REVIEW: ZT’s Lunchbox Acoustic

200 Watts of Tonal Bliss Packed Into ZT’s ‘Lunchbox Acoustic’ Amp!

A relative newcomer to the scene, ZT Amplifiers, Inc. has already made a powerful impression with their flagship product, The Lunchbox. Packing a whopping 200 watts of power into an amp weighing less than ten pounds and no more than a foot long in any dimension, founder and president Ken Kantor isn’t messing around. An award winning designer, engineer, and entrepreneur with a history impressive enough that he has been recognized as “a genuine audio legend” and “…one of the smartest designers ever to work in the field of audio”, Ken has expanded his ‘Lunchbox’ concept to include acoustic guitar: The ZT Lunchbox Acoustic.

DOES IT INCLUDE A THERMOS?

I gotta say, I love the name ‘Lunchbox‘ and it’s an appropriate title. I have an old Monkees lunchbox that’s just a touch shorter, not quite as wide, and half as deep. But it’s not packing 200 watts of class A/B power.

The front of the amp includes a 6-1/2″ speaker which is protected by a brown synthetic grille with a tasteful logo in the bottom right corner. A cheap looking, but sturdy, hard molded plastic handle sits securely on top in front of a recessed control panel which includes a 1/4″ instrument input jack, red LED power indicator, master controls for volume and feedback cut, and identical controls for both the instrument and microphone channels which include gain, bass, treble, and reverb. These controls turn smoothly with nice drag.

The back side contains an XLR and 1/4″mic jack with optional phantom power, an 1/8″ auxiliary input, effects loop, 1/4″ headphone/line out with volume control, an external speaker jack with a switch for selecting internal or external speaker output, and the power switch.

Fashion-wise the amp is contained in a medium density fiberboard (MDF) cabinet with a vinyl wrap giving it the look of a translucent white finish that allows the grain to show through. It’s a bit IKEA-ish for my taste but that’s just me. I would pay extra for Monkees graphics, however… The knobs match the brown plastic of the handle and all the 1/4″ jacks are gold-plated which is a nice quality touch. The controls on top and in back are fixed into brushed aluminum mounting plates which are durable and nicely implemented.

SO WHAT’S FOR LUNCH?

Plugging my Guild CV-1C into the amp, I started with flat EQ settings. As you might expect, the sound is boxy, yet remarkably full for a 6-1/2″ speaker. Adjusting the EQ provided a wide tonal range with quality sound throughout the sweeps. Bass at max is punchy and tight with no mud at all. Bass turned all the way down gives way to higher frequencies and a crisper sound. With treble maxed, notes punctuate with greater definition and at a zero setting there is still definition, it’s just not as articulate. The relationship between the treble and bass is synergetic and every combination I tried sounded great.

The reverb control mimics a medium size hallway with a greater turn of the dial deepening the effect. The quality is natural and does not sound processed. I typically like a little reverb to help give my sound some life but didn’t feel the need for it with this amp. That’s a compliment. It’s there if you want it, but by no means do you need it as any sort of mask for your sound. The amp’s output is very clean and forgiving with a great recipe that includes compression and tonal wizardry for a great balanced tone.

The auxiliary input on the back is useful for playing to backing tracks, along with your iPod, etc. but as the amp is voiced for guitar and vocals, sounds coming through this input sound like they’re coming out of a table top radio. The lack of a volume control necessitates fidgeting back and forth between the amp and the aux source to achieve a balance in levels. A volume control for this would be very welcome.

Feedback Cut is a simple control that targets a specific frequency at each setting in order to minimize potential feedback. It won’t solve every feedback problem, but it attempts to squash common offenders. This affects tonality somewhat and can actually be used for tonal coloring as well, though the widest dynamic range is with this setting off.

I always find headphone outputs useful so this, and its accompanying volume control, is a welcome feature. With the ability to turn the external speaker on or off, you can listen to your cans in complete isolation or with the speaker working at the same time. I was disappointed, however, by the low output. I had to crank the headphone volume, the gain just shy of distortion, and the master volume just to get a good level. And at those settings it should have been way too loud.

Finally I plugged in two different mics: a Shure dynamic and Audio Technica condenser. With the Shure, I set the mic gain to full, guitar gain to 3, and master volume to 7 (out of 10). It sounded perfectly good but the balance in levels between guitar and mic seemed off. I had better luck with the Audio Technica running off the amp’s phantom power. I achieved balance with mic gain at 7, guitar gain at 4, and master volume at 7. An additional issue is that the mic does not lock into the amp’s XLR jack, rather it slides right in and is easily pulled out. Bring heavy duty tape with you to keep your mic plugged in if you use this input.

THE FINAL WRAP

There’s a lot to like about this amp. It’s small and simple and sounds great. For such a compact unit it’s got a great feature set, but some of those features need improvement. It’s not a “10” in my book as is, but easily could be. Because of its great portability, it would benefit from some sort of battery option. I could easily imagine taking this to the beach, the park, camping, etc.

PROS: Great sound and tonal range, especially for such a compact unit. Nice feature set. Rugged.

CONS: Various levels need better balance to work more cohesively. No volume control for AUX input. XLR input doesn’t lock. Would love a battery option.

MSRP – $549

Dan Coplan is senior staff writer at SMG. Dan is a Los Angeles based cinematographer and self-admitting guitar junkie. Email: dancoplan@sharemyguitar.com

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