The Loudness Leader
by Brian Ho
Boutique brand Barbetta has been off the radar for awhile, but it’s back with new combo amps built entirely around MOSFET signal paths, a design the company claims yields superior loudness, punch, and clarity at a given wattage. After testing the flagship of this line, the SE-53c, we tend to agree.
The simple rectangular shape houses forward-facing speakers; all connections and controls are on the back, which is a bit inconvenient for adjusting your levels on the fly, though it does protect them from accidental movement. Though there’s a handle on top, we’d prefer two handles (one on either side) for easier carrying.
I first used this amp as the sole P.A. for a short corporate party gig. The band included one singer, a guitarist, a drummer, and myself. I was playing a Hammond clone with pedal bass, with a synth on top for electric pianos, Clav, and other sounds. That rainy night, the last thing we wanted was to bring a full P.A. with mains, mixer, and monitors. The Barbetta shined in this situation. We placed the amp in the middle of the stage, ran multiple keyboards into its 1/4" inputs, and the singer into its XLR mic input.
Everybody in our band had no trouble hearing each other, and the audience heard us loud and clear. Given that this is just one point-source of sound, we were surprised at how clearly we projected throughout the venue. At one point, the two owners of the client company sat in on guitar— that’s right, three guitars total. We played some grooving funk, a blues, and an indulgent Jimi Hendrix cover. As my left hand and feet covered bass and my right hand played organ lines, a wah Clav, and even some string pads, the Barbetta had no trouble hanging with the guitarists or drummer, even though it was barely at half volume.
On another night, I accompanied a group of singers on a digital stage piano. I was pleased by the amp’s reproduction of piano sounds; for the most part, it was natural and uncolored throughout the full frequency range. The dual woofers, however, were almost too much for this situation, so the onboard EQ came in handy for softening the lows. If most of your gigs involve watching your volume in intimate settings, the smaller SE-41c or SE-31c will put out all the sound you need and be more portable in the bargain.
Barbetta’s no-nonsense rear panel sports five mono keyboard inputs, a mic input, and a “post line” input that goes to the internal amp but not the line outs on the far right. That makes it ideal for a click track or monitor mix from the house.
There are two things we’d like to see for the price. First, some amps have stereo inputs and line outs even though they’re mono “in the box.” But the Barbetta is mono only, so you’ll need a compact mixer if you want to pass stereo to a house P.A. Second, a ground lift switch on the XLR out would be useful for killing the hum that’s endemic to many bars and clubs.
Any buying decision involves trade-offs, though and what you get instead of stereo is an amp that gets a lot louder, and stays a lot cleaner under stress, than any single-box solution we’ve tried. Other amps in this roundup may be loud enough or more than loud enough, but the SE-53c is in another category—let’s call it “OMG!”
More from this Roundup: