This Article was published in Issue 19 in SUMMER 2016.
Jeff Genzler has been involved in the guitar and bass amplification world since 1986, or so. Around 2008, his work on bass amps surpassed the guitar amps, and he has established himself and his products as a favorite of bass players around the world. His long-time brand, Genz-Benz™, was for a time affiliated with Fender™, but he is now operating under the brand name Genzler™ Amplification. Jeff first made us aware of his new brand and product line at the 2015 Summer NAMM Show, and needless to say, he had our attention with the “top secret” designs he showed us. They all sounded great on paper, but we were all eager to get our hands on them. Later, I had an opportunity to spend some time with the prototype of the Magellan™ 800 head, and this definitely ramped up my excitement level quite a bit. Once the Bass Array™ cabs became officially available, Jeff sent us a pair to check out, and we posted a First Look Facebook exclusive mini review.
At the 2016 Winter NAMM Show, we were able to get our hands (and ears) on the complete Genzler Amplification lineup, which includes the Bass Array BA12-3 cabs, the Magellan line of cabs (which includes a 1×12 and 2×12), and the Magellan 800 (MG-800) bass head. All of these products impressed us very much, with the tweeter-equipped Magellan cabs sounding more like “traditional” bass cabs (and being rather reminiscent of some of Jeff’s previous designs), and the Bass Array cabs wowing us with their smooth tone and killer off-axis performance. The MG-800 head impressed us so much, it walked away with a Bass Gear Magazine Best of Show Award! Needless to say, this left us more eager than ever to get a full Genzler rig in for review, and Jeff hooked us up with an MG-800 head, plus three BA12-3 cabs.
While Jeff’s name has always been a part of his amplification companies, he will make no bones about the fact that his products have always been the result of a team effort. Scott Andres is the Principal Engineer with Genzler Amplification (and a bass player, himself). Scott has worked with Jeff for over 14 years, dated back to the Genz-Benz days, where he was deeply involved in the development of all of the Shuttle and Streamliner heads. Scott’s experience in bass amplification includes not only class-D designs (such as the Shuttles, Streamliners, and the MG-800), but also other solid state (class-AB, etc.) and tube-based designs, and he also has an extensive background in amp repair.
As Jeff notes, “… it is a huge advantage in our small company to have the design engineers personally involved in the manufacturing and customer service (repair) responsibilities.” In truth, this is one of the advantages of a smaller company. Jeff explains further, “In larger companies, in-the-field service issues could go unreported to the engineering staff for months, if not longer – allowing a potential small issue to become catastrophic.”
A New Flagship
To those of you familiar with Jeff and Scott’s previous amp designs, the Magellan 800 will appear familiar. The enclosure is very reminiscent of the Genz-Benz Streamliner 600/900, with a sleek clamshell design. It has a single 1/4″ input jack (1 Megohm input impedance), followed by the Mute and Pad buttons (the Pad attenuates by 8.5 dB). Next up is the Volume control for the Clean channel. The Channel button selects between Clean and Drive, and when Drive is selected, the next two knobs, Gain and Volume, become active (and the Clean channel Volume control is deactivated). You’ve seen “contour” controls before, but the Magellan’s Contour function is pretty special. First up, you have a Curve button, which selects between the A and B contours. The Shape knob controls how much of the selected curve is applied to your signal. Fully counter-clockwise is “flat,” and fully clockwise applies the selected Contour curve to its maximum extent. After this, we have a 3-band tone stack, which includes a variable frequency range of 150Hz to 3kHz for the Mid frequency. Each band allows for +/- 15 dB boost/cut. Finally, we have the Master Volume control (which is always active, regardless of the channel selected). The Magellan makes use of LED indicator lights, much like many other bass heads. However, I really like the application, here. The LEDs are mounted behind the face plate and allowed to shine through rectangular “windows,” which are inset into a “slot” which spans the width of the face plate. The result not only looks slick, but it allows the LEDs to be clearly seen, without searing your retinas! When Curve A is selected, the Contour LED shines blue, and when Curve B is selected, it displays amber.
The nicely featured back panel also screams “classic Jeff Genzler,” and that is a good thing. On the left-hand side, we have the power switch and the IEC power cord input jack. Next up, we have an Impedance Selector switch, with settings for 4/8 Ohm and 2.67 Ohm (very cool!). Below this, we find two Speakon® outputs (which are the Speakon-only style, not the combo jacks which also accept ¼” cables). Following this, we have ¼” jacks for the Phones out, Foot Switch (for channel switching), effects loop Send and Receive (which also function as preamp out and power amp in), Aux In, and Tuner Out. On the far right, we have the balanced XLR DI output, with slide switches for ground lift, Pre or Post EQ, and Mic or Line Level. That’s pretty much all you could ask for on a bass head back panel, though I do like those Speakon combo jacks…
Genzler Amplification rates the Magellan 800 as putting out 400 watts into an 8-Ohm load, and 800 watts into either a 4-Ohm or 2.67-Ohm load (the Impedance Selector switch must be set appropriately, of course).
Line ‘Em Up
Genzler Amplification currently offers two distinct lines of enclosures: the more traditional Magellan-series bass cabs, and the Bass Array 12-3, reviewed here. The BA12-3 is a ported enclosure featuring a powerful 12” neodymium-based woofer mated to four 3” neodymium drivers configured in a line array (hence the name!). Both drivers are from Italian manufacturer, Faital Pro. The idea behind the use of 3” drivers is, in part, to provide a smoother, more open midrange-to-higher frequency response (as compared to a single high-frequency driver). The array of 3” drivers is located in the middle of the front baffle, and extends the full height of the cab. This means that as you stack multiple cabs, the 3” line arrays function as one larger line array.
The back panel on the enclosure features a pair of Speakon inputs, as well as a pair of ¼” inputs. Genzler rates the BA12-3 as handling 350 watts. A single strap handle adorns one side of the enclosure, and four rubber feet are placed on the bottom. I will say that when you are carrying one or more BA12-3’s, and then you need to set the cab(s) down, you do wish for feet on the side of the cab opposite the handle, to prevent scuffing.
Inside the Head of Jeff Genzler
I have had the pleasure of being able to play a good number of the amps previously designed by Jeff, so I knew a bit about what to expect from the Magellan head. To be honest, this set a pretty high bar, as far as expectations go. My initial experience with the prototype left me immediately impressed, and my opinion has only gone up, the more time I spend with the MG-800. The look and feel of the amp just oozes class and quality. At just over six pounds, it’s a very lightweight bass head, but it still has enough heft to feel substantial (and to resist being pulled off the top of the cab by an instrument cable!). The knobs have a nice feel, decent feedback, and are very easy to read, with a prominent black line on a silver knob. As previously mentioned, the LEDs are very well done. So, it passes the “look test,” for sure. But how does it sound?
Jeff Genzler amps have, for the most part, always displayed great clarity and definition. In fact, I described the first Genz-Benz head I reviewed, the GBE 1200, as being “more clear and aggressive; really articulate and cutting.” These characteristics definitely carry over to the MG-800. It’s hard to say exactly what Jeff is doing to make his heads so aggressively articulate, but I can tell you that they do not do so at the expense of fullness or tonal balance. The Magellan head feels very full and even across its tonal range (especially the Clean channel). Speaking of the channel options, the Drive channel is an interesting alternative. Some of Jeff’s prior amp designs offered the choice of a solid state channel or a tube-based channel (or possibly a combination of the two), and I feel like the two channel options on the MG-800 are a continuation of this theme, albeit all in the solid state realm (no tubes). The Drive channel definitely behaves rather like a tube preamp. By varying the amount of Gain, more harmonic content can be dialed in. There is a bit of a “tube compression” feel as you turn it up, as well. The Volume control on the Drive channel of course allows you to keep the overall output of this channel similar to that of the Clean channel. Interestingly, Jeff chose to employ a higher frequency target for the high-pass filter on the Drive channel than on the Clean channel. You can most definitely hear this as you switch back and forth between the two channels. However, you can easily fill out the lows when in Drive mode by boosting the Bass control a bit.
Once you have made your choice of which channel to use, the MG-800 offers you a new twist on the old “contour” option. The Contour control on the Magellan is really two distinct controls, in one. Set to curve A, it operates roughly akin to other similarly labelled controls, with a mid-scoop and low/high boost, that increases as you turn up the Shape knob. Curve B, however, features a low-mid boost, along with trimming off a little high end. With my playing style and preferences, dialing in some curve A tended towards a more modern tone, and dialing in some curve B helped nail a more vintage vibe. I really liked the combination of curve B and the Drive channel for vintage rock.
The tone stack, itself, is pretty much exactly what it looks to be. I found the range of both boost and cut to be potentially usable, and I liked the range of frequencies offered on the variable mids. For a 3-band EQ, it can cover a lot of ground, especially when paired with the channel options and the choice of Contour curves.
I spent some time talking to Jeff about his new company, Genzler Amplification, his new head and the new cabs.
TB – I am definitely a fan of the semi-parametric mids, and I know that you have employed a similar EQ in the Neo-Pak 3.5 and Shuttle 3.0/6.0. Other than the frequency range on the Magellan’s midrange control extending up to 3kHz (versus 2kHz on the former designs), what are the differences between newer and older tone stacks?
JG – Even though the EQ network of the MG-800 may look similar to others on the market, it, too, is a case in taking a look at what “is” and asking the question as to what it could “be.” The EQ circuits for the MG-800 were designed with the goal of maximizing musicality and versatility, eliminating interactions between controls, reducing corner frequency shifts in the shelving filters during boost and cut adjustments, and lessening the effect each filter has on adjacent bands.
TB – The dual-function Contour control is a new twist. Tell us a bit more about the inspiration for this control. Have you done a “contour” control in the past?
JG – There are many amp designs with some form of a contour, signal-shaping option, either by a rotary pot or multiple switches. We had experience with this in a few previous designs. The inspiration for the Magellan’s Dual Adjustable Contour circuit was to provide the user with an easy option to dial in any of four different tonal pallets:
- Flat (no pre shape filtering), for the purist who only wants to hear his instrument without any additional coloring from EQ.
- Slap tones, from classic to modern. This is Contour A, range 9:00 and above.
- Traditional pre shape curves (found to one degree or another in many of the popular preamps and amps over the last 50 years). This is Contour A, range 1:00 and below.
- Vintage tones, as made popular by the amp and cabinet designs originally produced in the ‘60s and ‘70s. This is the beauty of Contour B.
TB – A common feature on some of your older designs is the ability to either switch between (or combine) two different channels, or else dial in a variety of gain and volume controls. Either way, these designs offered the ability to dial in a range of clean tones, as well as a range of “dirty” tones. Do the “Clean” and “Drive” channels on the Magellan 800 represent a distilled version of these previous designs?
JG – As we brainstormed the preamp design and features, we pulled from our vast experience with FET and tube preamp designs to design circuits that produced the characteristics most desirable for our objectives. We found we could create this within an all-FET preamp. And because we chose a dedicated Drive channel, we were able to design the circuit more specifically to tailor that sound and harmonic content to be much more pleasing to the ear as you drive the gain higher. Even when run in cleaner settings, the Drive channel offers a distinct difference to the pristine Clean channel. And as the Drive channel Gain control is increased, the tonal shape of the signal is tapered at the lower and upper ends to provide a smoother and more pleasing overdrive. This does represent a next generation in Genzler Amplification design.
TB – The chassis design, esthetics and knobs on the Magellan definitely evoke the former Streamliner design. How are these two chassis similar? How are they different?
JG – The Magellan 800 chassis design comes from the same people that created many unique and accepted statements in amplifier industrial design over the years. At some point, you just realize you see product design in a certain way, and that is who you are. We truly see the MG-800 as the next generation of our professional bass amplification product design.
A New Lineup
When I first reviewed the GBE 1200 and the NEOX-212T, I commented on how the aggressive nature of the GBE 1200 balanced very well with the more laid back nature of the NEOX-212T. Well, it feels like, to an extent, we are following the same script, here. The BA12-3 is a very smooth, very laid-back kinda cab. That being said, it does pack some serious punch when provoked – particularly in the low-mids. The use of a line array for the mids/highs, instead of a tweeter or dedicated high frequency driver, yields a different presentation of this “information.” Considering that this is a new approach for Jeff, I had some questions for him regarding the design of the BA12-3 cab:
TB – The Magellan cabs seem as if they could pass for a somewhat more evolved version of some of your prior bass enclosure designs. But the Bass Array 12-3 definitely seems to be a step in a new direction. What inspired the move to the 3” array approach?
JG – Yes, the Magellan cabinets are certainly more traditional in design and speaker compliment, but we worked diligently to make a new statement with these, as well. We’ve heard from players using them that they really do sound just as they look – a modern take on classic tone. They are full-bodied, with throaty mids and smooth highs. Now, the Bass Array design has been a concept that has been floating around with me for some time – without specific form. I’ve tested small cone drivers for a long time, looking to find the right blend of frequency response and design to bring it all together. Over the past few years, in the player community, there has been a lot of discussion about the use of tweeters and designs of alternative woofer/mid driver cabinets. Over the years, I’ve designed cabs using 15” and 4” drivers, 15” and 8” drivers 12” and 2 x 8” drivers, etc. I think we have a heritage of looking at cabinet design in a different paradigm.
I think the Bass Array is a culmination of the development of the right speaker components and a market place open to hearing themselves through a “new aural experience.” I’m a firm believer that the frequency range that a tweeter provides is a very critical component to a quality bass cabinet design, BUT that there are other, and perhaps better, ways to reproduce those frequencies. When I first presented the initial cabinet design to our team, I got some funny looks. But as the design evolved through proto #3 and #4, it really started to come together, and we really felt that this is something very special and different. It is always a great feeling when the science and performance of a design just fall in line with each other.
TB – What do you find to be the benefits of the 4 x 3” driver array, as compared to a more conventional tweeter design?
JG – The single word used by all beta testers of the first testing samples was … smooth. Or smmmoooootttthhhhhh. I had Ed Friedland, Doug Johns, Carey Nordstrand, Michael Tobias and Roger Sadowsky test the early production proto cabinet, and they all had nearly the exact same comments. Probably the most smooth, musical and articulate-sounding cabinet they’d experienced. This is mostly due to the line array column offering more articulate and defined mids, smoother-sounding highs, better projection and wider horizontal dispersion.
TB – Did you consider a 3-way approach for any of the current bass cab designs?
JG – We’ve discussed this, and while a design is not imminent, it is something we continue to consider.
I’ve done several variations of 3-way cabinet designs over the years, and there are certainly merits to some.
TB – I notice that while the (tweeter-equipped) Magellan cabs employ a high frequency attenuator, the BA12-3 does not. What is the reasoning behind this design decision?
JG – Unlike most any other cabinet design, the Bass Array is a true integrated, balanced speaker system. Each component (12” woofer and array column) is reproducing a specific frequency range and both components are blended to their optimal performance. The 4×3″ array produces both mids and highs, not just high frequencies, like a tweeter. The crossover is designed to provide a smooth and even transition between the 12″ and the 4×3″ array. Adding an attenuator would upset that transition and balance, since it happens in the critical midrange frequencies. Even if you would consider some sort of adjustability, most attenuators (like those used on tweeters) would not handle the power level at this lower crossover point.
Inevitable Comparisons – Amp Edition
The range of lightweight, but powerful, class-D bass heads available on the market has been ever-increasing and ever-evolving. It is a great time to be a bass player, and there is no lack of choices on the market, today. What’s more, several bass amps currently on the market employ the same ICEpower module used in the MG-800 – the 700ASC/X. This new module is the latest generation, and it includes an integrated power supply and comes equipped with thermal and overload protection circuits. This same module is being used in several other bass heads which have hit the market, recently. While these new power modules do minimize some of the performance variables which we used to see between similarly rated class-D heads, there is still much to separate these different offerings from one another.
After spending some time comparing the MG-800 to a variety of other heads, I kept reaching the same conclusion. Namely, the Genzler has a certain quality about the attack and articulation of each note that I couldn’t quite match with the others. While some of the other heads may have sounded more “smooth,” or more “warm,” the MG-800 is neither harsh nor sterile sounding. In truth, it is very balanced and musical, throughout its range. It is also very dynamically responsive. The notes just really seem to explode out of this amp!
Inevitable Comparisons – Cab Edition
The Faital Pro mid/high drivers used in the BA12-3 are rated to extend up to 20kHz, and you have four of them. So these cabs are certainly capable of producing the full range of what you might hope to hear out of an electric or acoustic bass. However, their manner of communicating this information is decidedly different from what you experience with a traditional “woofer & tweeter” bass cab. The highs are more smooth and relaxed, but they are certainly there. Compared to some excellent 1×12’s equipped with good tweeters, the Bass Array cabs end up sounding more focused in the midrange, while the tweeter-equipped cabs can sound more “open,” overall. However, I will say that the high end presentation really changes when you add a third cab.
Speaking of adding a third cab, I found that when I ran with three BA12-3’s, I seemed to notice the effect of the third line array more so than the effect of the third 12” woofer. Yes, there is a bit more solidness and depth to the lows when running three cabs versus two, but I could replicate this effect by (switching back to 4/8-ohm operation and) turning up the gain a bit. However, when comparing to two cabs (and the gain turned up), the triple stack definitely had more perceived high end and overall clarity.
Real World Experiences
As I mentioned, I was able to play-test a pair of the cabs before the head arrived, and my first gigging experience with the Bass Array cabs was on New Year’s Eve, when I pushed a pair of them with a Peavey MiniMega. The hall was medium-sized, but long, and the stage was medium-small (and both raised and recessed, relative to the dance floor). We had a decent-sized PA, but this room, with its long, rectangular configuration, doesn’t need a lot of volume to fill the whole room. Pretty much, if your stage volume is appropriately balanced, the rest of the room should sound about right, with minimal help from the PA. The rig sounded great on stage (anywhere on stage, at that!), and when I walked out with my wireless, it worked really well throughout the hall. During sound check, I had the amp set flat, and I was pretty happy with the tone, but once the room filled up, I found myself dialing in some upper mids and high end on the Peavey. All in all, though, this was a great rig and a great gig.
Once I learned that the Magellan 800 would be stable to 2.67 Ohm, I asked Jeff to send us a third Bass Array cab, along with the head. Accordingly, I had the privilege of gigging with the MG-800 pushing three BA12-3’s this past St. Patty’s Day. My interest in adding a third cab was not based on needing to move more air. I regularly gig with either a 2×12 or two 1×12’s, and the pair of BA-112’s proved more than adequate at my first gig. But I was interested to try the taller line array afforded by stacking three of the cabs. In theory, this should allow for the double benefit of even better horizontal dispersion, while also getting the midrange drivers up closer to ear-level, thus benefiting the vertical dispersion, as well. I am happy to report that this approach worked well in practice, as well as theory. I was also hoping for an increased sense of dynamic headroom (from the 3-stack, versus the 2-stack), and I was not disappointed. As I mentioned above, adding the third cab definitely seemed to increase the overall clarity, as well.
On the amp side of things, I was really eager to see how the MG-800 would fare in a live setting. That control and high-pass filtering which I had experienced in early play testing definitely served me well at this gig, which happened to be in my “favorite” “problem room.” In the past, I have had to use some serious EQ to tame the boominess in parts of the room, while still filling-out the thin areas of this room. The variable midrange frequency on the MG-800 would be invaluable – or so I thought. It turns out, the particular marriage of the MG-800 with the BA12-3 cabs did just fine in this room, without the need for heroic EQ adjustments. The combined Genzler rig is powerful, complex, detailed and full, but it maintains a great balance, from top to bottom – even when the room is trying to force its own idiosyncrasies on the bass tone. Color me impressed! I think I am going to have to add the MG-800 and three BA12-3’s to my permanent arsenal…
The Bottom Line
Before spending my first moment with these new products from Jeff Genzler, I knew they were going to be good. With Jeff’s long product history, and his consistent (and intelligent) approach to bass amplification design, it is not unreasonable to put such faith in Genzler Amplification. The Magellan 800 is the ultimate evolution of a “Genzler amplifier,” with a great feature set, all the power you’ll need, and a slick, classy design. The Bass Array cabs break from the modern trend of relying upon tweeters to convey the high frequencies, and feature trademark smoothness and impressive off-axis dispersion.
The more time I spend with this rig, the more I love it. If possible, try and audition the MG-800 with three of the BA12-3 cabs, as I believe some real magic happens when the third cab is added to the equation. Together, these products are the bass rig to beat in 2016.