Emperor Cabinets Birch 4x12 Cabinet Review

A high-end, hardwood, custom cab

Download Example 1
Gibson SG bridge pickup into first generation Mesa Boogie Dual Rectifier rackmount into Emperor cabinet and close-mic'ed with an SM57 at high volumes.
Download Example 2
Same clip as above with extensive digital multiband compression, saturation and limiting to make room for bass guitar.
Download Example 3
Fender Strat bridge pickup into Diamond's 22-watt Class A "Positron" in Emperor cabinet and close-mic'ed with an SM57.
Download Example 4
Fender Strat neck pickup into Diamond's 22-watt Class A "Positron" in Emperor cabinet and close-mic'ed with an SM57.
Download Example 5
Gibson SG neck pickup into Diamond's 22-watt Class A "Positron" in Emperor cabinet and close-mic'ed with an SM57.
Recently, I had the pleasure of watching a performance by Chicago-based instrumental post-rock/metal trio Russian Circles. On the night I took in the show, the band’s guitarist Mike Sullivan was concocting his tone cocktail with a Gibson Les Paul Custom, a slew of effects pedals, two Sunn Model T heads, and Emperor 4x12 and 1x15 cabinets. The way Sullivan’s rig simultaneously blisters and punches is always a surprise and a treat, and I’ve suspected his cabinets are no small part of the equation. So I was psyched when I had the chance to begin my evaluation of an Emperor 4x12 the very next day.

Some Background

Based in Chicago, Emperor is a crafty bunch. In addition to guitar cabinets, the company also makes bass cabinets, drums, and road cases for rackmount gear, guitars, speaker cabinets, amp heads, and anything else you’d want a case for. They’ll make cabinets using any size speakers in several configurations including staggered speakers, ported or non-ported, and open or closed backs.

Emperor makes completely custom cabinets and cases, so they do not have a standard pricing system. A few standards do exist, though. Cabinets are constructed out of premium 13-ply birch using super-strong, long lasting, and cool looking dovetail joints. One of the most visible differences between Emperor’s cabs and your average aftermarket cabinet is that Emperor does not use Tolex. Instead they stain the birch using anything from naturally glowing, classic wood hues to stark, modern tones of blue, red, and bright orange. The sections of birch that make up the cabinet exterior are selected by the wood’s visual potential. Numerous grille cloth choices are available as well.

We reviewed a 4x12 closed-back guitar cab with a finished Baltic birch shell that was stained to bring out lush, three-dimensional patterns in the birch, the veins of which varied in hue from blonde to rich brunette.

Furnish the Stage

The Emperor 4x12 looks more like a piece of antique furniture than a piece of guitar gear. It rests on two wooden runners and features black metal corners and recessed handles. The cab’s grille cloth is a lovely weave of light and dark browns, and Emperor’s very cool, ’70s-inspired black-and- silver logo is centered among a quartet of Weber C1265 12" speakers. Made of poplar and constructed to reduce sound diffraction problems, a rounded front baffle demonstrates Emperor’s dedication to tone as well as aesthetics.

Exploring the Lows

After carrying this monstrosity to my upstairs studio by myself, I tested the cab using Diamond Positron and 1969 Fender Super Bassman heads, and a Gibson SG and Fender Stratocaster.

There’s a simple reason why Emperor cabs have been widely adopted by artists working in the modern post-rock/metal scene, and that’s the cabinet’s extremely capable low end. The 22-watt class A Diamond Positron sounded positively ballsy with a throaty Marshall-like low-mid punch. The Strat’s neck pickup generated a remarkably smooth low end that the Emperor distributed with authority. Next I wired up my Gibson SG and the vintage, non-master volume Super Bassman, an amp that’s famous for its extended low end and smooth overdrive. Normally, I run this rig through an Avatar 2x12 with Celestion Vintage 30s or a generic 4x12 with Celestion Seventy 80s. And it didn’t take long before it was apparent how much low-end clarity I’d been missing. Indeed, the Emperor cab seems to not only boost, but also clarify the low end through more efficient projection. And the result is a lot of headroom.

Reflecting on Highs

Built around a ceramic magnet, this Emperor’s C1265 speakers are 65-watt units from Weber’s British series that are well suited for a wide range of styles. In the very transparent Emperor, they are even more so. Mid frequencies are very present, though not overbearing and can be tuned depending on the flexibility of your head. The combination of the Emperor and Webers also give the high frequencies a natural feel that’s never brash or abrasive. The poplar front baffle seems to enhance the pristine high frequencies thrown from the C1265s. In theory, sharp edges on the front of a cabinet will cause sound waves to diffract at sharp angles, causing the waves to arrive at your ears with unnatural timing, resulting in a sound that is subtly garbled by confusing artifacts. High and mid frequencies are particularly vulnerable to the horrors of diffraction and, though the problem goes unnoticed to most, Emperor’s efforts to address the issue seems to make their cabs perfect for conveying the detail of complex chords and capturing the full-spectrum voice of a good pickup/guitar/amp combination.

The Verdict
The Emperor could well be the best sounding guitar cabinet I’ve ever played through. It’s also drop-dead gorgeous and it might be the heaviest I’ve played through as well. It is sometimes difficult to accurately judge the sound of a cabinet because it really stands apart in high-volume environments where a sub-standard cab creates a muck of confused, clashing frequencies. When I heard unprocessed tracks that featured an Emperor cab played back on a professional monitor system, I noticed an inherent studio quality and dynamic punch that’s hard to achieve without EQ and compressor tweaks.

Overall there is a solid clarity to the Emperor sound that seems tied to expert woodworking and construction. The aural experience reminded me how easy it is to forget a cabinet’s enormous role in the tone equation, and it demonstrates just how well Emperor understands this piece of the sonic puzzle.

Buy if...
you want a beautiful, boutique cabinet designed to your specs that truly captures the voice of your guitar and amp.
Skip if...
light weight is more important than perfect tone.

Street $825 - Emperor Cabinets - emperorcabs.com

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