Jumbo Sunshade - Ezine

 
Music Gear Review -
Behringer AM100 Acoustic Modeler Stompbox/FX
 
I had borrowed some stomp boxes with the intention of a "shootout", but as it turns out there really is no comparison and so i'll just (eventually) review them all separately.

Did you know that you can purchase the Behringer AM100 from Walmart?  One of its subheadings is "Toys" and its age range is "4 Years and up".  :)


 

Who needs this thing?
Ok so you've got a gig that's calling for just a little bit of acoustic guitar.  Maybe 2 or 3 songs.  You don't wanna bring another guitar to the gig and you don't want to spend the money (or time) replacing your cool vintage Fender bridge with one of those piezo replacement bridges.  Maybe the ticket for you is an acoustic guitar simulator pedal.

The Behringer AM100 attempts to simulate an acoustic guitar via your electric guitar signal.  You can select from four modeling options, or "modes": Standard, Large, Piezo, &

Bright.  There are also controls for Level, Enhance, and Resonance.

I quickly ran four different guitars through the Behringer AM100 and the best-sounding was the Telecaster using the neck pickup (single coil Carvin AP11); so that's the one i used for all testing.
I used three different sound sources all in the same room: A 120-watt tube head w/2x12 closed back cabinet; an actual PA (Behringer, Carvin, Yamaha - 15" mains); and a studio board & monitors (Mackie/Event).  The one thing i did not do was run the AM100 through an amp and then mic that in order to listen through the PA.



 

A problem right off the bat!
The AM100 i tested was pretty much brand new and didn't even have a battery in it.  As it turns out; the basic task of putting a 9V into this stomp box is fairly inconvenient.
 

                 


I had to use a ball-point pen to push in these two little recessed pins, which pops the plate allowing access to the battery compartment.  Popping the lid back on actually requires *more* attention: the first time i did this i held it sideways so i could see that i was lining the pins up with the holes but in the process the spring leaned to the side and didn't go onto this little nub.  I can't imagine doing this at the bar between songs.

 

Cool output design.
There are two TS output jacks and it's actually kindof interesting what Behringer did with them.
Output 1 is your standard output.  When you turn on the pedal, your output signal is affected; when you turn it off the signal is unaffected.
Output 2 is always an unaffected signal, but it's not always on.

When using both outputs, the AM100 acts like an A/B box.  When the unit is switched on, output 1 (affected) is active while output 2 is muted.  When the unit is switched off, output 2 (unaffected) is active and output 1 is muted.
 


This A/B configuration would be great for anybody using two separate amps; one for the electric guitar signal (presumably distorted), and the other for a simulated acoustic sound.
On the other hand, anybody wanting to run both the affected and unaffected signals simultaneously would be out of luck with the AM100 unless they split their signal before hitting the Behringer box.
In the end it always comes down to your program material.  :)

I tested switching the pedal on and off using one output and then both outputs.  No delay whatsoever between processed and unprocessed switching.  No noise (clicks) based on switching at all.  So whether you'd use one or both outputs, switching is seamless.



Running through the controls.


Level controls the level. 

Enhance controls the amount of the affect hitting the signal (they should've just labeled this "Mix").

The Resonance control is kindof like a quasi-paragraphic EQ... (sortof)


In matching the affect to the unaffected volume of my guitar, i set the AM100's Level to about 1 o'clock.

For Enhance; anything beyond 1 o'clock was just too "extreme" for my taste.  This was the case through the amp and through the studio monitors, but it was really pronounced through the PA speakers.  I left it right in the middle at 12 o'clock.

Resonance is a weird control.  As i said above, its affect on the signal is sortof along the lines of a parametric EQ.  I swept the Resonance while running through guitars initially, and then again through all four Modes while testing.  To my ears, it always sounded best somewhere in the 11-12 o'clock range.

The MODE switch lets you choose from one of four acoustic models.  From the AM100 manual:
STANDARD produces a typical acoustic guitar sound.  LARGE delivers a large, more resonant acoustic.  PIEZO simulates distinct brightness of a classic piezo pickup.  BRIGHT gives you a brilliant and ultra-present sound, perfect for cutting through in a live environment.

The Piezo Mode does an ok job of approximating a piezo pickup.  The other three Modes also do an ok job of approximating a piezo pickup.  All four sound a little bit different, but they all sound like simulated piezos.  The Bright Mode is just way too bright and i doubt it would be useful in any type of live situation.  If i had to pick a 'favorite' Mode it would be Standard because it was the least exaggerated.

 

So how does it sound?
Ok so hopefully nobody would expect an acoustic guitar simulator (for electric guitar) to sound anything like an actual acoustic guitar.  This stompbox effect doesn't even sound as good as the worst acoustic guitar pickup i've ever used [the Abilene PU100, in case you were wondering].  But you have to keep something like this in perspective...

Behringer's AM100 sells for $30.  It sounds just as good/bad as the Boss AC-3 but costs seventy dollars less.  In my opinion the AM100 sounds as good as you would expect a $30 acoustic guitar simulator to sound.  I wasn't completely disappointed by it because my expectations were realistically low.

 

The fatal flaw?
Well i set out to post a review of the Behringer AM100 and damnit i think i did an OK job.  But there is a problem and i'm putting it at the end here because...

Well because this is the problem with Behringer's stuff: you don't know if a product sucks or if the Quality Control inspector was just asleep at the conveyor-belt that shift.

Everything is as i described, but there was a problem - a major problem with the AM100 that i had for testing.  When engaged, this FX pedal made a completely audible hiss.  It wasn't unlike the hiss you get from a hi-gain amplifier while standing there with your guitar's volume turned all the way down; just not as pronounced.

The hiss was definitely coming from the pedal; not the guitars or cables (and certainly not the amplifier, mixer/monitors, or PA system).  Being that these tests were all clean, it was immediately noticeable to distraction.
I mean if you were playing along with the band then there's no way you'd hear it, but if you were playing the intro to Wanted Dead Or Alive then everybody in the bar would definitely hear it.  Whenever the effect was engaged, the hiss was there and could not be "dialed out".

I've got some experience with Behringer gear and i know that it's possible that i just happened to get a lemon.  But it's not mine to return so unless i come across another one i won't know for sure.

I wonder what Walmart's return policy is...

 

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