They say good things come in small packages – David Mead examines Yamaha’s new mini miracle!
I am already familiar with Yamaha’s microphone modelling technology as I have been using their grossly underrated AG Stomp acoustic preamp for many years in my live rig. If you’re unfamiliar with this absolute star of a unit, it’s basically your one stop shop for live work: fully programmable parametric EQ, tuner, mic modeller, stereo chorus, limiter, two second delay… The list goes on – and all in a sturdy metal stomp box of very modest and easily transportable dimensions. So when I caught word about Yamaha’s new TRH5A being a sort of fully updated, even more compact and computer interfaced acoustic amp along very similar lines, I took the chance to get my hands on one as soon as I could.
So what’s in the box? Well I had heard that this amp was, shall we say, compact, but nothing quite prepared me for what I found on opening up the package. The amp itself measures just 271mm long, 120mm deep and 167mm high – it’s tiny! The metal enclosure is a sort of dark gold colour, very similar to my beloved AG Stomp, and at 2kg it weighs so little that no airline in the world could possibly refuse it onboard as hand luggage.
There’s also a mains adapter, mini stereo lead, USB cable, a handbook and a free copy of Steinberg’s Cubase Al 6 music production software. Furthermore, a free THR Editor app available from the Yamaha website enables the user to get inside the amp and access more features in order to tweak it to their heart’s content. Add to this the fact that it can also be run from a battalion of AA batteries and you have what sounds like being a very versatile, go anywhere practice/recording amplifier.
If you’re unfamiliar with – or even a bit suspicious about – microphone modelling in general, I have to say that I’ve always found Yamaha’s system the least fussy and most straightforward among the ones I’ve tried in the past. Without getting too technical you can choose between condenser, dynamic or tube microphone simulations and then blend them with your undersaddle piezo to give an authentic studio recorded sound to your live or recorded performance. It’s difficult to describe exactly what it does, but I’ve had discussions with other musicians and studio engineers about this and the best we can come up with between us is that it has the effect of putting some “air” into the signal. Piezo pickups are renowned for sounding a bit dead, boxy or nasal, but a mic simulator seems to take that away – or at least modify it – until it takes on a far more authentic and breathy sound picture. Most will agree, after hearing A/B blindfold tests, that where the effect might be very subtle in some instances, it definitely has a beneficial impact on the guitar’s sound. The TRH also includes a special setting for nylon string guitars plus another marked ‘EG CLN’ which is for a clean electric guitar sound.
After the mic simulation section, the amp has a whole bank of effects you can add to your guitar’s signal path. These include compression, reverb, chorus, flanging, tremolo and delay and so despite the fact that a lot of acoustic instrumentalists spend a lot of time chasing a sound that is as pure and unaffected as possible, there’s a whole raft of ways that you can enhance and modify your sound to taste.
There’s an aux input mounted on the top panel for accessing external devices like an MP3 player and a headphone socket for checking out your sound in private. The only other output as such is the USB and so Yamaha clearly mean the TRH to be integrated with a computer for recording purposes rather than live use. This could be looked upon as a bit of a shortcoming but, to be fair to them, Yamaha aren’t saying that this is intended to be anything other than a practice amp and recording device.
All of the aforementioned is wrapped up in a very businesslike metal box with a grille at the front to protect the two 8cm speakers and so let’s see what this tiny mite can do…
When you fire up the TRH you’re treated to a warm orange glow peeking out at you from behind the front grille. This is, in fact, Yamaha’s Virtual Tube Illumination which offers the effect of a tube amp viewed in a heated moment. It’s a nice cosmetic touch, but quite possibly an unnecessary one.
I opted to use a guitar with a Fishman Presys pickup, plugged it in and set a volume level to suit. Naturally the 10 watt total output means that it’s not going to be the loudest amp on the block – I even managed to turn both volume and master all the way up without approaching neighbour alienating levels of sound. But Yamaha has placed the emphasis on quality rather than quality and for practice, it’s more than adequate. And remember, that’s only half the story as the real fireworks begin when you access a computer.
In any case, it didn’t take long to find a sound I was comfortable with and adding effects was easy. Compression, compression with chorus and chorus on its own are all on a single rotary. Each effect takes up about a third of the full range of travel and so for the first 33% you have a range of graduated compression, then chorus enters the signal path and then for the final third of the rotary’s range, it’s chorus by itself.
It’s the same story for the next control which covers delay, delay with reverb and hall reverb. It might seem a bit limiting this way around as your actual combinations appear initially to be limited, but using the USB cable and downloadable app from Yamaha brings more effects – like spring reverb and flanging – into the mix as well.
In any case, I was quite happy with what I found on the front panel and there’s more than enough flexibility available for the average practice or songwriting session.
Load up the free copy of Cubase, tweak the amp settings even more from inside the computer and you have a very flexible and compact unit with a whole wealth of opportunities available for recording your music in your own way.
I’ve always thought that Yamaha must be content to be quietly innovative because their acoustic guitars are generally excellent and units like the AG Stomp really are in the category of unsung heroes. The TRH5A – which is itself one of a range of amps available for various instruments – enters the field as a superbly well thought out and useful device offering a staggering amount of sonic variations and recording possibilities to the acoustic player for under £200. I like it!
Mic Simulation: condenser, dynamic, tube, nylon, EG clean
Effects: compressor, compressor/chorus, chorus/flanger, phaser, tremolo, delay, delay/reverb, spring reverb, noise gate, chromatic tuner
Controls: mic type, blend/gain, master, tone, effect, delay/reverb, volume, tap timing/tuner
Connections: jack input, stereo headphones, aux in, USB
Speakers: 2 x 8cm full range
Output: 10w (5w per side stereo)
Power Source: AC adapter, AA batteries x 8
Build Quality 5
Sound Quality 4
Value For Money 5
Pros: Amazingly compact and versatile unit with some genuinely great sounds inside
Cons: Maybe a line out would make the TRH even more flexible?
Overall: Yamaha strike again with an innovative little device that has a wealth of valuable facilities for the acoustic musician