ISP Technologies Bass Vector and Bass Vector Pro cabinets, with Beta Bass Processor preamp
ISP Technologies, isptechnologies. com
Beta Bass Processor: $557 Bass Vector cab (active): $1,858 Bass Vector cab (passive): $1,300 Bass Vector Pro cab (active): $2,324 Bass Vector Pro cab (passive): $1,500
UNLESS YOU'VE BEEN shopping for pro-level P.A. systems or noisereduction devices, you may not be familiar with the ISP brand. But chances are you've already encountered the work of ISP's founder, James "Buck" Waller-the founder of Rocktron. After selling Rocktron to GHS, Buck and his brother Jon formed ISP, and the company debuted in 1999 with a line of powered sound reinforcement enclosures. ISP later entered the guitar market with its Theta guitar amps and Vector powered guitar cabs. Now, ISP has made its debut in the bass amplifi cation arena.
WHAT'S YOUR VECTOR, VICTOR?
Building upon the knowledge gained from the development of ISP's P.A. and guitar amplifi cation designs, Jon Waller's mission was to design a bass enclosure that could achieve a depth of tone comparable to their massive P.A. cabs. To maximize the Bass Vector's lowend extension, he chose large, 18-inch woofers, and to avoid the dynamic sluggishness and muddled midrange often associated with 18s, Jon opted to go with what might be considered a fairly low crossover point for a two-way cab (around 800Hz to 1kHz). To cover frequencies above the crossover point, he decided on a pair of wide-range 8-inch drivers instead of a more traditional tweeter. While the cabs are offi cially rated to 4kHz (± 3 dB), Jon says the 8s effectively reach up to about 10kHz.
The proof is always in the listening, and these cabs convey some of the most musical and compelling highs I've heard. My testing notebook is studded with such comments as "fantastic fi ngerstyle upper mids and highs" and "highs are just about perfect." Thanks to those 8s, the upper midrange and high end is butter-smooth, too, and not the least bit murky or muddy. Though not as sparkly as some tweeter-equipped cabs, the Vectors can still cop a bright modern tone, and offer plenty of top for all but the most zing-happy slappers. The 18s certainly get very low (ISP specs the cabs down to 39Hz, ± 3 dB), and they do so without sounding overly plump or wooly. And the tight and controlled nature of these cabs extends from the subterranean depths to the mids, and through the highs, as well.
The perceived low end varies a great deal depending on how the cab is placed, and there are several options: horizontally, vertically with casters, or vertically without casters. When using only one Vector, I prefer the cab standing on end (port down, 8s on top) without casters. But when using more than one cab, stacking them in their horizontal orientation is defi nitely the way to go. This allows all those 8s to form a pseudo line array, which aids in horizontal dispersion.
The primary difference between the Bass Vector and Bass Vector Pro (both cabs are powered 1x18/2x8 enclosures; both cabs are also available without internal amps) is in the choice of woofers and internal amp designs. The Bass Vector employs a 500-watt woofer, and the Pro's woofer is rated at 1,000 watts. The Pro's internal amplifi er is a higher-voltage design and delivers 1,000 watts into its 8-ohm driver. The Bass Vector can power another 8-ohm cab, while the Pro is intended to work solo.
ISP's D-Cat amplifier technology (co-designed and patented by Buck and Derek Bowers, a design engineer with Analog Devices) is worthy of its own review, but I will mention that its unique class-AB topology allows for extremely high current potential, which, according to Buck, improves transient response.
Regarding the tonal variances between the regular and Pro models, the Bass Vector has more of a warm low-mid voice, with a more punchy and aggressive midrange, while the Pro sounds more refi ned, controlled, and hi-fi . The two cabinets' perceived overall volume levels are comparable; the standard Vector has a more present mid emphasis, while the Pro steps forward with its deep, tight, and concussive lows.
Measuring 30" wide, 21.25" high, and 24" deep, and weighing in at 125 and 130 pounds, respectively, the Bass Vector and Bass Vector Pro are not for the timid. These are heavy-duty touring cabs, made from Baltic birch plywood with extensive bracing, and coated with durable rubberized polyurethane-just like many pro P.A. cabs. The construction is top-notch and beyond sturdy, and the overall design seems more utilitarian than fl ashy, with only the bright blue light near the center of the front baffl e to suggest that one is looking at something more extraordinary.
With its understated appearance, the Beta Bass Processor preamp also seems intended to stealthily fl y under the radar, yet it's also loaded with surprises. For example, the clip LED is set up to trigger if you peak at any point in the signal chain-including the EQ section-which is a nice feature, especially when you don't have a means of monitoring the output signal. The shelving bass and treble controls are conventional enough, with a range of ± 15 dB, but the Mid1 and Mid2 controls provide boost and cut that to my ears sound asymmetrical, with boost seeming more audible than cut. These two parametric mid controls have overlapping ranges (60Hz-2kHz for Mid1, 200Hz-3kHz for Mid2), and each offers the choice of wide or narrow bandwidth (Q).
When boosting mids, I generally prefer a broad, fairly powerful control, and when I want to cut mids, it normally means I'm trying to notch out an offending frequency without mucking up the overall tone. With its selectable Q, the Beta can easily handle either situation. I found the Beta's Bright switch to be fairly subtle, yet it defi nitely helps the harmonics to ring out more clearly, so I usually prefer it engaged. The Exciter is rather unique, as well. According to Buck: "The Beta's Exciter employs a phase-shifted signal that is mixed back into the original, which not only enhances the upper harmonics, but also provides a subtle dynamic boost at the higher frequencies when it becomes phase-coherent."
There's no bypass switch for the Exciter on the front panel (though "zero" is effectively "off"), but you can engage a hard-wired bypass via use of the footswitch (which can also toggle the compressor on or off). The Decimator is fl at-out the best noise reduction product I've tried. Buck explains: "The Decimator employs time-vector processing, and is adaptive over a 1,000:1 range. It looks at the waveform coming in [both instantaneous and over time], compares this to the best time-constant fi t, and constantly adjusts the release characteristics. It's powerful [and consistent] enough to be used as a tone/note shaping tool, but when all you want to do is to dial out that annoying neon buzz between notes, it gets the job done, but remains virtually transparent in the process." (The Decimator circuitry is also offered in a pedal and standalone rackmount unit.)
The Beta preamp's compressor is impressive, too. Like the Decimator, the compression is also adaptive, and is exceptionally transparent. I heard no audible "pumping" or "breathing," though at the very highest settings, you might perceive some reduction in high-end sparkle. I normally eschew compression (I feel that most compressors have an audible impact on my tone), but now I'm quite content to leave the Beta's compressor set to kick in with some regularity.
The Beta's back panel features include an effects loop (with level control), a footswitch jack, unbalanced and balanced main outs, an XLR D.I. out (with level control), ground lift, and pre/post control. The power transformer is external to the chassis, sending a 9V signal to the preamp. The Beta's only obvious omissions are a mute switch and center detents on the appropriate controls. But Buck says they may incorporate both ideas in a future update.
THE BOTTOM LINE
The Bass Vector and Bass Vector Pro each offer incredible depth, dispersion, and detail in a tough and deceptively simple package. ISP's "stealth technology" defi nitely delivers the goods, and in a refreshingly new and different way. Yes, these cabs are big and heavy, but ISP hints that they have products in development for those of us who gig without the benefi t of a burly road crew. Bass players at all points on the spectrum can enjoy the unique benefi ts of the Beta Bass Processor.
Quite simply, this preamp offers an incredible amount of useful technology in a surprisingly affordable unit, and its paradigm-breaking feature set is both uniquely powerful and easy to use.
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