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Combo Shootout (or, "the shootout no one asked for")

Discussion in 'Amps and Cabs [BG]' started by tombowlus, May 23, 2007.


  1. tombowlus

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

    Apr 3, 2003
    Fremont, Ohio
    Editor-in-Chief, Bass Gear Magazine
    Well, I had a little bit of time to do a shootout, but instead of doing some of the things I really need to, like update my 1x10 and 1x12 shootouts, instead, I did the shootout that no one asked for and no one probably cares about - the combo shootout! :p To be honest, I had been meaning to do this for a while, especially after picking up those Hughes & Kettner combos. The group is fairly diverse, but they all count as combos, so what the heck.

    Here are the contestants:
    [​IMG]

    Here are the deets, such as I could find them. The quoted wattage is into the internal speaker(s) only, unless otherwise stated.

    SWR Baby Blue II (2x8, plus 5" mid, 160w @ 4 ohms, 42 lbs)

    Eden CXC110, aka Time Traveler 10 Combo (1x10 w/ coax tweeter, 200w @ 8 ohm, but 330w @ 4 and 420w @ 2, 39 lbs)

    Roland Bass Cube-100 (1x12, w/ coax tweeter, 100w @ 8 ohm, I think, 37 lbs, 8 oz)

    Fender RAD Bass (1x10, 25w, pretty light - need to weigh)

    Phil Jones Bass Briefcase (2x5", 100w @ 4 ohm, 28 lbs)

    Hughes & Kettner QC 412 (1x12, 400w @ 4 ohm, 43 lbs)

    Hughes & Kettner QC 421 (2x10, 400w @ 4 ohm, 64 lbs)

    Trace Elliot Twin Valve Combo (1x15, 100w, all-tube, heavy :D)

    My Skjold Custom 5, which is normally my 'test bass' is at my band's practice room, so I used another bass that I am very familiar with, my primavera/redwood/wenge/wenge MTD 535. Unless otherwise noted, I set the tone controls flat, although on combos with the 'Enhance' knob, I did tweak it slightly (see notes, below). For combos with compression, I did most of my testing with the compressor set off.

    In no particular order, here are my observations:

    SWR Baby Blue II - this has become my 'reference combo' and it probably gets more playing time than any other rig I own, since it is also my primary personal practice amp. It is full, smooth and articulate, with very good definition even on the low B. It is not super sparkley up high, but you can certainly dial in some more brightness. It is fairly well balanced from top to bottom, but has more upper midrange presence than most. I had the Enhance set at about 9 o'clock. Volume-wise, it is certainly louder than you expect from its size, and it does not break up, even when pushed close to its limits.

    Eden CXC110 - I had the Enhance barely on, compressor off, and the 'Warm' switch engaged (most of the time), with other tone controls set flat. It is has more low mids than the BBII, and less upper mids, with an overall darker tone. It is somewhat hollow through the mids compared to the SWR, but with a brighter - though somewhat 'clacky' - high end. Engaging the 'Warm' switch helped smooth out the high end, I thought, and seems to fill in the mids some, too. The difference is subtle, but on the whole, I prefer it engaged. It is not as loud as the BBII, and does not stay as tight/controlled on the low B when pushed. I will say, though, that this combo, in particular, gets a notable bump in performance when you add the extension cab (more on that later).

    Roland Bass Cube-100 - this amp is a bit louder than the BBII, and has good tonal balance from top to bottom, with a strong attack and good articulation. The way the gain stages are set up, you can dial in some 'overdrive', but this seems to mean that you get at least some hint of overdrive (the tone/extent of which varies from model to model) when you push the max volume. On the whole, though, I love this 'feature', especially when playing with the amp modeling. It is not as smooth as the SWR, and in truth, the tone and attack sound a bit synthetic. The perception that you are hearing some 'digital artifacts' is ever-present, IMHO, regardless of the control settings, though it's not a major issue, and you may not hear it in a mix. Also, even with the compressor turned off, it sounds like a compressor/limiter is working in the background. This amp has LOTS of very cool features, which I didn't really get into, since the other combos don't offer anything like it. But, if a variety of models and effects appeal to you (and they do to me, to an extent), these features are definitely usable, and not mere gimmickry. Unfortunately, it is a fairly noisy amp.

    Phil Jones Bass Briefcase - This diminutive combo is not as loud as the rest (not counting the RAD Bass), and when you are hitting the low B at near max volume, it is not as thick, loud or powerful as the others. But this is to be expected. Two 5" drivers can only move so much air (the amp gets much louder when driving an external cab or two). The midrange is somewhat similar to the BBII, with a bit more clarity and presence in the upper mids and more air to the highs. At low volumes, it does a low B very well, and the tone is very full range and quite impressive. But, the lows do definitely compress at higher volumes. This combo in particular reacts to where it is positioned within a room, and placing it in a corner will help you get more low end at higher volume. This unit can be battery powered, which is pretty cool, but I ran it on AC power for this shootout.

    Fender RAD Bass - this combo has been in my stable for a long time. I have always liked its tone (and at the time I bought it, I thought it was just about the best sounding combo I had heard), but it just is not all that loud. Back when I was playing it regularly, I only had 4-string basses, and it always did fine. With a 5-string, though, the RAD really compresses like crazy on a low B. It doesn't fart or break up, but it gets very little volume out of a B-string. The midrange balance is fairly similar to the SWR, though not as smooth/full, and the highs are a bit thin and also kinda 'clacky.' You can tame the highs a bit with the EQ, but they remain kind of thin. When you push the volume limits it seems that there is a built-in limiter that is fairly aggressive. Still a very cool little amp that sounds good to my ears, but is best saved for 4-string basses.

    H&K QC 412 - this combo (and its sibling) are much, much louder than anything else (so far). It is massively powerful, and very dynamic. The tone controls are probably the most frustrating of the group, though, and this is complicated (enhanced?) by the fact that the three gain stages (I am counting the tube drive as one) also have a very audible effect on the tone of the combo. Set roughly 'flat', it has a fairly vintage vibe to it (with a more potent and tighter attack), but hitting the 'Punch' switch yields a more modern tone. But there is just a ton of tonal variety from changing up the gain stage settings, and it's hard to get a grip on just what it sounds like, since the tone changes depending upon the volume. On the whole, it is a very impressive sounding amp, but kind of difficult to dial in specific tones at specific volumes. With some familiarity, though, this amp can really shine. At the highest volumes, the low B does tend to compress a bit, but I am talking at really loud settings. The 412 has a more rich, complex and warm midrange than does the 421, but again, the 421 is bigger on the low B.

    H&K QC 421 - most of what I said for the 412 applies, but this combo is even louder, almost to the point of being scary! If anything, the 421 is even harder to dial in, tone-wise, especially in the upper mids. The midrange on the whole is not as warm and inviting as that of the 412, but with some time spent tweaking the controls, you can certain dial in a variety of midrange-pleasing tones. The 421 handles a low B better at high volume, though, and never breaks a sweat, even when driven to stupid loud levels. The grill, however, starts to vibrate at higher volume settings - I plan on installing some rubber grommets or something to address this. Like its smaller sibling, this is a tremendously powerful combo that takes some getting used to, but rewards the patient.

    Trace Elliot Twin Valve Combo - Tubes, baby! :bassist: This is the only all-tube combo in the group, and you can definitely hear it. It is nearly as loud as the H&K combos, and delivers a great deal of heft and gravitas, even at lower volumes. This amp has a killer low B, though I should add that I bought this particular combo from Steve Azola, who did do some modification to the porting (and a few other tweaks, as I recall), and I think the low B performance benefited from this. It has the most midrange texture of the group, and is more harmonically rich (no surprises, here). It is a tad warmer than the BBII, and a hint of grind at the higher volume settings. I get the impression that the amp has more to offer, and the single 15" is running out of usable excursion. I've never tried an extension cab with this combo, but that might be very interesting.

    Well, I tried to jot all this down pretty quick, and I reserve the right to edit, amend, add to, or detract from this shootout at my whim. :smug: I'll probably try at least some of these combos with an extension cab or two, and I will update as I can. Until then, I submit the above for your reading pleasure (or lack thereof), and for further discussion. :D

    Tom.
     
  2. Chef

    Chef Moderator Staff Member Supporting Member

    May 23, 2004
    Columbia MO
    Staff Reviewer; Bass Gear Magazine
    You have a walkabout to throw in there?
     
  3. greenboy

    greenboy

    Dec 18, 2000
    remote mountain cabin Montana
    greenboy designs: fEARful, bassic, dually, crazy88 etc
    Too bad you don't have something from the Roland D-Bass series there too, Tom. Also those nice 112 and 212 combos that Carvin slots the B800 into.

    Maybe Costco could move ; }
     
  4. tombowlus

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

    Apr 3, 2003
    Fremont, Ohio
    Editor-in-Chief, Bass Gear Magazine
    I have the head, but not the combo.
     
  5. tombowlus

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

    Apr 3, 2003
    Fremont, Ohio
    Editor-in-Chief, Bass Gear Magazine
    I wish I did, those are both worthy combos. I did hear the Carvin 1x12 combo briefly at my last GTG, and I have the B800 head. I'd love to also try the Scout and the iAMP combos.

    Tom.
     
  6. thejohnkim

    thejohnkim

    Sep 30, 2003
    NYC
    very cool, i personally cared about this shootout. and it's put the bbII on my short list of probable home practice/acoustic set amps as i consider moving my main rig to a larger single cab.

    thanks for your input!
     
  7. Coelho

    Coelho

    May 10, 2006
    Astoria, NY
    Tom, you really need to try the Marbass mini cmd 121p... It is basically the LMII head with a cabinet to go. :)
    SPEAKER 1x12"
    TWEETER piezo
    BASS REFLEX rear
    IMPEDANCE 8 ohms
    SPEAKER POWER HANDLING 400W RMS (AES Standard)
    AMP OUTPUT POWER 450W @ 4 ohm / 280W @ 8 ohm
    PREAMP: solid state
    FREQUENCY RESPONSE 45 Hz to 18 kHz
    CROSSOVER FREQUENCY 3.5 kHz
    SENSITIVITY 99 dB SPL
    WEIGHT 29.3 lbs / 13.3 kg
    HEIGHT 17 in. / 43.2 cm
    WIDTH 15.3 in. / 38.3 cm
    DEPTH 14.1 in. / 47.9 cm
     
  8. ibnzneksrul

    ibnzneksrul

    Feb 2, 2007
    So Cal
    Yorkville?
     
  9. Bassflute

    Bassflute

    Jun 24, 2006
    Vancouver
    Endorsing Artist: MTD basses and strings
    You know, Tom, you are the BEST reviewer in all of the bass kingdom. I personally think you should quit this lawyer BS, it's eating in to your bass gear review time too much...;) You need your own magazine.

    I would personally like to recommend the AER Bassic combo, from Germany. Frighteningly expensive, but it will blow all the others away, except possibly for the old Trace; they made such great stuff. 4x8" whizzer cones, a separate 60 watt amp for each speaker, and about the size of a Mesa Walkabout Scout, but WAY better. Have A/B'd it with a lot of stuff, including the Markbass combos, and the AER was in a league of it's own.

    Also, here's my fantasy combo, which would blow everything away:



    Cheers,
    Cameron
     
  10. Chef

    Chef Moderator Staff Member Supporting Member

    May 23, 2004
    Columbia MO
    Staff Reviewer; Bass Gear Magazine
    I'd love to see pics/links of such a thing please...

    I have an older Silverado 4x8 combo with LDS long throw 8's in it that's pretty dang nice.
     
  11. BassikLee

    BassikLee Commercial User

    Feb 13, 2004
    Deltona, FL
    Owner: Brevard Sound Systems
    I'd say the Carvin BRX212 deserves to be in the shootout. I just grabbed one on clearance. In a word "amazing". My ONLY issue at all with this combo is that it is already CRAZY loud with the master volume on "2". I kind of wish they'd used a more shallow taper pot there, so there was more room between "barely audible" and "woah, nellie". Aside from that, this amp rocks. I was really impressed with how much low end it seems to produce, given the sealed enclosure. Maybe the downfiring driver??? Dunno. All I know is this: the amp sounds great, and EASILY gets as loud as my tired old bones are willing to play, anywhere. Louder than that, and I need to be in the PA.

    Lee
     
  12. tombowlus

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

    Apr 3, 2003
    Fremont, Ohio
    Editor-in-Chief, Bass Gear Magazine
    Lee, I am sure that Carvin combo sounds great. As I mentioned, I am super impressed with the B800.

    And Cameron, darnitall!!! I probably gotta get me an AER combo, now!!! :rollno: ;) :p :help:

    I'd love to try a Hevos combo sometime, too. And EA, of course, but I have pretty good idea of how they sound (which is freakin' great, of course!).

    Thank you for your kind words, though. :) I really do enjoy this stuff, and I definitely would like to spend more time doing stuff like this (and doing it in great detail - sorry for the rush job, here :().

    Tom.
     
  13. SteveC

    SteveC

    Nov 12, 2004
    North Dakota
    Thanks, Tom. I think a combo shootout is a good thing. I have a Roland Cube 100 and I think your review is pretty much on target. It works great for my needs as I am mostly PA supported. It is a little noisy and has some "digital artifacts" but I don't think they are that noticable to the average ear. I run it through my Radial JDI to "warm up the digitalness" a bit before the PA.

    For when I need a little more umph, I just bought a Roland 115X powered cab to use with it. I'm anxious to see what that does to the sound.
     
  14. Coelho

    Coelho

    May 10, 2006
    Astoria, NY
    I tested the AER combo (they have one at Rudy's music) and I prefer my Markbass cmd 121p by a large distance. Also, the AER weights almost double the MB...

     
  15. Bassflute

    Bassflute

    Jun 24, 2006
    Vancouver
    Endorsing Artist: MTD basses and strings
    They are heavier, but in a live, band setting, the AER has SO much presence it is just awesome. Perfect for noisy 'pub' gigs. Handles a 6 string with authority, and is so flat and 'hi-fi' that just about anything sounds great through it - acoustic basses and guitars, vocals, as a small PA. At rehearsals I have run a singer through it while I'm playing bass - try that with any other bass amp on the market. Really good preamp, nothch filter, compressor, DI. The only drawback is the cost.

    You should see if Rudy's will lend you one, Tom.


    Cheers,
    Cameron
     
  16. Vic

    Vic There's more music in the nuance than the notes. Supporting Member

    Oct 14, 2002
    Central Illinois
    Staff, Bass Gear Magazine
    Nice reviews! A couple thoughts...

    What if you leave the warm off, and turn up the enhance a bit... like 9-10:00? I find my 405 also seems a little "dull" if I don't use at least a little enhance, and I rarely use the warm... at least with the Eden CX cabs... with the Yamaha BBT110S cabs or any Epifani cabs, however, that's not the case, since those are very bright cabs. Anyway, maybe give this setting a shot and see how they A/B. I'd like to hear your thoughts on how they're similar and/or still different in that case, since that's the most familiar one to me.

    The noticeable bump in performance with the extension cab is of course expected since this amp has a beefier power section than the BBII.

    I also noticed this, but when I realized it was limited to the power section of the amp (it seemed very clean on recordings), I figured it was this way because it'd be easily covered up by the rest of the music in a gig/practice situation, which I assume is what Roland was thinking on how this combo would be used... especially noting its surprising output. You could seriously do jazz combo gigs very easily even with horns with this thing and no extension cabs. The modeling goes out the recording out, so at least in the case of this amp, there'd also be no reason to mic the speaker in the studio.

    FWIW, anyway.
     
  17. Nedmundo

    Nedmundo Supporting Member

    Jan 7, 2005
    Philadelphia
    I also have a Roland Cube 100, and haven't found it noisy. I'm usually playing it in band rehearsal, so I might not notice anyway. I think the digital artifacts reside mostly in the effects and the models other than Super Flat. I don't hear any in Super Flat mode, which I use about 95% of the time. It does get a little harsh/crunchy in a digital way when cranked in some of the other models, so I understand what you mean by an "ever-present" digital vibe there, though I agree it's not a big deal. (Heck, even the harshness of the effects -- the amp's biggest downfall IMO -- largely disappears in a band mix.) I also agree it sounds slightly compressed, which hasn't bothered me. I wonder if that's the Feed Forward Processing at work. Overall, I think it's a great amp, and it's one of my favorite pieces of gear.

    (And SteveC, I'm curious about how it works with the 115X powered cab. I thought about doing that myself.)

    I love the shootout, so keep it going! Your reviews are always extremely helpful.
     
  18. SteveC

    SteveC

    Nov 12, 2004
    North Dakota
    I'll post about it after I get a chance to try it.
     
  19. slaerts

    slaerts

    Aug 3, 2006
    Tom, I see why everyone speaks of you with such respect. A comprehensive and articulate comparison without excessive wordiness or jargon for jargons sake.
    And another reason why I'm glad I bought the BB Blue.
     
  20. tombowlus

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

    Apr 3, 2003
    Fremont, Ohio
    Editor-in-Chief, Bass Gear Magazine
    I started off with the Enhance set to around 9:00 or 9:30, but actually backed it off to 8:30 or 9:00, as I personally preferred the tone at this setting. I did a good bit of testing with the Warm both on and off, and it really was subtle. I did not mess with the trim pot for the Warm switch, but I am guessing that it was set fairly low. Still, I slightly preferred the tone with it one.

    Righto, and the nice thing is that you can drive a 2 ohm load. I like to run this combo with two of the Eden CX110 extension cabs, for a total load of 2.67 ohms. :bassist:

    Agreed, in a live setting, you probably are not going to hear that noise. I did not know that it was not an issue witht he preamp out, but that is good to know. :)