Bowlus Bass Blog

All things bass (electric, acoustic, and upright) related.

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Location: Fremont, Ohio, United States

I am an attorney by day, but that's really just my "backup gig" in case this whole "musician thing" doesn't work out. ;^) I was been blessed with the opportunity to write freelance reviews for Guitar World's Bass Guitar Magazine, and I contributed regularly from the Spring of 2006 up until Bass Guitar Magazine's demise. This was, in itself, a dream come true, and an opportunity for which I am truly grateful. But this was a stepping stone to bigger and better things, and I am now the Editor-in-Chief of Bass Gear Magazine (www.bassgearmag.com). Our first issue came out in August of 2008, and we are now the leading bass review magazine, worldwide. Of course, on the topic of my true blessings, I have a wife and two kids, all of whom I greatly adore, so my time for music/bass/songwriting/performing, and yes, even the occasional practicing, is not infinite. Nevertheless, I really enjoy my time spent playing bass, writing and recording songs, and just getting to "play" with all that great gear! This blog is a result of these external interests...

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Bergantino "Intelligent" Powered Cabs (IP Series)

Well, for some time now, I have been telling a few of you to hold off on any major gear purchases, because I was “in the know” with regard to a very exciting item coming down the pike. I have now been given the “green light” to go ahead and discuss this with my fine friends here. at TalkBass.com, and elsewhere! I am thrilled to be able to share this information, as I really do think that we have something special on our hands, here. The "mystery gear" in question is a new line of powered cabs from Jim Bergantino. I have been demoing (and ended up buying) a powered 322 (called the IP322) for some time now. It has a 1,000w (into 4 ohm) Class AD, switching power supply amp built into the back of the cab. This amp adds only 7 lbs to the overall weight, and would be reason enough for joy. But, Jim has also incorporated a DSP front end (with two "programs" to choose from) which provides tremendous EQ-ing possibilities. What Jim is doing is taking very detailed measurements of his cabs, and then crafting an EQ to make the cab as close to "flat" as possible [sort of – see below]. I know that this raises all kinds of concerns as to whether or not “flat” is good, but let me assure you, this is something different (and better, IMHO) than what we've seen/heard before. Prior to this, I had heard some cabs that I have thought of as being fairly “flat” which sound extremely "clear", but which are not as full sounding as some other cabs. Other cabs, which I have thought of as “flat” were very full sounding, but were not as clear as this first group. There are even other cabs, which kind of pick their part of the frequency range to hit clarity, and perhaps another part to hit fullness. Each approach has its merits, and in truth I have heard a growing number of cabs which do a very good balancing act between “clear” and “full,” while achieving decent tonal balance. And let me say that in general, I am a fan of cabs that don’t introduce a lot of coloration on their own, but rather allow me a “blank canvas” upon which to either draw my own tonal colors, or upon which to hear the nuances of my individual instruments.

But these new IP-series cabs from Bergantino take all of this to a new level. You get extreme clarity, with a full, balanced tone that just feels really "together" and cohesive. When Jim first described this idea to me (powered cabs with DSP EQ), my brain really started clicking, and I formed some pretty high expectations of what this setup could sound like. So, by the time that I was able to actually hear the IP322 in person, I was already pretty geeked, and my expectations were very high. Even so, when I fired it up, it took my brain a while to realize just what I was hearing. With most other gear that I audition, I find myself listening for the little “extra this” or the “slightly diminished that” which add up to present the particular sonic character of an individual piece of gear. Listening to the IP322, it took me a while to realize that I wasn’t hearing “too much this” or “too little that”, but rather “just enough of everything.” I felt like Goldilocks and that third bowl of porridge! ;^] And of course, it has been an incredible tool for comparing/contrasting preamps and instruments!

Now, it is unavoidable to say, “but Tom, not everyone likes a flat sounding cab, so even though you’re psyched, I may not like this!” True enough. I am positive that these cabs will not be for everyone. We are a diverse group, all with our own preferences. But, I do want to say again that this is “flat” like I’ve never heard it. There is no sacrifice of fullness for clarity’s sake, or vice versa. The sound is very “alive” and dynamic, so don’t even think of your father’s Oldsmobile (or anything else which you might consider to sound “sterile”, etc.). I think that this sense of immediacy and dynamics says a lot for the quality of the amp inside these boxes. It certainly performs better than I would have expected out of a switching mode power supply. Of course, a well engineered speaker enclosure doesn’t hurt, either!

I did have a chance to try the amp section with my HT112/EX112. The DSP wasn’t dialed in for this combo, but one of the programs on the amp I had happened to be pretty close, so Jim encouraged me to give it a try. I wanted to compare the IP amp to the Walter Woods Ultra (especially since I really love the sound of the WWU with the HT112/EX112). Well, as good as the WWU sounds driving these cabs, the IP amp was several notches better, IMHO. The combo was much more punchy and present than with the WWU, and the upper mids and highs seemed just as sweet to me (though to be honest, the Woods does have some subtle coloration that makes for a “different”, though not in my opinion any “better”, tone). The low mids were definitely stronger, and the overall feel was more forceful and dynamic, but still remained open and airy. Fellow TBer’s Cory and emjazz were able to hear the IP112 by itself and with the EX112, so I’m sure they will chime in.

I’m not sure what Jim has in mind with the two channel option, but one route would be to offer a "flat" setting and another, say "punchier" setting – we tried this at one point (Jim dialed up a “punchier” tone via the DSP), and it was pretty freakin’ cool! As mentioned, Jim will be offering this amp in the HT112 (called IP112), and in this case, you can drive an EX112 with the amp (for a total 4 ohm load). In this case, one setting could be for using the IP112 alone, with another for using it with the EX112. The IP322 will not be an official product (I own the only one - for now at least!), but Jim will be offering – GET THIS!!! – IP310's and IP212's!!! These cab configurations are smaller than his previous HT212/HT310 (probably very close to the size of the 310UL), and I think that they will weigh in around 85 lbs. I am super excited about these new cabs. Both can be DSP’d to sound “flat”, but you do hear the different characteristics of the particular drivers (10’s just sound different from 12’s). Cory and emjazz got to hear these as well, and I think they had a pretty good time!

As for the “relatively flat” thing, it is my understanding that these cabs are not designed to be flat down to 20 Hz, or anything super low like that. The amplifier power and cone excursion required would be significant, I would think, and at this point, the low end might overpower the mids/highs. So, I think that there is a certain low frequency point below which the cabs are not technically “flat”. But Jim is able to dial in the EQ to make them realistically “flat” which gives the cabinet an octave to octave balance I’ve never heard in another amp/cab combination. I think that perhaps “tonally balanced” is a better way to think of this. And of course it is possible to dial in some “punch”, or perhaps a low-pass filter, or who knows what. It’s up to Jim to decide just how to program these DSP channels. All I know is that the “tonally balanced” setting is really something special, and has opened my eyes to what can be accomplished by a bass rig, both live and in the studio.

Speaking of live use, I have been able to gig out with the IP322 in three different rooms. The first room I tried had a boomy stage, and after conveying this experience to Jim, he added the variable high pass filter to my line driver. Problem solved! And to be certain, this was not a “problem” with the IP322. The stage was just very resonant, and it made certain parts of the stage area sound very bassy and boomy. But, with the VHPF, I can dial out those offending low frequencies without changing my tone (weird, but true!). The other two venues were pretty good, acoustically, and the IP322 sounded awesome! Actually, the last venue (played just last Saturday night) has given me problems with boominess from other rigs, but just kicked bootay with the powered Berg. I was able to keep up with two loud guitarists and a medium loud drummer with no problems.

Oh, and one more thing that’s pretty neat. While the IP322 can crank out the volume when you need it, it also allows my tone to have the sense of dynamics and force that I crave, but at lower volumes, too. Previously, I had to get a certain level of volume before I’d really hear/feel that special “impact” and “girth”, but the IP322 seems able to capture this at nearly any volume level. Very nice!

If I sound overly excited about this line of amps from Bergantino, it is because they represent, IME/IMHO, probably the best sounding solid state rig I have heard. Some of my other absolute favorite combinations might get close, but I can’t think of any off hand that equal the sound of the IP322 – and certainly none exceed it (again, IMHO, and for my personal preferences). Of course, if you are into the tube sound, then there are other routes to take, but for solid state, this is a good as it gets, IMHO.

And the mandatory disclaimer: I do not work for Jim Bergantino or Bergantino Audio Systems, nor am I affiliated with them in any way. I’m not a dealer, I’m not a rep, nada. I am a satisfied user, and I am also fortunate enough to have a good deal of gear on hand. This is why Jim wanted me to give the IP322 a listen. When I heard how good it was, I asked if I could buy it, and I did pay a fair price to Jim for this demo unit, so no “free” or even “discounted” gear has exchanged hands. Y’all know that I love my EA gear as well as several other brands (and I still do), so I hope you accept this post as my truthful opinion.

To be honest, I think of this as quite a bold move by Jim, and I think he could be onto something really, really good. Sure, there are other powered cabs out there, but I don’t think anything really directly compares, and this is without factoring in what you can accomplish with the DSP. Your opinion may vary greatly from mine, and that’s cool. They are sure to be too expensive for some, too heavy for some, too “non-scooped” for some, but personally, I am as excited about this new line of cabs as I possibly could be.

All I can say is that I strongly encourage anyone looking to pick up a new rig to give these cabs a try. There’s no way that you can even appreciate them without hearing them (and hearing them at least twice, if possible!).

Check out the Bergantino website for more information.
There you go, Tom.

3 Comments:

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6:45 AM  
Blogger Tom Desmond said...

Hi Tom,

Thank you for all of your posts. - really enjoy reading, and I do trust your ears.

I'm hooked on reading about the Berg IP series. Do you think the IP sounds better than an HS pushed by a Stewart 2.1?

Thanks!
Tom

7:11 PM  
Blogger Tom Bowlus said...

I really do. In the world of truly great bass gear, the IP-series is still something special.

11:17 PM  

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