What’s in the Box? What Should Players Look For in a Speaker Cabinet?
By Marc Johnson for TheToneKing.com
The Tone King thinks about tone so much that it’s his middle name. But sometimes, when it comes to building a good sound, players don’t always look in the right place. They have every other piece in the puzzle: Kick ass guitar: Class ‘A’ all tube rectifier head: Hell, even fifty-dollar cables. But, then they’ll plug it all into some ratty ass cabinet with three mismatched speakers and another with a screwdriver stuck in the cone. Too many players simply don’t know what to look for in a speaker cab. They neglect that last, crucial, element in building great tone.
We decided to ask the guys who know. The question is, “What should players look for in a speaker cabinet?” TTK put this very question to four of the biggest names in cabinets and speakers, and here’s what they had to say:
“The most import thing to look for in your speaker cabinet is to make sure that the cabinet matches well with the amplifier you are using. It is imperative that the total impedance of the speakers in your cabinet match the impendence output of your amplifier. We also think it is very important that the over all power the speaker cabinet matches the power rating of your amplifier. If the total wattage of your speaker cabinet less then the power output of your amplifier then you risk blowing your speakers and even damaging your amplifier.” – Orin Portnoy (V.P Sales and Marketing; CE Distribution, Exclusive U.S Importer Jensen Speakers)
“The only reason one speaker cabinet should cost more than another is build quality. Plain and simple. Orange cabs are definitely considered ‘high end’ for that reason alone. We have refused to compromise, even with our smaller, more cost-effective cabs that are built at our facility in China. The same 13 ply, 18 mm thick Baltic birch is used regardless of where we assemble them.
“When you use thick wood you get a thick tone. Particleboard sounds like particleboard. The idea as Orange sees it is to always enhance the sound coming from your amplifier. Our amps have a natural midrange punch that becomes laser-focused through one of our cabs. But a lot of players like to use our cabs with other manufacturer’s amps because of how they fix the tone, adding low-end to an otherwise trebly amp and smoothing out the tone so you can hear the entire sound spectrum.” – Alex Auxier: (Marketing/US Artist Relations; Orange Music Electronic Co. Ltd)
“A guitar speaker cabinet involves more subjectivity than any other type of cab. Not that you don’t care about the sound or tone of pro audio or bass cabs, but guitar cabs are typically used to color the sound of the amp and/or create tone rather than to reproduce sound. With pro audio and bass cabs you can easily use T/S parameters to find optimal cabinet conditions for the speaker and the application. Guitar speakers have rather odd parameters, like high resonant frequencies, high Q values, and low Vas. This can make the results of calculating a cabinet impractical, and it may not result in the type of response that would give the end user the best possible sound for their application. If someone is building a guitar cabinet, I generally recommend that they build one similar in size to one that they have heard and that they know sounds good. Unless, they are willing to do some experimenting to determine what effects make it sound better for their application. Selecting the type of wood for the cabinet and the speaker that has characteristics that they want to compliment the rest of their tone chain are much more important keys to getting the right cab.” – Anthony Lucas (Customer Support; Eminence Speaker LLC)
“The quality of the speaker plays an important part in your overall guitar tone. We chose to work with Eminence because they could build a custom speaker for us, which would deliver a high-end tone at the price points we were striving to reach. We feel they really delivered and if you have a chance to do an A/B comparison we think you’ll agree.
“Also, plywood cabinetry contributes to a warmer tone, and it’s also lighter weight than the particleboard stuff some companies use. It also holds the screws tightly which is important to the longevity of your cabinet. Metal hardware adds to the roadworthy-ness.
“I believe in adding features for flexibility and convenience where possible, so if a cabinet has more than one speaker we like to include stereo inputs for players who like to run two amps and switch between them. And in our smaller cabinets, convertible rear panels allow for closed-back, open-back, or in a few cases something between those options too.
“Finally, in our newer + Series cabinets, we’ve included our MicSim circuit. This was designed to my specification by my friend Doug Roberts, here in Seattle. It provides a balanced mic-level output with some tonal shaping, so it sounds just like a mic’d up cabinet, straight into the board. So, if the soundman is short on mics or you want a more consistent tone every night, MicSim is a great-sounding solution. It’s even being used as a standalone box called JetDirect, by DropKick Murphys, Killswitch Engage, Avenged Sevenfold, and other big acts on tour now.” – Douglas White (Product | Marketing | Manager; Jet City Amplification)
There you have it! Answers from the big names themselves. I think there are a few things everybody can agree on:
First, Stay away from that particleboard crap! Wood matters. Thick wood makes for thick tone. And if you want some chunk behind your playing, you’re gonna have to get some serious wood.
Next, make sure your cabinet matches well with the amp that you’re using. Speaker cabinets are rated for ohms and wattage for a reason! Of course, if you want to see what your cabinet looks like when it’s on fire, feel free to plug in whatever the hell you want. But, don’t feel like you have to use the same brands for both your cabinet and your head. Although many manufacturers specifically match the qualities of their heads and cabinets for a specific sound, you might find your own unique tone by using two different brands.
Third, the quality of speakers is just as important as the type of wood. Don’t think that you’ll be sounding great with a 13-ply birch cabinet if it’s loaded with crap speakers. And, make sure you test drive cabinets with your own gear. Drag your guitar and your amp to the shop, plug in, and play. That’s the only way to know how the speakers are going to get along with your gear.
If you’re really into tone – and why would you be reading this if you weren’t? – You’ll make sure that you got yourself a really kick ass cabinet. We here at TheToneKing.com have seen great heads and guitars totally wasted on crap cabinets, and it’s a shame. Like driving a Corvette on four spare tires, it just doesn’t make any sense. From String to Speaker, good tone is to the bone.
Let us know what you guys look for in your cabinets.
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About the Author: Marc published his first novel Becoming in 2010. It’s a kick-ass book with monsters and dreams and stuff, and you should buy it. Since then, he’s written thousands of articles for TheToneKing.com, many of which have been picked up for circulation by manufacturers and other news outlets. His next book, Drugs and Pancakes, should be available early 2014 if his alcoholic editor can find time to work on it in-between destroying his liver and screaming about punctuation. He graduated from Roosevelt University with honors, which means that he’s not as dumb as he looks. He’s been playing guitar for over 25 years, which is almost twice as long as most of his students have been alive.