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Carvin BX500 Amp and BR410 Neo Cab Review


A Four-Ten Cab To Go
The review amp came with Carvin’s BR410N cab, which uses Neodymium speakers and is rated at 4 ohms and capable of 1000 watts of power handling (an 8-ohm cab is also available). Happily, the construction is all birch plywood rather than the super-heavy, less durable MDF or particleboard. There are front-to-back braces made of the same material inside for better stiffness. Carvin chose a relatively unusual sealed cab design, which produces a smoother sound spectrum, usually at the sacrifice of some low end and efficiency. (Carvin rates the cab’s efficiency at 106dB at 1 watt, but I’ve yet to find a cab rated that high and would just say that it’s “reasonably efficient.”)

The front grille of this cab is made of sturdy perforated steel, and the cab is covered with a tough, vinyl material that comes in various colors. Unlike most cabs, Carvin chose old-school metal corners. More common are plastic corners that lock for stacking cabs. The metal corners don’t lock, but can take a lot of punishment without cracking. There is a beefy metal carrying handle on each side that will no doubt hold up through years of hauling, although the carrying position felt a little awkward. Caster sockets are already installed at the factory, so if you prefer to roll your cab, just add a set to your order. At a spec’d 65 pounds, this cab is relatively easy to manage either way. Many conventional 4x10 cabs weigh in at 90-plus pounds.

The back panel has plenty of places to plug in, with two 1/4” jacks and two Speakons. In addition, the panel includes a six-position Attenuator switch (5 levels plus off) for the titanium horn tweeter.

Dialing In For Live Action
What does this rig sound like? Set flat, without the tube or drive, the amp sounds clear, but not particularly deep, and not adding anything distinctive to the sound coming out of the basses I tried it with. To give it a close listen, I first plugged in a set of studio headphones (no speakers) and worked with the EQ sections. The headphone jack doubles as a tuner out and as such, a few parts of the amp are out of the circuit, including the master volume, graphic EQ, effects loop and the mute switch.

In this mode, headphone volume is controlled by the active/passive switch and the Drive knob. My test basses, a G&L 5-string and a Jazz-style fretless, each sounded good through my cans, with high clarity and minimal hiss. The Drive knob did little to change the character of the sound, but the range of the Contour knob between noon and 3 o’clock was helpful for dipping the bright or honky mids. Beyond 3 o’clock, the sound was seriously scooped. Bumping the lower midrange knob, centered at 200Hz, added a good thump to the sound, while increasing the high-mid knob, with a useful 900Hz upper midrange, could easily add some needed bite in muddy rooms. In all, the headphone output will make for a pleasant silent practice rig, but because the effects loop is out of the equation, you won’t be able to play along with music this way. I was a little disappointed at this, since even basic practice amps allow music to be inserted from your iPod.

Switching to the BR410 cab produced much of what I’d heard through the phones. The amp delivered good punch and mids, but lacked the depth I’d hoped for. In a studio jam session with two guitars in medium-sized combo amps plus a drum set, the rig easily held its own, creeping the Volume knob only to about 9 o’clock before I had all the sound I’d ever need (of course, the G&L has probably the hottest signal output around). Bumping up the low-mid EQ knob quickly added the kick I wanted. With my Jazz-style bass sporting active EMG pickups, I was able to get a wider range of volume settings because of its more normal output level.

The cab sounded tight and well-defined throughout its range, never showing a hint of weakness, even as I crept the master up toward noon (at which point, the others were pushing their fingers into their ears). Turning the Drive up to about noon added some aggressiveness to the attack. Because the parametric midrange controls did their jobs so well, I never got into the graphic EQ at that session. For most situations, I would use it mainly for creating a second bass sound, or for adapting the amp’s basic setting for a gig with two vastly different sounding axes.

The Final Mojo
The combination of the Carvin BX500 and the BR410 proves to be a potent rig for a variety of electric bass gigs, allowing all the volume and tonal flexibility you’d need for unsupported gigs up to medium size, and likely serving all your gigging needs once you’re in the house PA. If you gig or rehearse in a place that provides a house speaker cab, it’d be a dream to roll up with your bass in a gig bag and the BX500 stashed in a heavy-duty, padded nylon carrying case like the one Carvin offers. As a player, my main wish for this rig would be to have a Master Volume with a wider range of usability, say between 9 o’clock and 1 o’clock. A player facing a variety of gig sizes might want to pick up something like Carvin’s BR210N and BR115N cabs to gain greater flexibility in rig sizes. But if you need a one-size-fits-most rig, the BR410N is an effective solution at under $1K.

Buy if...
you're looking for a relatively light, loud rig with good clarity and flexibility.
Skip if...
you like an amp that can add grit to is sound, or if its headphone practicing options don't meet your needs.  
Rating...
4.5

Street BX500 $419; BR410N $529  - Carvin Guitars - carvinguitars.com