XF210 hands-on review and gig report

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Tim A
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XF210 hands-on review and gig report

#1 Post by Tim A » Sat Sep 27, 2008 6:38 am

Background
If you play live music, you’ve probably dealt with the much maligned way-too-loud guitarist. But have you ever heard your guitarist complain about not being able to hear themself? Guitars operate in frequencies that are directional. Add to it tight setup areas and poorly designed cabinets and you have a recipe for volume.

Several months ago I asked Bill to design a guitar cab to add to his catalog. I wanted something that would address the above concerns and work in any situation, and wanted to incorporate some specific ideas that had been played around with in the past. After some discussion, it was decided that the cab would have these attributes:

First, it would be cross-firing to improve dispersion. A standard 2X closed back cabinet has a pretty narrow horizontal dispersion, although we didn’t realize how narrow until we tested one against this cab. In order to combat this in certain rooms, I’d been forced to go open back to gain rear wall reflection.

Second, the baffle would be sloped so the guitarist can hear better. Most people don’t have ears in their knees. You have to get the sound where you can hear it, and this typically means an amp stand that tilts the cab upward, (something you can’t do with a head and cab unless you make provision to keep the head from sliding off) or a chair, or some other means to get it higher.

Third, it would be convertible to allow the user to choose open or closed back. Some guys like open, some like closed, some like both. Being able to choose and change your sound is a nice perk. And sometimes you must reflect off the rear wall.

Fourth, reduced beaming. If you’ve never experienced this before it can be pretty painful. The next time you go out and hear a live band, try to position yourself in the path of the guitar cabinet. There’s a spot right in front where all the highs come together in a beam. You won’t stay there long, trust me.

Fourth and last, it had to be small and light. I’m getting old, and the days of hogging a 4x12 half stack and 50lb. head around are gone. With Bill’s knowledge and experience in lightweight cab design I knew he was the man.

The Build
This is not a difficult cabinet to build, although there are a few cuts that must be given your full attention. It can be accomplished with the same tools you’d use for an Omni or Wedgehorn. Finish-wise you have a ton of choices. Tolex, Carpet, Duratex, Paint. There are provisions to make it look vintage with a standard grill, or more industrial with individual grills showing the cool baffle angles. The pics show it both ways. For the traditional look a Fender Silverface era grill cloth was chosen for the prototype. .

As for drivers, load it with your favorites. Whether they be a standard Eminence, one of their RedCoat or Patriot Series, Celestion, Jensen, Webers, or boutique. In that respect the cabinet is unique to Bill’s designs, but no different than changing drivers in another guitar cabinet. For the purpose of testing I decided on Eminence Legend 105's since they’re OEM in many cabinets and wouldn’t introduce exaggerated mids or other coloration you get with specialty speakers.

For the convertible option butterfly catches were installed so it could be changed instantly. Some guys would be ok with screws or other hardware. I wouldn’t use wood screws though as they’d wear out with too many changes. T-nuts would work, and it’s been suggested that some of the furniture style hardware that pulls tight would work. A strip of cabinet carpeting around the door flange stops vibration and helps seal the cab.

Using the chosen drivers and ½" ply, the cab weighs 21 lbs. complete.

Obligatory Testing
When it came time to test, Bill and I had some different ideas. His biggest concern was the sound. While sound was obviously way up on my list, I wanted to know how well it would overcome the problems described above. Bill said he already knew how it would work (I guess that’s why he’s the expert!) Me, I had to hear it.

In order to keep everything objective two other guitarist were enlisted. One is a dyed-in-the-wool tube guy who does bars and clubs, and the other is an ex-punker who’s played some fairly impressive venues. A pair of extremes with me in the middle.

The ‘bench’ testing was done outdoors away from any vertical surfaces. We used Pink Noise through a colorless amp, our ears, a tape measure, and a device to accurately measure angles from 10' in front of the cab. One thing that surprised me was the consistency of three sets of ears. I fully expected the three of us to hear different things at different places, even making up a chart with 3 entries and an average, planning to report only the average. As it turned out we all heard exactly the same thing at exactly the same locations, with the exception of one test.

As a control, we used a standard 2 x 10 closed back cabinet with the same speakers. That would be the exact same speakers, we swapped them out.

We started with the dispersion tests. This was a real eye opener for all of us. The standard 2 x 10 cab was way worse than anticipated. In fact when the first guy gave his angle, I said: “No, keep going until it drops off.” He said: “It did, it’s right here.” The angle was only 10deg off-axis! We couldn’t believe it was that narrow. We also sat the standard cab on end to see what would happen with the drivers in a vertical array. After testing we came up with the following results:

Standard 2x10 horizontal: Radical drop-off @ 10deg, Second significant drop off @ 20deg, Continuous steady dropping, all highs gone @ 40 deg

Standard 2x10 vertical: Radical drop-off @ 18deg. Second drop not as radical as horizontal test, smooth dropping to about 45 degrees where the highs disappeared.

XF210: Slight drop @ 10deg, then a possible slight volume increase @ 20deg heard by one listener. Listener 2 didn’t hear it, I heard a change in the highs only. After 20 degrees nothing changed until 45deg, then it started to drop smoothly to 70deg, highs disappearing but not gone. Response @ 70deg still as good as the standard cab from 20-40 degrees.


The next test was for distance, or, “how for out do you have to be to hear this thing?” For this we sat a tape measure up and just walked away slowly, noting the differences in volume and tone. There were two significant increases at certain distances on both cabs. The first one we deemed to be how far out you’d have to be to effectively monitor yourself, the second was full volume.

Standard 2x10: 8.5' for monitoring, 12' for full volume
XF210: 4' for monitoring, 6' for full volume.

That’s a big difference, about half as far to hear what you’re doing, and a much better opportunity to control your volume. In tight setups this will be a definite advantage.

The third test was for beaming. This was pretty simple, turn the sound on and find the hot spot. The Standard 2x10 was evident, align yourself on-axis and there was a very loud, very obnoxious hot spot. With the XF210 it was difficult to find a hot spot anywhere, weather you were on-axis with the cabinet or one of the drivers made little difference.. While we can’t say that beaming is totally eliminated, it is reduced to the point that it is not a concern.


Yeah, whatever, blah blah blah. How’s it sound?
Well, it sounds pretty darn good! For this part we moved into the practice space and did some A/B’s with three different amps and the two cabinets. The amps used were a Laney 50 Tube open back combo, a Vox AD30VT closed back combo, and a Crate Powerblock head, which pretty much runs the gamut from a really nice amp to a comparatively crappy one and a modeler in the middle. We also tested the cab against the on-board speakers in the two combo amps.

We noted that the XF210 performed similarly volume-wise whether the back was on or off, something that can change drastically in a small volume cabinet. Tone-wise, the difference was what you’d expect going from closed back to open back.

The least amount of change was with the Laney, although the onboard speaker had more pronounced mids due to the Eminence Governor the owner installed. At first it was perceived as more volume from the Governor, but closer monitoring proved it to be the mids. Second was the Vox. It too had undergone a speaker change, in this case a 10" Jensen. Removing the Vox’s back made a huge difference in volume, but whether open or closed it couldn’t keep up with the XF210 in terms of volume or overall tone, essentially turning this little amp into a viable gigging unit. The Owner is considering making it into a head and getting an XF. The most drastic improvement was with the Crate. This is mine and is always used with a modeling pedal. It was purchased for that reason, being a fairly flat and colorless amp. It’s not an awful amp by itself, but I’d never consider using it without the modeling pedal unless it was an emergency. Hooking it up to the XF was surprising to all three of us, and we agreed that while the amp’s distortion was a bit scratchy, any of us would use it without pedals for gigs.

Now for the meat and taters, The XF210 and the standard style 2x10. Bear in mind that we used the same speakers in both cabs. Both cabs are the same width and the same depth, with the standard cab being 2" taller. Also, due to the regular square construction the standard cab has more driver chamber volume.

The cabinets were pretty equal in volume. The standard cab exhibited a darker sound with more bass, while the XF210 was brighter and clearer. The standard cab, however, was muddy. Notes seemed to run together and lacked clarity. The XF210 was very articulate, you could hear every note clearly even when chording, they just seemed to jump out. We did some EQ’ing and found that while we could EQ the bass back into the XF210, we could not EQ articulation back into the standard cab. It remained muddy sounding as compared to the XF210 with all amps. I suspect this has something to do with the crossfiring baffles helping to eliminate cancellation between the two drivers. One of the guys described the XF210 as having a boutique sound and the other described it as more modern.

The last thing I did was pose two questions. The first question was:

“If you were considering a new cabinet, would you buy this?”

All three of us answered yes. We thought it had excellent sound, and it was nice to hear everything so clearly. The dispersion, monitoring, and lack of beaming all added to the overall value. There was nothing about the cabinet that turned us off.

The second question:

“If your purchase decision was between this and a standard 2x10 cabinet, which would you prefer?”

Here we parted company a bit. The tube guy and myself both chose the XF210, while the ex-punker liked the overall sound of the standard cab better. Oh well, ya can’t please everyone!

The gig report
As luck would have it, the week before testing we were booked in a venue that had given me trouble in the past with regard to being heard out front. It is a very small venue and not made for a live band. It was this venue that caused me to stop using my closed back amp and convert to open back. That worked very well, but I much prefer the sound of a closed back cab. I hurried to get the cab finished to try it out there, figuring if problems persisted I’d just take the back off.

The room is almost twice as wide as it is deep. We set up along one of the longer walls, but way back toward the corner. My amp is about 6' from the end wall, and the audience is spread out from directly in front all the way to about 40' to my right. We have some small risers, 16" high that we set our backline on to elevate the amps. It is extremely tight, we stand right in front of the amps, maybe 18"-2' from my back to the cabinet.

With my old closed back amp you could hear my guitar from the front wall to about 6' past my amp. Once you got 6' off-axis it disappeared. I heard many complaints there from friends and customers saying they couldn’t hear me at all. My answer was to turn up. When I finally walked around the room while we were playing it was a huge shock, I couldn’t believe how bad it was. The other guitarist using an open backed combo could be heard everywhere pretty well.

With the XF it’s no longer an issue. Walking the room, I could hear myself anywhere in the room, including the playing position right in front of the amp. The amp was the Crate and modeling pedal. There was no problem hearing any of the patches including the acoustic effect. One of tunes it’s used on is Can’t You See, and in the past the acoustic would disappear when the jam started and the dynamics kicked in, even with the open backed cab. With the XF I could hear it easily and even ended up turning down while out in the audience. The cab cuts through like crazy, even with a SS amp. That was impressive.

Well, that’s about it. Should be enough info for you to decide whether you want to try it out or force your guitarist to make the swap to ward off hearing loss! For me, it’s going to be my first grab from now on.

Image

In this example (above) the frame around the interior is the grill support. Had this not been a prototype I would've left that part off, as I prefer the way it look like this. It has sort of a futuristic-industrial thing going on.

Image

Image

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James R
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Re: XF210 hands-on review and gig report

#2 Post by James R » Sat Sep 27, 2008 6:40 pm

Nice review Tim, question could you stack 2 of these ? reason I ask is a good friend of mine who builds and plays guitar.
He now uses 2 cabs with 2 12's in each with a Mesa Boogie Rectifier head, he gets a fantastic sound and not at a ear wrenching volume.
Hard to believe that when he plays hard rock, but he does. I was thinking on building a couple as a gift for helping me out on my builds.

Thanks,
Jim
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Tim A
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Re: XF210 hands-on review and gig report

#3 Post by Tim A » Sat Sep 27, 2008 6:47 pm

No reason not to. If I were doing that, I think I'd build the bottom cab without the slope, just crossfired. The sloped baffle is to help the guitarist hear, so having to bottom sloped as well wouldn't be necessary.

Bill may chime in on this, but I don't see why not.

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Re: XF210 hands-on review and gig report

#4 Post by James R » Sat Sep 27, 2008 6:58 pm

cool, as soon as we get an idea on slope or no slope I'll be contacting Bill.

Thanks,
Jim

EDIT: Tim I just thought of something, my friend had a rack he set his bottoms on to raise it in the air more
so maybe the slope would be beneficial?
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Re: XF210 hands-on review and gig report

#5 Post by Bill Fitzmaurice » Sat Sep 27, 2008 9:39 pm

Tim A wrote:No reason not to. If I were doing that, I think I'd build the bottom cab without the slope, just crossfired. The sloped baffle is to help the guitarist hear, so having to bottom sloped as well wouldn't be necessary.

Bill may chime in on this, but I don't see why not.
Build one, chances are he'll realize he doesn't need a second. No one needs four twelves, the only advantage they have is that the top two are high enough up to hear them.

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Re: XF210 hands-on review and gig report

#6 Post by doug howes » Sun Sep 28, 2008 1:42 am

Interesting. reminds me of the fender bassman 100 cabinet. a lot smaller though. cool.
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Re: XF210 hands-on review and gig report

#7 Post by Harley » Sun Sep 28, 2008 3:50 am

Excellent review Tim

Thanks
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Re: XF210 hands-on review and gig report

#8 Post by bgavin » Sun Sep 28, 2008 9:55 am

Frankly, I just cringe when I see a geetar player with more than 2 drivers. As a sound man, I know I'm in for rough sailing trying to balance his over-loud ass on stage. "Mine goes to eleven" seems to be the rallying cry for guys with half or full stacks. The other line of B.S. is "it's my tone, man." Use a power brake.

I've been following Tim's progress with the XP210 build... this is another winner for both loudness and dispersion. Anything larger, the geetar player probably has access to a full PA. A larger backline is pointless with PA support. I remember Mike Bloomfield playing all his gigs with a mic in front of his Twin Reverb.
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Re: XF210 hands-on review and gig report

#9 Post by Mikey » Thu Oct 23, 2008 12:58 am

Well, they're all eating Bill's dust now. I've seen guitar cabs with crossfiring drivers, and lots of guitar cabs with an angled-up baffle, but never the two together.

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Re: XF210 hands-on review and gig report

#10 Post by Strapping Young Stu » Sun Nov 16, 2008 7:15 am

The only time I can see a guitarist needing 2 of these is if he wants a stereo guitar with a cab either side of the stage, but you need a lot of equipment to get that effect cooking.

Stu

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Re: XF210 hands-on review and gig report

#11 Post by jnick1947 » Sun Nov 30, 2008 7:08 pm

Designing sloped and angled panels (3D trigonometry) gets complicated in a hurry.
Does Bill use a CAD program for this? I assume one is used for generating the drawings

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Re: XF210 hands-on review and gig report

#12 Post by Bill Fitzmaurice » Tue Feb 17, 2009 8:30 am

OT posts deleted. Manners, gentlemen.

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Re: XF210 hands-on review and gig report

#13 Post by Eugenio70 » Tue Mar 17, 2009 4:00 am

Hi Tim Aand Bill. Could you give me the dimensions of the top of the XF210 to see if a guitar head fits? Would it be the same size on a XF410?

Thanks!

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Tim A
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Re: XF210 hands-on review and gig report

#14 Post by Tim A » Tue Mar 17, 2009 6:51 am

A head will fit. There may be some slight overhang. But, you can adjust the angle of the sides (without adjusting the angle of the baffles) to gain an inch or two on the top without affecting the cab.

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Re: XF210 hands-on review and gig report

#15 Post by Bryan316 » Thu May 21, 2009 2:52 pm

Hey, Tim. Been hella-busy, lots of gigs which is a good thing.

Been helping my bandmates with getting their amps pointed AT them, instead of near them. I still want to get them to try out an XF cab. You have any built and available to test out? Or would you have to build one for me?

I still think this is a brilliant design idea. But it's a "show me" concept. People just won't believe it until you prove it to them.

Go Red Wings. :twisted:

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