The Stereo Specialist
by Jack Ortolani
For quite a few years, I’ve been searching for a compact live performance amp setup that gives me the same warm, full, articulate and dynamic sound I get from my high-end component system, which consists of a rackmount mixer, a big power amp, and a terrific pair of two-way speakers with 12" woofers. I’ve auditioned countless keyboard combo amps and most sound just fine at low volumes.
To my ears, they all fall short when you really dig in and play aggressively with a good band, regardless of the style of music. To me, this is the ultimate test for any keyboard amp, and finally, my search is over, because the KP-500SN passes this test with flying colors. I bought one a few months after trying it at the 2009 Winter NAMM Show, after which I finally retired my old rig and never looked back.
For starters, the amp is extremely lightweight considering all that’s inside. The finish is a nearly indestructible polymer coating. The KP- 500SN is a stereo-from-one-box amp, and the speaker placement on either side of its V-shaped cabinet creates a terrific stereo image. All the magic and motion of your stereo sounds is there to inspire your performance. Spatial effects such as Leslie simulation, chorus, and panning really grab your ears. Its unique spatial expander function, which you can control separately for the two stereo input channels, widens the image even more, and is particularly effective on Leslie simulations. Turning it up too much on certain sounds (acoustic piano, for example) can cause the “hole in the middle” effect, so use your ears and season to taste.
The KP-500SN is intended to sit three or four feet from you, at ear level. The sound is very intimate, like being in the middle of a huge set of headphones, yet it projects well. Other musicians never have a problem hearing me comfortably onstage, and at low-key gigs, it covers a small room quite nicely without a P.A.
Every type of keyboard patch you can think of sounds great through the KP-500SN—and I’ve tried them all during the past 18 months. There’s plenty of power to handle transients without distortion when you dig into spiky sounds such as pianos or horns, and the signal from the direct outputs is virtually noiseless. There is also a subwoofer out if you want extended bass.
I do have a small wish list. First, though two stereo channels is enough for many “top keyboard, bottom keyboard” gig rigs, some players do need more. Second, a ground lift switch for the direct outs.
If you need more volume still—say, for a festival stage with a loud band—you can add the SL-500SN, essentially a KP-500SN without the mixer. I’ve used this stack at concerts, and it sounds incredible. A fivepin DIN cable connects the two, so be aware that those aren’t MIDI ports on the amps!
The KP-500SN is hardly inexpensive, but my keyboards always sound great and my setup couldn’t be simpler. It’s also made in the U.S.A., and the fit, finish, and build quality compared to most big music-store brands is something I appreciate every time I use it.
More from this Roundup: