WARM TEMPERATURES AND A SLOW economy might be cause to consider the income available to musicians who ply their trade on the local thoroughfares. Outdoor players can often make more than their club-performing counterparts for the same amount of work—and it’s all cash! So if you’re thinking of taking it to the streets as a means of making ends meet, Roland has two battery-powered amps that are specially designed for the job.
This ultra-small stereo amp is designed to be an all-in-one portable amplifier for guitar, keyboards, vocals, and/or backing tracks from a CD player or recording unit. It packs a pair of full-range 4" speakers and two channels. The Mic channel has a Volume control, while the Keyboard/ Instrument/Guitar channel sports a Volume control, a button to engage a chorus effect, and a rotary switch that lets you choose between an electric guitar section with Clean, Overdrive, and Distortion options, and a Stereo Input section that you can set for use with Keyboards, Acoustic Guitar, or Audio (CD player, iPod, etc.). The Tone and Delay/ Reverb knobs affect both channels. Also featured on the control panel is a Center Cancel button for the Audio input to remove vocals or lead instruments from pre-recorded tracks. I found that if the vocals or lead were actually centered in the mix (they aren’t always), this effectively lowered them enough to perform over, though they didn’t entirely disappear.
The Mobile Cube’s plastic case has 1/4" inputs on one side for mics, guitars and other instruments. A stereo minijack and a pair of RCA inputs are also provided for use with CD players and the like. On the other side is a mini-jack headphone output, power adapter input, and the power switch. The Mobile Cube runs on an adapter (included) or six AA batteries. Size-wise, the Mobile Cube makes my tiny Roland Micro Cube seem like a Marshall stack. Though 2" wider than the Micro Cube, it is almost 2" shorter and roughly half as deep, yet technically offers over twice the wattage—2.5 watts per channel versus the Micro Cube’s two watts. This manifests itself mainly in clean headroom, rather than perceived loudness.
With my S-style Fernandes plugged into the Left/Mono Guitar input and set on Clean at full volume, the Mobile Cube maintained an undistorted tone that sounded significantly louder than my Micro Cube on its clean settings. But when I switched the Mobile to its Overdrive sound, it could not match the output of the Micro Cube set to Classic Stack. There is no gain control for the Mobile Cube’s Overdrive and Distortion, but both settings cleaned up nicely when I backed off the guitar’s volume.
The Mobile Cube’s COSM modeling is effective, but the speakers exhibit a somewhat severe midrange response when using the overdrive and distortion models. Though these sounds are fine for practice or preshow warm-up, the Mobile Cube seems more suited to self-contained acoustic guitar or solo jazz gigs, accompanied by tracks on a CD, iPod, or laptop plugged into its Aux input. A mic-stand mount on the bottom facilitates the amp’s ability to act as a tiny P.A. At a little over five pounds, the Moble Cube could also be rigged up on a strap (probably a longer one than the carry strap it comes with), to do a strolling guitarist gig—just add a headset mic to make that a strolling singer-guitarist.
Though roughly four times the size of the Mobile Cube, the stereo Cube Street still weighs in at under 12 pounds and is petite enough to fit under an airliner seat. All controls and inputs reside on the top of the cabinet, which is angled on the bottom to aim the speakers upward. The Mic/Line section includes a 1/4"/XLR combo input, a Mic/Line switch, Bass and Treble controls, and a dedicated Delay/ Reverb control so that the vocal ambience can differ from the guitar’s. The Guitar/ Instrument channel offers a 1/4" input, Bass, Middle, and Treble controls; as well as a rotary switch for selecting amp models or an acoustic simulation. This switch also has settings for acoustic guitar/ keyboard or another microphone. The EFX knob selects chorus, flanging, phasing or tremolo. A dedicated Delay/Reverb knob, and Gain and Volume controls round out this section.
Above the power switch is a stereo mini Aux in and stereo 1/4" outs. For all the size difference, the Cube Street runs on the same six AA batteries as the Mobile Cube, and its wattage is identical to that of the Mobile Cube—though larger speakers offer a commensurately larger sound. Boss’ COSM modeling offers a range of pleasing amp sounds that also feel good to play, and here the speakers show no hint of harshness. This member of the Cube family treads similar territory to the smaller Mobile Cube. But if bigger rooms or noisy street corners are your destination, or you just need more options, the heftier Cube Street is the more appropriate choice.
The Mobile Cube and Cube Street both make great practice/ warm-up units, and the battery power is handy for dressing rooms with no outlets. The Cube Street will certainly handle a solo performance on your local boulevard corner or subway platform, and both units can double as miniature P.A. systems for small rooms.