Truth or Fiction?

“Changeling.” For me, this is a word that immediately invokes Sci-Fi images of small creatures with large furry feet who like second breakfast and elevensies. Duke LeJeune doesn’t deal is small furry unrealities though; in real life, he creates impossibly good bass speakers.

Thunderchild: A Futuristic Bass Cab

Sci-Fi magic brought to life is more or less exactly we’ve come to expect from AudioKinesis’ previous bass cabs. When BGM reviewed the Thunderchild TC112AF, we found it impossibly good – light, loud, and low, all in one package – and were impressed by the tunable rear ports and innovative rear-firing horn which gave it a rich “3D” feel other cabs just didn’t have. The Thunderchild line of cabs include the TC112, 115, 212, and 118. The Acoustic Friendly (AF) variations of those models add rear-firing horns to help deliver more of the feel and resonance of an acoustic instrument. You can read the full review of the TC112AF in BGM issue #7 (from the January 2012).

Personally, I felt that the TC112AF had two shortcomings. One was that it was just a little too pure for me. I like the feel of paper cone woofers that add a little bit of grit and harmonics of their own when pushed; and the TC didn’t do that for me. The Thunderchild stayed pure, even when pushed; so much so that some people even use these for PA cabs! The second was that while the horn waveguides dispersed well into a room for the audience, they didn’t necessarily radiate up to the bass players ears very well – especially if you are standing close to the cab(s). Duke took these criticisms directly to the drawing board and worked out his Hathor line of cabs (and also made some updates to the horns used on the Thunderchild cabs in order to facilitate better vertical dispersion).

Fender Rumble 600x200

A New World Order

The current generation Hathor line of cabs consists of the 1203, 1505, 1533, 212, and these cabs use 3” or 5” paper-cone midrange drivers in place of horns. Hathor midrange drivers are built into open chambers with ports both on the top and sides. This allows their output to radiate both up and out the sides to where both the bass player and his bandmates can hear the cab and all its detail much better. In my experience, this adds more of the harmonic content and grind that the Thunderchild horn system didn’t deliver. All AudioKinesis speakers have Duke’s innovative tunable porting systems. This allows the user to choose from all ports closed (to sound and feel like a sealed cab), or, by opening the tunable ports, the feel of ported cabs tuned to the user’s preference.

Even more remarkably, in the Hathor series, Duke has made the response of the paper cone mids tunable as well, via the “Intelligent Tuning System.” The Intelligent Tuning System is composed of two toggle switches on the rear of the cab. The first of these allows the user to select either a more clean, pure tone from the mids, or a slightly more aggressive tone infused with more harmonic overtones. The second toggle lets the user select a brighter, more modern tone, or, a slightly darker, more vintage tone by padding back the response from the paper cone mids. All this adjustability makes the Hathor cabs quite the chameleons, capable of a much wider range of performance than nearly anything else out there. In his the most recent line of speakers – the Changelings – Duke has combined his repertoire of tricksy innovative designs and technology from the Thunderchild AF and Hathor designs into a wide new line of cabs, with impressive results.

bass cab
bass cab

What makes a Changeling: the C112T

The C112T starts with the same fine components that make the Hathor 1203: an 8-ohm Eminence 3012LF woofer, and a Faital 3FE22 mid driver. The 3012LF is a neodymium-based (“neo”) driver rated at 450 watts (thermal), which can take 900 watts of program from 46 Hz to 2 kHz. It has an Xmax of 9.1mm, which is nearly twice as much as Eminence’s 2512 neo bass woofer. The Faital 3FE22, which uses also a neo magnet, is a full-range, high-sensitivity, flat response driver used in many applications, from full-on PA line arrays to home audio. While the Faital specs rate it from 100 Hz to 20 kHz, Duke says it really only extends to about 14 kHz, and that its decent sensitivity and fairly wide dispersion make it a good pairing with the 3012LF. The big difference between the Hathor 1203 and the Changeling C112T is an additional rear-firing Faital Pro 3FE22, which essentially makes it an Acoustic Friendly version of the Hathor; but Duke put a lot of thoughtful detail into the execution, here.

Out of the Box

The boxed shipping weight of the C112T is 36 lbs, so it was really no surprise when it came in at just 29.5 lbs on my scale. Dimensionally, its specs are 22″ tall by 14″ wide by 14″ deep. This “tall version” of the Changeling (hence the “T” in the model name) is a bit bigger than the standard version, which is 18″ tall x 14″ wide x 14″ deep, and weighs in at 28 lbs. Duke says the extra size in the tall version means it also has a bit deeper bass response. The Changeling has an inset leather carry handle that doesn’t interfere with putting your amp on top, stack lock corners, and a Duratex finish. Not only is it a breeze to move around, you can easily carry one in each hand with no problem. The view from the front may be a little different than a standard bass cab; the woofer and mid each have their own small grill, rather than one large one for the whole cab. Looking down on the cab from up top, you can see that each of the Faital Pro tweets has two 4” x 1 1/4” ports, and an additional 2” x 1 ¼” port on each side, for a total of four ports per mid driver.

On the back of the cab, you’ll find the four ports for tuning bass response, and three switches to control midrange response. “Up” is louder for each of the switches. Flipping the top switch down gently rolls off the top end north of about 3.5 kHz, and flipping the bottom switch down smooths the otherwise somewhat growly upper mids. The middle switch is labeled “0/-7,” and in the down position, it shelves down the output of the rear-firing mid by about 7 dB. This switch is in the middle of the dish, because that’s the only location with enough space for the label. Regarding the ports, the more ports open, the bigger the low end. To tighten things up, plug a port or two, or more. When plugging two, Duke suggests plugging them on a diagonal, to keep the back-pressure on the 3012LF even; this keeps the driver traveling smoothly under high loads. The crossover point between the 3012LF and the Faital is more or less 1.7 kHz, but it’s really more complicated than that. Duke says they really overlap from about 1.4 kHz to 2.1 kHz, and that range is where “grind” is in that combination of drivers that can be switched off and on via the third toggle on the rear of the cab. The rear-firing 3FE22 is crossed over a little lower than the front firing one, and it’s also padded differently to make its output appropriate to the rear-firing application goal. It’s normally padded back about -3 dB relative to the front one; the middle toggle can also select padding it back about -10 dB.

bass cab

The Changeling at home

With the Changeling out of the box and a GK MBF500 neatly on top, it was time to see what all this evolution added up to. I started with a vintage Fender Precision bass strung with flats, all the ports closed and all the Intelligent Tuning switches down, for the most vintage sound. It does this quite well, delivering a very creditable Motown tone. Next, I unplugged two of the rear ports and switched to a Sadowsky MV5 strung with fresh rounds. Opening the ports makes the cab feel substantially deeper, but with all the switches down, the treble response wasn’t quite presenting the “Sadowsky feel” the way I like it. That was quickly addressed by throwing the top mid pad switch up. This makes treble response much snappier. Next, I switched the bottom toggle up, to add more growly midrange to the Changeling, and now it was cranking out the Sadowsky tone just the way I like it. Normally, I prefer horn-loaded cabs for this type of tone, but the Changeling mids deliver plenty of top-end clarity and presence.

Flipping up the middle switch (which pads back the rear mid driver) added more presence yet, and made the cab feel more three-dimensional. Lastly, unplugging the remaining rear ports added more heft to the low end. I switched to a Valenti bass loaded with Nordstrand Fat Stacks, and their extended treble response was also very well-delivered by the Changeling’s two Faital paper cone mid drivers. This setup has all the snap of a good horn, but delivers it in a superbly pleasant and sweet way. Low frequencies are pretty omni-dimensional in nature, but higher frequencies, not so much so. As an experiment, I took masking tape and covered the Faital tweeters ports to see what difference they make in higher frequency dispersion; and they in fact really do make a very perceptible difference in perceived dispersion and clarity standing at different points around the room!

At home, my personal favorite use of all the C112T’s various tunings was two ports closed, all switches up. This provided solid bass response, and, the grind and presence I like. As a final at-home test, I got out my double bass and plugged that in to the GK MBF500/Changeling 112T rig. Amplifying double bass is a tricky thing, and I’m hardly ever satisfied with it. Almost all double bass pickups are a piezo element. Almost all of them have some variant of spikey, ganky treble response, and mine is no different. Whatever magic Duke has worked with his crossover and the Faitals, the result is that my double bass sounds as good as it ever has when amplified.

bass cab

On the Job

The first place I took the C112T was rehearsal with my main band, a 6-piece group consisting of piano, two guitars, sax, drums and bass. We rehearse at a very nice studio (where I’ve recorded a lot), and everyone in the band is a seasoned veteran, both in terms of performance and session work. I set the cab up slightly ahead of the drummer’s kick drum. Usually, I set the cab a little behind him – so he can hear it better – so this position was a bit of an experiment. The studio space is large, but we rehearse at very low volume. With a GK MBF500 on top of the cab, my standard settings sounded just fine, and the single cab was more than enough, even with the GK not pushing hard. My bandmates all liked the way it sounded, and after rehearsal, I asked the drummer if he noticed anything different about the cab. He said, “It sounded great, and I sure could hear it surprisingly well, given that you placed it more or less in front of me.” Plus one for the improved omni-directional response of the Changeling.

Next stop was a small café, where my trio gig regularly plays. Again, the GK MBF500 and the Changeling were more than plenty for the situation. The Changeling was a big improvement over other small cabs I’d used here before. The band gets placed in a corner of the venue; in the corner, one wall is glass and the other is corrugated tin. Normally, I hate how my rig sounds here, and some cabinets really leave me faced with a wrestling match to get a sound that’s good both for me and the room. None of the other cabs I’ve worked that room with are rear-ported, nor do any of them have rear-firing tweeters – so I’ll have to presume those are contributing reasons as to why the Changeling worked so much better than other cabs in that room. Plus two for the Changeling.

I took two Changelings with me (set in a vertical stack) for my first venture into Clubland with my 6-piece band. Again, I used the GK MBF500, still at my standard settings. In this room, that felt just a little thin. While I could have chosen to bump the active bass control on my Valenti, or boosted bass or engaged the deep switch on the GK, it took just a second to walk behind the stack and remove the other two port plugs from each of the two cabs and run the ports all open. This got me just what I wanted; it’s pretty cool to be able to tune your cabs to a venue like that. There was plenty of beef out of these pretty small cabs to drive the whole band. The paper cone mids deliver more than enough snap and clarity for any kind of music, including funky slap lines – all without having to boost treble at the amp or the bass. This band uses two Bose Stick/Sub speakers for PA, and only voice, sax, and piano are in there, so the bass rig has to carry the room. The Changeling stack powered by 500 watts did this with plenty to spare. Load-in and load-out was one trip each way; a cab in each hand, amp bag over one shoulder; bass bag over the other. In this room, I had the cabs more or less in line with the drummer’s snare; with a wall about four feet behind us. He commented that he could definitely hear me better via the Changeling’s rear ports and rear tweeter. Plus three for the Changeling.

bass cab
bass cab

Conclusions

The rest of my time with the AudioKinesis Changelings mirrored the three previous scenarios. I went through a string of other rehearsals, smaller and larger jobs, and practice time at home. I did a second large job with this band using the Mesa D-800+. I even hooked up GK’s hard-hitting 1001RB-II and MBF800 to the pair of cabs, both of which worked out just fine; their power ratings seem spot-on. When I sat down to write this up, I had to really dig deep to come up with any negatives at all, here are the only two I have: 1.) if you want mega-dub-deep bass, there are probably better options – the diminutive size of these cabs prevents them from being that; 2) the AudioKinesis aesthetic is just a little different from mainstream. This is really neither a plus nor a minus. After all, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and as far as I’m concerned, any tool that works this well can look however it looks. The pluses of the Changeling C112T are many: high performance, 3D soundscape via the rear ports and rear-firing tweeter, Intelligent Tuning that lets you literally have at least three different cabs in one. The two that really stand out for me are just how easy the C112T is to move – even two at a time – and, the super-sweet midrange and treble response.

Ah, there may be two more downsides. First, AudioKinesis is literally a one-man shop: Duke. And he also builds some fabulous (award-winning!) home stereo speakers. (Check out his website!) So, there’s a 3-month wait, or so, to get your hands on one or two of these. Second, these cabs are so good that this review is gonna end with me trying to figure a way to get enough additional gigs to get a pair of these for myself. I do not want to send them back!

C112T Bass Cab

In-hand

Features: 5
Tonal Flexibility:5
Ease of Use: 5
Aesthetics:4
Tone: 4.5
Value:4.5

In-hand Score 4.66average

TONE-O-METER:

The C112T is a big performing cab, in a small package. Actually, due to a high degree of user tunability, it’s actually several great cabs in a small package. Extremely portable and super sweet highs.