Amplified acoustic tone aficionados are well aware of L.R. Baggs’ high-quality pickups, preamps, and direct boxes, and this year there’s more to know as the manufacturer progresses down the signal chain. Frets praised the introduction of four Align Series acoustic pedals in the May issue with the Session and Reverb pedals earning Editors’ Pick Awards. Now we’re ready to take a look at Baggs’ innovative foray at the signal path’s culmination—the dual-channel Synapse Personal P.A.
One look says, “This is something completely different.” Rather than following the trend towards skinny speaker sticks with sub counterparts, Baggs chose to blaze a unique all-in-one path veering off from the powered loudspeaker trail. The Synapse is deeper (21.75”) than a typical powered speaker, and it’s a tale of two halves. The back half is a walnut veneer plywood cabinet housing the Synapse’s all-discrete preamplifiers and a 500-watt Class-D power amplifier. The front is made from high-density structural foam designed to minimize resonance from the speakers inside. Its half-cylinder shaped grille has two slotted openings—a larger, lower one, and a smaller, higher one—that make it appear like a cross between the air conditioning ducts on the interior of a Cadillac, and the head from one of those iconic Easter Island moai statues—without the creepy eyeballs!
The classy aesthetic becomes even more interesting when you understand why the Synapse looks the way it does. Those slotted grooves running from “ear to ear” on the grille face are designed to allow dual speaker horns to deliver sounds from an 8” compression woofer plus a high-frequency compression tweeter as an integrated, full-spectrum horizontal soundwave in a hemispherical pattern. The functionality that flows from the form is a whopping 180 degrees of dispersal, rather than the 80 or 90 degrees of a typical speaker enclosure.
The Synapse is aimed squarely at the singer-songwriter or solo acoustic performer searching for a single-unit gig solution, and the back control-panel is wisely set up for exactly that purpose. I tested the Synapse using a Sennheiser e835 microphone for vocals, and a variety of acoustic guitars, including a Breedlove Legacy Concertina equipped with a Baggs Anthem system, as well as a Martin OM-21 equipped with Fishman’s new Matrix Infinity Mic Blend system.
The main points to make regarding the sound of the Synapse can be summed up in three words: clarity, quality, and dispersion. The Synapse has a bell-like sound that clearly comes from its dual-horned design. One can readily understand lyrics and differentiate between guitar notes. And that clarity isn’t simply about presence in the high end—it’s a holistic, full-spectrum sonic quality that literally radiates from the Synapse. The designers are obviously guitar players because its highly dimensional sound is more like that of a fine guitar amp, and very different from the flatter sound typical of powered P.A. speakers. The studio-quality reverb is way more guitar-friendly as well, with the three different decay lengths set quite practically for adding awesome acoustic-appropriate ambiance.
The Synapse’s wide dispersion is totally unique. Standing on the side of a typical loudspeaker, you hear a muffled sound that’s nothing like what’s happening out front. The Synapse, on the other hand, delivers a similar sound all around. So while the Synapse costs more than many comparably sized powered speakers, all you need is one. Also, due to its broad dispersal, you can place it anywhere without worrying about feedback. I cranked the Synapse way up and not only was its usable volume louder than the 1,000-watt powered 10" loudspeaker used for comparison, the Synapse delivered pure, practical power with essentially no feedback issues from the mic or guitar until I faced the soundhole directly at the speaker! The Synapse eliminates the solo performer’s need for a separate stage monitor, mixer, or an amp, and allows everyone in the room to enjoy the same dazzling acoustic guitar and vocal tones.
With its cleverly designed top handle, the relatively lightweight Synapse Personal P.A. is easily portable in its handy slipcover. I took the Synapse on a gig trip to a Lake Tahoe ski lodge, and it worked very well in the Tetris-like packing game I have to deal with driving a diminutive Toyota Matrix. Everyone who saw and heard the Synapse was unanimously impressed, and the system earns an Editors’ Pick Award.
Synapse Personal P.A.
PRICE $1,999 street
CONTROLS [Identical on Channels 1 and 2] Combination ¼"/XLR input, dial controls for Treble, Mid, Bass, Reverb, and Gain; buttons for Phase, Mute, Pad (line or mic level), 48V phantom power, and Reverb Select (toggles between short, medium, and long decay lengths). Global Master volume.
EXTRAS Aux Volume for Aux In (¼" mini-jack or ¼" TRS summed stereo), XLR Mix Out and Mix In jacks.
POWER 500 watts
SPEAKERS 8" compression woofer, compression tweeter
WEIGHT 38 lbs
KUDOS Innovative dual-horn design. Clear, multi-dimensional tone with broad dispersion.