Bass Cabinets: On Speaker Sizes and Pairing Them Up
Q: I read the blog of a musician explaining that combining bass cabinets based on speaker size makes a big difference in sound. He also said that combining two 410 cabinets is better than combining a 410 with a 115. I was under the impression that a 410 cab combined with a 115 cab was a great combination, and because I have this combination, I was taken aback when I read this. However, after thinking about it, I remember playing my bass through an 810 stack in a local music store and how I absolutely marveled at the incredible sound it produced. The stack was $600 (used) and the only thing that stopped me from purchasing it was the awkwardness of hauling it up and down stairs… and it was LOUD. Way more power than I need. The guys working told me to stop playing – I was wrecking the place and didn’t realize it. I bought a used 210 cab that I thought I’d use for practice, but I get a better sound when it’s combined with either the 410 or the 115. On it’s own it doesn’t sound that great. I’d like to hear your opinion on pairing up bass cabinets by speaker size, and any other thing you have to share on this topic.
A: On one hand, I have next to zero technical knowledge when it comes to pairing cabinets and what that does to the sound in a scientific way.
On the other hand, I do have quite a lot of experience playing venues of all sizes, with a variety of rigs, and I have also owned my share of different cabinets. So, while I cannot speak in technical terms as to what is “best”, I can tell you what I have come to believe through my years of gigging and touring.
There is no “best” for everyone. Some people love to tout the science of why this is better than that, but I can tell you that I have preferred many things in life that were supposedly not as “good” or “proper” to things that were “inferior” or proclaimed to be not as good by the online population, simply because I thought it sounded, felt, worked better for my purposes. So, in short, you will have to find what works best for you.
This will often be a compromise between form, function and reality of day to day life.
Here is a list of questions I’d ask myself:
- Is it rugged and durable (road-worthy)?
- Does it sound good to you?
- Is it portable enough that you don’t hurt yourself trying to lug it around to every gig and/or rehearsal?
- Can you afford to have an assortment of cabs for every occasion or do you need one to do it all?
- How do your answers to all of the above balance with the cost of your various choices in cabinets?
I have gigged with 8″, 10″, 12″ and 15″ speakers and combined those different sizes in many ways. I’ll tell you what I like personally.
I have come to prefer both 10″ and 12″ speakers. Anything smaller doesn’t move enough air for my taste and anything bigger loses definition to my ears.
I have never gotten a sound from mixing 15″ or 18″ speakers with 10″ speakers that I preferred more than a simple 410 cabinet. It might sound good and have tons of bass, but that usually works to the detriment to the overall sound of the band if cranked too loudly. Plus, at softer volumes, it doesn’t really make that much of a difference to me. I’ve tried it and it’s never left my jaw on the floor.
You mentioned that you wanted to pair a 410 with a cabinet with 15’s but found the suggestion to pair two 410’s instead. I imagine that this is because the 15″ is basically a sub – super low end, with no definition. In most environments, this would only serve to make the sound a bit muddy and undefined. It’ll shake your heart in your chest, sure, but will it actually sound good? Not likely if you’re not careful. Two 410’s can move equally as much (or more) air and will still have plenty of low-end goodness. But it will be defined and discernible.
When using a single cab or even two single speaker enclosures paired together, I prefer the sound of my 12″ speakers.
My favorite sounding single cabinet is a 410. I don’t know why I prefer single 12’s when using two or even three cabinets and 10’s when using a single 410 cab, but I love my 410 cab (although it’s harder to tote around so it only gets used on certain types of gigs where I really need or want my full volume and sound).
I have a small assortment of cabs. My list includes:
Two Aguilar GS 112nt cabs. These are single 12″ speaker enclosures with no tweeter (I don’t like the sound of tweeters, and I never slap, so I don’t really need them)
One Aguilar GS 410nt. This is my “big boy” rig – a 410 with no tweeter.
One lightweight Aguilar 112 cab. This is my rehearsal or low volume gig cabinet of choice. Easy to carry and sounds wonderful. It weighs 12 pounds and sounds every bit as good as it’s full weight brethren.
Between these four cabs and my two power amps, I can cover any gig imaginable. I can use a single 112 for low volume gigs, two 112’s chained together for medium volume gigs and the 410 for the really loud nights.
I have my optimal setup after many years of experimentation.
You mentioned not liking the 210 compared to the 410. I agree. I’ve never like 10’s outside of the 410 cab. When using one or two speakers, I need just a bit more low end and prefer the 12’s – they just sound perfect to my ears. Plenty of low end capability but every bit as defined as a 10.
Now, about those 810 cabs and pairing multiple 410 cabs… I don’t know a single musician who uses anything more than one 410 that isn’t in a biggish name band that has techs and roadies. I do know weekend warriors and young players just hitting the road who have bought these refrigerators with speakers and I can tell you that most of them regret it.
I was one such bassist on the road with my first touring band-in-a-van-with-a-trailer. I’ll never forget it. We were hanging out at Grandma’s Music in Albuquerque, NM and they had an SWR 810 cab that was calling my name. I had a bit of room on the credit card, a bit of space in the trailer not spoken for and just thought I’d be in tonal heaven. I sold it less than a year later. It was so heavy and honestly, it didn’t sound any better than my 410. It was louder, yes, but my 410 was as loud as I needed so it didn’t really matter. I simply never had the opportunity to get any louder than that (as much as I wanted to). It only took a couple of gigs and steep staircases before I decided that I had just made a huge mistake and would immediately go back to my 410 cab.
Bottom line, they are dangerously heavy to lift over and over again, a total nightmare if there are stairs on the load-in to the gig and, here’s the kicker, if you are that loud, you’re too loud. Period. I know, I played in a metal band, too. We were too loud. The fact is, if the band actually wants it to sound GOOD in the room (and I don’t care what size room it is), the stage volume needs to be under control so the FOH (front of house) engineer can take control of what the audience hears. Your amp on stage should be considered more of a monitor for yourself, assuming that you have a sound engineer running the show.
If you have no sound engineer and are just using stage volume than it is even more important to be very careful with the balance and volume of each instrument. You never need to be louder than a 410 cabinet with a 500-800 watt head. Now, I have had some 1,200 to 2,000 watt heads and I loved them, but they are useful with regards to head-room (the ability of your amp to operate comfortably and with power to spare). Even with my 2,000 watt rig, I was never actually louder than I was with my 500 watt rig, I just wasn’t pushing it as hard. Big bands on BIG stages will often have a wall of amps. This is more often for show and aesthetic than anything. It does feel wonderful to have a wall of 410 cabs behind you and to feel all of that air your moving when you play but it’s completely for you. In stadiums, nobody beyond the 1st few rows is hearing the stage anymore anyway. It’s all what the FOH engineer is pumping through the mains. If anything, you’re making it harder on the FOH engineer because:
- You are sending low vibrations through all the mics around you.
- You are sending too much volume into the mics around you.
- You are making it harder for people to hear their own monitors. Even if the band uses in-ears monitors, you are still creating a LOT of low end rumble that has to be countered.
Usually the only one who really likes it is the bass player. That means that it isn’t helping anybody and is doing more harm than good.
In short, keep the stage volume in check! If you can only afford one cabinet for now, compromise. Think of something that might be a tad big for your lowest volume gigs and a tad small for you higher volume gigs and use a DI to compensate for the FOH (and even in your own monitor).
If you have one band that you play with, get what is right for that band. Don’t think bigger is better, just think of what will do the job that you need it to do. I can’t imagine ever needing more than a 410 cab, honestly. Sure, if I had a steady stadium gig with roadies to lug and setup the gear, I’d likely run a DB750 or two into a pair of 410 cabs. That’s me thinking 12,000 arenas and gigantic stages where I can bask in the glory of my huge bass sound without killing everyone and everything around me. Until then, 410 is more than enough for any club or theatre.
Readers, how about you? What is your go to for bass cabinets and why? Please share your thoughts in the comments.