Review: Taylor Branches Out with Its First Acoustic Amplifier, the Circa 74

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Beautiful woods and graceful shapes have long been part of the appeal of fine acoustic guitars, but that aesthetic sense is not always present in other gear, especially electronics. We may proudly display our acoustic guitars in the living room, but most amplifiers can look out of place there. Taylor is setting out to change this by making its first acoustic amp as attractive as its guitars. This new offering, dubbed the Circa 74, is clearly intended to bring the amp out of the garage or basement and into a prime spot in your living room, den, or home studio. I tested the amp using a variety of acoustic pickups and found its performance every bit as good as its looks. 

The Taylor Circa 74 amp with custom stand
The Taylor Circa 74 amp with custom stand

Beauty and Function

With its minimalist mid-century modern styling and solid mahogany cabinet, the Circa 74 makes a great impression even before it’s turned on. The matching mahogany stand places the amp in a position that makes it look even more like a fine piece of furniture, while also supporting easy access to all controls. 

The cabinet itself is relatively compact, measuring nine inches deep, 14 inches high, and 16.5 inches wide, while the stand raises the amp by an additional 16 inches. Given the hardwood cabinet, the amp is surprisingly light, weighing in at 24 pounds. While the amp is a perfect choice for home or studio, the size and weight make it quite practical to take to a gig as well.

Beyond its good looks, the Circa 74 offers a well-thought-out feature set that incorporates all the essentials without being overcomplicated. The solid-state amp provides 150 watts of RMS power through a ten-inch speaker, and can be plugged into 110–240 volts at 50 or 60Hz, making it compatible with power sources throughout the world. 

The controls are mounted on the top of the amp, providing easy access for a performer while maintaining the amp’s clean appearance for the audience. There are two separate channels: Input A features a combination XLR and quarter-inch jack that can be used for either a standard guitar cable or a dynamic mic. (The amp does not offer phantom power, ruling out condenser mics.) Input B is quarter-inch only and is intended for guitars. Otherwise, both channels offer the same controls: volume, bass, mid, treble, and reverb. A master volume controls the overall level.

The Circa 74 features a combination XLR/1/4
The Circa 74 features a combination XLR/1/4″ input.

The top panel provides an eighth-inch auxiliary input, as well as a button for activating Bluetooth to wirelessly connect an external music source—perfect for backing tracks or background music during breaks. There are no volume controls for these inputs, but they are affected by the master volume control. Great for silent practice, the final feature on the top panel is an eighth-inch headphone jack, which mutes the speaker when used.

The back panel has a fuse, power switch, and both XLR DI and quarter-inch line outputs. Both outputs are independent of the master volume control. When connected to a PA system, this allows a performer to use the master volume to control the stage volume without changing the levels being sent to the sound system. These outputs could also be used for recording or sent to a powered speaker for even more volume.

You might expect a Taylor-designed amplifier to be optimized for Taylor’s own ES (Expression System) pickup system, but the company has gone out of its way to emphasize that the amp will work well with any pickup, even providing suggested starting EQ settings for a few popular models. It’s worth noting that the amp’s input impedance is 110kΩ, somewhat low for an acoustic amp. This could cause some concern for those who use passive pickups that usually recommend a higher impedance, although Taylor includes settings for the passive K&K Pure Mini. 

Sound Check

Plugging in reveals a big and pleasant sound from a relatively compact box. Taylor has voiced the Circa 74 for a warm sound, deliberately rolling off the extreme high end, and the tone is natural and unhyped. The tonal quality seems to emphasize the midrange by default, although the sound can be changed dramatically with the very effective EQ controls. I preferred a bit of bass boost combined with a midrange cut to dial in a smoother sound for fingerstyle with most pickups. The default setting’s slightly more present midrange might be effective in making the guitar stand out among other instruments.

Taylor Circa 74 amp on table with acoustic guitar
The Circa 74 is fairly compact at 14″ x 16″ x 9″.

Not having ES electronics available, I tested Taylor’s promise that the amp was suitable for all electronics and was easily able to dial in pleasing tones with three pickup systems, including both passive (Schoenberg 000-12c with K&K Pure Mini and Hamblin GC with Barbera) and active (Charis SJ with Trance Audio Amulet system). The EQ controls have well-chosen frequencies for acoustic guitar, with the midrange control centered at 500Hz being especially effective at fine tuning. The reverb, described by Taylor as a room-style effect, adds a pleasant sense of ambience when used in moderation.

The amp has plenty of power, far more than will be needed in a home setting, and enough to play coffee shops or other small venues. Of course, for louder situations, you can use the DI out to send the sound to a PA system.

The Bottom Line

The Circa 74’s good looks will understandably attract most people’s initial attention. But even ignoring the visual appeal, it is a good-sounding, no-nonsense amp, with easy-to-use controls, and tuned for natural acoustic guitar sounds. At $1,199 street, it is not the cheapest way to amplify your guitar, but when you combine good sound, an excellent feature set, and solid construction with a beautiful furniture-inspired design, the Circa 74 is a very attractive package, to say the least.

taylorguitars.com

Acoustic Guitar magazine cover for issue 347

This article originally appeared in the July/August 2024 issue of Acoustic Guitar magazine.

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