Peavey KB 5 Keyboard Amp

When it comes to addressing the day-to-day needs of working musicians, Hartley Peavey’s Meridian, Miss.-based megalopolis has long been at the forefront of bang-for-your-buck performance, managing in the process to demonstrate to domestic manufacturers how they might beat offshore competitors at their own game. Having initially developed a regional reputation with its guitar amplifiers, over time Peavey has become a major player in the marketing of drums, basses, guitars, mixers, power amps, modular mixer/amps, microphones, signal processors and speaker enclosures.

One area where Peavey has long championed the needs of gigging musicians is in the underrepresented category of keyboard amplifiers. Invariably, when keyboardists and singer-songwriters drop in on their local retailer, if the salesmen don’t talk you into purchasing a portable PA system (which invariably provides a surfeit of features you don’t need, while lacking some of the most basic functions you do), second options generally include little cubes and self-powered speakers. And while these are dandy for practice situations, they do leave something to be desired in terms of projecting over a crackling bassist and drummer or providing the kind of low frequency extension and dynamic headroom needed to reproduce the bottom octave of an 88-key electric piano or the big, fast transients associated with sampled beats and synthesizer bass.

Enter Peavey with its versatile new KB line of keyboard amplifiers that also double as portable PA systems. These keyboard amps share a familial set of design criteria and what sounds to me like a vastly improved output stage. For evaluation purposes I auditioned the line’s flagship KB 5, a 150-watt amp with two 10-inch speakers and horn. The first thing I noticed about its sound was its decidedly high-fidelity pedigree. Compared to its top-of-the-line predecessor, the KB/A 300, the KB 5 evinced a more layered, textured, detailed midrange signature; tighter, quicker low-frequency response; and most significant, a much smoother, more open depiction of high frequencies. As a result, amplifying the Korg Triton Studio 88’s enormous-sounding, stereo, 16-megabyte, Bšsendorfer acoustic-grand piano sample preserved the sweet, sparkling top-end purity of this sound. Noticeably absent were any semblance of brittle, edgy artifacts that make the sound of some garden-variety keyboard amps so fatiguing.

What’s more, all of the little ambient effects and reverb trails that define a realistic sense of room acoustics survived intact, without being overwhelmed by sundry distortions and colorations. And because the KB 5 comes equipped with an IEC inlet instead of a hard-wired power cord, keyboardists can employ after-market, high-end-audio quality AC cords to achieve even higher levels of detail, coherence and resolution over a significantly reduced noise floor.

The KB 5 maintains a keyboard’s purity of sound in three independent channels by high-and-low active, shelving-type EQ controls, with 15db of cut or boost. In the fourth mike/line channel, a midrange control is added to the mix, along with high-Z and low-Z level controls, a 1/4-inch phono input for high-impedance microphones and high-level sources and an XLR input for low-impedance microphones and low-level sources. Alternating between amplifying vocals and trumpet with a Shure SM57 while pushing multiple keyboards, the KB 5 projected these acoustic sources with admirable clarity and acoustic purity-never muddled or colored by the waves of electronic textures in the adjacent channels. And when piezo-equipped guitars and bass guitars were plugged in, the string character of the KB 5 was, if not guitar-amp warm, nevertheless clear, balanced and functional enough for a keyboard amp doubling as a portable sound system.

Then there’s the Distortion Detection Technique (DDT) circuit, which detects the onset of amplifier clipping conditions that might cause speaker damage. It triggers a very subtle form of compression, which is essentially imperceptible below certain volume levels, and relatively benign when the amp is pushed hard-and believe me, the prodigious reserves of power and dynamic headroom are such that you won’t have to drive this baby too hard at all, either to achieve realistic acoustic or thunderous jazz-fusion levels. That’s because the two 10-inch bass-midrange drivers and a high-frequency horn are mounted on an angled baffle board, which greatly improves the spread and projection of the sound. If, God forbid, you require more power and coverage, you can plug in another 8-ohm speaker cabinet, which ups the ante considerably in terms of bass extension and transient response (200 watts total output into the combined 4-ohm load).

Needless to say, all of this grace, power, versatility and projection require serious amplifier transformers and speaker magnets, so the built-in luggage-cart styled casters and retractable telescoping handle facilitate transport, and at 94 pounds, you’ll need it. But if you don’t require the concert-stage sound levels the KB 5 (or the 75 watt/84 pound KB 4) are capable of, then the 50 watt/57 pound KB 3 should be more than clean and powerful enough for gigging jazz players at club-level volume-offering comparable levels of sonic purity, only slightly reduced in scale.