Everyone has at least one slightly annoying friend. Unlike your friend, though, the Simmons DA200S annoys less the louder it gets.
Oh, um, I am not a professional reviewer. I don’t have a sonically neutral test room, and I don’t know anything about a “break-in period” and which gear requires one. But some of my friends say I have good ears, and ask me to mix at their gigs. So I can share one guy’s experience with the DA200S right out of the box. Your mileage may vary.
At 57 pounds, the DA200 certainly feels like a solid piece of gear. (To get it to the second floor of my condo, I found it helpful as I hurked it up the stairs to shout the battle cry, “Crossfiiittttt!”). Once I had the amp in place at the base of my Roland TD-4 kit, I instantly discovered two things I liked.
First, compared to other amps I’d considered, the DA200S boasts a small footprint (16 1/2″ deep, 17 3/4″ wide, 20″ tall) well-suited to a practice room or a cramped coffee house stage. So it doesn’t use up all the room in your room.
Second, the knobs. Gratifyingly large, each knob has a rubber coating and turns with a velvety, quality feel. The thoughtful touch I really love: a generous dimple in each knob makes the controls easy to turn using a drumstick. This small feature has proven gleefully convenient every time I play.
Controls From Left to Right
The first two control knobs let you set volume for Drum and Aux. The Drum inputs, two quarter-inch jacks, allow you to run the drums in Mono or as separate Left and Right channels. (However, you hear no stereo effect unless you add satellite speakers, which the DA200 enables via jacks on the back; or listen via headphones). The Aux input receives a standard quarter-inch guitar jack and allows you to play anything you want through the amp in addition to your drums. Using the Drum and Aux knobs makes it dead easy to put your own playing into the mix of any other recording.
Continuing across the amp, the next three knobs set tone: Low (around 50 Hz), Med (800 Hz), and High (10 kHz). I have more to say about these controls further down in this entry.
Sub and Master complete the list of control knobs. Here’s where my status as amateur reviewer rears its ugly head: I haven’t figured out what the Sub knob controls. Since you already have separate Drum and Aux knobs, what other sub-mix is there? Well, there is a separate “Line In” jack next to the Aux knob. It is a mere eighth-inch jack. So presumably, you could run drums into the amp; an iPod into the Line-In; and a second instrument, such as an electric guitar, into the Aux input. Maybe the Sub knob would then control the Line-In jack. I dunno; I ran my iPhone into the Aux jack.
Also puzzling to this neophyte: the back of the amp features two XLR balanced lines out. I’m accustomed to XLR as a connection for quality microphones, so I could understand XLR lines in as a way to sing or speak through the amp. Maybe some whiz reading this can clue me in about what XLR out would do. By the way, those connections have their own little volume knob on the back of the amp.
Once you hook everything to the amp and turn it on, it emits a whisper of a hiss. Discussion forums divided radically on how loud the hiss is. I found it far quieter than guitar amps and bass amps I or my bandmates have used, not at all buzzy; nothing like the typical 60-cycle hum; not the least annoying. Forums suggest that making sure you’ve uncrossed your wires helps. The hiss gets louder as you crank the Master volume up, so your perception of the hiss will depend upon how loudly you play.
But How Does It Sound?
The real test, of course: how does this baby sound? The golden ideal would deliver full, controlled bottom with punchy attack yet full presence; an articulate mid-range, able to distinguish between, say, a piano and a guitar playing the same notes; and shimmering highs for lifelike cymbals.
In theory, the DA200S provides the equipment to deliver all that: a 12″ subwoofer, two 6 1/2″ midrange speakers, and two 2 1/2″ tweeters.
But my first reaction to the DA200S was, “This sounds brittle.” I had feared that a drum amp would project all bottom and no highs, but the tweeters on this unit cause the opposite problem: at low volumes, the highs are so far forward, they hurt.
I ran through many genres of music in testing, and I found that on power horn jams such as Blood, Sweat, and Tears’ “Spinning Wheel,” and Ides of March’s “Vehicle,” the amp rendered the horns so cutting I could hardly stand it. In fact, on Chicago’s “25 or 6 to 4,” not only the horns, but also Peter Cetera’s voice reproduced with a grating edge.
When I tried orchestral soundtracks, violins — such as the strings on the soundtrack to Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion — sounded shrill and screechy.
But here’s where the Low/Mid/High knobs proved their usefulness. Though the DA200S shows obvious high-end bias, you can overcome it two ways.
First, once I dialed up the bottom and dialed down the highs, the amp approached audiophile quality. The edginess backed off to good articulation, and the relatively absent bottom grew authoritative. But look how hard I had to ratchet the dials to bring the sound into line. Seven o’clock is “off,” five o’clock is “full blast”:
Nonetheless, once dialed in, the bottom end sounded terrific. I went crazy pedaling my kick drum and flailing at my “floor tom” pad because they sounded so effortlessly powerful. My virtual cymbals sounded unbelievably lifelike, both in their dark and light notes.
Second, at 200 watts, this amp really really wants to be loud. Even before I messed with the equalization, simply cranking the master volume up to midpoint evened the mix to a pleasingly full balance, round yet clear. The problem was, at this volume I would quickly sour the neighbors on my drumming hobby. And after about 20 minutes of testing, when I turned the amp back down my ears were ringing.
On the plus side, the power and undeniable mid/high bias of the amp suggests to me that it will hold its own when you’re gigging. You might welcome the crisp highs when you’re trying to hear your chicks and clicks amid a jungle of bass, guitar, and piano noises.
The DA200S seems engineered for modern music, especially rock and pop. Looking for arrangements that used a full sonic spectrum, I found the amp sounded great playing Keane, Lady Gaga, Robyn, Incubus, Linkin Park, and Black Eyed Peas. Even James Taylor sounded surprisingly good; in fact, on “Jump Up Behind Me” I could hear JT mumbling into his mic during the EWI solo, something I had never heard in my Sennheiser headphones.
When I wandered into metal and prog rock, I couldn’t get a winning mix. For example, System of a Down’s “B.Y.O.B.” was too edgy and thin regardless of amp setting.
Classical music and music engineered in previous decades, such as Sly & the Family Stone and the Rascals, fared poorly, too, sounding thin, smeary, and intolerable no matter what I did with the amp. For some reason Sam & Dave managed to sound pleasingly authentic.
Bottom line: if you hew to the current mainstream and mostly prefer rock, pop, alternative, adult alternative, and modern country, you’ll love the amp. If you’re a jazz, orchestral, metal, or world music player, something else might please your ear more. But for under $300, this gutsy little amp delivers hugely satisfying drum sounds, terrific ease of use, and begs you to let it roar. Considering that anything better-sounding costs double, I’m completely glad I bought it… and it isn’t even broken in yet. ##