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Emperor Cabinets Birch 4x12 Cabinet Review

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 -