It’s called Occam’s razor—the simplest
solution to a problem tends to be the best.
It’s a good route for choosing a bass rig, too.
Add too many features and you have a better
chance of doing damage to your tone. In fact,
the longer I’ve played bass, the less I twiddle
with an amp’s knobs. When I do decide to
twiddle something, I’ll do it in moderation.
The rig reviewed here does a good job of
following the Occam’s razor principle. You
might remember the Kustom bass amps,
ubiquitous in the ’60s and ’70s with their
legendary tuck ’n’ roll auto upholstery, that
were offered in an array of sparkly colors
and decked out with chrome ports and a
cool script-like name badge. The appointments
may have been fancy looking, but
Kustom bass amps were downright humble
when it came to knobs. This new Kustom
bass rig retains that simplicity while knocking
down the weight considerably—thanks
to the use of some newer technologies.
A Tidy, Basic Package
The first key technology contributing to
big power in a lightweight form is the use
of a class D power amp. The KXB500 uses
a Bang & Olufsen ICEpower module that
puts out 500 watts RMS at 4 Ω —all in
a package measuring a mere 12" wide, 8"
deep, and 2.5" high.
Despite its diminutive stature, the
KXB500 has all the features the average
bassist needs—Occam’s razor in action.
On the front panel sits one Input jack, one
input Gain control, a 3-band EQ, and a
Master volume. Kustom includes a push-pull
switch on the Midrange knob that toggles
its center frequencies between 500 Hz
and 700 Hz, both useful for bass, though
a little close together. The front panel also
includes a handy Mute switch (with a red
light that flashes when engaged), a 1/8"
Aux In jack (for practicing along with your
iPod), and a similarly-sized Headphone jack.
The Bass control offers +/-20 dB at 40
Hz, right at the bottom of the E string’s
range. On the high end, the Treble control
has the same amount of control at 20 kHz,
adding snap to your slap. In between, the
Midrange knob allows up to +/-12 dB of
scoop or presence.
On the back of the KXB500, there’s a socket
for a removable power cord, a pair of output
jacks (speakON and 1/4"), and an XLR DI
out that’s switchable pre/post with ground lift
and level controls. There is also a Tuner Out
jack, effects loop Send/Receive jacks, and a
Footswitch jack for both the mute and effects
loops. Everything a bassist needs is there.
Plugging in, I found it a simple task to
get a good basic sound by centering the easy-viewing
EQ knobs, turning the input Gain
up to around noon, and adjusting the Master
to taste. I found that the EQ knobs had plenty
of sound-shaping ability, with tonal centers
at musically pleasant frequencies. It would
have been nice, though, to have center detents
on the three tone controls. The input impedance,
at 690k Ω, is a little low for acoustic
piezo-based pickups, but should be fine for
magnetic pickups on electric basses.
Though the Master control seemed to
get loud a little quicker than I’d prefer,
Kustom states they used an input stage that
could accommodate a very wide range of
input signals, allowing for clean tones and
still having enough gain to overdrive the
system. All said, it was still easy to adjust to
my desired level, and I found the KXB500
to have a neutral voice—one that would
be useful for a lot of musical situations.
Kustom does include rack ears if you’re so
inclined, but keep in mind that a rack case
would likely weigh more than the amp itself.
Deep End DE115NEO Cab: Yet
Another Tidy, Basic Package
This Kustom Deep End Neo cab is both
lightweight and compact, thanks in part to the
Eminence neodymium magnet speaker that
weighs far less than a conventional ceramic
magnet design. The use of plywood over particleboard
also keeps the weight in check, especially
by going with rear ports that eliminate
about 6" or so of height necessary for front
shelf porting. This cab ends up a little smaller
than many others with a 15" speaker, measuring
24" high, 20" wide and 16" deep.
The DE115NEO uses an 8 Ω speaker,
which allows the amp to put out 300
watts RMS. A second Deep End 115 Neo
would be needed to reach the amp’s full
power. The jack plate’s connections had a
somewhat unusual configuration, though,
with two 1/4" jacks and one speakON jack.
Compared to a 1/4" jack, speakONs offer a
much more secure and reliable connection,
which is especially good for high-power
bass amps like the KXB500. Because the
head and cab each have only one speakON
jack, it’s not possible to hook up a second
cab with speakON cables for both.
The cabinet’s sound was round and full,
with a focused bottom and clean attack, yet
not edgy. The piezo horn has a simple on/
off switch. If you want a little string noise
and bite in your sound, turn on the horn. If
you’re more of an old-school player, turn off
the horn for a rounder and well-defined tone.
If there was one thing I would change about
this cab, it would be raising the side handles a
touch higher—I kept reaching for a handle that
wasn’t there, and when I did find the handle,
the balance was not ideal. I should add that the
handles are plenty sturdy. They have metal grip
bars attached to the cab, with machine screws
and T-nuts for extra dependability. I also would
have liked the cab to have sockets or interlocking
corners on top for stacking a second cab.
I first tried this rig with my trusty P
bass, outfitted with a Duncan Quarter
Pound pickup. With the tone knobs set
flat, the sound was clear, punchy, and
round, and I didn’t sense any boominess.
It pushed out plenty of volume and
should be fine for moderate-level gigs. I
then tried a G&L 5-string. Once again,
the rig provided a sound that instilled
confidence, handling the low B string well
at moderate volume—I didn’t try to push
the rig to the point of distortion, but
again, it put out a lot of volume.
In all, this affordable rig is nothing fancy in
terms of features, but it gets the job done
and does it well. The build seemed sturdy
and should stand up to regular gigging with
a reasonable amount of care. If you poke
around the web, you’ll be hard-pressed to
find many other amps with this power level
priced under $400. Likewise, few bass cabs
under 40 pounds with an Eminence neodymium
speaker check in at $300, making
this rig a good value all the way around.
you want a big sound from a
simple, sturdy package that’s
easy to lug around.
you like a bass rig with heft and
lots of bells and whistles.
|Street $399.99 (KXB500); $299.99 (DE115NEO) - Kustom Amplification - kustom.com