July/August 2003

Acoustic Image Coda R Amplifier

Clearly, musicians who specialize in amplified acoustic instruments feel left out in the cold by amplifiers better suited to rock, electric blues and more aggressive forms of jazz and fusion. As the legendary jazz guitarist Johnny Smith explained it to me, "In my day the typical guitar amp was more geared toward solid-body guitars, which needed help in the low and high frequencies, but for the amplified acoustic archtop I was always looking for something with more of a flat frequency response. If I was to give amp builders any advice it would be forget about the bass, forget about the treble and concentrate on the midrange."

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Acoustic Image Coda R Amplifier

I'm a died-in-the-wool vacuum tube man myself, but for those amplified archtop players looking to maintain focus and coherence when adding that next extra notch of volume, solid-state designs make sense if you want to maintain the purity of that signal without adding any additional colorations or distortions. Those jazz guitarists, bassists, keyboardists and vocalists yearning in vain for a clean machine that is genuinely versatile, portable, roadworthy and musical need despair no longer, because with the new two-channel Coda R combo, Acoustic Image has answered their every need and prayer.

At the heart of the Acoustic Image sound is a compact, 300-watt, Class D, switch-mode amp that can drive the most demanding of speaker loads while producing a warm, dry, transparent sound that is essentially frequency flat. As such it is designed not for mega-dynamics or sound pressure levels but to convey a believable natural acoustic for vocals, horns, keyboards and a variety of electric and acoustic string instruments. The Coda R offers a more refined vision of Acoustic Image founder Rick Jones' original integrated pre-amp/ power amp design, adding separate instrument and microphone channels each with their own effects loop and return level control. And the new phantom power option is a real boon for both singer-songwriter types and bassists who wish to mix the output from both a mike and a piezo pickup-for a richer, more complex sound.

Acoustic Image has further upped the ante with a series of new enhancements such as a very musical eight-stage digital reverb, a switchable notch/high-pass filter (to control feedback and boominess), a ground lift switch and a choice of high Z or low Z inputs that, according to Jones, helps yield the best sound out of varied piezo pickups. It's all mated to a smaller, lighter, more roadworthy version of the original speaker cabinet, featuring a simple new tilt-back mechanism, a down-firing 10-inch woofer, a front-loaded 5-inch midrange and a new 1-inch tweeter to add harmonic vitality and sparkle to acoustic and electric guitars (and which can be removed from the circuit at the touch of a top-mounted switch).

And how does the new Coda R sound? Punchier and more frequency extended than the original Coda, though I'd be willing to endure another five pounds and a slightly bigger portable chassis for double the power and dynamic headroom. Still, the new tweeter certainly extends this combo's usefulness as a portable instrument amp cum-vocal/horn PA. This additional high-frequency articulation and detail also vastly enhances the Coda R's viability as a jazz guitar amp. I found the transient response and amplitude of the inner D and G strings on my dual-humbucker acoustic-electric Gibson L-4 to be dead even with the bass and treble strings, and the amp evinces exceptional sensitivity to picking and chording nuances.

My Coda R sample came equipped with a matching EX 410 BE extension cabinet, giving the amplified sound a subtle dimensional spread, which helped confer a very mellow, holographic quality to the signal from a Moog Etherwave theremin (I achieved an exceptionally warm, singing ambience by manipulating the EQ and mixing in a generous helping of large hall reverb), or when I employed the piezo output of an NS Design electric upright bass.

On the whole, while I love the Coda R combo, I'd say the speaker cabinet's balance is better suited to upright bass than full-range keyboards or guitar-producing a warm, woody, sepia tone-and that touring players would be better served by purchasing the diminutive 6 1/2 pound mirror-image, head-only variations on the Coda R-plus or minus reverb and the microphone channel (dubbed the Clarus 2R/2 or Clarus 1R/1)-while having each venue provide a speaker cabinet. Bassists who don't require reverb can save money by getting the single-channel 25-pound Contra Combo or the dual-channel Coda Combo, while guitarists can enjoy single-channel simplicity and reverb on the Contra R or the whole two-channel tamale with the aforementioned Coda R. Still, any way you slice it, the word is out among bassists and guitarists looking for amplified acoustic clarity: There's a new sheriff in town-Acoustic Image.

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