An oil tanker can take over six miles to make a turn and in many way s musicians’ opinions can be just as difficult to change. Take low-wattage
for example — they may be OK for widdling away in front of the TV but they are grossly underpowered and invariably sound like a wasp trapped in a paper cup, right?
By Paul White (Contributed by Roland UK Team)
I have to admit that that was pretty much my own view until, some years ago now, I bought a Roland Micro Cube amplifier to use on a ‘busking for charity’ project and discovered that not only did it actually sound rather good but it was also incredibly loud for a two watt amplifier due to the use of an extremely efficient loudspeaker.
It had built in effects and amp modelling to rival that of many ‘grown up’ amplifiers so it ended up accompanying me on several overseas holidays where it put in several appearances at jam nights, sometimes on its own and at other times with a mic stuck in front of it.
The original Micro Cube model has just been superseded by the Micro Cube GX, which offers more amp models, more connectivity, a chromatic tuner and 50% more power.
Since I bought that first Micro Cube, the battery/mains side of the Roland Cube range has continued to expand, though my next Cube purchase was in fact the Roland Cube Street model, which although not the latest in the Cube range is still an incredibly versatile and very solidly built little amplifier. It delivers a total power of five watts through a pair of approximately five inch diameter, high efficiency speakers, all in glorious stereo, and has two primary channels, one for mic or line level signals and one for the electric guitar. The guitar channel has switchable amp models, including an acoustic guitar emulation, three band EQ and a choice of modulation effects as well as a choice of delay or reverb. Separate delay/reverb controls are available for the mic/line channel.
It also has a stereo mini jack input for connection to an MP3 player or similar device that is useful for playing backing tracks or simply for using the amp as a means to play back your favourite music. There’s also a headphone out for silent practise. The speakers include what are known as parasitic tweeters, small secondary cones fitted just in front of the dust cap, which allow the reproduction of high frequencies without the need for a separate tweeter. That’s why full range music sounds so good, and while those small speakers won’t give you pounding deep bass, they still pack a surprising punch as long as you don’t get silly with the volume. However, what really drew me to the Roland Cube Street amp
, other than its feature set, clarity, compact format and loudness, was the fact that it can be run for around 12 hours on a set of six AA batteries — great for those charity busking jobs and holidays, though it also comes with a mains adaptor for more conventional use. But enough talking about the amp — you can find all the details of this and other Cube amps
on the Roland web site. What I want to talk about are the different uses I’ve found for it.
A versatile and portable amp with 12 hours of battery life
Judged on the hours the amp has spent doing the various different jobs I’ve found for it, its number one role has to be as the PA system for our band rehearsals. We have two guitars and a bass, all playing through full sized amps, and a V Drum kit playing through a Roland PM 10 powered speaker, but despite all that firepower, the vocals still come over strongly via the Roland Cube Street. One tip though — if you’re running from the included power adaptor, which is the usual two-pin type, I’d recommend connecting the ground terminal at the back of the amp to something that is properly grounded, just to make sure you don’t get a ‘tingle’ off the mic. It’s nothing dangerous, but without an earth the connected mic can accumulate a static electrical charge that makes you very wary of touching the mic with your lips.
The amp is of course perfect for busking, and even though I don’t tend to spend my weekends sitting in rainy high streets playing Smoke On the Water over a wet dog in the hope of attracting some loose change, I have on occasions been persuaded to play for certain charity events, one of which took place on what was probably the coldest day of the year with only the odd cup of soup to use as a hand warmer. For that event I used my Micro Cube for the electric guitar while my musical partner in crime used my Roland Cube Street for the vocals and acoustic guitar. I have to admit that it sounded great, all running from batteries, so we used the same setup on a Children In Need fundraiser where we put the amps and guitars into a (legally) borrowed supermarket trolly and then went on a musical pub crawl so see how many venues we could play at in the space of one day. That setup worked fine as there was no rigging time involved — just strap on the guitars and play.
Perfect guitar amp for traveling around
I’m actually writing this little article while on holiday in Turkey, and though there are often opportunities to jam along with other musicians, finding any working gear can be a real problem unless you take your own. So, I packed the Roland Cube Street, unbolted the neck from my guitar and crammed in all in my suitcase. And I still had some weight allowance left for my clothes! So far I’ve played at a local music bar using just the amp’s own horsepower — no mic’ing up and also at a music night here at the hotel. The hotel owner has an acoustic guitar amp which doubles as a PA but I thought I’d try hooking up the Roland Cube Street as an extension speaker, feeding its XLR input from the XLR DI feed on the back of his amp. It worked astonishingly well giving us a much wider soundstage with no lack of volume so that’s certainly something I’ll be using it for again. Also, when playing pub gigs it would make sense to try the same arrangement to provide a bit of foldback as there’s plenty of level where the angled speaker baffle and compact size of the Roland Cube Street makes it easy to position.
Other uses have included impromptu music sessions in the garden, playing music on boats and my musical colleague has even borrowed it to play classical guitar at weddings where venues have had no electricity.
The backing tracks possibilities opened up by the stereo jack input are also appealing. When at home I avoid backing tracks as they just feel too close to karaoke for comfort, but here in Turkey I’ve been asked to put on an hour or two of music at a local coffee house so I’ve been busy programming blues backing parts on my laptop, then transferring them to a Backing Track player App on my iPad. This sounds absolutely fine through the amp, even when using it to amplify guitar and vocals at the same time. There’s plenty of clean volume for a coffee house audience though I still wish Roland’s engineers had seen fit to provide a line output allowing the amp to be hooked up to additional amplification on those occasions that would benefit from it. You can use the headphone output as a line output but of course that mutes the speakers.
Another benefit of running on batteries is that you can generally be confident of avoiding the hum and buzz that comes from plugging into a sub-optimal mains supply, and believe me, the ones here are nothing if not sub optimal. The mains voltage fluctuates more than is ideal with occasional power failures and most of the older buildings, including the coffee house, have no earth wiring. Last time I tried to use a conventional amp in the same coffee house I had to run a wire from the guitar and put the other end in contact with my skin to keep the buzz at bay. With batteries there’s no such problem — and no risk of being electrocuted.
I suppose the moral of this story is that even if you initially don’t think you have a need for a battery powered amplifier for your usual musical activities, a Roland Cube Street or one of the other battery/mains Cube series attuned your needs can be the live sound equivalent of a Swiss Army Knife in solving all kinds of problems. It can be a PA for band rehearsals, an extension speaker for an existing amplifier’s line output, it can double as a foldback monitor, an MP3 music play station, a high quality busking solution or just something to allow you to play music where there’s no mains power. My Roland Cube Street certainly gets a lot more use than I ever imagined it would.
What Roland CUBE Guitar Amplifier Is For You?
- Cube Street
- The Ultimate Amp for Traveling Musicians.