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This article was originally published in issue #41
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Hartke HyDrive has been around for a few years now but the company announced a new cabinet to the range back at NAMM 2015, the HyDrive 210, which is essentially the existing 410 model cut in half for portability. For the sake of comparison, when we were offered the 210 to review, we asked for the HyDrive 112 model as well to compare and contrast, so should you be wanting to decide which you should go for, I hope that you’ll be able to hear clearly the differences in our review video. And on that subject, it’s hard to describe in words how a cabinet sounds so make sure you are listening through some really good speakers or decent earphones. No laptop speakers or ear buds, please!
Both of these Hartke cabs feature solid plywood construction, and although I’ve not had a peep inside, the specification describes extensive bracing and dado joinery for a solidly built unit that shouldn’t resonate like an acoustic guitar body! Similarly, both feature the familiar grey steel kick grille and logos. Cabinet covering is a slim tolex style wrap that features on all HyDrive cabinets along with shiny ‘bar type’ handles and cabinet corners unifying an identifiable look.
The 2x10 plus 1" compression driver cabinet is of the sealed type and you can expect that low-mid bump and compressed sound when pushed really hard, which is characteristic of the design. Well, four of these and you have a great ‘fridge’ cabinet that will reward with top end bite from the tweeters and low mid punch with Rock warmth from the custom speaker drivers. The selling point (leaving size and weight aside for the moment) is that they are claimed to combine the benefits of an outside paper cone with an inner aluminium cone, said to give the best of both bass worlds - Hartke's characteristic aluminium cone sound blended with that of the traditional paper type.
Round the back, there are two Speakon connectors and two 1/4” sockets for daisy chaining other cabinets to them. On the rear control panel there is a three way tweeter attenuator. The options of ‘off’, ‘on’ and a -6dB volume cut means you can control those highs and soften the sound if you are using heavy distortion that can sound a bit fizzy with tweeters engaged. Rubber feet attached mean that the cabinet is expected to be placed horizontally, but I’d prefer to place it vertically for better top end dispersion.
In comparison, the HyDrive 112 has the same connections on the back but has one extra useful option in that you can switch the impedance of the speaker to suit your needs. This is switchable between 8 and 4 Ohms and can be a very useful facility under some circumstances.
So how do they sound? Well, tonally the cabinets are different to my ear. While sat to the side of both cabinets in the video, the 210 seemed to have a stronger mid-range and upper mids, whereas the 12 seems smoother across the mid-range. Tweeter top ends seemed similar to me which I would expect if the two tweeter units are the same. Which one had the lows? I feel the 112 had the edge on that one, as you might expect. It is a ported cabinet though, which goes a long way to support the low end in a well tuned ‘box’. Of course, you have to accept that neither of the cabinets alone is likely to induce earthquakes but they can do a certain amount of volume before breaking up.
As you might expect, both HyDrive cabinets have a ‘colour’ baked in to them. Low mid bumps in the EQ and spikes in the top end make the bass guitar sound fatter and I feel this is what Hartke is going for with these cabinets - it makes it less of a hassle to dial in a sound from a ‘flat’ amplifier.
I can see the 12” version of these two being super useful for those who want a modular approach but still want to get the most from their amplifier - even if the difference between an 8 Ohm cabinet and a 4 Ohm cabinet is relatively slim in terms of output volume.
These are both lightweight cabs and quite well priced, particularly bearing in mind the prestige brand involved. Whether you like the sound of one against the other is going to be the deciding factor so you really do need to audition these for yourself. Given the very competitive market currently, you are probably going to want to compare them with others on the market, too, to see if you feel the characteristic Hartke sound is 'your thing'. If it is, then choosing between these two isn't going to be easy - maybe the 12" if you need a stronger bottom end, but beyond that, there is less difference than you might expect.