We couldn't believe how much stage-filling stereo sound this tiny combo amp puts out

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PROS

Fabulous sound. Small footprint. Lots of power.

CONS

No pole mount. Sub output can make a bit of noise if the jack is unstuffed. No built-in dedicated direct out.

Bottom Line

Unprecedented presentation of stereo sound from a single, well built, easy to move unit.

$899 list | $749 street | centerpointstereo.com

One would be hard pressed to find a consensus amongst keyboard players as to the best way to approach onstage amplification. Most of us have tried all sorts of things, from all sizes and configurations of combo amps (including ones meant for bass and guitar) to full-blown small P.A. systems (both mono and stereo) to in-ear monitors, but nothing has ever risen head and shoulders above everything else as the Holy Grail of keyboard amplification. Aspen Pittman and his team (who you may know from Groove Tubes) have been working for years on a way to get stereo out of a single unit. While there are other manufacturers that offer combo amps purporting to deliver stereo performance, none approach it in the same manner as Pittman’s “center point stereo” (CPS) design. What makes the latest incarnation of his Spacestation so different, and does it actually deliver the goods?

Overview

Standing a foot and a half tall by 11 inches on either side, the SSV3 (for short) is quite the compact unit; however don’t be fooled by its size. It weighs in at 32 pounds, which is a touch more than one might expect given its size but is fully understandable give the amount of firepower it’s packing. Under the hood are four drivers: an 8" Eminence woofer, 6.5" side-facing full-range speaker, 1" Eminence compression mid driver (mounted coaxially inside the woofer) and 1" super tweeter, A bunch of separate amps drives 100W each to the two woofers and 40W each to the mid and HF drivers. A sturdy cage-type grill protects the front of the enclosure, and the side panels have peculiar shapes cut out of them to allow the side speaker to radiate properly. The back panel is quite simple, featuring a pair of 1/4" balanced stereo inputs and a single full-range TRS output, marked Sub Out, which can also be used to feed a direct signal to the house P.A. Only four controls are provided: CPS Level (volume) and Width (stereo separation), plus a pair of knobs that allow you to tailor the mids and highs to taste. The unit has an internal power supply, but it’s not universal—it has to be set at the factory for either 120V or 220V operation.

There is no way to mount the SSV3 on a pole on its own, but since it performs the best when sitting on the floor that’s not really a problem. The manufacturer actually recommends not only putting it on the floor, but also (when possible) tilting it back and leaning it against a wall as well.

Vive La Différence

What makes the SSv3 different from other “stereo” amps is that the stereo left and right feeds are encoded as mid (basically center) and side (basically ambience/directionality) signals, then decoded using proprietary front and side dipole speaker arrays The side speaker is 90 degrees off-axis. The result is a stereo image that’s the same everywhere in the room; and, as unbelievable as that may sound, it actually works incredibly well. You don’t get the conventional left-right image delivered by two individual speaker enclosures, but the separation between the two sides is quite apparent, especially on things like organ programs with rotary effect, chorusing, flanging, delays, and multis with elements placed across the stereo field. No matter where you are, you can hear all parts of the signal—no more having audience members not hear the left side because they’re overpowered by the right speaker.

In Use

I used the Spacestation in my studio, in the big room where my grand piano lives, at a rehearsal, at an outdoor jam, and at a gig. While I had a lot of fun with it at home and in the studio and managed to get a handle on tweaking the controls to my liking, using it in live environments with other musicians is really where it shone. I tried it in rehearsal on an amp stand at first, but it didn’t sound as good as I expected, and both guitar players in the band commented that they were having trouble hearing it. However, as soon as I set it on the floor about six feet behind me and leaned it up against the wall, it was like a switch had been thrown. Everyone in the band commented right away that they had never been able to hear my parts as clearly, and that they were really surprised that I didn’t have to turn it up more.

The CPS process actually seems to make the amp easier to hear, and even to converse around at lower volumes. I did have to tweak the controls to taste, of course—I found that I liked the mids dialed back to about 10 o’clock and the highs boosted just a touch (about one o’clock). The Width control took a minute to get used to, but I seem to have settled on keeping it just a hair short of the center position. My keyboards are mixed with a Yamaha MG06, so I just set the SSV3 volume to the center position, and got more than enough volume with no distortion.

As far as bass response, I actually owned the last incarnation of the Spacestation, and the lack of bass was one of the things that kept me from using it much. That has clearly been addressed in version 3. The new Eminence drivers and a ton of power provide a surprising amount of bass—certainly enough for my taste, but then again, I’m not kicking organ bass pedals or playing really big venues. For those really looking for some thunder down under, pairing the unit with a subwoofer is probably the way to go. I did exactly that with my Motion Sound SW15 at the outdoor jam, and I found it took the SSV3 to a whole other level. With a sub, in fact, it’s loud and clear enough to be used easily even in demanding applications.

Conclusions

There are two distinctively striking things about the SSV3 for me that separate it from the pack. The first is that even though the unit was positioned behind me, the sound came from all around me and enveloped me. I’ve been trying to achieve something like that for years—setting cabinets in a V-shape behind me, putting one behind me and one in front of me, putting one next to me and one on the other side of the stage—but nothing else has come close to delivering what I get out of the SSV3. The second, which I really like, is that because of the way that it processes and projects the sound, I can actually play at a stage volume that allows me to be heard in the audience, yet doesn’t blow my ears out or make my band members angry at me. While I do not believe there is such a thing as a “Holy Grail” amp as every one’s tastes and situations are different, the SSV3 is as close as I can recall getting to one, and certainly does stereo better than any single-cabinet solution I’ve ever used. I have a strong feeling there’s a credit card charge I’m going to have to explain to my wife very shortly.