Powered Speakers that Make Great Keyboard Amps
Tue, 23 Apr 2013
Gigging keyboardists have been a huge reason for the success of a product that, with a few exceptions, hasn’t been marketed as a “keyboard thing.” That, of course, is the portable powered stage monitor. They tend to have much more power than keyboard combo amps, reproducing the full frequency range with no coloration and more than enough volume to stand between the drummer and guitar player. Unlike combo amps, they have minimal built-in mixing, but if you have a multi-keyboard rig, you probably own a small mixer, and you probably use it to send a stereo keyboard mix to the house P.A. and a pre-fader aux to your powered monitor. If you play just one keyboard and maybe sing, the monitor itself may have all the inputs you need. Thanks to advances such as Class-D power amp design, the latest stage speakers are dramatically lighter—woofer for woofer and watt for watt—than previous models of just a few years ago.


Though Alto’s TS115A looks and feels subjectively bulkier than the JBL Eon 515XT (the other speaker in this roundup with a 15" woofer), it’s manageable at 39 pounds, its three handles (on top and each side) make it easy to maneuver, and the corner nubs facilitate easy, stable stacking. It’s can work upright or as a floor monitor.

The 15" woofer made some of my synth sounds a bit tubby, but as you might expect, pads, synth bass, and sampled acoustic bass had a really nice depth. Acoustic pianos are the most demanding sounds to reproduce naturally, and the TS115A wasn’t overly kind to those in my Nord Stage 2—I couldn’t find a happy compromise between girth and punch. Electric pianos and organs fared much better. Obviously, players kicking left-hand bass will benefit from the larger speaker, and in general, I hear more of a difference going from a 12" to a 15" woofer than I from 10" to 12". 

Remembering the rock bottom street price puts such criticisms in perspective. A pair of TS115As runs less than $700, and is more than enough to serve as the main P.A. and sole keyboard amp for, say, a trio or quartet in an intimate setting. A single unit works well as a monitor, and can fill the room with your keyboards in small bars, taking demand off the underpowered P.A. often found in those kinds of venues. Keeping in mind that the next price level upmarket is $600 to $700 per speaker, and the next is four figures, the Altos offer plenty to feel good about. --Tony Orant

   The Alto TS115A has two combo ins, each with enough gain for a mic, but no hi-z guitar input. The XLR out sends a mono mix to the house P.A. or other powered speaker. The contour switch boosts highs and lows. Big props to Alto for understanding that anything that has an XLR output should have a ground lift!
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