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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.
The KXB500: 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