Roland Amp Reviews

Roland AC-33 Acoustic Guitar Amplifier Review
A feature-laden amplifier with a clean, acoustic sound that is very lightweight and portable.

At a Glance


The Specs:
Two channels (Guitar with 1/4-inch input and Mic/Line with XLR and 1/4-inch inputs). 30 watts stereo power (15/15) using AC adapter; 20 watts stereo (10/10) using eight AA batteries. Two five-inch speakers. Digital Chorus and Reverb/Ambience effects. Bass, middle, and treble controls on Guitar channel; bass and treble on Mic/Line channel. Digital looper with 40 seconds of recording time. Antifeedback switch. Two footswitch inputs for looper and effects. Weight (without batteries) 10 lb. 6 oz. Made in China.

This Is Cool:
Battery power and looper.

Watch For:
Foot pedal for looper not included.

Price:
$558.50 list/$399 street.

Maker:
Roland Corp.: (323) 890-3700; rolandus.com.


Roland AC-33 Amplifier Review


For a performing guitarist, a good-sounding acoustic amplifier has almost become a necessity. And a lightweight, two-channel amp is especially appreciated by singer-songwriters who need to amplify both a guitar and vocal but don't want to arrive at the gig breathless from lugging heavy equipment around. Because some performance environments may not have a nearby AC outlet, battery power can be helpful. Roland's new AC-33 acoustic guitar amp, a smaller version of the company's AC-60 and AC-90 acoustic amps and part of an extensive line of battery-powered units recently introduced by the company, fits all of these requirements.


Lightweight with Power Options

When you pull the Roland AC-33 out of the box, the first thing you notice is its light weight, just a little more than 10 pounds (without batteries). The amp has a nice, clean appearance and subtle design features, looking like a slightly smaller version of the AC-60. All of the controls are easily identifiable and laid out logically, making navigation simple. There are two input channels on the top, one with a 1/4-inch input for guitar and one with an XLR or 1/4-inch input for a vocal or guitar; on the back panel, there are stereo aux inputs (with level control) for connecting an iPod or portable CD player. The back panel also includes right and left 1/4-inch line outs, DC input for the included AC adapter, and footswitch inputs for effects and a looper. An arm stand is built into the bottom of the unit, allowing you to tilt the unit back so the sound from the speakers is easier to hear if you have to set the amp on the ground. When you pick up or move the AC-33, the arm stand does not spring back on its own, however, and needs to be folded back manually.

The AC-33 can be powered by the AC adapter, but for more portability, you can install eight AA batteries and enjoy approximately eight hours of continuous use. I used the AC-33 in my teaching studio, where conditions aren't as intense as in a performance context, and was able to get just over ten hours of battery life. The battery-powered option would also be incredibly useful for a solo or duo performing at a café, small venue, or the local farmers' market. Using batteries lowers the stereo power output to ten watts per channel instead of 15, however, and the dip in power is noticeable. The no-outlet option is probably best for solo or duo performances. In a small band situation, a larger venue, or playing with a drummer, the additional power provided by the AC adapter is a must. I used the AC-33 with battery power for a four-piece band rehearsal in a tiny room, and it was able to cut through just fine. I used it again in a performance environment with the same four-piece band, using the AC adapter this time, and routed my signal to a PA, turning the AC-33 into a monitor. The venue, a restaurant, was a large room filled with noisy patrons and staff, and I needed a preamp to boost the sound above the din--and I'm not referring to the band!

Clean and Natural Sound

The overall sound from the AC-33 when using acoustic guitars (steel- and nylon-string) is clean and natural. I mostly used a nylon-string acoustic with a spruce top and a Fishman pickup. The tone controls (bass, middle, and treble on the Guitar channel and bass and treble on the Mic/Line channel) help you make any necessary and desirable adjustments when trying different guitars. The nylon-string guitar I used has a bright sound, so I boosted the mids and bass a bit. When I plugged in a Fender Telecaster electric guitar, I added more highs to the sound, especially when I dialed in some of the chorus effect.

Effects, Antifeedback, and Looper

The amp comes with two effects, chorus and reverb/ambience. The chorus is employed with the flick of a switch and has two settings: Wide and Space. The manual describes Wide as a stereo chorus processed by three independent bands. The Space setting is a chorus produced when the sounds from the left and right speakers mix, creating a wider spread. The chorus sound is sweet, which will be no surprise to those familiar with Roland products, and it can help separate the sounds of two guitars if you're running both through the AC-33. I had a student plug into the Mic/Line channel, to which we applied the chorus effect (wide setting) and kept my guitar input (in the Guitar channel) clean. The separation was quite good considering the speaker size. The second effect, reverb/ambience, is manipulated with one knob that controls a warm and natural, spacious-sounding reverb and an ambience setting that provides more spatial depth.

The AC-33 also includes a front-panel antifeedback function, which is easy to use. In a performance setting for guitar and vocals, I was impressed with its effectiveness, even when the volume knobs were near capacity. That's a big plus for singer-songwriters or guitar/vocal duos.

Providing 40 seconds of recording time, the AC-33's built-in looper is easy to operate, and it's fun to create multiple overdubs for improvising or even songwriting. However, the amp does not come with a footswitch (Roland's FS-5U and FS-6 footswitches are recommended options), which would be helpful and ensure that the looper's stop button engages without recording a delay or hesitation in your phrase. It is worth noting that what you record in the looper will be erased when the AC-33 is powered off.

Portable Performance Partner

The Roland AC-33 is an impressively lightweight, portable amplifier. For a singer-songwriter or working duo, this compact package will provide a clean, acoustic sound that can enhance any small-venue performance. The addition of warm-sounding chorus and reverb, as well as the creative possibilities of the looper, will likely be impressive enough to encourage passersby to toss a few more coins into your guitar case.



Roland AC-90 Acoustic Chorus Amp Review
Easy-to-use acoustic-guitar amp captures organic tones in a feature-rich package with power to spare.

Finding the right acoustic guitar amplifier can be difficult if you're an inexperienced amp user. It is all too easy to induce a wailing wall of feedback, and without the right tweaks and tuning, it is also possible to make your otherwise sweet acoustic sound harsh or metallic--robbing the instrument of its natural character. Furthermore, whether you are a delicate fingerpicker, hard strummer, or someone in between, matching the character of your playing to the characteristics of an amplifier can be an exhausting process of trial and error if you don't know what to look for.

With the AC-90 Acoustic Chorus, Roland has gone a long way toward alleviating the guesswork in an amplifier search. It delivers a wide array of tones that will appeal to a broad spectrum of acoustic players. And it strikes a balance between clarity and warmth that will keep players reveling in the bliss of experiencing their guitar's true tone, at a price that's relatively easy on the pocketbook.

FUNCTIONALITY AND FEATURES

The AC-90's subdued all-black cabinet conceals a formidable and powerful amplifier design. The 90-watt circuit (2 × 45) features two input channels that can be used for guitar and voice or two guitars, and a three-band equalizer for each channel. The guitar channel can be switched between optimization for either piezo or magnetic pickups; the mic/line channel, which features ¼-inch and XLR input jacks and 48-volt phantom power, can be used in parallel with the guitar channel if you want to add vocals or a second guitar. Each channel also has a separate volume control that is used with an additional master volume to blend sources and customize your tone. And abating the ever-present risk of feedback is made easy by the AC-90's antifeedback control, which enables players to isolate and dial out problematic frequencies.

The cabinet is outfitted with two eight-inch speakers and two tweeters, facing slightly off-axis and outward from each other to more effectively disperse sound in small- to medium-size areas. The back access panel features a ¼-inch output for a subwoofer and allows you to plug in a CD player or drum machine through two RCA inputs or two ¼-inch phone jacks. It also has two XLR line outs as well as a ¼-inch mono output. There is also an input for an optional footswitch from which you can control mute, antifeedback, chorus, and reverb/delay.

FINDING A TONE

I tested the AC-90 with a 000-size Blueridge BR-343 outfitted with a Fishman Ellipse blending system (onboard mic and undersaddle piezo), and a National Style O with a Highlander iP-1X biscuit pickup. Running both instruments through the guitar channel, I was able to dial in a bright yet warm tone with a few minor EQ adjustments. While the AC-90 imparted a little too much bite with the EQ set flat, a minor midrange reduction transformed the Blueridge's tone into something very transparent and warm. The barkier National required an even more aggressive reduction of the mids and a boost in the bass, but, like the Blueridge, ended up sounding very rich. Moreover, both guitars maintained their acoustic character whether I fingerpicked blues tunes or strummed with a heavy pick attack.

Playing the Blueridge through the mic/line channel yielded a darker sound, perfect for blues. While the guitar channel has a brighter, crisper sound, the mic/line channel seems to roll off some of the higher and lower EQ, which allows a player to dig in without any ear-splitting high end.

Roland is known for its high-quality Jazz Chorus amps, and the rich chorus sounds that made those amps famous are a central feature of the AC-90. The chorus ranges from a Space setting that sends the effect to one speaker while leaving another dry to a more-saturated, wide-setting chorus. The chorus does induce signal clipping under heavy picking, and there is some drop in volume, but it still possesses a beautiful shimmering quality--particularly at more extreme settings. While the traditionally minded guitarist might find these options a bit esoteric, it's perfect for Andy Summers-style picking, and I couldn't resist trying out a little "Message in a Bottle" riffage.

The AC-90's reverb was warm, and discernibly better than a lot of digital reverbs I've used, which can sound a little harsh. A lack of control parameters diminished my enthusiasm a little--you can only change the time of the delay and not the mix. And while the omission saves space and clutter on the control panel, it renders the delay much less useful.

When I played to a room of about 50 people, the Roland performed admirably and proved to be a very capable complete gigging solution. I plugged the Blueridge into the guitar channel via an L.R. Baggs Para Acoustic D.I. and ran a Shure SM57 that I was using as a vocal mic into the mic/line channel. I found the mic/line channel a bit edgy in the mid-range, but I was able to dial in an appropriate EQ setting easily with a little boost to the bass and a reduction in the mids. Several audience members commented on the guitar's warmth, and I was struck by the amp's dynamics and tone, whether I fingerpicked a Blind Blake tune or strummed a Charley Patton tune.

THE WRAP

The AC-90 is the perfect amp for a guitarist/singer-songwriter or small-combo player looking for a sturdy and easy-to-use amp that is loud enough for small to medium rooms. It possesses a warm tone without being woolly or muddled, maintains remarkable transparency even at higher volumes, and is very responsive to EQ tweaks. The built-in effects could benefit from additional parameter control, but the classic and recognizable tones of Roland's proven chorus will be welcome to many players. Most important, the AC-90 is capable of capturing your guitar's character in a multitude of performance situations without a ton of headaches, meaning you can pay attention to your playing instead of twiddling knobs.