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Acoustic Image "Focus Contra" plus Focus EX cabinet

Discussion in 'Amps, Mics & Pickups [DB]' started by LowNote, Dec 7, 2005.

  1. LowNote

    LowNote Supporting Member

    Jan 31, 2002
    Edinburgh, Scotland
    Although I’ve used Acoustic Image gear almost since the company produced its first product, I’ve now put together a combination of their equipment that sounds absolutely wonderful. I already owned a Series II Focus 1R amp that I have been using with both upright—with an Acme B-1 cabinet—and with bass guitar, using a Schroeder 1212 or a Schroeder Mini12+. With the model changeover, I purchased one of the Contra EX cabinets that were (are still?) available for $300 based on the incredibly positive experience of a guitarist friend of mine who had purchased two of them. He was driving them with the same Focus amp I have and raved about how clean and powerful and accurate the combination was.

    When the Contra EX arrived, I connected my Focus to it and put it through its paces at home using both my Hatchez carved bass set up with Obligatos and a Schertler StatB, and my Eastman hybrid set up with Eudoxas and a Fishman Full Circle. I was really impressed with how good the Focus/Contra EX sounded, and while the Acme B-1 still sounded wonderful, I preferred the sound of the Contra EX. I found it to be more focused and punchier than the B-1. I sold the B-1 to a jazz guitarist pal who drives it with a Series 1 Clarus amp that I sold him when I first got my Focus.

    The real magic started when I disconnected the amp head from my AI New Yorker and attached its speaker cabinet to the Focus as effectively a second Contra EX. The sound just got incredibly better—fuller/fatter, punchier, louder and with no boominess or nasal sounding tones. I experimented with using the EX cabinets flat on the floor, or propped up with the short lifter, and to my ears preferred the sound with the lifter. It sounded more open and less strangled. I positioned the cabinets side by side which also had the benefit of pushing out the sound in a pattern that covers more than 180 degrees. I was so bowled over by the sound of the Focus with two Contra EX cabinets that I purchased a second EX that arrived yesterday.

    Last night I played the Focus-double Contra EX rig behind a loud 18-piece big band in a night club seating about 150 with no house sound system. I got several compliments from the leader and the guys in the band on how good my bass sounded (I was using the Eastman that has become my main gigging axe since the value of the Hachez has soared) and I was bowled over by how loud I was able to get with the sound staying totally “controlled” with no boominess or nasal sounds. I keep coming back to the same adjectives—punchy, fat, clear with incredible presence and yet my bass sounded like a string bass and not a bass guitar. I’m working every day this week with bands including full big bands, a mini big band doing 1930s music, a piano trio plus tenor sax plus female vocalist, and a duo with a piano. I can’t wait to hear how it sounds with all of these groups since the two Contra EX/Focus combination also sounded wonderful at low volumes in my living room, i.e., it didn’t need big volume to achieve the sound I’m seeking.

    Although the AI New Yorker is also an incredible piece of gear and the SL amp that it uses is particularly sweet sounding, with my Eastman bass I found that the absence of a High Pass filter to take out the boominess of the Full Circle pickup hurts its sound at high volumes. For high volume applications—like big bands—I find the Focus/Contra EX combination to have the superior sound. Part of learning how to get the maximum out of the Focus is learning the interaction of the bass control and high pass filter to make your instrument sound like a bass and yet not be boomy or flabby sounding. I haven’t spent enough time with the Hachez/Schertler bass—which has very different tone qualities with much less boominess than the Eastman/Full Circle—to know how critical the High Pass filter is to getting the sound I’m seeking. One of the reasons the Schertler StatB sounds so good is that the little phantom power source box also includes a High Pass filter. One engineer I know refers to the use of Notch or High Pass filters as “corrective” eq, and that is probably a very good way to think about it.

    I spent some time in the living room with bass guitar as well, although I only used my Rob Allen fretless with tape wound strings that has a pretty distinctive voice in its own right. I also loved the sound through the AI rig, and felt that it held its own against the smaller Schroeder cabinet which is an excellent bass guitar speaker. Saturday’s quartet gig is a doubling gig, and I’m going to take the Eastman upright, the AI rig and the Rob Allen to use for the bass guitar stuff. I’m confident that it will get plenty loud and still stay punchy as hell.

    Just my experience but I’m knocked out by the combination of two Contra EX cabinets with the 750 watts that the original Focus generates when played through a 2 ohm load. I’m going to be taking the “Focus Contra” to Scotland with me when I return in the Summer (to replace a GK MB150E) and I’ll have to replace it here in Los Angeles. I’ll be very interested to see if the Series III Contra amps with their stepped up power will sound as good as the Focus does with a Contra EX. I’ll give the new Contra a try before I buy another Focus with outboard EX cabinets. However, right now THE sound is the Focus with two EX speakers.

    Erik Lars Hansen
    Los Angeles
  2. Thanks for the informative report. I'm wondering, how did you have the two EX's positioned? One on top of the other, or next to each other, far apart from each other, and where are you playing in relation to where the speakers are?
  3. SteveC

    SteveC Moderator Staff Member Supporting Member

    Nov 12, 2004
    North Dakota
    I just ordered a new Focus SA as my power amp. I hope I am as impressed.
  4. LowNote

    LowNote Supporting Member

    Jan 31, 2002
    Edinburgh, Scotland
    I tried setting the two speakers on top of each other, but found that they don't stack all that well. If you put then on the floor side by side, with lifters installed, then the front speakers are each facing about 15 degrees of of the "center line" to the audience. This dispersion seems to have made my amp more readily heard by the rest of the guys in the band. I simply put them right behind me when I played although this was governed by the smallish size of the stage. It is pretty rare to have a lot of room on stage when you're playing in a club with a big band. :cool: