I'm always looking for new gear. Always. So last week, I happened to accidentally see a kids' hiphop dance event, and the music sounded really good in a school gymnasium. Crisp and thumpy. I noticed that it looked like they were using a tiny guitar amp with an iPod docked on top. Being a curious musician on the hunt for cool new gear, I checked it out. It happened to be an Ion Tailgater.
You can look up the specs online, but here's the basic list:
-Two 1/4" mic/line inputs w/ volume knobs
-iPod dock/RCA input pair (these occupy channel 3) w/ volume knob
-16w RMS into 6.5" woofer (I think) and a small tweeter
-Master volume knob
-Rechargeable battery with 8-12 HOURS of playtime
-Switch to select whether the Ion will charge your iPod (saves battery life if off)
-3-LED battery life indicator
-Included (cheesy) microphone
This little guy sounds pretty darn respectable as an iPod dock, which is what its main purpose is. My thought was, how would it work as a Zendrum amp at some of my dinner jazz gigs? Even my little Simmons combo amp is a bit much at these places. So I picked up 2 Ions at Costco (1 for home, 1 for work) and I took them out to my studio to jam.
Initially, I was not super impressed. They sounded boxy and not as loud as I had hoped. I was using the RCA inputs because I really wanted some EQ control, and the EQ I was using (a little Rolls unit, which is killer, by the way) has RCA outs. I ran 1/4 to RCA adaptors from my DM10 to the Rolls EQ, then RCA cables to the Ions' RCA ins. Sounded decent but unremarkable. But, when I grabbed another pair of 1/4" adaptors and ran in through the Ions' mic/line inputs, there was a TON more volume and depth. The mic/line inputs must have little mic pre's in there I guess. Then I started messing with the EQ. With a little bump at 60hz, a little less 120hz, and a touch more high mids and highs for clarity (2.5k and 8k) I had a crisp and fat drum sound going on, with quite a bit of headroom before it started to fart out at its louder settings. By reducing the 60hz back to unity, I could get even more volume, but as with all speakers, it started to sound harsh as I neared the volume ceiling.
I can see using one Tailgater amp as a practice rig or to jam with a piano or acoustic guitar. I think the pair is going to be great at my little jazz venue; I will report after my gig next week. I like the idea of true stereo separation with very controllable volume and extreme portability. I'll be able to dock my iPhone for break tunes, and I may even bring a mic for announcements and stage banter (probably not so hot for singing, but I'll try that sometime too.)
Even with its not being "pro gear", the construction seems as solid as any small combo amp. they are stackable, but I wish they stacked better. I know they weren't designed to do so. The metal speaker grille and black vinyl covering seem durable, and the plastic edging and metal corners look tough enough. The chrome plastic knobs seem a little cheesy; time will tell. My only complaint is with the lack of EQ. A 3-band would have been most welcome, and even just hi-low would have helped. I'll need to bring my little Rolls unit (and I suppose most musicians have a little EQ unit hanging around somewhere.) I also wish they had used better handles: they're plastic recessed ones on the sides. Great for 2-handed carrying, but nearly impossible with one hand. So I need 2 hands to carry a 12"x14" box that weighs less than 20 lbs.?!?!? I would have preferred a single top-mounted guitar amp strap handle, but the iPod dock is right there in the way. I am toying with the idea of putting a strap style handle on the side, but we'll see.
I am going to go buy another one of these today (they're $90 at Costco!) and I would highly recommend the unit to anyone looking for a portable, inexpensive amp(s) that sounds like it costs more than it did!