Music gigs come in all sizes and songwriters frequently are called upon to perform in, shall we say, intimate spaces. Sometimes, the spaces are small enough to play acoustically, but you want a little reverb on your voice or need to boost your guitar a little to be heard. Today’s smaller acoustic amps are perfect for this and Hartke’s ARC5 offering is among the smallest fit-anywhere mini amps that provide performance quality sound. I took it along to a guitar and vocal gig to see how it would fare in a performance situation.
The most important feature of an acoustic amp is its ability to produce a true, natural sound. The 50-watt ACR5 claims to do just that and be ultra portable. Only a bit larger than a lunchbox and slightly heavier than the Fishman’s mini acoustic amp at about 25 pounds, this is one of the best portable guitar amps. I set up the ACR5 next to a larger system at a guitar and vocal event to try it out. I set up next to the bigger system not because I was going to necessarily do an A-B comparison (that wouldn’t be fair), but because I wasn’t sure that the little ACR5 was going to be heard. Since the ARC5 does not provide an option to mount it on a stand, I put it on a small table next to me to get it off the floor. I quickly adjusted the tone settings, added a touch of reverb, and was pleasantly surprised with the result. Not only could it be heard, but it got an amazing sound from only a 6.5″ woofer and a 1″ tweeter. The ACR5 will not replace your sound system in any but the smallest venues and there are other, bigger acoustic amps, but it’s perfect for close venues or rehearsals.
I found the ACR5’s dual-channel design with 1/4″ (guitar) and XLR/1/4″ (mic/line) combo inputs simple to set up. It has a 3-band EQ on each channel, feedback control, and provides 24-bit digital reverb/chorus effects for both instrument and vocals. While there is only one option for type of reverb, it is a warm reverb and sounds good for acoustic styles. The ACR5 was designed for tight spaces and acoustic instruments so it offers a notch filter with variable sweep control to help isolate and eliminate feedback.
Other useful features include a contour switch that provides a typical mid-EQ shape for acoustic-electric guitars, a built-in tuner, stereo 1/4″ and 1/8″ Aux inputs for line-level devices and a 1/4″ headphone output for private practice. A balanced XLR output allows you to take advantage of the ACR5’s clean preamp for direct recording or to provide a direct out to a larger sound system. Located correctly on stage, this amp could make a nice monitor, too.
The low-profile, easily portable design of the ACR5 and its great tone make it an ideal mini sound system for singer-songwriters to set up on a table and sound good in small venues.
Hartke ARC5 Street Price: $249.00