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A skeptic's review: Genz Benz ShuttleMax 6.0 & XB3 410 {Part 1: construction}

Discussion in 'Amps [BG]' started by pablomigraine, Dec 9, 2009.

  1. pablomigraine

    pablomigraine Supporting Member

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    Just got my Shuttlemax 6.0 and XB3 410 in the mail. Since we just got hit with a big snowstorm here last nite, I probably wont be venturing out to the rehearsal space to grab a bass until later, so this morning's review will focus on my obsessive need to completely disassemble everything I own before using it!

    Now I should say that I have been an SMPS skeptic, if not a class D skeptic for a long time. Several years ago I switched from integrated heads to components due to most heads on the market not delivering anywhere near their rated power. Later, I broke down and bought a featherweight head that was getting quite a bit of hype at the time and, while I loved the sound, was not impressed with it's construction and willingness to get pulled, knocked or vibrated right off the top of the speaker cabinet.

    After having tried Jim Bergantino's IP series, I began to believe that Class D amps with SMPS were truly on thier way to competing with big iron trannies and rows upon rows of soda can capacitors in terms of audio performance and plain 'ole seat of the pants oommph...

    ShuttleMax 6.0:
    Much has been said about this unit already, and it's all true. Extremely high quality potentiometers up front. The push-buttons are of the medium grade spring loaded type and have cosmetic polished metal tips, which were firmly attached. The superluxe knobs are not of the set-screw type, but nonetheless seem to be very sturdy. The pots and jacks front and back all have steel nuts securing them to the faceplates, however the jacks have ABS plastic housings. Make no mistake, many... in fact most.... amplifiers in the $500 - $1000 price range use all ABS plastic for thier exterior fastenings, and the steel is nice to see. Under the hood I was surprised to see Bang & Olufsen's brand new 125ASX2 series integrated power amplifier / power supply board. This is a brand new release from B&O, and is one of the first to list musical instrument amplifiers as one of the intended applications.

    All wiring is neatly bundled, and the two PCB preamp boards are secured tightly to the faceplate, with the lower board having 3 support legs attached to the bottom of the case, and the top board being supported in 2 places by the bottom. This is a good example of redundancy in furtherance of reliability. The whole amp weighs less than 6lbs. If you held this unit above your head and dropped it I doubt you could rattle the PCBs without the additional support... but its there anyway... nice.

    All in all its very well constructed, and displays many thoughtful construction appointments that were lacking in the one other featherweight amp Ive owned in the past. My only disappointment was not seeing a transformer for the DI..

    XB3 410:
    Not alot has been said about this new line so far, with the lighter Uber cabs getting most of the spotlight, and I cant wait to hear how this sounds. When the cabinet arrived the plastic "Genz Benz" piece on the top center had come partially unglued, but was quickly set back into place. The grille is an extremely sturdy stamped metal job secured directly to non-carpeted bracing. One of my biggest beefs with lesser cabinets is that the grilles, and often the speakers themselves, are attached to carpeted areas. This leads to all type of problems, especially with the drivers. Not so here. The speaker baffle, and the port shelf interior, is sprayed with tough, EAW-type coating. True to their design statements, the main front support spine edges are radiused at the shelf port.

    The cabinet came supplied with 4 small slide-in type casters. These have sturdy frames and took some effort to pop in (which is good, as they wont accidentally pop out). I do however wish they had opted for slightly larger wheels, as these are the little 4" jobbers. I will probably be looking into larger replacements.

    I suspected that I would likely not be a fan of the upper edge-mounted handles, and I was right..... somewhat. If you're carrying this unit by yourself, your basically banging into the cab with your legs when you walk, as one is unable to lift it high enough to get the bottom of the cab to one's waist as side handles would allow. However, when moving the cab around on the casters, the handle placement is perfect since one doesn't have to bend all the way down. Carrying the cab with a friend on the other side is also a breeze using this placement so I guess it's a mixed blessing.

    Popping the rear L-pad off reveals a high-quality rotary pot for tweeter level control, and a beefy looking, custom crossover. Wiring was neat and heavy, insulated wire is used. ( you wouldn't believe how many cabinets Ive popped open to find stringy, car audio wire heaped inside!) At first glance, interior construction is impressive. The speaker baffle is made of dense MDF, and the rest of the box is of 3/4" plywood that seems of a very high grade. The front "Spine" of the cabinet runs from the bottom of the shelf port all the way up, and is both nailed and glued heavily. The MDF speaker baffle has plywood edge supports on three side, all nailed and glued, and the shelf port is also reinforced (however this is not radiused as is the support). Two thick,wide, front-to-back plywood braces are situated horizontally between the speakers. Every interior surface with the exception of the speaker baffle and front-to-back braces is covered with acoustic foam. Not the super high quality Auralex stuff, but the medium-high grade acoustic damping foam. This is nice to see, as Ive seen more than one $1,000+ ported cabinet with no acoustic batting or insulation whatsoever, and still more with this 1/4" stuff that looks like carpet padding and probably is. The last thing one notices is that the drivers are secured with large, oversized T-nuts.... something rarely seen anymore and quite welcome. Very sturdy cabinet.

    The speakers are Genz-spec'd Eminence stamped frame, and are of the oversized magnet, vented pole piece variety.

    Sooo that's it for what my eyes tell me..... I will be back tomorrow with an exhaustive and boring review of what my ears tell me later tonite!
  2. jnewmark

    jnewmark Supporting Member

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    Nice review. I own the Neox 212T cab with the plastic casters on the back. I have to stoop over a little to move the cab on these casters and I don't think they will last too long. Rubber would have been better. Overall though, I love the sound of this cab and it's light enough that I can lift it into my hatchback Scion without much problem.
  3. Pilgrim

    Pilgrim Supporting Member

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    I'll be waiting for the rest - and subscribed. I can't play with my Shuttle 6.0 until after Christmas, and it's sitting in the spare bedroom, calling me.
  4. agedhorse

    agedhorse Development Engineer-Mesa, Product Support-Genz Supporting Member

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    I would like to clarify and comment on a couple items.

    1. The plastic input jack has to do with a couple of performance reasons. First, the contact style is a wiping contact cantilever beam style rather than just a simple pressure contact. This is much more reliable for use as an input jack and more forgiving of the differences in profiles of the wide array of instrument cable plugs that are now on the market from all over the world. It's amazing how 1/4" means nothinmg to some manufacturers. ;) The other reason has to do with isolating ground paths internal to the amp. There are two seperate grounding paths and a complete RF grounding and isolation system designed into it. That's why you don't hear complaints of RFI (radio interference) with any of our products.

    2. The DI does not use a transformer, the output circuit is something I designed many years ago based on the balanced line drivers that I used in the pro audio world. There's isolation additional to what is typically used in the MI world, as well as ground current steering and isolation and RFI management. Again, this is for performance reasons, to eliminate any negative effects at very low frequencies as well as the propensity for inductive coupling of interference into the magnetic circuit.

    All of my design princilples come from designing and working with equipment in the touring audio world. Reliability and freedom from unexpected or unanticipated operational and mechanical problems are a big deal in that market and we have translated this into all of our MI products.
  5. pablomigraine

    pablomigraine Supporting Member

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    Thanks for the clarification! I have heard said that certain input jacks have a lot of trouble with certain Planet Waves cables dues to the "bump" they have in the shaft. Just checked.... this is not one of those units. Good job and obviously some foresight put into this!


    I did forget to mention the extensive grounding present and the large metal shield isolating the output connections from the rest of the chassis interior. Again, good show....

    Ich verstehe nicht was Sie sagen, gleichwohl es nett klingt!

    and it shows!

    :bassist:
  6. hasbeen

    hasbeen

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    thanks for the review Paul...I hope you like the performance.

    FWIW, I'm not a fan of the casters either. ...I always bust a thumb nail getting them in and out. :mad: I have to talk to somebody about that. :bag:
  7. tombowlus

    tombowlus If it sounds good, it is good Gold Supporting Member

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    +1 I hear you there, Andy. And woe to those who use basses with enclosed barrel input jacks... :rollno:
  8. agedhorse

    agedhorse Development Engineer-Mesa, Product Support-Genz Supporting Member

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    My personal preference for casters is 4" w/ dual shielded ball bearings. It's common in big pro audio but pretty much unheard of in the MI field, makes the cabinets sit pretty high and are unstable for small footprints. Great for larger items and roll much better.
  9. agedhorse

    agedhorse Development Engineer-Mesa, Product Support-Genz Supporting Member

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    Yeah, you ever have to use a pair of vice grips and a come-along to remove a stubborn plug? ;)
  10. rok51

    rok51 Supporting Member

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    Not the come along...definitely the vise grips...pushing the cab with my foot whilst I provided tractive power through the vise grips...as the static became dynamic...of course I fell on my butt! (got the plug out, tho')
    :D

    I think I have mentioned my affinity for Speakons...somewhere...

    Kim
  11. agedhorse

    agedhorse Development Engineer-Mesa, Product Support-Genz Supporting Member

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    And the good news Kim, is that you didn't land on the plug right ;)
  12. jnewmark

    jnewmark Supporting Member

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    It would be a nice option to order the neox 212T without the tiltback casters. I would then use a dolly with rubber wheels. As it is right now, it is somewhat awkward to roll as you need to stoop over a bit, and those thin, plastic wheels don't look like they will last very long. As far as making the cabinet taller, all the better, imho. The closer it gets to my ears, the more I like it !
  13. tombowlus

    tombowlus If it sounds good, it is good Gold Supporting Member

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    Wow, nothing that bad, but I do hate how the "fat" plugs stretch things out and then you get intermittent contact with a "regular" plug. :rollno:
  14. rok51

    rok51 Supporting Member

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    Yes, there IS a Santa Claus!
    :help:
  15. pablomigraine

    pablomigraine Supporting Member

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    Okay so I showed up with about half an hour to get to know my new rig. I set the amp up with the footswitch, Tuner plugged in, Tube channel selected, gain at 3 oclock, Volume all the way up, Global controls off. I plugged in my bass (jazz, flat, slight preference for the bridge pickup).

    The first thing that struck me was how even this amp/cab combo sounds set flat. The crossover is very nice, and the HF driver is quite silky. With the exception of a slightly scratchy master volume knob, everything on the STLMX was perfect.

    I decided to try and dial in... My original setup goal for this head was to have the tube channel be my "Go-To" fingerstyle tone, the FET channel to be my "solo" channel, with a higher clean gain structure and boosted bass and treble, and use the global controls sparingly if at all. Things in fact did not turn out this way at all... but more on that later.

    Now, I'm a compulsive knob-twister.... one of several reason I generally avoid amps with extensive eq options, as I'm likely to spend more time fiddling than playing. However in this case, it did not take me long to dial in to my liking. The EQ is very VERY precise and well plotted out, if not the most forgiving. The bass knob is set right where I like it, at 80Hz. This is a very nice, progressive control, and the sub-cut filter is almost imperceptible. The midrange semi-parametrics are very precise. They seem to have a very wide Q, and after messing with them for a while I came to the conclusion they were to be used sparingly. They are very precise and powerful.. and you can really get yourself in trouble when cutting or boosting too much. The treble was also quite wide and sugary... but can get a little shrill in its upper extension. I dialed in a slight low mid bump around 200hz, and a generous boost of hi mids around 3.5Khz. Bass was slightly boosted, and treble slightly cut. This gave me a nice burpy tone without being nasal. Overdrive took some work to achieve, and required the HI gain button to be engaged with my passive J bass 5 string. Once there, its quite good. Very controllable. Despite reports of negligible differences, I will probably do some tube rolling.... I have a NOS RCA I'd like to try and an especially buttery JJ 12AU7 I might drop in for kicks.

    Setting up the FET channel went much the same way, although its important to note, that until you get past noon on the gain knob of the tube channel, the difference in tone between the two channels is imperceptible when set flat. EQ changes net real differences however.... the tube channel, regardless of gain settings, begins to compress ever so slightly when anything more than slight bass boost is used. I like that. The midrange tones on the tube channel are creamy and thumpy, as where the FET channel is a little more surgical.... making it all the more natural choice for slap tones. I set this channel up with a bit more bass boost and a low-mid cut around 400hz.... a tone that sounds best to me when unaccompanied....with a slightly higher gain structure so I could use it as both a solo boost and solo-tailored eq.

    When I first bought this amp, I imagined the global controls to be totally redundant and didn't see myself using them much. I was surprised to discover how powerful, usable and totally different from the channel EQ these controls are!! The bass boost, when set conservatively, can immediately compensate for lower volume playing. It is TOTALLY unobtrusive and musical when used carefully. For my purposes I set it at about 2 oclock and will be using it as a "Breakdown Switch" for very heavy unison passages that could benefit from a little extra shove.The midrange cut was veeeeerrrry wide and very musical as well.... I liked it so much I decided to leave it on all the time, set at about 11 oclock. This gave me yet another option for when doing melody runs mid-song to give myself a little extra clarity without overall gain increase by stitching the scoop in and out via footswitch. The treble boost was just the ticket for slappy sounds on the FET channel. Overall I was just thrilled with the setup. Once you get your major tones set up with the channel EQ's.... you can forget them completely and adjust for different rooms, playing levels and even styles just by tweaking the three global controls. I realize now that this was likely the intended effect of this setup.... the forethought that has gone into the design of this amp is impressive to be sure. Having all these tones and gain structures available by footswitch on the fly is the icing on the cake. After some experimentation, I couldn't foresee a scenario where I would use the MIX feature, and personally would have much rather seen the MUTE function on the footswitch instead.

    One thing that had me puzzled.... If I had my tube channel selected with the gain up, and pushed it hard... the red Input O/L (overlimit) light on the FET channel would begin to blink.... push it harder and BOTH the Tube and FET channel O/L lights would blip. Selecting the FET channel and overdriving it.. only the FET light would blip.... cant quite figure that one out...

    Now it came time to test the limits of the output board. As I said before, I have always been a components guy due to my disappointment with the output capabilities of most integrated heads, regardless of topology,... and I was least impressed with some of the class D stuff I tried a few years ago... so it was time to test this class D featherweight's muscle......On the FET channel, I gave the bass knob a liberal boost. Cut 400Hz all the way down, cut 2Khz, engaged all three global controls set at max, and turned the volume waaaayyy up. BAM! Aggressive fingerstyle thwacking produced a result so powerful a cd tower on the other side of the room, as well as several wall hangings came crashing down. This amp really has amazing power for a class D / SMPS unit.... in fact the best Ive heard yet. That being said...the real "Rip and Snort" I get from the big Class A/B amps was almost there, but definitely not in full effect. Still.... I find myself convinced that I will be perfectly satisfied with the output of this amp going forward, especially in light of its portability.

    The XB3 cab is, in fact, quite traditional sounding in the good way, and capable of putting out some serious low-bass shove.... the midrange growl and buzz I appreciate so much from cabs like the Berg HS410 (The benchmark in 410's IMHO) was present, but subdued. Well voiced for rock, and crossed over at 4Khz as opposed to the more popular 3.5Khz... again lending to the rock n roll feel. Not so traditional was the surreal low-end extension the cabinet has. Its extremely "deep" sounding for being as compact as it is. She also has honest projection that makes it sound very "Live" when standing 30 ft away. While very capable, and head and shoulders above many many popular (and more expensive) 410's on the market... methinks I see an Uber 410 in my future... or more likely an XB3 810...

    During loud rehearsals the rig performed quite well. No matter what else was going on... the notes spoke through everything clearly and in a well defined fashion without artificial mid-boosting being required. I'm very impressed.

    Next week: Gig report and studio stuff!
  16. pablomigraine

    pablomigraine Supporting Member

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    Spent a few hours practicing and sorting eq structures out this morning thru headphones. After a lot of messing around Ive decided (much to my surprise) that I prefer the FET channel for my standard fingerstyle tone, and will be switching the Tube channel in and our for certain passages that I feel will benefit from a little grind and a more "metal" tone. I usually use a pretty standard, altho slightly beefier, "jazz" type fingerstyle tone, which actually lends itself quite well to really busy mixes. Ive always felt the reason many metal bassists cannot be heard in the mix is their propensity for over-scooping.

    Just for kicks I set the FET channel flat and A/B'd it with the bass plugged into the Mater FX receive jack.... again to my surprise.... this amp has a bit of extra upper-midrange bite and treble inherent in its preamp section, and the Tube channel even more so with the gain set higher. There's been a lot said about "FLAT" sounding amps etc.... and what coloration there is to this amp is very VERY musical, and lends itself to requiring less corrective EQ, at least for this player. Still loving it.

    The part I love most of all is just having headphone outs. Having a 6lb integrated head I can throw in my gigbag and bring home with me from rehearsal and jam thru headphones is just wonderful, and will result in increase practice time.... a bonus!
  17. agedhorse

    agedhorse Development Engineer-Mesa, Product Support-Genz Supporting Member

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    The input LEDs are always active and monitoring each signal path regardless of the path being used. This is because, when using a footswitch and switching and mixing channels, it's always good to have a visual indication of where in the operating range of each preamp you are running. Helps to avoid unexpected results. Each signal path is monitored in several places (after the head amp, tube, eq etc) to insure accurate monitoring of the major processing blocks.

    The filter topologies used for the tone shaping are quyite different than those used for the eq, they will indeed sound very different.
  18. pablomigraine

    pablomigraine Supporting Member

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    That's putting it mildly.... these are very well voiced controls. I tip my hat to you sir...
  19. agedhorse

    agedhorse Development Engineer-Mesa, Product Support-Genz Supporting Member

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    Thank you, enjoy your amp.

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