While guitar modeling has opened up a world of versatility for guitarists, there’s one thing a modeler just can’t offer on its own, and that’s the visceral experience of a speaker moving air at gigging volume. Many run their modeler into the front or power amp return of a guitar amp, but even the cleanest amp will inherently color the sound, as a guitar amp is not designed with a full range response in mind. Some run directly into a PA which ensures plenty of power, but still doesn’t match the familiarity of playing in front of an amp. What’s a guitarist to do?
The 180-Watt Behringer K1800FX Ultratone Portable PA/Keyboard amp is a great, affordable solution for guitarists using modelers or who double on other instruments. Featuring four channels with individual inputs (one of which offers an additional phantom powered XLR jack), the amp certainly lives up to the portable PA marketing. The amp also offers multiple outputs including ground-liftable XLR line outputs, headphone output with a dedicated volume control, stereo link and subwoofer out of which the fourth channel is partially configurable (all other channels are routed to all outputs), allowing the K1800FX to offer a scalable solution as a standalone amp for rehearsals, small performances or as part of a larger configuration. The amp can also be slaved for stereo performance and has a subwoofer output. A seven band graphic EQ allows fine tuning your sound for the room you’re playing in and an FX processor with 100 presets is offered with adjustable send and return level controls. The cabinet is finished in black carpet.
After opening the box, I immediately plugged up a Digitech GNX3000 and powered up. The amp revealed a great balanced, fairly transparent tone far beyond what I expected for the $250 street price. At lower volumes in close proximity to the amp, the tweeter does exhibit a bit of harshness that is remedied by engaging the shape control which appears to function as an EQ preset not too different from the loudness control often found on smaller portable stereo systems. I wanted to hear if it was truly a full range amp and plugged in a bass. Sure enough, the amp has way more than enough power to shake the window panes without running out of clean headroom.
I didn’t expect the K1800FX to be as heavy as it was for its size. At 45 pounds, the amp was heavy enough to warrant the use of a small luggage dolly to tote it across a large parking lot on the way to a rehearsal. This rehearsal was in the sanctuary of a church with extremely high ceilings. I really wanted to put the "PA" claims of this little amp to the test, so I ran guitar through channel one and bass on channel two and cranked it to try and keep up with the house PA. In this scenario, we really pushed the amp’s headroom to the limit and at times the little guy seemed to slightly struggle with the amount of low- end we were pushing. However, I’d still give very high marks on this test; so on to the next challenge…an outdoor performance.
Again, looking to test the upper bounds of the amp’s volume, I brought the amp along for a small outdoor performance with a fusion band and again went sans mic trying to keep up with the mains and a live drummer. Again, the results were very impressive. I had no trouble keeping up volume wise with the level slightly over 50%. The amp wasn’t giving me all the lows I wanted outside on the GNX 3000 presets I was using, but a minor adjustment to the lower bands of the graphic EQ worked wonders. During sound check, we also tried running bass and guitar through it, but the amp couldn’t compete with the main system’s sub.
Impressed with the field tests, I pulled out a rather thick booklet for the box and was immediately impressed as Behringer’s documentation is usually far from par. Argh, false hope…the booklet is indeed an owner’s manual printed in about 20 languages. The four pager is fair at best, but doesn’t go into enough detail regarding some of the amp’s features (such as the 100 preset effects which is available on line). Fortunately, most of the features are well labeled on the amp’s control plate.
This is a nice little amp, especially for the money and a perfect choice for multi instrumentalists or a nice compact PA for rehearsals and small gigs. I would’ve preferred tolex instead of the black carpet, as in my experience carpeted cabinets aren’t nearly as durable. And, metal instead of plastic corner protectors would have been nice, but clearly these were sacrificed in order to bring the price down.
Pros: Clean tones with volume to spare. Excellent feature set.
Cons: Poor manual. Heavy for its size.