There seems to be a big range in the power output (Watts). How does a bassist know what power they need?
Mark: Answering the first question’s questions [see list in Part I] is the starting point. You have to know what your needs will be. It’s like buying a car. What will it be used for? You don’t buy a sub compact if you need to haul lumber. Likewise you don’t invest in a dump truck if you are commuting. Although there is more, the three basic things to consider are:
- How loud do I need to get?
- What’s the power rating of my cabs?
- What’s the impedance of my cabs?
If you are playing mostly small clubs with a 1×12 or 1×15 that’s rated at 300 to 400 watts at 8 Ohms, it’s a good idea to have an amp with the same power & impedance rating. Likewise, if you are using a 1,000 watt @ 4 Ohm 8×10 cab, common sense suggests an amp that at least matches the power & impedance rating.
There are exceptions to be sure with power, but never with impedance. Because of their playing styles some artists can get by with less power than the cabinet is rated for. Personally, I tend to err on the side of more power than I need, so I don’t get caught in a bad situation. In other words, I’d rather have too much power & have to turn down than to not have enough power & cannot turn up.
Lastly, make sure your cabs match the impedance of your amp! Yesterday a major world class artist called me for advice on cabinets. He wanted to add an 8 Ohm 1×15 cabinet to his 2×10 which is 4 Ohms. That would equal a 2.6 Ohm load. His amp only goes down to 4 Ohms & barely had enough power for the first cab. If he purchased the 1×15 his amp would be shutting down on him because of the impedance load being to low for the amp. I suggested he invest in a larger amp first, since he barely had enough power for his first cabinet. Plus, if he wanted to drive a second cabinet he either needs an amp that will go down to 2 Ohms or one that is stereo so he can run one cab per side.
Here’s what the most common way players add cabinets together looks like for impedance:
Parallel speaker configurations | Total system Impedance
- Two 8 ohm cabinets = 4 ohms
- One 8 ohm cabinet and one 4 ohm cabinet = 2.6 ohms
- Two 4 ohm cabinets = 2 ohms
- Three 8 ohm cabinets = 2.6 ohms
- Two 8 ohm cabinets and one 4 ohm cabinet = 2 ohms
- One 8 ohm cabinet and two 4 ohm cabinets = 1.6 ohms
People talk about different ‘trade offs’ in cab designs. What are these and which matter most to a player?
What matters most is if a cabinet works for you. Some designs are inefficient, meaning they take a lot more power to get the volume you need. Some are designed for lots of boom, but lack any clarity. Some are designed to be compact or light, but often come up short on bass & volume. Some are designed to be very cost effective, but they have to cut cost somewhere (Don’t expect Ferrari performance out of a Yugo). Some sound great at low volumes, but choke when they need to get loud.
One-way designs are normally left to sub woofers, although there are exceptions. It’s difficult to cover the full range of the bass with one speaker or multiples of the same driver. They can be smaller & less expensive, but at the cost of sound quality.
Two-way is the most popular, having one or more identical woofers & one compression horn. Although better, it seldom addresses the midrange needs & many times over emphasizes the lows & highs to compensate.
Three-way systems add a midrange driver to fill in that missing hole. Unfortunately some systems are thrown together poorly with unnatural & nasally drivers. Look for ones that are balanced & sound natural.
Four-way designs take it to the ultimate level by breaking the sonic spectrum up into four different areas of sound and then isolating the drivers to focus on those areas.
You usually get what you pay for. Don’t expect a miracle from a cheap product. If however your needs are very simple or limited don’t be bullied into something you don’t need.
What else should a bass player think about in choosing a cabinet?
Reliability. Being a consumer, I’m always looking for a great deal. The trick is to know when a less expensive product is a great deal & when it might cost you more in the long run after breaking down in the middle of a gig. Afterwards you’ll most likely replace it. After two cheap cabs that never sounded that great, you could have invested in the better piece of gear right up front that would sound better & last longer. How does this happen?
The cost of a product is based in part on the cost & quality of its components. Companies can spec whatever type of parts to use for a given model. For example, a price competitive model might use cheaper drivers, wire, crossover components, wood, carpet, etc. to keep the cost down. Their choices can not only change the cost, but it may also affect the sound & the reliability. You would think this is an obvious conclusion, but consumers still seemed surprised over product failures of cheap gear & are shocked at the same time by the cost of more reliable & costly high-end gear.
If you are tired of buying cabs that have problems or if you play a lot making money with your gear, consider investing in a better product. It’s a cheaper & safer way to go in the long run. However, if it’s a hobby or you seldom play outside of your bedroom, what’s the point (unless you want the tone you’ve dreamed about)?
Although failure can happen to the best of products, they can be kept to an absolute minimum with higher testing standards, superior components, better matching of components & stringent assembly techniques. Of course all of this does cost more. Only you can tell if it’s worth it in your unique situation.
Many thanks to Mark for sharing his insights with us. Happy bassing!