Palmer Custom Made Cabinets – To each his own Part 2 – Test Report by Soundcheck

»The Wizard turns in a highly impressive performance in medium- and high-gain mode.«

Namely, when it comes to speakers, Palmer offers customers an unparalleled range from which to choose.

There are currently nine speakers offered for the closed back models and even eleven different speakers for the open back 1×12″ cabinets! Somebody pinch me, so I know this isn’t just a dream! With the large cabinets with multiple speakers, custom combinations of speakers are available by request. All this is possible because Palmer waits to install the desired speakers until the cabinets reach their factory in Germany. Thus all conceivable variations are available within a very short time. So far, so good. Now we come to the hardest part, the actual “material test”.

So how did the candidates do in our sound lab? For starters, we tested the individual speakers installed in the divided 4×12″ cabinets, saving the two individual 1×12″ cabinets and the 2×12″ variants for later. So, here goes.

Among other speakers, Tone Center number 1 includes the familiar Celestion “Vintage 30”, which makes a logical choice as a standard of reference.

After all, it is one of the most widely used 12″ guitar speakers. Here it is pitted against three of the more gritty Eminence models, which are out to contest its championship title in the heavy and rock division. Securely anchored in its “corner” of the cabinet, the Celestion, which (despite its designation) is capable of handling loads of 60 Watts and more, performs with its usual authority: It produces a compact, defined bass and low-midrange response with even clearer, decidedly aggressive high mids that have the potential to become overpowering if combined with the wrong amp or instrument. Its sound is garnished by sharply defined treble tones that also tend to be on the cutting side. Its extraordinary presence makes it a familiar and popular choice for heavier styles. At the same, it is capable of delivering not only taut high-gain riffs and fat leads, but also clean (funk) or traditional crunch sounds with the required finesse.

Thus Palmer sets the bar pretty high for their colleagues at Eminence. In a direct comparison, the first thing that is surprising about the “Governor” model is a sound with many of the characteristics described above. It’s the differences in the details, however, that make things really interesting. The Governor can handle 75 Watts and sounds a little louder, somewhat smoother, with less bass and a somewhat more well-rounded high range, although it delivers every bit as much mid-range presence as its British counterpart. Thus the Governor leaves one with the impression of a vintage, well broken-in speaker capable of handling a very wide range of situations and styles. I especially liked it for fat leads and southern rock riffs, hearty high-gain boogie (à la ZZ Top, for example) and rocking slide work. A promising start!

Now I’m even more curious about the “Wizard” and “Man-O-War” models.

Who comes up with the names for these speakers? Anyway, if aural first impressions are any indication, this is one (sonic) “wizard” that lives up to its warlike name. For this speaker packs an even harder punch than the Vintage 30 does: Oh man, talk about starting things off with a bang – that’s what I call loud! While the mids aren’t quite so offensive and menacing, the Wizard, which also handles loads of 75 Watts, extends the frequency mix upward and downward. It makes the floor shake and sends harmonics flying every which way. It rocks in a big way, causing walls and band mates to tremble. The bass man in particular is breaking out in a cold sweat, and rightly so!

»The “Man-O-War” takes it up a notch in terms of sheer “heaviness”.« If you still relegate Eminence speakers to the realm of soft rock, you should have a look at the current product range or, better yet, listen to them yourself.

The full-bodied, powerful, loud, and extra heavy Wizard turns in a highly impressive performance in medium- and high-gain mode. With the amplifier in clean and crunch mode, it offers an unusually wide-ranging yet balanced sound. This is an interesting model that probably sounds big and powerful even as an individual speaker in an open back 1×12″ cabinet. For my personal taste, this is almost a little too much of a good thing – at least on the bass end, depending on the amplifier model and settings. It’s not often that I turn the bass knob down this far …

Wow, it’s a good thing I did though, because the next speaker in the test, the “Man-O-War”, takes it up a notch in terms of sheer “heaviness”. It is a little reticent on the high end, which can make crystal clear and crunchy sounds come out a little “muffled” and dull. For that, however, it establishes a foundation that seems to rise from the depths of the abyss, and it isn’t stingy with the low mids, either. It’s hardly possible to produce more “bass punch” with an individual speaker in a compact cabinet, especially since this guy can also handle a whopping 120 Watts of power. Alternative, stoner and hard rock players for whom there is no such thing as too much base should give these speakers a listen. The aggressive NuMetal, 7-string and baritone faction, however, requires a more sinewy sound and is probably better served with the more sparkling and transparent Wizard.

Which brings us to Tone Center number 2, which strikes more conciliatory tones with a few more moderate speakers.

The “Legend 1258” is certainly the classic in this group, since it is a speaker with a history. The comparable OEM model is found in numerous mid-priced amplifiers, especially American ones, take numerous Fender combos, for example.

This comparatively affordable speaker nearly became a sort of industry standard during the nineties, at least for amps emphasizing a pleasantly warm clean sound with brilliant, bell-like overtones

This is definitely just the thing for funk, country rock, or American-style blues. Despite its rather broad-based sound with attenuated mids, it also does an astoundingly good job of mastering medium-gain sounds that do not demand screaming harmonics, all the way up to and including traditional hard rock. So it is important to keep an open mind right from the start. It is precisely its versatile, rather unimposing character that made it so successful.

The sound of Eminence’s “Red, White & Blues”, by comparison, is a much more specialised one that has more bite and sass, but is also less full-bodied. It has a special affinity for country and blues, as well as high-octane indie rock. It conveys the amplifier signal very transparently and with plenty of presence, but with rather unobtrusive bass tones, lip-smacking mids, and tightly contoured treble response. This mixture makes the amp sound a little “smaller” right from the start, but is highly advantageous in larger groups. This is a speaker that is guaranteed to be heard while remaining true to its characteristically American sound, which is reminiscent of a hot-rod version of classic tweed tones. Its remarkably high power handling capability of 120 Watts is also helpful in this regard. I also had a lot of fun paring it with a big semi-acoustic and a couple typical rockabilly riffs.

The only model that is even more rugged is the “Texas Heat”, which is rated at 150 Watts.

When it comes to this speaker, the name says it all. The focus is on Texas blues. So it’s no wonder that it evidences certain parallels to the “Red, White & Blues” in terms of tone. However, the resonating frequency seems to have been displaced downward by an octave. There are plenty of rich bass and low mid-range tones with a trend toward smoothness, but less treble comes through. The sound is very powerful even with clean and crunch amp settings. In specific combinations, it is vaguely reminiscent of an old “blackface” Twin, but less brilliant, more earthy and richer. It is especially good at traditional overdrive sounds. Where have I heard this before? Oh yeah, one-time blues prodigy Kenny Wayne Shepherd’s early recordings. By the way, this rich, warm, and – in the clean range – dignified tone makes the supposedly hot-spurred “Texas Heat” highly suitable for stylish jazz and swing sounds as well. The most specialized speaker model in the group tested, however, is the “Cannabis Rex”.

On the heels of the phenomenal success which Brown Soun’ enjoyed with a speaker cone made of hemp fibre, various manufacturers also decided to give this material a try. Eminence was one of them, and the result is really worth listening to. The Cannabis Rex is rated at 50 Watts and shares many of the characteristics of more exclusive and extremely costly competitors while remaining pleasantly affordable. But what does it sound like? Smooth, extremely rich and yet transparent, with enormous low mids and, at the same time, an astoundingly accentuated bite if one increases the attack. The kind of tone one dreams of in a vintage sound, but more reliable and controllable. It can also sound fleecy smooth and compressed at times, for example, when confronted with a modern high-gain amp.

It must be connected to the appropriate amplifier, for example, a snarling VOX AC30 or an 18-Watt Marshall with plenty of power stage headroom, to make the most of its potential. Then, however, this cannabis tone can be addictive. However, you have to break it in yourself. This is one to try for experienced guitarists who know exactly what they want.

OEM:Abbreviation for Original Equipment Manufacturer. This simply means that a product is produced by a supplier on behalf of another company. Thus one manufacturer builds a product for another, and the other manufacturer then marks the finished product with their own corporate logo.

The Cannabis Rex is one to try for experienced guitarists who know exactly what they want.«

That leaves us with just three more candidates: the two 1×12″s and the 2×12″ cab.

The pleasantly light, semi-open back 1×12″ cabinet has compact dimensions that make it easy to transport, but offers enough internal volume to avoid limiting the bass response of the respective speaker too much. One is loaded with the Eminence “Maverick”, the other with a “Reignmaker” speaker, both of which incorporate the special FDM (Flux Density Modulation) function. This makes it possible to reduce the level by up to 9 dB using a control knob on the back of the speaker basket, which offers the tremendous advantage of being able to adapt the system to various musical and spatial situations in a jiffy. This independent feature works perfectly and really does have just a minimal effect on the actual character of the sound. (See also Maximum Check SC 01/11!) So instead of digressing any further about this, let’s just chalk up the built-in attenuation as a big plus and move on. On a side note: now it must also be apparent why these speaker models are not available for the two cabinets with closed backs – the FDM knob would be inaccessible.

Here, in any case, the Maverick sounds pleasantly balanced and open, thus displaying a versatility similar to that of the Legend 1258.

The base response is somewhat more subdued because of the open back cabinet; the highs are transparent, but well rounded. The midrange, on the other hand, has a little extra “oomph”, which is bound to please not only the blues-rock aficionados among us. The Maverick can also be driven with an aggressive, high-gain sound, which it does soften somewhat, but still brings across with authority. As far as that goes, the Maverick cab is also suitable for use in a compact stereo setup or as a supplement to a 1×12″ combo.

The “Reignmaker” has a bright red speaker basket which already intimates that this model is a little more hot tempered. It conveys less bass, sounds hotter and more penetrating, and gets “crunchy” quickly in combination with a hard attack. While the prominent high mids don’t attain the definition of a Vintage 30, they do deliver plenty of bite. Its rather “light”, especially crisp tone is always somewhat aggressive, but remains pleasant and is not annoying. Of course this means that it is not as balanced and versatile as the Maverick, but it is certainly a hot tip for traditional styles that can do with a little extra bite.

Last, not least, we come to 2-x-12″ cabinet equipped with “Wizard” speakers.

We’ve already had a look at the speakers. So here we will confine ourselves to testing the previously encountered unique character of these speakers in this constellation. As expected, the 2×12″ cabinet, which is agreeably light, by the way, sounds awesomely broad and bassy. However, the partial phase cancellation caused by placing two identical speakers so close to one another does tend to cancel out some midrange frequencies. This effect is by no means unique to this Palmer cabinet. I have encountered it in many others as well.

A pair of Vintage 30s in a compact cabinet, for example, pack substantially less midrange punch than in the 1×12″ version.

In the case of the Wizard cabinet, the sound feels a little “scooped out” (last but not least because of the strong bass response), which is conducive to broad clean and effect sounds. Beefy high-gain settings sometimes sound a little brittle and “fuzzy” unless the amplifier is capable of delivering plenty of midrange. It’s fortunate that we included this model, otherwise this point would have remained unresolved. So that brings us to the end of this marathon test. Now all you have to do is grab your amp and head for the nearest Palmer Tone Center.

But do the shop assistants a favour and ring them in advance to warn them that you’re coming to have a listen … A propos listening: Audio samples of all of the speakers are available at×12-cabinet.html

All information about the products can be found here:

…return to Part 1 or continue to Part 3 here.

Source: Soundcheck Magazine, Germany, March 2011

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