Generation 3 12XN Development

The development of the Generation Three cabs started in early 2011, initially prompted by neodymium supply issues but in the end going far beyond our preliminary goals. We wanted to take everything that was great about our cabs and improve anything that wasn't as great - fortunately there wasn't a lot of that but the main challenges were the dispersion of our 15" models and the complexity and amplifier demands of the Big Series cabs (the right custom 12" could allow us to go from 3-way to 2-way with a host of benefits, as explained in detail elsewhere). We also wanted to increase the versatility of each of our product, partly to make it easier for you to choose the right cab for your needs and partly to ensure that your Barefaced cab could continue to work brilliantly for you if your musical requirements changed over time.

Clean sheet designs

The Generation Three cabs are clean sheet designs, from the ground up - if they look quite like some of our previous models that's because we were already doing a lot right! Our R&D process included a myriad of enclosure designs, driver sizes, motor topologies, magnet materials, crossover concepts, and so on. Although the first aspect we've drawn everyone's attention to is our new driver we haven't just put a new driver in old cabs - we had a host of new ideas about how to improve upon our existing models and we needed the new driver to be able to implement the complete solution. A good analogy would be to a new car model - the driver is like the engine whilst the complete cab is like the complete car. It all works together as an optimised system and if you're going to put this much effort into designing an amazing new engine you'd be foolish not to put as much time, effort and cunning into the design and manufacturing of the chassis, transmission, suspension, bodywork, interior, etc to make the best use possible of that great engine.

Using the best new technologies

Having kicked around just about every possible bass cab design over the past few years we eventually settled on what we thought was a rather elegant solution: Using 'split-gap' technology we would develop two different 12" drivers - a high excursion high sensitivity 'full-range' 12" (12FR) which would play loud with relatively small amps and an even higher excursion less high sensitivity 12" with less treble output but more bottom (12LF) which would need a bigger amp but play even louder. We also decided to see what we could gain from offering both 4 and 8 ohm versions of the new drivers.

The initial concepts

The concept was for the 1x12FR to replace the Compact 1x15" (the new motor's extra excursion cancelling out the reduced cone area), whilst the 2x12FR could replace the Super Twelve 2x12" and the Super Fifteen 2x15", with more affordable, more compact designs with better treble response and better midrange dispersion, despite having no crossover or high frequency elements. Meanwhile the 1x12LF would replace the Big Baby T and the 2x12LF would replace the Super Twelve T and Big Twin T, using the 12LF woofer in conjunction with a high frequency driver on a large waveguide, rather than a smaller tweeter 2-way or tweeter+mid 3-way.

The first physical prototype

We received the first 12FR prototypes in early 2012 and they certainly sounded great! The treble response on-axis went all the way out to ~8kHz, unheard of for a high-excursion large-diameter woofer, the low frequency response was great, and the mids were lovely though the sensitivity wasn't quite as high as planned (the cone having ended up slightly heavier than expected to get the stiffness needed to extend the treble response). The weight of the woofer meant that we had to develop a unique bracing scheme which cradled the heavy ferrite magnet within the braces, giving us a very stiff cab which didn't need to be overbuilt at the front to support the woofer's mass being cantilevered off the baffle.

Four dimensional loudspeaker design

In January 2012 we went to a very interesting lecture with the AES, given by John Watkinson. One of his key points was that there are three key characteristics to any loudspeaker - its frequency response, its polar (spatial) response and its transient (temporal) response. When we listen to a loudspeaker whichever aspect it is worst at is what dominates our perception of the sound - it comes down to the weakest link in this three part chain, not the excellence of the best aspect of performance. This makes a lot of sense and explains why simplistic measurements of earlier Barefaced cabs haven't told the full picture, which led us to stop and reconsider our new designs, particularly for the future Big Series models. Further research also highlighted the fourth aspect - dynamic response - which matters hugely with musical instrument amplification because it's a key part of the feel of the loudspeaker.

Ferrite to neodymium and 8" too

Whilst this was going on the first 12LF came into being, with very impressive specs and measurements. However, as the price of neodymium was coming down and the supply becoming more reliable the whole driver was redesigned around a neo magnet, more than halving its weight without changing the tone or performance. We also started work on an 8" full-range driver, with such high excursion it could match the low frequency output of our Midget 1x12" - with the intention of creating a 1x8" which could replace the Midget.

POWER!!! testing

Having had a lot of fun playing with the 12FR we then did some power testing (the most horrible aural experience of our lives, despite wearing ear plugs and ear defenders) and were surprised to find the 12FR exhibiting more power compression than our old 12" drivers and then blew one prototype up with much lower power than we were expecting. And so began a whole load more research into the thermal limitations of loudspeakers. Meanwhile we designed our first thermal protection device for the 12FR and started lending it out to other bass players, with whom it proved pretty much universally popular, especially its abilities in producing big bottom at high SPL from such a small cab.

Barefaced = Bombproof

The research into thermal power handling and sensitivity killed off the 8FR design - there was no way we could make a sufficiently robust 8" driver to match our reputation for bombproof high SPL gear - we could make an 8" which could play very loud and handle a lot of bottom when used sensibly but it wouldn't cope with sustained high power and unfortunately, in the real world of gigging, bassists often push their cabs far harder than ideal (far harder indeed than guitarists push guitar cabs or sound engineers push PA cabs), and the smaller the cab, the harder (relative to its abilities) it tends to be pushed.

4 ohm vs 8 ohm

The 4 ohm vs 8 ohm investigation also proved enlightening. There was no doubt that with the knobs in the same place on the amp, the 4 ohm version was definitely louder than the 8 ohm version - the 4 ohm driver was getting twice the power of the 8 ohm driver, so a 3dB difference in loudness. But, with a reasonably powerful amp, once you cranked the amp up to the point of clipping (at which point the amp was trying to deliver 60% more power into the 4 ohm driver) there was very little difference at all. Why was this? Two things: Firstly, the amp couldn't maintain the doubling of power into a 4 ohm vs 8 ohm driver because it became current limited and secondly, the increased power caused increased power compression which further reduced the power output increase. So our 4 ohm version would sound usefully (3dB) louder in a shop or bedroom but when you actually needed the extra output on a loud gig you'd barely get 1dB more, which is hardly worth having, whilst if you have an 8 ohm version you can add a second matching cab without the impedance being too low for most amps to handle, and doing that gets you ~6dB more output, which is a huge and very valuable increase.

More manufacturers and a paradigm shift

Reverting to neodymium for our more expensive models opened up some more potential manufacturers for our new drivers and we started working with two more companies on potential 12LF designs. As this was progressing we were building up more and more feedback from our customers on our cabs and this was adding to the data informing our designs along with that gleaned from many research papers courtesy of the AES and our own experiments. Our goal with the 12LF thus shifted towards higher sensitivity and a more tightly controlled low frequency response curve. Six more prototypes later we had a 12LF-neo with which we were happy to do more in-depth testing.

Treble is nothing without dispersion - and power matters!

One thing we were finding with our 12FR was it although the treble response was truly amazing on-axis, once you were in the challenging acoustic of a typical gig the dispersion just wasn't broad enough to make the most of it - to all intents and purposes it didn't sound like it went that much higher than our existing 12" drivers unless you stood in exactly the right spot. Still, it did sound great! The serious sticking point was that the 12FR could handle so much power without distorting that it could overheat and blow without warning (most woofers growl/fart well before they go pop!) so we spent a lot of time on a unique protection circuit which used solid-state components to monitor the continuous longterm RMS power and then introduce heavy compression and a high pass circuit to protect the speaker from failure and give you an audible warning that it was at its limits without dropping you out of the mix totally.

On and off-axis comparisons and real world sensitivity

When we tried the latest 12LF-neo head to head with the 12FR we found something very interesting - tonally they sounded very similar through the lows and mids but the 12FR went about an octave higher on-axis. Once we moved away from the ideal position the difference was much less clear. And once we were in a noisier situation there was very little in it in terms of treble response. What was obvious though was the higher sensitivity of the 12LF-neo, so it was louder for the same amp settings, and that the louder you played the larger the difference was as the 12LF-neo had greater thermal power handling and thus lower power compression.

Is ferrite better value or just less expensive?

This left us with a dilemma - our 12FR driver, although having a less costly ferrite magnet, was a very high spec component with cast aluminium frame, copper shorting rings and high thermal and mechanical power handling, and so was fairly expensive for a ferrite driver. The price of neo drivers was no longer quite so high but still high and the supply situation was no longer so volatile (no point building a business around a product that may become unavailable!) The new neo driver weighed over 10lbs less than the ferrite driver and had higher sensitivity, lower power compression and higher power handling and most importantly it had very similar tone on the gig when used as a full-range speaker. Was there any value in producing a 1x12" cab which was slightly less expensive but had inferior high SPL performance and weighed almost 50% more? Or a 2x12" which weighed over 20lbs more?

12XN550 is the way for the EMS cab replacements

Having then designed and built some new full-range cabs specifically for the 12LF-neo driver and done some more testing we came to the conclusion that there was no point making the ferrite version (apart from using it as a marketing tool to pick up the handful of potential customers who still cling to the belief that ferrite sounds different to neo) especially as the ferrite version's extra circuitry made it more complex and thus reduced the price differential. We were thus confident that our new neo 12", which we designated the 12XN550 (12" eXtended range Neodymium ~550cc Vd) could be use in a superior new model range of full-range 1x12" and 2x12" which could replace the Compact, Super Twelve, Super Twelve T (with an additional tweeter) and Super Fifteen. The next step was to see how this 12" would perform compared to our Big Baby T and Big Twin T models.

Big Series v3?

So we designed some new cabs around the 12XN550 and spent plenty of time playing, listening to and measuring them, in comparison to the existing Big Series models. This confirmed that our shift to higher sensitivity, a gentler LF roll-off and a less deep unEQ'd -3dB point was the right move. The next step was to choose a suitable HF driver and horn or waveguide, whose polar pattern, sensitivity, power handling and tone (which is basically the composite of lots of different measurements plus a load of listening) worked well with this 12" driver. And then to design a crossover to meld the two seamlessly. That took a lot of work, though thankfully we had our Praxis measurement suite to make life easier this time around.

Four new models

We now had four new designs - a smaller 1x12" and 2x12" (aka Super Compact and Super Twin) with no crossover or HF driver and a larger 1x12" and 2x12" (aka Big Baby 2 and Big Twin 2) with deeper tuning, complex crossover and expensive HF driver. Between these four models we had the old Compact, Super Twelve, Big Baby T and Big Twin T directly replaced, and also the Super Twelve T and Super Fifteen's roles covered by the two new 2x12"s (improved versatility - tick!) And most importantly all these new models clearly outperform the old ones!

Midget. Midget? Midget!

The cabs for which we didn't have a clear replacement were the Midget and Midget T. Could our new 12" work in an enclosure that small without getting boomy? Modelling it suggested it was just about possible so we built a cab, specifically using a quasi-aperiodic port to tighten up the mid-bass response, listened to it and measured it and it was good. As the Super Compact wasn't all that much larger than the new Super Midget we elected to keep things simple and only produce the Super Midget with a tweeter.

Five completely new models

So there we have it, five completely fresh new models which replace all our existing models bar the '69er, and over two years of development work condensed into a reasonably short essay, without even mentioning what we've done with the new enclosures, electronics, hardware, etc.

New for Autumn 2014 - the Retro10 range

Once we'd finished developing the 12XN driver we started work on a completely different woofer, aiming to produce the ultimate old school bass guitar driver, which could be used in a new 6x10" cab and a 2x10" version. The Retro Six10 and Two10 are for bassists who want their cab to bring more colour to their tone, adding a different tonal character. So we now have two halves to the Generation 3 range - the high accuracy 12XN models and the more coloured 10CR models. Almost every bassist should be able to get the sound they want with one of these seven cabs!





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