Finding a cabinet to groove with your head or combo ought to be the easiest thing in the world— after all, it’s just a box with speakers in it, right? It would be great if it were so easy, but as the final link in the tone chain, the speaker cab affects the sound of everything ahead of it. No matter how badass your guitar, amps, and effects might be, the wrong cabinet can work against it all and leave you wondering what the hell happened to your sound.
Everyone knows that speakers themselves differ widely in magnet type, power handling capability, and all the elements that go into their assembly, and the same is true of the cabinets they’re installed in. Just simple things like the rigidity of a cabinet and its baffle (the board that the speakers are mounted to) can have a big impact on resonance, dynamic response, and volume. If you’ve ever wondered why old tweed Fender amps (and their similarly constructed modern clones) sound so naturally airy and vibrant, it has a lot to do with their cabinets being made from materials like solid pine, which vibrates more readily than stiffer materials like plywood and MDF (medium density fiberboard).
Not everyone needs über resonance, though, and for hard rock or metal a cabinet that’s stiffer, denser, and has a closed back is probably going to work better because of its ability to deliver tighter bottom, better presence, and increased volume. Of course, many options exist between the extremes of, say, a tweed Fender Bassman and a Marshall half-stack, and cabinets with adjustable backs, variable porting, and/or internal chambers can often provide a “best of all worlds” solution for players who want more “openness” than a typical closed-back design, but also need something that will pump out sound more efficiently than a cab with pine sides and a thin baffle. Other factors, such as how well a cabinet is made, its size and weight, impedance, and how it looks with your amp on top of it are things to also consider before plunking down for a box that seems like it’ll do the job.
For this roundup we chose seven very different 2x12 and 1x12 cabinets (the most popular configurations for reasons of portability) and put them to the test using amps from Demeter, Dr. Z, Fryette, Komet, and Marshall. After shaking them out with Strats, Les Pauls, a Buzz Feiten T-Pro, and a reissue 1963 Gibson ES-335TDC, we came away duly impressed by not only what these cabs had to offer sonically, but also the range of prices that they land at—from $249 to $500 for the two 1x12s we tested, and from $549 a $1,049 for the remaining 2x12s. Based on this small sampling alone, it’s clear that a lot of options await shoppers in speaker land, so read reviews, check forums, and give a listen whenever possible to ensure that the next cabinet you buy will keep you tone-buzzed for a long time to come. —AT
3rd Power Switchback 212
Not many extension speaker cabs hit the guitar scene thanks to bona-fide patented technology, but that’s what’s behind the thumping heart of 3rd Power’s Switchback 212. Built in Nashville, Tennessee, by an amplifier and cabinet company infatuated with all things triangular, this outwardly traditional cab uses proprietary TriCAB speaker chambers—two internal triangular chambers—to isolate its Celestion Alnico Gold and Vintage 30 speakers. Another unique feature is the dual convertible triangular rear vents, which allow you to operate the cab as open-backed, closed-backed, or half and half (your choice of which side is which). The Switchback is wired for mono or stereo (a.k.a dual-mono) operation, too: plug your amp’s 8Ω output into the “8Ω mono” input, or individual 16Ω outs into both inputs to tap both speakers independently. I really liked the sturdy dual recessed metal corner handles, and the cab has feet both on the bottom and one side, allowing horizontal or vertical positioning. It’s big, it’s heavy, and it exudes sonic confidence even before you plug it in.
Playing a Strat and a Les Paul alternately through a Komet K60 and a Dr. Z Remedy, the Switchback 212 presented an extremely solid, weighty sound stage with impressive dimensionality. There was good balance and a sweet, open musicality to it, yet it particularly came alive when I cranked up the Komet and rocked hard with the Les Paul. Put this cabinet behind a curtain and tell a succession of players it’s a high-quality 4x12, and I don’t think you’d get many doubters. One of the coolest things about the Switchback 212 is its sense of depth and dimension—like you’re wading into a delectable cloud of just-right tone. It never barks at you, but hits solidly in the gut even while elegantly caressing the upper registers. Playing with the adjustable open/closed venting offers subtle but distinctive tuning, too, making this a surprisingly versatile performer, and a solid Editors’ Pick Award winner to boot. —DH
PRICE $1,049 street, as reviewed
SPEAKERS One Celestion Alnico Gold, one Celestion Vintage 30 (available with two Celestion Vintage 30s for $849)
CONSTRUCTION Baltic birch ply.
POWER HANDLING 110 watts mono; 60/50 watts per side stereo FORMAT Patented independent internal triangular chambers, with removable rear panels for open/ closed back performance
IMPEDANCE 8Ω mono, 16Ω stereo
WEIGHT 62 lbs
DIMENSIONS 29" x 20.5" x 14"
KUDOS Great depth and dimension of sound in an extremely well built and cleverly designed cab.
Alessandro Crossbred Series 1x12
One of the latest products fro m high-end amp builder george Alessandro, this 1x12 cabinet is part of his new Crossbred series of amps and cabinets—all or which are aimed at combining the best elements of vintage designs and modern build. The cabinet on review here reflects the tweed Fender concept with its lightweight solid-pine construction coupled with a thin plywood baffle that’s designed to move and breathe instead of being so stiff that it effectively deadens the sound. Mounted to the rear of the baffle is a new Eminence GA-SC64, which was co-designed by Alessandro to deliver what can be described a mid-’60s Fender-type sound. This ceramic-magnet, stamped-frame unit handles 40 watts at 8Ω, but you can also get this cab with a custom neo speaker ($25 extra) that offers greater efficiency and dynamics, while bringing the weight of this already very light unit down by five or more pounds for a way easy carry to the bandstand.
I’d already appreciated the GA-SC64’s sound in a Fender ’65 Deluxe Reverb reissue that Alessandro rewired point-to-point (more on this amp in the October issue), but when I paired the Crossbred 1x12 with a vintage Marshall PA-20 amp on a recent gig (using a reissue Gibson 1963 ES-335TDC), the sound was incredibly satisfying, with full-bodied lows, blossoming mids, and a clear, sweet top-end that never descended into brittleness no matter how hard it was driven.
Probably the best 1x12 cab I’ve ever used with this EL84-powered amp, the Crossbred’s nonbeamy delivery made it easy to get a big, dimensional sound without overpowering the stage with volume, and the cabinet brought similar warmth and dynamic responsiveness to the brew when hooked up to a Demeter Mighty Minnie pedalboard amp, which has a tube front-end and a 100- watt, class-D output stage.
With its high-quality woods and construction, the Crossbred 1x12 is a superb choice for players who want old-school sweetness and warmth in a compact and ultra-portable cabinet that will bring out the best that your lower wattage amps have to offer. —AT
CROSSBRED SERIES 1X12
PRICE $500 street
SPEAKERS Custom Eminence GA-SC64. (Neo speaker $25 extra)
CONSTRUCTION Lightweight pine with thin ply baffle
POWER HANDLING 40 watts (as tested)
FORMAT Open back
WEIGHT 24 lbs (as tested)
DIMENSIONS 23.5" x 16.5" x 10"
KUDOS Very light and resonant. Sounds big and clear even at low volumes.
Fuchs Buzz Feiten Designed Vintage 2x12
Licensed exclusively to Fuchs, the Buzz Feiten-Designed Ultra light Vintage and Classic cabinets are built to Feiten’s specifications, using the same materials and construction techniques. Buzz Feiten put a huge amount of R&D into his cabinets years ago, and to this day they still offer a level of performance that belies their relatively small size. The Vintage cabinet that we tested is based on Feiten’s original design and features staggered, diagonally mounted 12” speakers, one mounted in front of the baffle and the other behind the baffle. The black Tolex covering is neatly applied, and cab features metal corner protectors and a top-mounted handle. Surrounded by white piping, the pop-off grille features both a Fuchs logo and small silver plate with “Feiten” inscribed on it. Held in place with 14 screws, the rear cover removes to reveal a painted interior that is padded with sound deadening material to mitigate standing waves for improved efficiency and tone.
Smaller and lighter than most 2x12 cabs, the Vintage looks well proportioned under all but the widest amp heads. Designed to deliver the punch of a 4x12, the Vintage sounded as tight and focused as you’d expect from a cabinet with twice the number of 12s when tested with a Fryette Sig:X 100- watt amp. This cabinet does its thing without sounding too directional either, which is good from an audience perspective, as well as for being able to hear yourself when you’re standing off-axis from it. Though designed with blues and jazz players in mind, this cabinet, with its Eminence Texas Heat speakers, provides excellent performance over a wide spectrum of clean to highly overdriven tones, making it a veritable Swiss Army Knife for the stage. The Vintage pairs well with amps of 50 watts and up, but it sounds killer with lower wattage amps too, making it a superb choice for anyone seeking a compact 2x12 with big sonic aspirations. —AT
BUZZ FEITEN DESIGNED ULTRALIGHT VINTAGE 2X12
PRICE $895 street
SPEAKERS Two Eminence Patriot Series Texas Heat 12s
CONSTRUCTION Baltic birch
POWER HANDLING 300 watts
FORMAT Closed back
IMPEDANCE 8Ω (also available in 4Ω and 16Ω)
WEIGHT 43 lbs
DIMENSIONS 23.75" x 20.75" x 11.75"
KUDOS Excellent punch and presence. Sounds bigger than its size.
Port City 212 Wave
The more compact of Port City’s horizontal 212s (they also make an “OS” model, meaning “over-sized”), the 212 Wave aims to deliver a robust big-cab sound in a small-cab load. The hefty construction, full back panel, and additional wave-port gubbins brings it in heavier than the Tone King Royalist also on review here—but it’s still easy to handle, even up stairs and in and out of the car, and less of a backbreaker than many traditional cabs. It’s a closed-back design, but the port along the lower edge essentially renders that moot. In a patented design using internal reflectors to channel back-of-speaker sound out to the front, the plan here is to achieve open-back sonic fullness and dimensionality with close-back thump. A mixed pair of Celestion-inspired WGS speakers—an ET65 and a Veteran 30—comes as this North Carolinabased maker’s standard option, but plenty of other speakers are available. I also really liked the Wave’s recessed top-mounted metal handle, which makes it a safe and relatively easy lift, while allowing you to sit any amp head on top, regardless of feet size.
I first dug into the Wave 212 with the Les Paul through the Komet amp, and wow, something just felt entirely right. The mix ’n’ match WGS speakers are a budget option of sorts, yet they hit me straight on with a mixture of chewy grind, 4x12-like presence, and individual-string clarity that made the entire rig feel very playable. This cabinet was somewhat directional, and perceived volume dropped off noticeably once I stepped off axis by more than 45 degrees or so. But the overall sound was just so sweet that I’d be willing to work with that, and indeed, it might be a boon in some settings where stage volume is an issue (I immediately began thinking of ways that this could make my drummer happier). There was plenty of punch without the slightest hint of harshness—even when I got the upper-fret leads really squealing with the Strat—and a delectable balance throughout the frequency range. All in all, very impressive, and worthy of an Editors’ Pick Award. Also, due to some quirk of speaker or cabinet design, this one seemed to slide into sweet, controllable harmonic feedback the most easily of the bunch. —DH
PRICE $715 street, as reviewed
WGS ET65 and one WGS Veteran 30 (other speakers available)
CONSTRUCTION Baltic birth ply
POWER HANDLING 125 watts
FORMAT Closed-back, ported
WEIGHT 54 lbs
DIMENSIONS 28" x 17" x 11.75"
KUDOS An ingenious compact ported cab with a great full, balanced sound.
StageCraft StageMaster 212
This big, burly, none-more-black cab comes to us from StageCraft of St. Louis, Missouri, which builds OEM cabinets for many amp makers—including Reason, Brown Note, and Glaswerks—as well as for direct sale. The StageMaster 212 hides a few tricks up sleeve of the standard closed-back format, with internally adjustable ports for each side that enable you to “tune” the cab to individual rooms and/or speaker selections. As supplied, it comes with a pair of ballsy Eminence Governors, but plenty of other options are available. A chunky unit that takes some lifting (I’m rapidly rethinking the third-floor walk-up studio…), the StageMaster 212 also includes feet for both horizontal and vertical positioning. More than just a feng shui kinda’ thing, the different orientation options of the port also alter the cab’s low-end response: port-toward-floor equals more bass, while standing it vertically with the port to one side tilts things somewhat more toward the lower mids. The included port-tuning manual offers detailed guidance here.
Whether I played the Stratocaster or the Les Paul through the Komet K60 or Dr. Z Remedy, the StageMaster 212 just felt big all over. There was a full, muscular presence to whatever I chucked into it, and the big ports seemed to make up for the typical directionality of many closed-back cabs by throwing around plenty of sound, whether I was standing right in front of it or quite a ways off-axis. Stack-like low-end thump is the signature here, with plenty of midrange punch to keep the guitar in its home register. This cab didn’t sound quite as refined as the 3rd Power or the Port City, for example, but could well be my pick for “Best Bang for the Buck” if you’re looking for weighty big-stage performance. Oh, and it’s loud too, although the 102dB Eminence Governors—some of the most efficient speakers tested here—clearly play a part in that. —DH
PRICE $549 as reviewed
SPEAKERS Two Eminence Governor speakers (other options available)
CONSTRUCTION Baltic birch ply
POWER HANDLING 150 watts
FORMAT Closed-back, with internally adjustable ports to tune cab to different rooms and speakers
WEIGHT 60 lbs
DIMENSIONS 29.25" x 19.5" x 14.5"
KUDOS A crafty ported cab that throws out a lot of sound, with big-cab thump in the lows. Great bang for the buck.
Tone King Royalist 212
The Royalist 212 fro m Baltimore’s Tone King was designed as a partner to the British-inspired head of the same name, but makes a worthy contestant on its own. Relatively compact for its breed, and refreshingly light too, it is the product of a lot of careful R&D and design tuning, all aimed at packing the thump and response of a vintage Marshall 4x12 into a much easier load, while also chasing “full stack” feel at low volumes without sacrificing full-volume performance. With all that in mind, it might come as something of a surprise that this is an open-backed cab, but that’s where extensive prototyping and testing led Tone Kingster Mark Bartel, who also opted to mix light and lively Canadian birch ply for the cabinet with a baffle constructed of Baltic birch ply. Two Eminence speakers made to Tone King’s specifications aim for Greenback-style tones with heftier lows and greater power handling.
Playing a Strat and a Les Paul alternately through a Komet K60 and a Dr. Z Remedy, the Royalist 212 offered good low-end thump for its size and speaker complement, but was defined more by its upper-midrange bark and an edgy bite in the highs that’s somewhat characteristic of open-back cabs. It’s a surprisingly loud cabinet too, but that open back throws out a lot of sound, and chances are these Eminences are more efficient than the Greenbacks they are tonally modeled after.
The entire cab felt very resonant and alive, and in some ways I enjoyed its vibe more with the Strat than with the Les Paul, although it definitely dialed in a tasty, late-’60s classic-rock thing with humbuckers. Played with Tone King’s own Royalist 45 head, which was on hand for a future review, this cab really came into its own with an extremely appealing depth and edge to the sound (no surprise, as they were voiced for each other). As a cabinet to pair with any good tube head, though, the Royalist 212’s lively open-back response and dash of vintage-stack chunkiness make it mighty satisfying. —DH
PRICE $995 street, as reviewed
SPEAKERS Two Eminence Governor speakers (other options available)
CONSTRUCTION Canadian birch ply cab with Baltic birch ply baffle
POWER HANDLING 120 watts
WEIGHT 36 lbs
DIMENSIONS 27.75" x 16.5" x 11.75"
KUDOS A refreshingly light, compact design that nevertheless offers a big, open tone.
CONCERNS Highs might be just a touch spiky with some amps.
Vox Night Train V112NT-G2
With its radiused corners, chic-looking black pebble-grain covering, suitcase-style handle, and white piping, the Night Train V112NT-G2 looks like something a proper English gent of the ’60s might use for toting his slacks and shirts on holiday. A stylish open-back 1x12 cab that’s rugged, requires minimal space, and won’t throw your back out to carry up a flight of stairs, the V112NT-G2 is a great match for smaller tube heads. The build quality is happening, and small details like the recessed jack plate add confidence that this cabinet can stand up to hard use. Sonically speaking, it’s pretty hard to go wrong with a Celestion Greenback speaker no matter what you install it in, and the V112NT-G2 sounded very good when driven by a Marshall PA-20 head and also with a far more powerful Demeter Mighty Minnie pedalboard amp. Hitting both amps with a reissue Gibson ES-335TDC yielded cool tones that were infused with a chimey grind that, at least at higher volumes, benefitted from the harmonic goodies that this classic Celestion speaker was contributing.
This cabinet has a very open sound too, allowing the highs to sparkle over a foundation of well-balanced lows and mids. It’s a great choice for blues, jazz, country, and roots rock, and while there’s no doubt that two 12s are better than one for most live-performance situations, when the V112NT-G2 is matched with an amp that goes into distortion fairly easily, the synergy that occurs is a thing of beauty—particularly for situations where the temptation to turn up is tempered with the realities of room size and propinquity of the audience. A 1x12 cab can also be ideal for recording and rehearsals, so with all that in mind—and considering that a Celestion G12M speaker would set you back $125 all by its lonesome—the Vox V112NT-G2 makes a lot of sense in terms of what you get for the money. —AT
NIGHT TRAIN V112NT-G2
PRICE $249 street
SPEAKERS 12" Celestion G12M Greenback
POWER HANDLING 25 watts
FORMAT Open back
WEIGHT 28 lbs
DIMENSIONS 19.5" x 16.5" x 10.25"
KUDOS A toneful match for small tube heads. Small, light, and very affordable.
CONCERNS Limited power handling capability.