March 2002

AER Acousticube IIa Amp

In the few weeks I got to live with the AER (Audio Electric Research) Acousticube IIa, I came to appreciate the refined sound, musicality and rugged build of this tiny 120-watt dynamo, which unlike many popular archetypes of portable sound boasts something analogous to an authentic high-fidelity bandwidth. Furthermore, by digitally regulating the excursion and gauss rate of the speaker, AER is able to achieve exceptional efficiency and bass response from its diminutive 8-inch coaxial speaker system. So while the Acousticube IIa is not the last word in volume, it produced more than enough distortion-free gain for any of the acoustic-scaled situations I tossed its way.

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Audio Electric Research Acousticube IIa Amp

Of its two independent channels, channel one features a special input for straight feeds from a passive piezo device, plus a line input, while channel two features an XLR-1/4-inch combination input which doubles as a symmetrical mike input (with a 48-volt phantom power supply) and a straight line-level input for sources with active preamps and magnetic pickups. And how does it sound? Mostly what I noticed was that I didn’t notice much of anything. The Acousticube IIa doesn’t really impose a subjective electronic artifact on your sound, and by carefully manipulating the pan and return knobs on its 100-voice digital processor, one is able to add discrete brushstrokes of ambient color without degrading the purity and transparency of the amp’s taut, neutral acoustic. Employing a Gibson L-4 with traditional humbuckers, I was able to achieve an exceptionally clear, balanced sonority—a bit polite, perhaps for these vacuum-tube ears, but jazz guitarists looking for a smooth, sweet, conservative portrayal of an undistorted amplified acoustic box will positively plotz.

Even more impressive was the sound I was able to achieve employing an acoustic-electric Taylor K22ce Grand Concert with its Fishman Prefix Stereo Blender (combining an internal mike and a piezo): big, open, balanced, transparent and seductively natural. Likewise, when my trumpeter friend plugged in via my workhorse Shure SM57 (with a Monster Cable Studio Pro 1000 XLR), the amp positively disappeared as he projected right through my welter of drums and cymbals while maintaining the true sonority and dynamics of his horn.

At $2,299 the Acousticube IIa ain’t cheap—but then it isn’t built cheap and it doesn’t sound cheap. And in keeping with their systems approach to acoustic amplification, by adding a passive SUB 10 cabinet ($549) one can vastly enhance the efficiency of the main unit by rolling off all frequencies below 300 Hz; while the addition of an active CX 8 ($1,379), with its matching 120 watts of power, converts your set-up into a more dynamic stereo rig; while by adding two pairs of the SUB 10/CX 8 combo, you can achieve an even bigger stereo sound, with the added gusto dunk of converting the Acousticube IIa head unit into your own personal monitor feed.

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