Fishman SoloAmp / Bose L1® Comparison

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This review was written by open-road-matt from the Bose® L1® Systems Users Forum

Contents

[edit] Introduction

This page is an attempt to compare the brand new Fishman SoloAmp with the Bose L1. I didn't get to spend as much time as I would have liked on the comparison. Someone has to be dead last on the FedEx delivery list and that person is me! My SoloAmp was out on the truck for delivery at 4:50am this morning and finally arrived at my house at 7pm. I had plans for tests and recordings both inside and out but due to the late hour, I was only able to set up and test inside.

[edit] The Fishman SoloAmp, First Impressions

The portability is amazing! Here is what came out of the box:

Image:SoloAmpPacked.jpg

That's it! That's all there is! It's sort of hard to see in the picture. There is a top section of the case that holds the speaker stand. That section is held on to the bottom section of the case with big plastic clips and the amp itself sits in the bottom section. I got out our cheap bathroom scale to check the weight and it was dead on 35lbs, just as advertised. The dimensions of the SoloAmp in its case are: Length: 43.5" Width: 7" Height: 14.5"

[edit] The Case

I'm pretty picky about cases and I'd say that this case is OK. It's a good concept and it feels sturdy. They used big plastic clips and a thick plastic zipper that looks like it might hold up a while. It is fairly well padded. I would have liked to see them expand the part that holds the speaker stand. It would be nice to have room in there for a mic stand and a guitar stand as I would guess that most of the people who get a SoloAmp for gigs will have to bring those things too. The wheels seem quite useless to me. It felt very tippy as I briefly tried dragging around the living room. It's a nice idea but I can't see it rolling worth well at all on pavement, sidewalks or really any service that isn't very smooth. This doesn't really bother me much. Almost no one seems to sell equipment with nice cases and I'm used to having to shell out for something decent. If I decide to keep the SoloAmp I'll be shopping for a new case. I could see the grill of the speaker getting dented very easily otherwise.

[edit] The Set Up

The set up is very, very slick! I tried it once just to get the feel for it and then timed myself. I first timed myself setting up my L1. I've been doing that for years and I'm very fast at it. It took me 1 minute and 38 seconds to take my whole L1 system from cases to complete set up. I thought that was pretty good. On only my second try with the SoloAmp, I went from cased to set up in 55 seconds! I struggled with the clips on the case a bit and with the speaker stand so that time could be cut down even further! The speaker stand has markings on it telling you where to set it. You put that on the ground, the amp on the stick, plug it in and your done. It really couldn't be any easier.

[edit] Comparison So Far

[edit] Fishman SoloAmp Packed:

Image:SoloAmpPacked.jpg

[edit] Bose L1 Model 2 with 2 B1s and T1 Packed:

Image:BoseL1Packed.jpg

[edit] Weight:

SoloAmp = 35lbs

Bose L1 = 165lbs total.

[edit] Set Up Time:

SoloAmp = 55 seconds

Bose L1 = 1 minute 38 seconds

[edit] Street Price:

SoloAmp: $999.97

Bose L1 (Model 2, Double Bass w/T1): $3297.00 (not including Pelican 1750 or Duluth Pack Boot Bag)

And here is how they look set up:

[edit] The Fishman SoloAmp:

Image:SoloAmpSetup.jpg

[edit] The Bose L1 Model 2 with 2 B1s and T1:

Image:BoseL1Setup.jpg

So far the SoloAmp is looking really good but all the above is moot if the SoloAmp can't compete sonically or with regard to coverage and distribution. So.....

[edit] The Room

I set up both the Bose L1 (Model 2 with T1 ToneMatch Engine and 2 B1s (subs) ) in our living room. The room is 14' x 16' 4" and I set up against the longer wall, right in the middle of the room.

[edit] Sound Check

For this first test I used an Audix OM-5 for my vocal mic and my Goodall Concert Jumbo with a Sunrise magnetic sound hole pickup and a K&K Pure Western Mini blended together in mono with a Pick Up The World Stereo Power Plug. I plugged the mic into channel 1 with an XLR cable and my guitar into channel 2 with a Planet Waves 1/4" cable. I thought it was very easy to get both the vocals and my guitar sounding good through the SoloAmp right off the bat. I bumped the highs, cut the mids and the lows a bit on my vocals. I boosted the highs a tad, cut quite a bit off the mids and left the lows flat on my guitar. I did play around a bit with the Feedback Control knob on my guitar and I could see that coming in handy. The whole thing took about 2 minutes!

I brought my mic stand out about 8 feet in front of the SoloAmp and turned and faced the SoloAmp. I played a bit there and then moved a bit around the room as much as my guitar cord would let me. This isn't a big room at all and the SoloAmp filled it very nicely. I thought both my guitar and vocals sounded full and natural. I didn't feel like it was missing any low end and I was quite happy with the sound.

Then I fired up the Bose L1. I used the same set up and ran both my guitar and mic into the Bose T1. It is very difficult for me to pinpoint the differences in the sound. For one thing, it was tough to get both systems set at what I thought was the same volume because of the sonic differences. The L1 certainly puts out more low end with the two B1s. In fact I first had the B1s up against a sofa and that was causing some thudding with my guitar so I moved them to the other side of the tower. To compare the two, the Bose seems fuller across all parts of the sonic spectrum but the SoloAmp seems to sound more natural. I had my wife bring a chair into the living room and sit out about 10 feet from both systems with her back turned. She said she preferred the Bose because of the fullness but then she said that with the SoloAmp, it sounded as if I wasn't using any amplification at all. Like it was just me and a guitar, only louder.

I would also describe the Bose L1 sound to be more mellow. It was as if with the Bose, it didn't seem like the sound was coming from one source, the sound was just everywhere in the room. The SoloAmp's sound was more direct. In fact, once I got the two systems set at what I thought was the same volume, I could stand much closer and right in front of the L1 without it hurting my ears. If I would stand close to and in front of the SoloAmp, I would feel it in my ears before I finished one song! This could be a big drawback. Often, as a solo act, I am pushed into corners and small places. The L1, Model 2 has been wonderful in these settings as I can stand right in front of it and be fine. I don't know that I could do the same with the SoloAmp. Granted I was running both of these systems much louder than I needed to fill the room but playing in crowded, noisy rooms has been one of the concerns that some have had about both of these systems.

Another difference I noticed is the size of the speakers. I felt like, espcially with my guitar, that I could hear that the SoloAmp has bigger speakers. It was as if the sound of my guitar could breathe a little bit better coming through those bigger speakers. Now it doesn't have the low end respose like the L1 does because of the B1s. But with the L1, all that low end is at my feet. With the bigger speakers in the SoloAmp, the low end was spread out throughout the column. That could be why the SoloAmp seemed more natural, yet not as full.

With regard to coverage and disbursement, this room sure wasn't the best test. Both systems filled the room just fine. I had my wife stand in the far corner of the room, directly to the side of both systems. She said they both sounded just fine from the corner. She then walked in an arc back toward the center of the room and said there is a spot, it looked to be at about 50 degrees or so from the center of the room at which the sound changed a bit but that was true for both the L1 and the SoloAmp. I will try to set up in our back yard tomorrow and do some further coverage tests.

So after just a couple of hours, I would say that the SoloAmp is certainly a sweet piece of gear. My point in doing this is twofold. I want to try the best I can to describe the differences to others who may be considering one or both systems and I want to learn all I can about how the SoloAmp performs as compared to the L1 so I can easily choose which system I'll use depending on the venue.

I have a lot of comfort with and confidence in the L1 system. I've been using them for almost 4 years in tons of different settings and situations and I love the system. The SoloAmp certainly has the L1 beat in terms of size, portability and set up. I really like the convenience and I appreciate the natural sound of the SoloAmp. I just need more time and experience with the SoloAmp to see how that sound carries outside and in bigger rooms full of people and whether or not I can stand to be close to the SoloAmp in loud settings. So far, I think they both have a spot in my car and in my performing life.

I don't know if the following will help at all but I did do some recording. I set up my Zoom H2 hand held recorder exactly 8 feet out from and directly between the two towers. I put each of these tracks into GarageBand just to clean up the beginnings and ends. I didn't do any EQing or make any other changes:

The first song is called Sunny Side Up! It's a new song that I wrote for our son Eric:

Sunny Side Up! Bose L1.mp3

Sunny Side Up! Fishman SoloAmp.mp3

This next one is a song from my Sunshine State of Mind CD called Find My Smile:

Find My Smile Bose L1.mp3

Find My Smile Fishman SoloAmp.mp3

Thanks for reading and or listening. I hope this helps a bit! Matt

[edit] Day Two!

I had to get things torn down early this morning before we turned our little guy loose in the living room. Before doing so, I wanted a chance to hear my CA guitar through the SoloAmp. My Composite Acoustics guitar is the X Performer with a Sunrise/K&K Mini in it. I've often struggled with this guitar through my L1. I often end up with a low end thudding sound through the B1s. If I try to EQ out the problem, I feel like I loose the guts of my tone.

I again used the Pick Up The World Stereo Power Plug to send a mono mix of my pick ups to channel 2 of the SoloAmp and used my Audix OM-5 for vocals. I have never heard my CA guitar sound this good!! It was rich and full with no thudding on the low end. I loved it!!

[edit] Outside Test

I did have a chance to set up both systems in our back yard this morning. Our backyard is small and fenced in. It's almost a rectangle that measures 39' x 22' 7" I set the systems up in one corner. Here are two photos. The first one is from the systems looking out. The other is from the corner looking back toward the systems:

Image:BackyardLookingOut.jpg

Image:BackyardLookingBack.jpg

I used the exact same equipment as last night but I added an extra XLR cable to my mic and used a passive Rolls Matchbox DI box for my guitar. This allowed me to stand quite a ways from the systems and see how the sound spread out throughout the backyard.

The SoloAmp sounds fantastic outside! The open, natural sound of my guitar was even more pronounced out here than it was inside. Otherwise I would say that the charactaristics and the differences I noted above from my indoor test applied outdoors as well. The Bose sound was smoother and more mellow while the SoloAmp was more direct and natural. With the L1, I tried going back and forth between 1 B1 and 2 B1s. When using 1 B1 the sound of the Bose seemed a bit closer to the sound the SoloAmp. The Bose seemed to take on a slighty more direct sound. When I would jump back to 2 B1s the sound seemed to spread itself out a bit more and take on that "everywhere" quality I noted above.

I made two more recordings. For these recordings I again used the Zoom H2 and placed it 36' away. I took the above photo on the right from the exact spot where I placed the Zoom. The recording of the Bose L1 is done with 1 B1 as folks have asked about that. I did have the extension XLR cable on my mic and the Rolls DI on my guitar. I stood 22' away from and facing the sound systems just to continue my evaluation.

Again I dumped these songs into GarageBand to clean up the beginnings and ends but otherwise made no changes.

This song was inspired by a blog written by my friend Bob Karwin. Bob is a great singer/songwriter/performer and all around good guy from San Diego, CA. He wrote about how instead of keeping track of his home improvement chores and projects by hour, he counts them off by the number of beers it takes to complete the task. The trouble, according to Bob, is that if you hit the liquor store first, by the time you get done at Home Depot, your beer is warm. If you hit Home Depot first, you run the risk of the liquor store being closed by the time you get done. He came up with a brilliant solution. I stole the whole idea and put it into a song.

Home Depot Song, Bose L1.mp3

Home Depot Song, Fishman SoloAmp.mp3

I thought I liked the sound of the SoloAmp better while I was out there but after listening to the recordings, I think I like the recording of the L1 better. There is a gigantic problem with the SoloAmp. I am unable to get anywhere near the thing while I'm playing. Part of the advertising of both of these products is that the systems can act as both your mains and your monitors. The system(s) sit behind the performer and the performer and the audience hear the same thing. After doing these recordings from 22' away, I removed my extension cables and plugged directly in to both systems just like I did last night. I put my mic stand 8' out from the spot right between the two systems. There is NO way I could play a show of any length at this volume (10 o'clock) being this close to the SoloAmp. My guitar was on the verge of feeding back and it was really hard on my ears! I stayed in the same spot and tried the L1. It was fairly loud (master at 1 o'clock on the T1) but not painful at all and I could perform like that if I had to.

I tried moving off to the side of the SoloAmp and standing maybe 3 or 4 feet away. All this did was punish one ear more than the other and make it a bit harder to hear myself. Both of these systems seemed to be at an appropriate volume to fill the backyard when I was 22' away but the SoloAmp was unbearable at 8'! This is a huge disappointment! I really like the natural, open sound of the SoloAmp. The portability and set up is wonderful. I think it can compete with the L1 with regard to coverage and disbursement but I think that not being able to get close to it is going to be a deal breaker for me. I can't always be sure that I'm going to have a ton of room to set up. I would love to have a smaller system but if I don't have adequate room to get away from the SoloAmp, it will be good for nothing more than the most intimate of performances and thus not worth hauling around. It would not be worth it for me to set up the SoloAmp for a show and find out that either 1) I am not able to fill the venue with sound or 2) I have to risk damage to my hearing to get the volume I need for the show. It's just not worth it.

[edit] In Closing

Unless I come up with a quick solution, sadly, I will probably be sending the SoloAmp back.

A quick update: I set the SoloAmp up in the living room again to see if I could figure out a way to make it work. I played with it for about a half hour, standing in front of it, to the side, even behind it and my ears couldn't take it. It is now boxed up, it will be picked up by FedEx tomorrow and sent back to Sweetwater. It's sad but now I know!

My take is that the SoloAmp is much more an acoustic guitar amp than it is a PA system. I owned a Fishman Loudbox 100 for a while and while I loved the tone, I had the same problem standing anywhere near it when it was raised up to ear level. The coverage and disbursement of the SoloAmp are great as is the tone. I think Fishman would have been better off marketing this as a wonderful acoustic amp and should have avoided all the, "It's an amp and PA" and, "You hear what the audience hears" stuff that made me think I should set this up and use it like the L1. To me, the SoloAmp should be compared with other higher end acoustic guitar amps.

Thanks for reading and listening! Matt

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