Thứ Hai, 11 tháng 7, 2011

Neodymium “Light-weight” Speaker Cabinet Review

Neodymium “Light-weight” Speaker Cabinet Review

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Neodymium “Light-weight” Speaker Cabinet Review
By Jay M. Lewis
Neodymium….what is it? Aside from being a metal on the periodic table of elements (symbol: Nd, atomic weight: 144.24), it has played a key role in the evolution of bass gear in the first decade of the new millennium and could potentially change forever how we view bass speaker cabinets and the speakers within. Although discovered in 1841, but not isolated in its pure form until 1925, neodymium was traditionally used for non-musical applications. For decades it has been used to impart a purple, violet, dark red or gray tint to glass. Neodymium is the substance that is used to treat the glass shield on a welder's mask and has also been used in laser lenses.
The key to the relatively recent emergence of neodymium-equipped speaker cabinets in the bass world is based on the fact that the substance has a comparatively light weight compared to that of traditional speaker magnets. When you think about it, there really isn't much to a speaker cabinet….the wood used to build the frame, the speakers, and possibly a crossover and horn level control…pretty simple, right? But if it's so simple, then why do those things weigh so darn much?!?! It all boils down to a few things…the weight of the speaker magnets, the strength of the box needed to house and support those speakers and their heavy magnets, and the number of speakers mounted in the box. In other words, while the overall design might not be that complex, it can all add up in the end.

With neodymium speaker magnets weighing considerably less than alnico and ceramic speaker magnets, the weight-saving properties of neodymium speakers is immediate. Depending on the manufacturer and the size of the speaker, it would not be uncommon to realize a weight savings of 10-15 lbs per speaker in a bass enclosure. This factor becomes even more significant when one thinks about how many drivers are included in most gig-worthy bass cabs. A 4X10 quickly goes from being a lower-back nightmare to a cab that one normal-sized human being can manage, and a 8X10 or 2X15 that previously required a high school football team to haul from gig-to-gig becomes a cab that two band mates can easily manage. Further, due to the differences in weight, the speaker frame doesn't need to be nearly as beefy with neo speakers as it does for traditional speakers. Consequently, the speaker cabinets themselves don't need to be as big and bulky. Poplar plywood or synthetic materials can be more readily used in the construction of neo-equipped bass cabs and are favored for their high strength-to-weight ratios over the more traditional Baltic birch cabinets that are noticeably heavier.
While neodymium speaker magnets might sound like the answer to our prayers, there are reasons why this material has just recently become popular in the bass community. First, the materials can be costly. While the substance is not rare by any means, either speaker manufacturers have to become comfortable and proficient in working with the substance or speaker cabinet manufacturers must design and manufacturer their own propriety speakers….which is a costly and time-consuming proposition (NOTE: Both EA and Accugroove design and produce their own proprietary neodymium drivers). Neodymium magnets are extremely brittle and are so prone to corrosion that they are usually sealed with oil or epoxy to protect the magnets from deterioration. Another concern is the magnet's sensitivity. Neodymium magnets are highly sensitive, and while this is one of their positive attributes for use in musical applications, this hyper-sensitivity diminishes with heat. Unfortunately, once a neo speaker has suffered “heat fatigue”, the speaker's magnet is irreparably damaged. While this can happen, it is important to note that “heat fatigue” has not been a significant issue in practice as cab builders are aware of the potential issue and have engineered around this problem. One other concern involves the tonal properties that the magnets impart to neo-equipped cabinets. Neodymium speakers tend to have a bump in the midrange which some players may find to be unmusical or undesirable. While some speaker manufacturers have managed to reduce the impact of this midrange “bump” in neodymium speakers, others have not. Further, while some players might not care for a modern cab with additional midrange, some might actually prefer this type of tone (a common knock against “modern-sounding” cabs is that they are often voiced to scoop mid-range frequencies). As in all cases regarding tone, whether you regard this feature of neo speakers as a positive, negative, or a wash will ultimately be determined by personal preference.
Because the trend in the bass world seems to be heading in the direction of gear that is better and/or more powerful and smaller and/or lighter with respect to just about every aspect of the bass guitar, I thought that it would be interesting to take a look at an assortment of lightweight bass cabinets from some of the top bass enclosure manufacturers. All three of the cabinets reviewed here are designed to significantly reduce the overall weight of the cabinet without resulting in a significant compromise in tone. I've spent several months with these cabs and have tested them under a variety of conditions using a Stewart 2.1 power amp, a SWR Interstellar Overdrive preamp, and a variety of basses including a Lull P4, P5, M4V, M5V, Roscoe 5 and 6 strings, Benavente 4 and 5 strings, an Eshenbaugh J5, and a Nordstrand NSC5. Also, all cabs were tested with the EQ set flat on both the SWR preamp and any bass that was equipped with an on-board preamp. And with that order of business out of the way...let's get to it!
Epifani UL-210
2 x 250w RMS Cast Aluminum Frame 100w RMS Tweeter
Freq Response: 40hz - 16khz
Power Rating: 500w RMS (1200w Peak)
8 or 4 Ohms
Suggested Wattage: 200w - 1000w
Dimensions: 18 1/2" H x 23 " W x 17 3/4" D
Sensitivity: 102db SPL @ 1w 1m
Weight: 38 lbs.

The first cabinet I evaluated was the Epifani UL-210 equipped with a bullet tweeter (500 watts RMS, 4 ohms). Since the name of the game is weight, I was immediately impressed with the weight, or lack thereof, of the Epifani. Checking in at a mere 38 lbs, this cab was extremely easy to lift and carry. The neodymium speakers and Italian poplar used in the construction of the cab contribute to a weight savings of 14 lbs. over Epifani's NYC 210 cab. The two forward-mounted side handles were strategically placed to make lifting and moving the cab a breeze, and the overall size of the box was just big enough to accommodate the 2 10” Epifani neo speakers, a bullet tweeter, and the crossover/rear panel box. The cab didn't come with casters, but I can't imagine why anyone would ever need them for such a portable cabinet. I'm not a big guy, but I could easily lift the cabinet with one hand. Now THAT'S portability!!! The Epifani UL was covered in standard black carpet with lockable corners and was outfitted with a tweeter level control, two quarter inch input jacks, and two Speakon jacks on the rear panel.
I was extremely interested to try out the Epifani UL because my main gigging cabinet is an Epifani T-310. Over the last several years, I've been very pleased with this cab, but even for a 3X10, it isn't necessarily the easiest thing to haul around. It will easily fit in the back seat of a sedan, and takes up very little room on stage, but a 27 lb. swing between the T-310 and the UL-210 was as obvious as a smack in the forehead with a 2X4! Even though it isn't necessarily fair to compare the 210 to a 310, the weight differences are still significant, and going up-and-down stairs or trying to navigate icy, slippery sidewalks would be much easier hauling 2 210ULs to a gig than it would be trying to handle a NYC 310 or 410 in one trip. The other aspect of the cab that was immediately obvious was its aural similarity to the Epifani NYC line. While the UL didn't sound exactly like my T-310, the similarities were evident. The UL dished out some serious low-end, and for a compact 2X10, handled the devastating low B of a Roscoe 3005 with ease. When pushed hard, the cab held its own and never gave the impression that it was about to implode, like other lesser cabs can do. The UL stayed tight throughout and never farted out or sounded strained. The highs were true to the Epifani sound…clear, snappy, and aggressive. When slapping on a Benavente SC5, the tight low-mids of the Bennie were easily translated by the cab, and slap lines rang true and clear. I did detect an upper midrange presence in the UL that might be due to the neodymium speakers, but I enjoyed the extra fullness and even response that it added to the cabinet. If you feel that the Epifani NYC cabs have too much of a “scooped” sound for your taste but still like an aggressive-sounding full-range cab, then the ULs could be right up your alley. Overall, this little cab is extremely impressive. The neo speakers might add a little more midrange to the sound of the cabinet, but the overall tonal response is very full, round, and punchy. The UL can easily handle an extended range bass, would be excellent for rehearsals, small gigs or coffee houses, and if powered adequately, could even be a stand-alone cab in moderate to loud settings. Stack up a pair of UL-210s and you could easily cover larger rooms or louder gigs. Overall, the quality and workmanship were excellent, and at the end of the day, the UL-210 still sounds like an Epifani.
Accugroove Tri 210L
2-10" Neodymium Woofers with die cast aluminum frames 1-6" mid range 2-Soft Textile Dome Tweeters w/ attenuators
2 Speakon jacks & 2 sealed 1/4" jacks.
Power Rating: 600 watts RMS at Both 4 & 8 ohms w/ Accuswitch Frequency Response & SPL: 39 Hz-18 kHz (35 Hz@-6db) 103 SPL
Weight: 57 lbs.
Recessed castor sockets for pop-in casters.
Dimensions: 21 1/4"H x 24 3/4"W x 18 1/4" D
The Accugroove Tri 210L was up next, and it was definitely the most unique and feature-laden cab of the bunch. Of course, it was also the largest and heaviest too. The Tri 210L (600 watts RMS at 4 or 8 ohms) weighted in at 57 lbs. While that might not sound like a “lightweight” cab to most people, when you consider that the Tri 210L houses 2 10” drivers, a 6” midrange driver, and two dome tweeters, each contained in their own individual enclosures within the overall cabinet itself, 57 lbs is more understandable. In fact, using lightweight materials in the design of the speakers and enclosures themselves is just about the only way to keep the weight of these cabs within reason. Accugroove's “cab within a cab” design, multiple drivers, and ¾” Baltic birch cabinets would just make them too heavy and cumbersome for the average musician to haul around alone.
While the black carpet, interlocking plastic corners, and rigid metal grille are pretty much standard for high-end bass cabs, the back panel was anything but ordinary on this Accugroove. The Tri 210L was equipped with Accugroove's new “Accuswitch” technology, which allows the cab's ohm rating to be selected via a mini-toggle in the rear of the cab between 4 and 8 ohms. As far as I'm concerned, this is an absolutely brilliant idea conceived and executed by the guys at Accugroove. This one switch gives the cab user a tremendous amount of flexibility and versatility in how the cab is used by itself or in conjunction with other bass enclosures. The 6” mid speaker and the two dome tweeters are also protected by self-resetting circuit breakers, which replace the more typical fuses and light bulbs that protect high-end drivers in other cabs. If something should threaten the integrity of one of these speakers, the circuit would trip, protecting the speaker from damage, and would reset itself 10 seconds later. The fact that these circuit breakers operate independent of the other drivers means that if one of the drivers should be shut off, for whatever reason, the others would continue to work. Other features on the back panel include two ¼”, two Speakon connectors, and level controls for the 6” mid driver and the two dome tweeters.
Upon hearing the Tri 210L for the very first time, I was immediately struck by how different this cabinet sounded from every other bass cabinet that I had ever tried….and at one point or another, I've tried just about everything! While Accugroove's propriety drivers and “cabinet within a cabinet” construction probably play a role, I think that Accugroove's dome tweeters have the most significant impact on the tone and performance of their bass enclosures. The Tri 210L is one of only a few bass cabs that you'll find on the market today that utilizes a dome tweeter, in place of the more common horn or bullet tweeter, to handle the upper frequencies. The treble response of the Accugroove was very warm, natural, and balanced. This is in sharp contrast to the sometimes “over the top sizzle” that you get from cabs that are loaded with high-pass horns. In general, the overall response of the cab was very even and smooth from top to bottom. The downsized cab easily handled the low B of a Roscoe 3005, and the 6” mid driver was very helpful in allowing the cab to reveal the nuances between a Lull P5 and a Lull M5V. The lows were solid and the mids were unusually detailed. I was impressed at how the Tri 210L seemed to act more like a home stereo speaker than it did a bass enclosure, as all 5 speakers seemed to be working together as a unit as opposed to individual speakers assigned to reproduce a predetermined range of frequencies housed in one common box.
Old 03-01-2005, 10:24 AM
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Lastly, I evaluated Euphonic Audio's first foray into the lightweight cab arena. The NL-210 (500 watts RMS, 8 ohms) was the smallest of the three cabs, but weighed in at 44 lbs. While 44 lbs. is not light enough for you to balance the cab on your head while jumping rope, it is a very reasonable weight for a 2X10 cab. When you consider that a 2X10 EA cab not utilizing lightweight components would thunder in at a whopping 82 lbs., the benefits of using neodymium speaker magnets and imported poplar is HUGE! Let me say that one more time. Using lightweight components in the NL-210 resulted in a weight savings of 38 lbs., converting a potentially prohibitively heavy 2X10 into a very portable bass cabinet.
Euphonic Audio NL-210
Configuration: 2 X 10"
Woofer: 2 custom neodymium Kevlar 10"
Tweeter: 1" Phenolic Compression Driver Tweter Level Control: located on rear connection panel Frequency Response:45 Hz to 14 kHz
Sensitivity: 100 db @ 1m
Sound Pressure Level: 127 db @ 1m
Power Handling: 500 watts
Impedance: 8 ohm
Commection: One 1/4 " jack, two Speakon
Size: 22.5"H x 17"W x 15"D
Weight: 44 lbs
Like the other cabs, the EA features two ¼” and two Speakon input jacks in the rear of the cab, and a level control for the 1” compression driver that compliments the two proprietary EA Kevlar 10” neodymium speakers. However, unlike the previous cabs, the EA cabinet is covered in three layers of epoxy resin and finished with one layer of polyurethane. For bass enthusiasts who can't stand the site of another cat hair clinging to your carpeted bass cabinet or can't tolerate the cab smelling like beer and cigarettes for three weeks after your last gig, then EA's cab covering will be a godsend! While the covering might not appeal to everyone, I can assure you that it does work and it makes a difference. The cab that I currently keep in my band's rehearsal space has been absolutely ravaged by the feline who shares the space. If I left the EA cab there, I wouldn't have to spend 30 minutes before each rehearsal de-hairing my cab like a mother gorilla checking her baby for ticks and mites! As with the other cabs reviewed, the look and build quality of the EA are excellent. While the cab is a bit bulky to lift, the side handles built into the cab and retractable handle recessed into the bottom are extremely handy. The good thing, though, is that the cab's small footprint and diminutive size means that it will take up virtually no room on stage or in the practice space. This is one compact, potent package!
The tone of the EA was extremely focused, yielding deep, tight lows and sweet highs. The tightness and definition of the NL-210's low end was exceptional. The proprietary EA speakers were lightening quick, demonstrated a good transient response for slapping and kept fingerstyle lines defined and punchy. The NL would make anyone with an extended range bass want to throw their 4X10 or 2X12 out the window, as lower register playing on a Nordstrand SC5 was as thick and fat as one could ever ask for. Further, while the high-end was crisp and detailed, it was never oppressively harsh or shrill. The 1” phenolic compression driver was well balanced with the 10” drivers with the level set at the mid-level ( noon ) position. I found that it gave the cab's high-end a compressed, nasal quality that should appeal to players who are looking for a modern sound but might not necessarily want that hi-fi sizzle found in other high-end bass cabinets. EA's regular line of cabs (those not loaded with neodymium drivers) are often described as being flat…akin to what you would expect to hear from a studio monitor. Based on what I heard from the NL, I would say that this description still applies. I did recognize a slight bump in the cab's upper midrange, but considering that EA has specifically engineered its own neo drivers to eliminate (or at least reduce) the harsh, unmusical midrange bump that is associated with a neo driver of lesser quality, I would say that the goal has been accomplished in this instance.
Overall, the submissions from these three top-tier bass cabinet manufacturers were outstanding. The quality of materials and the quality of construction were excellent. Any one of these cabinets should last a lifetime and should stand up to even the most rigorous abuse on the road. While I don't think I'd recommend tossing your EA cabinet out of the window of your hotel room instead of the TV the next time you go on a nation-wide tour, all three companies have established a reputation for quality, and I haven't seen anything that would indicate anything different. The other benefit to bass players and bass enthusiasts is that all three cabs are unique and individualistic. It's nice to see diversity in the marketplace. While all three are build well, handle tons of power, are lightweight and portable, they also sound different from “the next guy's cab”. The Epifani is a great modern-sounding cab. It has full, deep, rich lows, thumpy mids, and a clean, glassy top end. Slappers and players who are looking for a modern, aggressive cab should really dig this one. The Accugroove is very smooth and balanced from top to bottom. The lows and mids are punchy and defined, the bottom-end is detailed, and the top is sweet and naturally silky. While the Accugroove is an excellent all-around cab, I think that players who are looking for a more natural-sounding high-end will really appreciate this one. The dual dome tweeters soften up slap lines but still give a presence and definition to fingerstyle grooves that is refreshing. If you're looking for a modern cab that's small, can handle a hefty power load, but doesn't have that zingy “modern cab sound”, then the Accugroove is definitely worth checking out. As for EA, it almost fits right in-between the Epifani and the Accugroove. It has well-defined low-end response, super-tight bass and mids, and a top-end that sounds bright but is a bit more compressed than your average “modern” horn-loaded enclosure. The EA, despite being loaded with neodymium speakers, still retains that “studio monitor” evenness. Just be prepared to drive it with some serious power and the cab will respond with some serious thump!
Despite the fact that there are real differences between these three lightweight bass cabinets, they all did what they were designed to do….they allowed the true voice of the instrument and player to shine through. The differences between basses and between bass manufacturers were evident. A “P” sounded like a “P” and a “J” sounded like a “J”. A Benavente sounded like a Benavente and a Roscoe sounded like a Roscoe. And while each cab was tested flat, they all responded extremely well to changes in EQ. This is just what I would expect from cabinets of this caliber, and if you can easily carry them down a flight of stairs, toss ‘em in the car and go, then that's just an added bonus. It will be exciting to see where lightweight materials and technology will take us in the years to come, but from the look of things, the lightweight revolution is off to a resounding start!