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This article was originally published in issue #21
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Gradually the dominance of the traditional amp backline is being challenged by a new generation of guitarists with new ideas. Using modellers and FX, the next step in the chain is an active or passive monitor speaker. But what can handle that sort of sound quality at convincing SPLs? Step forward US newcomer XiTone. Tom Quayle investigates.
With so many guitarists switching to digital modelling pre-amps and effects these days, the market for FRFR (Full Range, Flat Response) PA style speaker cabs for guitar players has grown considerably. One of the prominent players in this new field is the American company, XiTone (pronounced 'zai-tone') speaker cabinets, which produces both active and passive 1x12 and 2x12 wedges and cabs designed to live up to the rigors of the road - or even a disgruntled spouse! Run by Mick Farlow, the company’s ethos is to produce cabs that are constructed to FRFR standards but which retain the traditional 'feel' of a guitar cab.
XiTone sent us the passive 1x12 wedge model to review and the moment you open the box the first thing that hits you is just how well made these cabs are. Constructed from void-free ¾” ply wood with a steel front grille, the cab feels incredibly durable and strong thanks to its LineX Brand coating which can be customised in various colours on request. LineX is the material used to cover pickup truck beds so you know it will withstand a significant beating on stage and on the road!
The design itself is attractive with rounded corners and a curved fascia sporting the XiTone logo, interestingly made from two Z’s rather than the expected X. A steel carrying handle and rubber feet complete the design offering up a wedge-based cab that is reassuringly weighty but not overly heavy for carrying to and from venues.
The speaker chosen for the 1x12 wedge is an Eminence Beta 12CX co-axial driver, rated at 250w RMS, with a switchable 3db pad for the tweeter. A second switch allows the user to toggle the tweeter phase between directly in phase or 180 degrees out of phase as required. These subtle touches actually offer a very useable resource at gig volume allowing some of the shrill highs to be tamed, producing a more natural guitar tone with a smoother top end. Mick states that all the components used within the speaker section are off the shelf, allowing easy replacement of parts anywhere in the world should something go wrong. Our review model also sported a directional pole mount for traditional PA style speaker placement. This is not yet a standard feature but is a really nice addition making the cabs more flexible, especially when used as a ‘front of house’ style solution as opposed to for on stage monitoring.
To test out the 1x12 wedge I used my Axe FX II modeller into my Matrix GT1000FX power amp, running a mono signal to the cab via the Speakon input. Starting with a basic clean tone with no effects it was immediately apparent that the wedge felt a lot like a guitar cab to play through. Bottom end response and percussive attack were present in spades thanks to the sealed cab design functioning much like a standard guitar cab. Low-end thump was impressive for such a small cab and the highs were crystal clear with a lovely smoothness after engaging the 3db tweeter pad. Overdriven tones were articulate without a shade of muddiness and with lots of transparency. It’s a credit to the XiTone cabs that we could hear the individual character of each guitar through the setup and the cab coped with pretty much every tone we could throw at it with ease.
One of the most attractive elements of an FRFR system for me is the ability to play music or backing tracks through the same system for clinics, solo gigs or busking. The XiTone wedge performed fantastically at this task with a crisp and detailed sound that felt similar to a high quality studio monitoring system. It certainly sounded flat in terms of EQ response and the system would be suited equally well for on-stage use on the floor or as backline or front of house on pole mounts. XiTone also produces traditional guitar cab shaped units for use as backline in both 1x12 and 2x12 formats. I should add that active versions are also available and employ the very impressive Matrix GM50 amplification module, thus offering a very compact solution in either mono or stereo configurations.
Considering the low price that XiTone is asking for these passive cabs they represent great value for money, especially for the US market where there will be no import tax to pay. For the rest of the world they still represent a good deal but you’ll need to work out what shipping costs and import taxes apply in your country. That said, the demo cabs we sampled had already been purchased by a XiTone customer based in France, who collected them from us after the review - so clearly the costs are not prohibitive.
The XiTone range gives guitar players looking for a passive FRFR setup a superb solution to match their modeling preamp and power amp. Active versions offer the same tonal response without the need for an external power amp and whilst more expensive offer great value against a separate power amp system. They come highly recommended.