Like other brands such as AER and the old Trace Acoustic, Ashdown's Acoustic Radiator 1 amplifier combo (AAR-1 for short) packs its power into a compact, lightweight box. It's easily transportable by its detachable leather shoulder strap.
Of course, the closed-back, furniture-style enclosure needs care, and lacks the vinyl version's corner protectors, but an optional amp cover is available to help protect it from knocks. Behind a sturdy mesh-metal grille sits a 150W eight-inch speaker with dual concentric tweeters that are permanently in circuit.
Save for some of the knobs visually obscuring the various push-button facilities, the vertical control panel is easy to manipulate. The channels are arrayed from the bottom up: channel one - for your instrument - kicking off with volume and a gain switch for active or passive systems.
Above this are bass and treble (with 15dB of boost and cut), phase reverse and EQ shape switches, and a switchable notch filter sweeping 70Hz to 350Hz with a fixed amount of cut.
The mic channel, which handily provides phantom powering so that capacitor mics can be used without needing an outboard supply, provides low-impedance jack and XLR inputs and two-band EQ. Intended primarily for instrument or vocal mic'ing, this channel also proves satisfactory for running, say, accompaniment CDs.
However, since the amp's reverb isn't channel-assignable, playing accompaniment material dry (as you'd invariably want to) will mean that reverb can't separately be applied to the instrument channel without resorting to an external effect unit - either in-line between guitar and amp, or via the combo's rear-panel FX loop.
An LED clip indicator is a facility shared by both channels. Initially, it seems unduly sensitive to input gain levels, until you realise it's of the bicolour variety. As long as it's pulsing green you're okay; only if the LED turns red might you need to back off a bit.
The digital reverb's internal workings are upgraded from the original AAR-1's, but the controls, located directly under the master volume, are unchanged, as are the presets. Along with reverb level and an in/out switch, there are buttons to select a hall or a plate, and whether these modes have a short or long decay.
Nice and simple, although some prospective buyers might hanker after a few delays and a chorus or two.After all, these are effects which are commonplace even on budget acoustic amps these days.
Particular praise is merited for the fluid, well-damped smoothness of all the amp's controls. Yet we were puzzled by the absence of any power light: there isn't one on the front panel, and the mains switch on the rear panel isn't illuminated either.
The only visual indication of something happening is from the clip LED - by which time you know that the amp is up and running.
Packing a suitable 100W-style punch, the AAR-1 has an impressively natural sound, delivered in an unforced manner.
Dual tweeters might imply an intrusive, easily overcooked high end, but the frequency gradient is seamlessly integrated - even when the mid-dip/bass-and-treble-boosting shape feature is activated, something that adds sparkle, not brittleness or harshness.
Coupled with a well-controlled mid-range, the bass end is handled elegantly too, endowing progressively creamy, almost valve-like warmth. All good stuff - and that goes for reverb quality as well.