This article published in #Issue 18 in winter 2016.
Barefaced Audio is a company based in the United Kingdom which currently offers a very impressive lineup of high-end bass enclosures. The product lineup ranges from small cabs (1x10, 1x12) to large cabs (8x10), from vintage-inspired cabs to studio-monitor-like full-range enclosures, and throws in some powered cabs, for fun! The man behind the cabs is Alex Claber, a mechanical engineer by training, a bass player by choice, and a regular contributor to that other BGM – our friends across the Pond at UK’s Bass Guitar Magazine.
I have been interested in Alex’s work for some time, and when the opportunity came to review some Barefaced cabs, one of the biggest challenges was picking which cabs to include in the review. We wanted to provide a nice cross-section of the lineup, and as a result, we have one of the “vintage-inspired” cabs – the Two10. Representing the other end of the spectrum is the FR800 active loudspeaker, which is basically a powered version of the Big Baby 2. Or is it a mini (but mighty!) PA cab?
The Company Line
We first mentioned Alex Claber in these pages back in issue #8, in the context of the “DIY bass enclosure movement.” Indeed, Alex’s first bass enclosure designs were shared openly on the internet, and led to his first cab, the Big One. The plan to build one cab turned into a plan to build a handful of cabs, which turned into a couple of teams of carpenters building enclosures. This turned into a “garage business” by 2010. In 2011, Alex and crew moved out of the garage and into a designated business location (while turning the garage into the spray shop). 2012 saw the purchase of a CNC machine, which allowed for increased production (and design) capacities, and actually helped make their cabs stronger and stiffer. Barefaced introduced their Generation Three models in 2013 (which actually employ their fourth iteration of bracing and damping).
Despite the diverse product line, there are several guiding principles which permeate the Barefaced lineup. All enclosures are designed to be as tall as is practical, in order to get the drivers closer to ear level, and they are all designed for optimal midrange frequency response. Both of these design goals are aimed at allowing the players to hear themselves well on stage. Another key design element is polar response. Allowing for good off-axis response means that your bandmates are more likely to hear something musical (and useful), and less likely to get annoyed at you for slinging mud at them.
From day one, Alex designed his cabs to be loud. However, getting big lows and balanced mids at high SPL is not an easy task. The first Barefaced cabs employed one of two different 15” Eminence drivers. The second generation cabs added 12” variants of the Eminence HO and LF drivers. The Generation Three models have stepped up to the superlative 12XN550 driver, developed exclusively for Barefaced by Eminence. This neodymium-based driver features an impressive 550cc volume displacement, and it has eliminated the need for a 15” option in the Barefaced lineup.
But wait, don’t they have 10” equipped cabs in the lineup? Yup, and these cabs have a very distinct mission statement. The One10, Two10, Six10 and Eight10 are intentionally colored and designed to bring a more “old school” tonal flavor. These cabs employ the 10CR250 driver, which is another Barefaced exclusive, manufactured in the USA by Eminence. Like the 12XR, the 10CR was designed for high volume displacement and high power handling (250-watt handling). But this driver was also designed to gracefully handle overdrive and distortion.
With these two main building blocks – the more “flat” 12XN550 and the somewhat “colored” 10CR250 – Barefaced has built a lineup of eleven different enclosures, and counting. Our two test cabs give us a good taste of what Barefaced has to offer.
At first glance, this enclosure looks exactly like the Generation Three Big Baby 2, and the two cabs do share a lot of the same components. The lows up through the middle-mids are handled by the impressive 12XN550 – which Barefaced (and the displacement stats) claim to be twice as loud as other conventional high-end 12” drivers. The upper-mids to highs are handled by a Faital Pro neodymium-based 1” compression driver, mated to a cast aluminum, constant directivity waveguide. The difference is that the FR800 features a built-in 800-watt class-D amplifier (made by Hypex), with DSP control. The DSP allows for a selection of four different presets. Our test FR800 came equipped with the following presets: Neutral, Deep, Vintage, and Fat. As a result of cramming the amp/DSP inside, the FR800 has slightly less internal volume than the Big Baby 2, which Alex says results in slightly decreased low-frequency sensitivity (from the FR800). But other than the sensitivity in the lows, the response from the FR800 (set to Neutral) is identical to that of the BB2.
Fans of previous generation Barefaced Big Series cabs may notice the move from 3-way designs to 2-way designs. In general, a good speaker design will attempt to cover the desired frequency range with as few components (and crossover points) as possible. But when you are shooting for a very even response over a very wide frequency range, you don’t want to ask too much of the components involved. Generation One and Generation Two Barefaced cabs employed a 6.5” midrange driver, which could be run as a 2-way setup, or as a 3-way, by adding a small horn tweeter. Over two years of development went into the design of the 12XN550, and while good low-frequency response, high displacement and high power handling were important design goals, Alex was also keen to get the higher frequency performance right. The hope was to get a 12” driver which would have the right treble response curve to eliminate the need for a midrange driver, and to also maintain that response curve as well as possible both on and off-axis. The other half of the equation involved using a very sensitive high-frequency driver paired up to a waveguide which could match the off-axis performance of the 12XN.
Both boxes survived the trans-Atlantic trip in great shape, and when I unboxed them, I was pleased to see that each shipped with a high-quality padded cover. Very nice! The FR800 stands at just under two feet tall, and it feels feather-light (under 33 lbs). The spray on acrylic coating is neatly applied, and there are two strap handles (located on either side), which facilitate either one-hand or two-hand carrying. The white-on-black Barefaced logo, black metal grille, and the chrome corners and handle accents make for a clean, modern look. Moving to the back panel, there are two balanced XLR connections (one male, one female), labelled “Audio Input” and “Link” (so that you can “daisy chain” multiple FR800’s together). In similar fashion, there are two powerCON connectors, labelled “Power In” and “Power Out,” at the bottom of the back panel, which allow you to run one line from the wall, and then chain the cabs together on the power side, as well. The recessed button for cycling through the four DSP settings, and the list of the four DSP settings, is also located on the back panel. A USB port is located at the top of the back plate. This allows the player to download alternate DSP presets (from Barefaced), or to adjust the input voltage sensitivity, if necessary, to optimize performance with particular preamps/mixers. The software used for these adjustments can be downloaded from the Hypex website (www.hypex.nl). The bottom of the enclosure houses the recessed pole-mount and four vibration-dampening rubber feet. There are four more rubber feet on the side of the cab, allowing for use in the horizontal configuration (and also making it convenient to set down, when carrying with the opposite strap handle).
Barefaced also offers a version of this powered enclosure that leaves off the HF driver, called the LF800 “active subwoofer.” Both the FR800 and LF800 are internally switchable for 110v nominal or 230v nominal operation.
Although they are ported designs, the 10CR series cabs are designed to approximate the performance of a classic sealed cab, with a bump in the upper bass, and a gentle roll off in the lowest lows (for a full, yet tight response). These enclosures employ what Barefaced calls a “hybrid resonant system,” which increases the back pressure on the drivers, reducing their excursion, while at the same time increasing the low frequency output, as a result of the extra air movement caused by the resonator. Barefaced recently upped the official power-handling rating from 400 watts (as indicated on the back panel of our test cab) to 500 watts, as they felt the prior rating was just too conservative.
Unlike the FR800, the Two10 does not have a high-frequency driver, and its frequency range extends to a claimed 6kHz (compared to 16kHz for the FR800). Like the FR800, the Two10 is intended to be used either horizontally or vertically, with feet on both the bottom and the side. The single round port is located on the side – which then becomes the bottom, when stacked vertically. I prefer to stack my 2x10’s vertically, to get the drivers closer to my ears. But it’s cool to have the option of horizontal stacking, if a slightly fatter tone (from increased boundary support, from the floor) works better for you. Alex designed the Two10 to have similar dispersion characteristics in either orientation.
There are a couple of options when ordering a Two10. You can choose between a metal or cloth grille, and you can choose 12 or 4 ohms for the impedance. Our test unit was a 4-ohm model equipped with the cloth grille. The 12-ohm option allows for stacking three Two10’s (for a combined 4-ohm load), but if you are only going to use one cab, the 4-ohm configuration is probably the way to go (and the most popular). Fortunately, if you order one impedance setup, but wish to change to a different one later, you can replace the wiring loom, crossover and rear panel (which does not require any soldering, and is a lot easier than sending your entire cab back to the UK). Unlike the textured acrylic coating on the FR800, the Two10 came covered in a sweet-looking, “almost black” tolex.
While these are not inexpensive cabs – weighing in at $2,999 for the FR800 and $849 for the Two10 – it is important to note that these enclosures use high-end, custom drivers and other top-shelf components, and their prices include shipping to the USA from the UK (buyer is responsible for paying the duty tax, though). All in all, you typically get what you pay for, and I definitely think that this is the case with these Barefaced Audio cabs.
Considering what I knew about Alex and his work, I had set my expectations pretty high for these cabs. The FR800, with its beautiful waveguide and a super impressive 12” driver, had me chomping at the bit to fire it up. Considering the balanced XLR input, and the obvious pedigree of the cab, I chose to pair it up with my Millennia TD-1 preamp. Talk about a match made in heaven! With the EQ on the TD-1 disengaged, and my MTD 535 preamp set “flat,” the tone was exactly what I cherish: wide frequency response, fullness with clarity, near limitless dynamics, and sweet, singing, musical highs. I became a fanboy at the first note! This was with the DSP set to the “Neutral” setting – which Alex says has no EQ at all, just a high-pass filter set at a low frequency. After losing myself for a while noodling around with this newfound “wonder rig,” I decided to investigate what the other DSP settings brought to the table.
Switching from Neutral to Deep is a relatively subtle shift, with the mids and the highs apparently remaining unchanged, but with some increased depth to the low end. The lows stay very tight and “fast,” though. The third program down (you cycle through the four presets by repeatedly pressing a small button on the back panel) was named “Vintage,” and it definitely seems to add some warmth and takes a bit of an edge off of the overall clarity (though to be clear, the FR800 does not sound at all harsh in any of its settings). It sounds … well … more “vintage.” Cool! The last preset, Fat, ended up being my favorite. This setting seems to leave the mids and highs alone, and it seems to reach deeper (more so than the Deep preset), but it also fattens up the lows a bit. Before trying this preset, I would not have called the FR800 “thin” in any of its settings, but once I heard it in “Fat mode,” that is where I wanted to leave it. Remarkably, even with this increased fullness and depth to the lows, the FR800 retained its great dynamics and clarity, from top to bottom.
Finding a meaningful comparison to a high-end powered 1x12 is not always easy, but I happen to have a Bergantino IP112 on hand, so I thought I would compare these two powered cabs. In truth, the IP112ER would be a more close comparison, but I only had the older (smaller) model. The FR800 is about 50-60% larger than the IP112. For this comparison, I initially went back to the Neutral preset. The FR800 has a much more open and airy high end than the IP112, and as such, it has more clarity, sparkle and sheen. This characteristic carries over to the mids, with the FR800 sounding more wide and dynamic, and the IP112 sounding more focused and punchy. I should point out that I tend to notice this same distinction between the IP112 and the larger IP cabs. The IP was meatier in the lows, though. Switching to the Fat preset on the FR800 brings it definitely into the Bergantino territory as far as low-end fullness is concerned. Likewise, the Vintage preset is more similar to the midrange/high frequency response of the IP112.
After trying a bunch of different preamps with the FR800 (all of which worked just fine), I keep coming back to the TD-1. It’s a great match, and the TD-1/FR800 combination is quite possibly the best bass tone I have heard. This rig just kills on every level! I decided to try one more comparison against a rig which I know to be one of the “best of the best,” to make sure that I wasn’t just temporarily infatuated with the FR800. This comparison involved an AudioKinesis TC115AF, powered by a Bergantino B|Amp. This is a rig which has a deep, full, luscious tone, but supreme clarity, very smooth highs, and great dispersion characteristics. After much A/Bing, I believe that most people would have a difficult time distinguishing between these two rigs, and it is impossible to say which rig sounds the best. Impressive, indeed!
While I had to search a bit to find other rigs to compare to the FR800, with the Two10, the obvious comparison is the Ampeg SVT-210AV. I am a huge fan of the 210AV, which has a great, warm “retro vibe,” but also exhibits good clarity and articulation. It is a sealed 2x10, which is what the Two10 is supposed to replicate. The downside to the 210AV is its relatively modest power handling, and the ability to only move so much air. I was curious as to whether or not the Two10 could give me that same tone/vibe/feel, but with more output and power handling.
Directly comparing the SVT-210AV to the Two10, the tone profile is very similar, especially in the highs. The lower notes also have a similar tonality, but the Two10 is clearly moving more air (even at similar volumes), and feels a lot bigger and more solid in the lows. The midrange responses from the two cabs are also in the same ballpark, but the Two10 is more meaty and a tad darker, while the 210AV is more present in the upper mids. Physically, the two enclosures are right about the same height, with the Two10 being slightly wider and several inches deeper. The Two10 can most definitely deliver what I love about the 210AV, and can, in fact, deliver a lot more of it. The increased power handling is also quite apparent (and appreciated).
The first amp that I hooked up to the Two10 for my critical listening was the new Mesa/Boogie D-800. This seemed like a pretty good pairing, and my Sadowsky P/J5 certainly liked it – especially in passive mode. After this, I tried several other solid state heads and had consistently good results. Considering the design goals of the CR10-based cabs, though, I was interested to hear how it would respond when pushed by an all-tube head. This is where the magic is at, folks! While I really liked the Two10 with my SS heads, this cab really sings with a tube output section. I was more than a little surprised by the transformation, to be honest. Everything about the response seemed more musical with tubes, and they seemed to make my solid state heads sound a little woolly with the Two10. One of my favorite tube heads with the Two10 was the Eden VT-300, which sports a relatively hefty 300-watt output. Knowing the Two10 to be fairly sensitive, though, I wanted to try it with a lower-powered tube amp, so I broke out my 100-watt Pignose B100V. I am happy to say that it also just killed with the Pignose, and once again, I appreciated the depth, fullness, and overall output of the relatively small Two10.
On the Gig
The first cab to get the call to a gig was the FR800. This band plays a wide variety of styles, and I use a lot of effects – including octaves and synths – so I knew that it would be a good test of the FR800’s frequency range. This band also features several songs where I play my old Kay upright. Some rigs which sound great on electric bass do not fare as well with upright (or vice versa), and this would be another litmus test for the FR800. I was also interested to hear whether or not this fairly small cab could keep up, volume-wise, with the rest of the band (drums, keys, guitar and vocals). For a front end, I again used the TD-1. I have to say, I was blown away! This single 1x12 is capable of incredible output volume, and it feels effortless across the entire frequency range. The impression was very much one of playing through a much bigger rig. The balance and clarity was very impressive, from top to bottom. My bandmates could not believe all the volume coming from that little guy, and I was not pushing it anywhere near wide open. It did not disappoint on amplifying my upright, either. The Kay sounded big, woody, and had that Chess Records thump in spades. Equally impressive, it sounded distinctly like an upright, which is not always the case with some rigs. That particular gig rig debut could not possibly have gone better.
Since Barefaced markets the FR800 as both a “bass enclosure” and a “PA enclosure,” I tried it as a drum monitor at another gig, and our drummer had the best monitor mix on stage! This cab most definitely excels as a monitor or even as a main PA. In fact, I’m trying to figure out how to work two of these into my main PA rig. Heck, two of these could BE my main PA rig!
When I got a chance to play the Two10 in a band setting (classic rock, heavy rock), it felt right at home. I initially set it up horizontally, because I thought that I’d need all the floor reinforcement I could get to keep up with two guitars, but after a bit, I switched it to vertical, and it actually fared even better. I started off using a GK MB Fusion 800, but when I noticed that it was barely working up a sweat, I switched to an all-tube Ampeg PF-50T, and I was amazed by what this 2x10 could do with “just” 50 tube watts. Granted, the smallish room helped, but I was still impressed.
You see lots of backlines use full-on Ampeg SVT stacks, and for good reason. The natural roll-off in the ultra-lows, the meaty midrange presence, the visceral punch in the gut, and the lack of eardrum-piercing highs works very well in many band settings. But they don’t call the SVT-810 the “fridge,” for nothing, and it’s just about as fun to move as a real fridge. The CR10 series cabs promise a similar performance in a smaller, lighter, more efficient package, and my experience with the Two10 certainly lends credit to such promise. If you really want to hear all that these cabs have to offer, though, please do try them with tube power!
The Bottom Line
These cabs are very different from one another, and they each serve very different roles. I do believe that the FR800 – with proper EQ/compression and right-hand technique – could sound reasonably similar to the Two10, whereas the Two10 just cannot cover the same frequency range, or sense of air and clarity, as the FR800. Both are lightweight, but very sturdy, and both of them are fairly compact cabs which think that they are much larger. These are most definitely “top of the food chain” cabs, and if you want to experience some of the best bass enclosures on the planet, I suggest you Bare it all…
Oh, and if you are having any doubts, they offer one-month trial, so what’s to lose?