.

Upon unboxing, I did not connect the power cord. I flipped the power switch, and much to my delight a pair of green lights appeared—one next to the Master volume indicating power on, and another above it indicating the Mini Charge was indeed running on its battery. A red light appears when the charge becomes low, and a yellow one when the amp is plugged in and saving juice.

I used three instruments to check the guitar tones: a Fender Paramount Travel with an onboard Fishman PM system, a Taylor 514ce equipped with a Fishman Prefix system, and a Breedlove Legacy Concertina with L.R. Baggs Anthem electronics. Vocal tests came courtesy of Sennheiser e835 and Carvin M50 dynamic microphones. With all the main control knobs set at noon for a taste of the Mini Charge’s basic guitar flavor, the most striking aspect was its plentiful low end packing a focused, distinctly closed-back style tonal punch—regardless of which guitar. One simply doesn’t expect such beefy bass from an amp with a 6.5” woofer. And girth doesn’t come at the expense of clarity. The tone sounds wonderfully pure and naturally present across a broad sonic spectrum. There’s plenty of power to fill a small space while maintaining good headroom and a very low noise floor. Fishman was smart to make the Master Volume usable all the way up. The best tones come when it’s positioned past noon, and Gain is added as needed. That’s good until about noon on the dial before distortion starts to ensue. As overall volume goes up, it’s best to back down the mids and lows for clarity, especially when singing through the other channel. When I tried the Taylor using a Fishman Blackstack passive soundhole pickup that was a bit softer than the onboard Prefix pickup, I obtained the extra low-end punch and top-end sparkle I was listening for via the Mini Charge’s Low and High controls. All the EQ knobs are very responsive. I couldn’t try an onboard/soundhole pickup blend within the amp, as the second channel input is strictly XLR, not a combination input.

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I was very curious about any tonal variation or headroom difference when using battery power compared to AC. So I got up close and plucked the Taylor’s open strings consistently tuned to open E while using my free fretting hand to alternately plug in and unplug the power cord from around back. At first I thought I could discern a small variation in low-end “oomph” and top-end shimmer, but after closing my eyes and repeating the experiment a few times, I’d say there’s either no difference, or one so slight that it’s not noteworthy. I also repeated this test after the amp had been running on battery power for several hours, and reached the same conclusion: What’s truly noteworthy, however, is how great the Mini Charge sounds unplugged!

Speaking of unplugged, the Bluetooth connectivity was a cinch to employ, and it worked like a charm. Simply engage pairing on your mobile device, hit the Pairing button on the front of the Mini Charge, and your favorite tunes or backing tracks burst forth from the Mini Charge. There’s an auxiliary mini input jack on the back to do it the old fashioned way. It accepts stereo signals, and then automatically mixes them down to mono within the amp for playback.

The Mini Charge’s digital effects are high quality and easy to control. The reverb is nice and lush, and it sounds great on guitar or vocals. I appreciated having independent controls for each channel. The guitar channel’s single Chorus knob acts as a dual depth control—one side for mild chorus, and the other for heavy. I’m not a fan of acoustic tones slathered in chorus, and I appreciated the judicious nature of the effect on this amp. Even the heavy chorus effect turned all the way up sounded musical. To test the Mini Charge’s expandability, I ran an XLR from its balanced direct out into a QSC K10 active loudspeaker. Guitar and vocals sounded quiet, and then I realized the Mini Charge manual indicates the direct out doesn’t run at line level—it’s at mic level. I flipped the K10’s input switch from Line to Mic and—boom—the tone came bristling through complete with the amp’s brilliant EQ, reverb, and chorus.

Fishman’s Loudbox Mini Charge brings a ton of mobile tone. It’s simply a great-sounding little amp that delivers a ton of mobile tone for the buck. I can’t wait for warmer weather to put it through more paces in some wilderness spaces. The cushy optional deluxe carry bag ($99 street) makes it a breeze to tote the lightweight Mini Charge wherever you roam. The sound of the woods just got a whole lot louder!

CONTACT fishman.com

Loudbox Mini Charge

PRICE $499 street; $598 with optional deluxe carry bag
CHANNELS 2 CONTROLS ( Channel 1) ¼" Instrument input, Phase button, Gain, Low, Mid, High, Reverb, Chorus. (Channel 2) XLR mic input, Gain, Low, High, Reverb. Master (global volume).
EXTRAS ¼" Aux line-level stereo input (mixes to mono within the amp), XLR Mix D.I. post-EQ output, Bluetooth indicator and Pairing button.
POWER 60 watts
SPEAKER 6.5" woofer, 1" dome tweeter
WEIGHT 21.2 lbs
BUILT China
KUDOS Ultimate busk-ability with battery power and Bluetooth connectivity. Fine tone with bountiful low end surprising for amp this size.
CONCERNS None.

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