This new 120W Chinese-made tilt-back combo is designed for smaller rehearsals or monitor use, or even bigger gigs with PA help, and it offers a lot of sound for its size and price. Review by Gareth Morgan
Description: Single channel 120W 1×12″ transistor combo. 12″ speaker and 2″ piezo tweeter. 18mm tilt-back MDF cabinet (front baffle 25mm) with front porting. Made in China
Contact: Sound Technology – 01462 480000 – www.soundtech.co.uk
The first-ever EBS product, the EBS-1 bass preamp of 1988, was made in a basement in Stockholm by the two company founders, Bo Engberg and Mats Kristoffersson (no relation to Kris, alas). Both were semi-pro bass players with an interest in electronics, although Kristoffersson was the more design-oriented of the two, and both were passionate about making top-notch bass gear. That same year at the Frankfurt show they met Hershel Blankenship, an American entrepreneur who ran an exclusive business in LA assembling high-spec rack systems, and amongst the first players to receive an EBS-1 was the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ Flea – a huge break for the fledgling company.
Since then the story has been one of an ever-expanding product line which includes effects pedals (the first being the OctaBass octave pedal in 1993), power amps and speaker cabinets. In 1993 they produced their first combo, the Taurus 240; the first head, a high-powered all-valve affair called Fafner, followed three years later. Today, Engberg and Kristoffersson still run the company, although production and assembly has moved from a Stockholm basement to other independent firms in Sweden and also cheaper Asian productions centres. This month we’re reviewing the Chinese-made Classic Session 120 combo.
The CS120 is a squat box standing 450mm high, 437mm deep and 401mm wide, but with a slot enabling you to position it flat or tilted back in monitor style. The smart, mottled black vinyl exterior has metal corners and two sets of rubber feet and it’s built from 18mm MDF, which always sounds a little cheap but in fact has excellent bass cabinet-friendly properties including consistency of strength and flexibility. Still, the choice of MDF does create a payload of 21kg/47lbs), which in today’s climate of reduced weight bass gear recalls more halcyon, back-breaking times, and while the single top-mounted strap does its job adequately, a pair of side-mounted handles would have been a better option.
The mottled black/silver grille has white piping and hides one 12″ speaker and a 2″ piezo tweeter on a 25mm MDF baffle. All we know is that the speakers are made in China, the 12″” being ‘developed especially for this combo’ and rated at 150W. There’s a circular port bottom left, through which acoustic foam is visible. There seems to have been a slight lack of attention to detail during the build process as the vinyl is coming away from the MDF in three or four places, and there are issues with the fitting of the grille-securing Velcro strips.
The black control panel is dominated by a line of chunky black knobs very much in keeping with the ‘Classic’ name. Next to the input jack you’ll find a Gain knob with a white Character button: this accesses a ‘scooped mids’ pre-shape with boosted bass and treble and a midrange cut. There are three tone controls, with Bass (+/-15dB @ 100Hz) and Treble (+/-15dB @ 10kHz) flanking the midrange controls. Here, the smaller of the two controls selects a point between 150Hz and 3.3kHz (only the top, middle and bottom frequencies are marked) while the larger one controls 15dB of cut or boost.
The Aux In section comprises a pair of phono sockets and a level control which allows for blending of any audio source for practice use. As well as Master Volume, there’s also a headphone socket and balanced output of the XLR variety with Ground/Lift switch.
The CS120’s amp section – like its predecessor the CS60 – is pretty much a scaled-down version of the EBS Classic 450 head, which bodes well. There’s no active/passive switch, so you need to take care with the Gain level. You could start by depressing the Character switch and stepping onto Scooped Mids Street, but unless you’re into reduced definition and punch and that annoying glassy sound, we wouldn’t recommend it as the result is a rubbish bass sound.
Leaving that switch well alone, the EBS delivers a pleasing noise and a fair reproduction of your bass’ acoustic tone, albeit with an added chunk of cabinet-induced bottom end. It deals with a five-string’s low B well – no distortion, excellent definition and a decent booty level. The core of the note is solid and punchy with plenty of impact, and as you move across the fingerboard your bass will speak sweetly. We’re not really fans of a horns without a horn level control, but while it definitely a induces a metallic zing into proceedings on the thinner strings EBS have got the attenuation almost spot-on and the overall impression is one of clean, crisp clarity with snappy bite on offer if you make an effort.
So the flat EQ sound is good and it doesn’t get any worse when you dial in added bass, the CS120 taking as much as you’re prepared to throw at it without overload, filling space and sounding big, fat and, best of all, defined. If the horn enhancement is still too clanky for you, chopping back treble is a way to reduce that; this sands down the burrs from your note edges, creating a more old-fashioned sound, without removing all the shape from your note.
If you want nasty and noisy, just wind the Treble knob to anywhere from half-boost upwards and you’ll get more finger click and clanky fret-noise than you’ll know what to do with. As for the midrange, the parametric selector is genuinely useful. Turn it to the left for dark punchiness; move it towards the 500Hz centre for more rasp with a gunning, barky quality at the bottom end and more presence and stature – a good place for competing with multiple guitars. Boosting level is brighter on the clockwise side and while there’s a slight diminution of bass end, the sound is fat enough. You can find the classic burpy tone between about one and four o’clock but this is, again, a well-attenuated control so it feels like an element that contributes to the whole tone rather than one which overruns and ransacks it.
The EBS Classic Session 120 is a good little unit. It’s compact and delivers a good variety of sounds via the straightforward, musical EQ. Stylistically it’ll get you anywhere you seek to go, although the power and volume on offer and lack of extension cab capability limits its usage in loud stage situations. There are negative points, especially in the payload department; 21kg is a touch on the heavy side in the current environment – but £399 isn’t too expensive, the tilt-back facility is useful, and the cool, classy look makes it quite an appealing little package.