Note: this entry was already published in my old Spanish blog, during February/2012. I am just revisiting it with added info, based on the experience more than one year later.
To practice with backing tracks is interesting to me for several reasons. In first place, I avoid to go boring playing the guitar alone without any particular target. In second place, this helps me to "couple" my sound and rig to a "virtual band of musics".
But, I wanted also to bounce my own songs and to play over so, anyway, it's a basic tool to grow as a guitarist, without having a real band with which to share experiences.
I am using an MP3 player (Sony Walkman) to store and reproduce the backing tracks and, until very recently, I was using some Hi-Fi set to reproduce the songs of the Walkman thru its auxiliary input.
The basic issue with Hi-Fi chains is their lack of power, if we compare them to the power of any tubular amp. Even with 150W by channel, I cannot get a minimum volume to deal with the weakest of my amps.
Probably, the real issue are the HiFi Speakers, clearly less efficient that the speakers mounted in guitar amps.
For a while, I went to some rental rooms and, they had there some cheap PA systems that, even that they weren't powerful enough, they delivered way more power than the Hi-Fi sets I've tested. Probably, because PA speakers are bigger and more efficient.
So, I wanted to go for an affordable solution that helped me with backing tracks.
I've browsed several solutions. By example, Peavey was a good candidate and, it's an excellent guitar amps builder. Yamaha always have "correct" products, with quality enough, maybe not the cream of the cream but they barely disappoint me. They, they were cheaper offers, as the T.Racks (white brand from Thomann) or Behringer, that were offering more power for less price.
But, my own experience with Behringer's PA systems made me to run away that idea. The T.Racks took my attention but, they were way over or lower the power that I was looking for (in fact, my target power wasn't the right one).
Peavey was short in power and, Yamaha seemed to have the right power I was after and, I usually rely on their products (everything I've tested from Yamaha satisfied my expectations, taking into account it price) so, I finally went for a Yamaha StagePass 300 PA System.
I had to buy also a couple of stands for those speakers and a couple of StagePass adaptors to mount the Speakers on those stands.
Everything comes well packet in a huge box, well protected against shocks.
One of the thing that more confused me is that, when I've opened the box I've saw just two Speakers... I was wondering where the amplifier was!.
Both Speakers have the rear side carved, leaving an useful box that is finished with a tap.
First Speaker has the amplifier inserted in its cavity (which you can easily remove) and, the second speaker has room for speaker's cables and even for some mic.
So, despite of the stands, you can easily transport the whole PA system with just two hands, one for each speaker. Very nice idea, indeed.
The upper handles of speakers make their transport really easy so, it's very comfortable to move "all the gear" and, it's quick to deploy and mount everything.
The Kit includes a couple of speaker cables, with mono jacks, of about 3 meters long. This is a bit short for a PA System so, take this into account if you need longer cables. And, watch out, you can use just mono jack speaker cables, there is just a mono jack plug in each speaker.
The amp-mixer has 4 mono channels and 2 stereo channels. Mono channels admit mic or line/instrument inputs (switchable) and, you can send each channel to a global reverberation effect, which level is common to all channels.
Every channel has a 2-bands equalizer (treble and Bass).
It has outputs for passive speakers (as the ones included in the kit), for active speakers and, a line output.
The output level for passive speakers is being controlled with the Master knob, while the other two outputs are being regulated with the Monitor knob.
It has a switch named speech/music, that allows to change the operating mode of the amp to make it more efficient for speeching or to play music.
It's made in China (as practically everything, nowadays), has an excellent finish and, seems to be built like a tank, with quality components.
How it sounds
No doubt in this department: it sounds EXCELLENTLY!. All frequencies are well represented and, even that theoretically should have weak basses (according to the nominal frequencies covered as per technical specifications), I think it has a spectacular kick in basses.
Compared to how those Behringer sound, no discussion. The Berhinger I've tested sound boxy and blurred, while the StagePass 300 is clearly representing every frequency (even those that theoretically cannot).
Well, here we are again. It could seem that a PA system having 150W per channel should be a sonic bomb, taking into account that the powerfuller of my amps has "just" 50W but, as ever, Watts doesn't tell us the whole history. What at the end matters is the efficiency of speakers.
Even that these speakers can deliver 112dB@1 m, it's clear that the amp-mixer cannot feed them with meat enough.
As most of amp-mixers, it has a display with leds that correspond to the output level and, sure, as any solid state device, to constantly maintain the output level in the "red zone" ends frying the amp. So, you have to limit the output to safer (therefore, quieter) output levels.
The Volume knobs of channels and Master, have a mark around the 75% of their dials, what sets the limit of the safer area (distortion free and without overloading the amp circuitry).
Probably, the amp will sound its best at those levels, without saturation neither inner clipping but, at those levels this PA cannot sound louder han a HI-FI mini-chain. It moves more air and has more basses, that's all.
Real thing is that I've forced the channel level to its max and, leaved the Master just a hair over the "mark", controlling that the clipping indicator isn't permanently on. This provides me an acceptable loudness.
If I krank even the little Vox Night Train, the tube amp totally covers the sound of the PA. To be able to use the PA System, I have to play every amp at low levels. Therefore, the help of some pushing pedals is a must in this environment.
I honestly don't think this particular PA System can cover the levels required in a band situation. I don't see this gear able to compete against a bass guitar, a drum kit or a guitar. It can be useful for small conferences, for very small groups of people and, small rooms.
It's excellent to have a party with your friends and, it's good to play at home, also, every time that you can tame the loudness of your tube amp or that you can play with a solid state amp. But, if you like to push your tubes amp, this System cannot compete with your amp.
Related to quality of finished and sound, it's excellent for the price and, I don't regret having purchased it.
Related to transportability, excellent solution. Very well designed, comfortable and with nice-look.
Related to power, a bit limited and, quite well close to a HI-FI chain
Clearly, 150 Solid State Watts are VERY FEW watts to compete against 15 tubular Watts. I'm suspecting that I would need from 300 to 500 W per channel to be able to krank my amps to an acceptable loudness, to reach their sweet spots.
Anyway, I had an small gig, with very few people in a small room and, the power of the StagePass was enough to play with the Vox Night Train, with an awesome quality in sound.