Posts Tagged ‘amps’

fender_drriI haven’t been this excited about some gear in a long time! Actually, I haven’t done all that much reviewing in awhile. Sure, I’ve done some little things here and there, but haven’t done an amp in a LONG time.

When I picked this up at my buddy Dave’s house yesterday (he was my right-hand man in my previous band), I remarked that I haven’t done any amp reviews in awhile, and that I’ll probably write a review of it since I’m testing it to see if I want to buy it from him. A large part of me not writing is that I haven’t been in a band for a year and a half, so my “need” for gear and subsequently my GAS has been seriously curtailed. He laughed, saying the same thing. Now that he’s in another band, he’s starting to buy gear again (actually, I’m jealous because he’s setting up his living room as a jam center).

He even showed me some pedals that I really need to check out, like the Mad Professor Silver Spring Reverb. OMG! Talk about gooey, wet ‘verb! I played that pedal with a Les Paul Custom, into a custom Aracom VRX18. Could’ve sworn I was playing through a Fender amp! Gorgeous!

What really excites me about this amp is getting it into its breakup zone. Fender amps are known for their clean headroom, so when I hook up my attenuator to this, I’m hoping it’ll be a revelation! We shall see… 🙂

So… GAS is in full flow right now! I’ll probably post a “First Impressions” article in the next couple of days. ROCK ON!

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Last week, after watching the video of George Benson describing the construction of his new Fender Twin Signature, I got that ol’ familiar feelin’ of GAS. I loved the sound of that amp, and as the new band I’m in plays mostly classic rock from the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s, I figured I’d be playing mostly clean, which just a touch of grit at times. While my Marshall-style amps from Aracom are absolutely awesome, I haven’t had a Fender amp in my lineup for awhile. That Twin Reverb seemed to me something worth checking out.

But then after a gig I did yesterday with members from my old church band, I was mentioning that Twin to my good buddy Dave, and how I just loved that clean sound. He pulled me aside and told me that he was going to be selling his Deluxe Reverb Limited Edition, and I could try it out first. SHIT! Instant GAS attack! I love that amp! Dave had brought it to church a few times in the past, and it’s sound is incredible! I played it with both a Strat and a Les Paul, and I just loved the creamy-smooth cleans that would issue forth from the amp. Such a sweet, sweet sound! I’m going to pick up the amp probably in the middle of the week, and I’m itching to play it; both in my man-cave and at my next band rehearsal.

In anticipation of playing it, I did a bit of research on this particular version of the Deluxe. What I didn’t realize was that as opposed to having a 75 Watt speaker, this amp sports a Jensen C-12K, which is rated at 40 Watt. Effectively, this means that beyond a certain volume setting, the speaker will break up more and not get too loud. For rock and roll, this is ideal, and what gets me excited about this amp.

That doesn’t mean that this amp is quiet by any means. Fender amps are LOUD. But that’s why attenuators exist, right? 🙂 Besides, I’ll probably only have to attenuate my volume for rehearsal, which is in a pretty small room. For gigs, I may even have to use an expansion cab to add more dispersal, but we’ll see. In any case, I’m excited about getting to know this amp. Could it be something I add to my stable? We’ll just have to wait and see…

On another note, looking back on this blog, having created it in January of 2007 – hard to believe that it’s nine years old – I realized that my GAS is directly related to how active I am with a band. The last year and half, I haven’t been in a band at all, having played mostly solo, and the times I’ve sat in on a band, the gear I’ve got totally sufficed. But now that I’m in a new band, with entirely new responsibilities, I’m finding that I’m getting GAS – AGAIN!

BUT, I also realized that my particular form of GAS is more practical in nature – if you can call GAS practical – and has been a response to filling “holes” in my rig or to satisfy a particular need. With this particular GAS attack, I’m looking to get a combo to gig with. With my old church band, lugging my gear to the church wasn’t a problem. We rehearsed and performed on the same day, I live literally 3 minutes from the church, so I’d just bring whatever I need for the set to church, hook it up, and was fine for the 5-6 hours I’d be there.

But with the new band, we rehearse at a band member’s house, then play in different venues, so the fewer pieces I have to carry, the better, and a combo just makes a lot more sense. So we’ll see how this test goes. I’m pretty excited!

Correction:  Oops! My bad! A reader pointed out that I specified the Jensen C-12K as the speaker for this amp. It’s actually a Jensen P12Q, which has an alnico magnet and rated at 40Watts.

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A good buddy sent this eBay auction to check out: http://www.ebay.com/itm/271149509473?_trksid=p5197.c0.m619. As of this writing, the bidding is up to $50k. Yikes!

I’ve played a Dumble ODS. The sound and dynamics are, in a word, magic, and I haven’t found anything in all the amps I’ve played since capture that magic. In the videos I made of the amp, I said that I think based upon playing it that it was worth the money.

But here’s the catch: while I think it is certainly worth the money, I’m not sure if my audience would be able to tell the difference. Up close and personal, the amp is absolutely incredible. But on a stage mixed in with a band? Not sure that playing a Dumble versus a Fuchs or Two Rock would make much of a difference. The only person who would be able to tell would be me. But if another amp inspires me while I’m playing, then having a Dumble wouldn’t make a difference in any case. I guess the point is that inspiration doesn’t have to cost fifty grand…

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Got a call over the weekend from Bill Dunham at Sebago Sound who wanted to tell me that he was releasing a Steel String Slinger based upon the topology of a SSS owned by a well-known, grammy-award-winning, blues/pop artist (I know who it is, and based upon the description, you should be able to figure it out).

Don’t have a lot of details on it right now, though I will be doing a demo/review of his pre-production prototype. I’m excited about playing around with the on-board reverb that is in its own loop to control the signal going in and out of the reverb unit. Very cool.

From what I know of the original SSS, the amp is a single-channel amp, but has two inputs: Normal and FET. The FET input is like having an on-board overdrive. Having played with a real Dumble, that FET circuit is pretty special. The prototype will not have this feature, though Bill does have plans to put that in.

For more information on the Sebago SSS, check out Sebago Sound!

In other news with Sebago, Bill has done a fantastic job of creating Dumble clones with his Double Trouble 50 and 100 Watt amps based upon the Dumble Overdrive Special. But more importantly, unlike other boutique Dumble cloners out there such as Two Rock and Bludotone, Bill’s mission is to create Dumble-style amps and not charge a premium. For instance, Sebago’s 50 Watt Double Trouble is only $1995. Believe me, it’s a well-made amp, and the retailers who carry that amp can’t keep it on their shelves for more than a couple of days. I’m not quite sure what the price-point for the SSS will be, but it will be far less than the competition; and you won’t have to wait more than a couple of weeks at most to get one, as opposed to having to wait up 18 months for other builders’ Dumble-style amps.

So lower price, short wait time (if any, if you get it from one of the local retailers)? Kind of a no-brainer, if you ask me… In any case, stay tuned for my review! I’m getting the amp tomorrow evening and will be playing with it for the rest of the week.

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There’s something about “Fender” and “high-gain” that seems like an oxymoron. Most people equate the Fender tone with lush cleans and open, low-gain overdrive. They’ve tried to break into the high-gain market in the past with the ProSonic and SuperSonic models, and they haven’t fared too badly, considering the likes of Matthias Jabs of the Scorpions uses a ProSonic. But it’s hard to break through an image, decades-long in the making.

To help “cut” (pun intended) through that image, Fender recently released the new Machete. This is a two-channel, 50 Watt, 1 X 12 combo that has the capability of producing the classic Fender cleans we all know and love, to some very high and over-the-top high-gain tones. Each channel has independent 3-band EQ. But there are other features that will help players dial in their tones such as an input pad switch for use with guitars with active pickups; a Notch control that changes the midrange point, and a Damper control to roll off highs.

All in all, this is a pretty smart offering from Fender. Here’s Fender’s official demo video:

It’s very cool-looking with that 60’s-70’s, black, retro styling. But it does cost around $1900. That’s actually not too bad of a price, but it’s not cheap either. That’s the other image thing with Fender. They’re known for inexpensive gear relative to their competition. I suppose if they’re competing against the boutique manufacturers, then they’re staying true to that practice. However, most popular boutique amps follow a more vintage path to tone.  I suppose they could be going after Soldano and Hughes & Kettner for high-gain.

No matter, it’ll be interesting to see how this amp fares in the market.

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Because I’ve had a lot of experience with lots of different amps, invariably people ask me for advice  – especially on what power tubes to go with. They ask, “Should I get EL34? 6L6? 6V6? EL84, etc.” My answer to that question is: Yes. 🙂 On a more serious note, I do tell them that they have to play several amps to find out what appeals to their sense of tone the most. After all, it’s what is pleasing to your ear that matters.

I used to drink the cool-aid and say something like this: “If you want real chimey clean tones, then you’ll get that with 6L6’s,” or some other rubbish like that. That’s all a bunch of crap because I’ve got EL84-based amps that have that kind of chimey clean tone as well. It’s all about how the builder voiced the EQ circuitry AND what guitar you play through the amp!

What I do see a difference between the different tubes is in how they distort once overdriven. This is NOT hard and fast, but in general, I’ve found that the ELx varieties tend to compress their signal a bit more when saturated as compared to their 6×6 brethren. The 6L6 and 6V6 amps that I’ve played usually have a more open and dynamic overdrive tone. But again, that is also affected by how the amp is wired. For instance, designs based upon Fender amps have fairly open distortion, while the Marshall-style amps have a more compressed, in-your-face distortion. And I’ll say it again: There are NO hard and fast rules here. So how do you decide?

Well, while power tubes do affect the tone, you shouldn’t make an amp decision based upon just that; though I shared a very general rule of thumb, wiring topology can strike that generalization down fairly quickly. What you probably should consider is the power rating and your application of the amp. EL84 and 6V6 tubes are generally used in lower wattage amps, anywhere from 5 Watts to 45 Watts. Generally, you’ll see numbers such as 5, 6, 10, 15, 22, 30, 36, and 40. For the top three, four tubes are usually used to achieve those wattage ratings.

On the other hand, 6L6 and EL34 power tubes are used for high-wattage applications from 40 Watts up to 200 Watts (40, 45, 50, 60, 75, 100, 150, 200), again with the top three employing four power tubes to achieve that wattage rating.

The rule-of-thumb with respect to wattage is that the higher the wattage, the more clean headroom you will have; that is, the amp will be totally clean at increasing volume levels (in decibels) before the amp goes into overdrive. For instance, taking a 5 Watt amp to the edge of breakup will be at a much lower volume level than a 100 Watt amp taken to the edge of breakup.

Another thing that I’ve found is that with high wattage amps, when they break up, their tone seems to be so much more “beefy” than their low-wattage brethren. When doing A/B tests at equivalent volumes with let’s say a 6L6-based amp versus a 6V6 amp, there is so much more sonic content through the EQ range with the higher-wattage amp versus the low wattage amp. For instance, my 22 Watt 6V6-based Aracom VRX22 sounds “bigger” than my 6 watt Fender Champ when played through the same speaker at the same volume. Conversely, that same 22 Watt amp sounds “smaller” at the same volume level than my Fender Hot Rod Deluxe at the same volume level. A lot of this has to do with the higher wattage amp producing more bottom-end by nature. This is especially evident when pushing the amps into power tube saturation.

Some may have caught the phrase, “equivalent volumes” in the previous paragraphs, and wondered how I could get equivalent volumes with a low-wattage and high-wattage amp breaking up. The only way you can get that is by using a power attenuator, of which there are many on the market, though I use the Aracom PRX150-Pro.

Finally, what advice do I have? It’s actually fairly simple:

  1. First, evaluate the average usage (i.e., the application). Will you need lots of clean headroom? Do you play large venues? Then a higher-wattage amp might make sense. On the other hand, if you play mostly small venues, in the studio, or in your room, a lower-wattage amp may make more sense. BUT, if you have a great attenuator like the PRX150-Pro (or DAG), my personal preference would be to go to the higher-wattage amp. While I love the tones that I get with my low-wattage amps, with the PRX, I don’t have the volume considerations to take in to account any longer that had me go with low wattage amps in the first place.
  2. Once you’ve determined your power needs, then you have to test amps – lots of ’em –  there’s no way around it.

Then once you’ve done the evaluation, you might throw that all out the window and go for what sounds good to you, regardless of your power needs. 🙂

Hey! No one said it was easy…

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I mentioned the DV Mark Little 40 at the end of my previous post yesterday, which was a review on the DV Mark Galileo 15. That Galileo is a great little amp, but the DV Mark Little 40 is what I’m really taking a serious look at right now. If you want more information and specs on this great little amp, then read the product page on it. But what I’m going to discuss here goes beyond just the plain old facts and talk about why I think this amp deserves such a serious look.

What about the title? Well, it’s something that I brought over from my web engineering background, and that is that the best web sites aren’t the ones that are the prettiest or the most technically robust. They’re the ones that are so obvious to use, you don’t have to think about it. With the Little 40, DV Mark has lived up to “Don’t Make Me Think” in a variety of ways.

First off, while DV Mark offers the amp in L34 and L6 models (for EL34 and 6L6), the amp can take either, and will even do 6V6’s (though I think it may have to be JJ 6V6’s that’ll take a higher plate voltage – but I’d have to confirm that). But here’s the kicker: With the Little 40, you’ll never have to bias tubes again! The Little 40 sports smart circuitry that will auto-bias AND match your power tubes (so long as they’re within 20% of each other). How convenient is that? I don’t have the equipment to bias tubes myself – frankly I’m scared to death of working on electrical stuff – so every time I get new power tubes, I have to have someone bias them for me. With the Little 40, I just need to get reasonably matched tubes, and the amp will bias them to their optimal settings. Damn!

In addition to automagically biasing the tubes, there’s a switch on the rear panel that lets you set Low or High bias settings, which means you have even more tonal capabilities at the flick of a switch. This is a really huge thing in my opinion because again, instead of having to do this by hand, you need only toggle a switch to find the right bias setting for what you’re playing.

Also, the Little 40 is absolutely versatile, with its patent-pending Continuous Power Control that allows you to vary the output power of the tubes – not just for volume, but to break up the power tubes early. Full out to 40 Watts, you’ll get maximum clean headroom. But you can dial down the power to 1 Watt, and get breakup a lot earlier. Plus, you can switch between pentode and triode tube operation to get different tones on top of bringing the power down. Then on top of all that, you have a 0/6dB pad to compensate for passive and active pickups.

Finally, at $799, which is only $200 more than the Galileo, getting this amp is absolute no-brainer! And mind  you, these amps are all hand assembled in Italy. How DV Mark is able to sell them so inexpensively is beyond me, but we players can definitely reap the benefits. This is my next amp!

Here’s a nice demo video of the DV Mark Little 40:

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DV Mark Amps Galileo 15
Summary: From the folks that brought us the big sound in a small package of Markbass bass amps, comes the DV Mark guitar amp line.Pros: Unbelievably rich tone with lots of clean headroom for a low-wattage amp. But you can dirty it up just fine by adding more pre-amp gain. Super-responsive dynamics as well, and the dirty tone cleans up nicely with volume knob or lightening up pick attack.

Cons: None.

Features (from the web site):

All hand-wired and hand-assembled in Italy

Power output:15W

Preamp tubes: 2x ECC83
Power tubes: 2 x EL84, 1 x ECC83
Channels: one
> Gain
> Master
> Boost (6dB)
EQ controls: Low – Mid – High (passive)
Speaker outputs:
> One 4 ohm
> One 8 ohm
Optional 1 X 12 and 2 X 12 cabs available (I played the 1 X 12)

Price: $127.97 direct

Tone Bone Score: 5.0 ~ I was already impressed with Markbass amps for bass (the bassist in my church band swears by his Little Mark II), and with the recent introduction of a guitar amp line, I’m VERY impressed with what DV Mark is offering!

I met my good buddy Jeff Aragaki of Aracom Amps at our local Guitar Center today, and the first place we went to was their high-end guitar room where they always have nice guitars. Being Les Paul guys, we of course were ogling the historic re-issues. 🙂 But as we turned to go out of the room, we noticed a display of all-black amps with cool, metal mesh housings, and a brand we’d never seen before: DV Mark. Jeff exclaimed he’d never heard of this brand. I agreed that I hadn’t heard of it either, but the “Mark” in the name made me think that it was associated with the Italian manufacturer who makes Markbass bass amps.

Fit and Finish

The amp has a real modern look to it with its metal housing, and chrome bumpers to protect the knobs, but has an almost old-school feel with the cream-colored chicken head knobs. The logo lettering is “Mesa-ish,” and out of the corner of my eye, as I walked in the room, I actually mistaked the amps for Mesa amps, so I dismissed them. It wasn’t until I looked at the amps directly did I see that it was a different logo.

The amp does have a strap, but it’s unlike other straps I’ve seen. As opposed to being attached to the top, the strap is instead attached to the sides of the amp and run over the top (you can see this if you click on the picture above to enlarge it).

This thing is light, weighing in at just over 10 lbs. The accompanying C112 1 X 12 cabinet weighs about 15 lbs., so lugging the head/cab around to gigs or rehearsals is not a problem. This light weight points back to the Markbass bass amps which are known for small size and weight but a big sound; and does this amp have a big sound.

How It Sounds

So after making a visual inspection of the amp, curious about how it sounded, I went out to the main showroom to fetch a Les Paul from the rack – it was a nice Standard Traditional with the coil-tapping volume knobs (by the way, I want one of these, though I’m leaning towards the Standard Traditional Pro). I plugged in the guitar, and Jeff started twiddling knobs while I played.

We first started with the Master dimed and added very little pre-amp, to test out the cleans. As expected, the completely cranked Master volume produced a bit of hum, though turning a bit, I was able to reduce it significantly. So that wasn’t a negative at all. But despite that, the clean tone was fantastic. We were both impressed by the amount of clean headroom that amp has! The cleans aren’t as deep as Fender cleans by any stretch, but they’re still thick, with perhaps a bit of midrange hump. I scooped the EQ and was rewarded with a beautiful, deep clean that I could play with for hours.

One thing that immediately stuck out with the amp was how loud it was. That alone was impressive because right away, I knew this amp could cut through a mix quite nicely. The 1 X 12 cabinet houses a custom B&C neodymium speaker rated at 150 Watts. I imagine that the speaker is voiced with a fairly robust bottom end, which is probably why the amp sounds so huge. But the cabinet also seems to project and dissipate sound really well because even at lower volumes, the single speaker really filled the space.

As far as dirty tones were concerned, the Galileo 15, powered by EL84 tubes reeks with Marshall-esque tone, but with a slightly more robust bottom end. As such, the Les Paul growled quite nicely. There did seem to be an ever-so-slight filtering of the highs, but I believe that gives the amp’s tone its unique character. It’s voiced similarly to a classic Marshall 18 Watt Plexi, but its slightly darker tone gives it a much smoother output. Needless to say, I dug it.

Overall Impression

The Tone Bones score says it all. This is a great little amp, and one I wouldn’t mind having. However, I will say that it’s not the DV Mark amp that I would buy myself. I rated the Galileo purely on its merit, but I already have amps at 18 and 22 Watts that cover this territory. So if I were to get a DV Mark, the one I’m really hot on is the Little 40, which I’ll discuss in an upcoming entry. But real quick, what has me going about the Little 40 are a couple of unique features that I think are game changers.

First of all, with the Little 40, you’ll never need to bias tubes again because the amp sports special circuitry that will not only bias the power tubes to their optimal operating values, it’ll also match the tubes if they’re within 20% of each other. That is a HUGE feature! Furthermore, the amp sports what DV Mark calls a “Continuous Power Control” which allows you to control the ouput of the power tubes. Similar to power scaling, I presume, it allows you to go down to low wattages, not just for volume, but to overdrive the power tubes earlier. Wide open, the amp has TONS of clean headroom, but dial the CPC back, and you can have nice crunch at reasonable volumes.

Here’s a nice demo from PremierGuitar:

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If you read this blog regularly, you know that I wasn’t too excited about Fender’s ’57 Champ re-issue. But in a collaboration with Eric Clapton, the Fender custom shop has come out with three new tweed amps that I think are worth a good look. Here the verbiage from the site:

In a historic collaboration, Fender introduces its first artist signature amplifiers—EC Series amps bearing the name of legendary guitarist Eric Clapton. Built to the exacting specifications of Clapton himself, the three amps—the EC Twinolux™, EC Tremolux™ and EC Vibro-Champ®—are fascinating variations on their original ’50s-era ancestors (the ’57 Twin™, ’57 Deluxe™ and ’57 Champ®, respectively), and are our answer to his call for special models with distinctive features.

Handmade in the United States, all three amp models feature ’50s—era output tube bias tremolo (which produces a more throbbing pulse than later Fender tremolo circuits) and a switchable power attenuator (reduces speaker output), in addition to other premium features. In a historic career now in its sixth decade, Eric Clapton has long been known as one of the world’s foremost exponents of classic Fender tweed amp tone, and the three new amps bearing his imprint present the pinnacle of personally inspired amp tone for stage and studio alike. Each is a must for Clapton fans and guitarists who want the ultimate in tweed tube amp performance.

I dig that each has a built-in attenuator, and each has tube tremolo, which I totally dig. I have a tube tremolo on one of my Aracom amps, and it is suh-weet!

For more information, check out the Fender site!

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If you look on my rig page, you’ll see that for my solo gigs, I use the very wonderful Fishman SoloAmp. This is a great, integrated PA that I’ve been using to great success for the past year or so. Very easy to set up, and it has a nice on-board mixer with decent reverb effects (which I never use, since I always use my vocalizer’s reverb). But the other day, I demoed the HK Audio Elements system while I was browsing “The Music Tree” in Morgan Hill, CA. This is an audio system that is similar to the Bose L1, but unlike the Bose L1, the Elements system allows you to expand by adding more “elements” as your audience size grows. Super-cool!!!

Sound-wise, I plugged an acoustic guitar directly into the system, and was absolutely blown away by the sound! While I love my Fishman, and it has served me well, compared to something like the Elements system, a subwoofer really makes a difference, despite the fact that the SoloAmp’s speakers have good bass response.

But honestly, this entry isn’t about the Elements system. 🙂 While trying to get more information online about the Elements system, I ran across another, just-released, integrated PA system from HK Audio called the Sound Caddy One, that is based upon the same audio technology as the Elements system. But with the Sound Caddy One, there are NO parts to put together! The line array is housed within the PA’s body (which also serves as the housing for the subwoofers), and to set up the system, you release the line array, that pops up out of the housing, secure it, plug in, turn on and you’re ready to go! Damn!

Check out this demo video from Musikmesse 2011:

Here are the Sound Caddy’s technical features:

Max SPL calculated 125 dB
Max SPL peak 125 dB
Max SPL 120 dB @10% THD
Output power system 600W Class D
Frequency response +/- 3 dB 49 Hz – 18 kHz
Frequency response -10 dB 42 Hz – 18 kHz
Connections integrated 4-channel-mixer
LF Speaker 3x 6″
Mid/High Speaker 6x 3,5″
Directivity 70° x 15°
Crossover frequency 150 Hz, 12 dB/oct.
Enclosure 15 mm (5/8“), 13-ply (plywood)
Dimensions (WxHxD) 27 x 102 x 34 cm 10-5/8“ x 40-5/32 x 13-25/64
Weight 29 kg / 63,9lbs

Delivering a max 125dB at 600 Watts, this unit can move some air. Some people have said it isn’t powerful enough for their uses, but for a solo musician, this is more than enough power! Also, I have to question the negative feedback because systems like this are all about sound dispersal, getting an even volume anywhere within the sound dispersal cone which, for this system, is 70 degrees. When I first started using a line array system, it took me awhile to get used to the volume seemingly not being as loud. But it’s deceptive with a line array because the sound actually reaches fairly extreme angles, and what you’re trying to do is get your sound dispersed, and not necessarily through volume.

I dig that unlike the Elements system which is pure sound reinforcement, this has an integrated 4-channel mixer, which is an absolute MUST for me. But the only thing that I’d be wary of is the stability of the system. The base seems rather narrow, and I’m wondering how it would fair in windy conditions. In any case, here’s another demo video that demonstrates the sound. The singer aside, even through the camcorder’s microphone, it’s clear that the Sound Caddy One provides some very clear, clean sound.

As for cost, the video above mentioned a price of “2000.” If that’s in German deutsche marks, then the price would be around $1450 USD. That’s not bad, even as an MSRP, which would make the street price even lower. I’ll have to find out more information.

In any case, for more information on HK Audio products, go to: http://www.hkaudio.com.

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