Barefaced Audio Big Baby 3 Review
Barefaced Audio Big Baby 3 Review…
Have you ever heard the old adage in the loudspeaker world: “Loud, Light and Low: pick 2”? For many years, conventional wisdom said that these 3 desirable attributes were difficult or impossible to achieve at the same time. You could find a cab with lots of volume and superior low frequency extension but not in a lightweight form factor, because of the size of the cabinet and construction materials needed and the nature of the drivers required to perform in this way. Or you could find a cabinet that was lightweight and loud, but it wouldn’t have the low end extension that many players desire. To be fair, due to numerous technological advancements in the industry, this saying is less true than ever, but the concept still holds water, and (I find) is still true with a lot of current bass cab offerings. But if ever there was a product that shattered this notion for me, it’s the Barefaced Big Baby 3.
Barefaced is the brainchild of English engineer and cab builder Alex Claber.
Like many, Alex’s entry into the business was born from a lack of satisfaction with the gear that was available to him when he was working as a pro bassist. He wanted something loud enough for a rock band but also had deep lows, as well as clarity for chords and effects. Alex didn’t intend on starting a company, but due to minimum order requirements for parts, found himself knee-deep in producing a batch of cabinets, and the rest is history. Over the last several years, Alex has been refining his designs and focusing his product line into two distinct series. High performance, “High Accuracy” 12-inch based cabs in the “super twelve” category with eye popping performance specs, and his 10-inch based “vintage inspired” cabs, aimed at improving on the revered sealed “ampeg type” cabs of yesteryear, but with increased clarity and output. Personally, the 12” based cabs have been piquing my curiosity for years, and I have enough friends who play them and invariably when asked, respond with a sort of “game over” mentality regarding their sound and performance. So, when I had a chance to review the newest version of the Big Baby, the BB3, I jumped at the chance.
The first thing I noticed when I unboxed the cab was the quality of the finish and build.
The Big Baby is finished in an exceptionally tough spray finish with a stout metal grille. Then I took it out of the box, and for a moment I wondered if Alex forgot to put a speaker in it. This thing is LIGHT. With the metal grille, the BB3 weighs just 29 lbs., and feels like an empty box when picking it up (available vintage style cloth grill brings the weight down to a svelte 26 lbs.). Despite the form factor seeming larger than some other single 12” cabs, the BB3 is quite shallow from front to back. A large square horn is present as well as an attenuator on the back of the cab and a mystery small slot towards the bottom (keep reading). Speaking of the back of the cab, I noticed that this speaker is rated at 800w. I thought surely this must be some kind of inflated hyperbolic spec, like some cab makers tend to use to increase wow factor, measuring specs based on peak power as opposed to RMS power ratings, but nope. This beast will actually handle this much power, with grace and aplomb.
The BB3 is an update on the (you guessed it) BB2.
I asked Alex what updates were made with this new model, and he mentioned a few noteworthy points. Essentially, the cabinet uses the same driver, same crossover, and tuning, towards the same design goal. The cabinet is slightly wider than the BB2, but shallower front-to-back, with the same internal volume, but its dimensions make it somewhat easier to transport than the BB2. These dimensions also stack more precisely with some of the other Barefaced cabs, the Big Twin 2 and 3 (BT2, BT3). The most interesting difference with the BB3 is the “Supercooler“ tech they’ve developed, which uses Helmholtz resonance to drive an air-cooling system which keeps driver cool, ensuring better sound and better responsiveness. This keeps the cab performing at its peak on loud gigs as the mechanical parts heat up. The only visible evidence of this system is a small horizontal slit on the back of the cab. Essentially, the Supercooler uses speaker excursion to pull air through the slot in the back. The air is directed over the cooling fins on the frame of the driver. The harder the drivers are working; the more cooling happens as the amount of air being pulled in increases.
I brought the Big Baby 3 to a rehearsal with my 11-piece Steely Dan Tribute band, a group that admittedly is a lot louder than one would assume.
The band is LOUD, in rehearsal and on stage. With my trusty Eich T-900, I fired up the BB3, and 3 notes, in I was hooked. This cabinet not only has righteous tone, but it also kicks hard, like REAL hard, for a “1×12 with a tweeter”. All the way down to a low B, the BB3 was full, warm, super-fast and meaty, with just the right amount of bite. It was immediately apparent to me how well engineered the Big Baby was, as the note definition, quickness and low end extension seemed to rival cabinets twice its size. I was especially impressed with how fast the notes came out, and how quick the decay was. Compared to some other popular cabs I’m very familiar with, the speed at which the notes would stop on a dime really changed the game with regard to my note placement and articulation. It’s hard to describe, but there was no mistaking how responsive the BB3 was, and the result was a supremely enjoyable playing experience. Like driving a windy road in an exotic sports car when you’ve been making that daily run in a commuter sedan.
One other sonic attribute I have to bring is up the integration and performance of the tweeter on this cab. With the attenuator on full, the BB3 is big, full, quick, and super punchy and snappy. There is none of the “gank factor” of a poorly (IMO) voiced tweeter/crossover network, and the cab has tons of air and sparkle in all the right ways. This cab can do big pillowy lows, full chewy mids and a top end that would make Marcus smile, all at staggering output levels, and all from a little 112 cab. Pretty remarkable really.
I asked Alex flat out: “how do you make this thing is so loud and so light?”.
His answer was fairly straightforward and indicative of the thoughtfulness with which he approaches cab building: lots of lightweight low-density materials with intelligent designs. This requires an elaborate building process with interlocking parts, cut with CNC. Because of its complex internal construction, the “less cuboid” shape makes it more anechoic and less resonant, which is a very good thing for a loudspeaker. The other secret sauce here is the proprietary Barefaced 12XN driver. Alex’s goal here was to design a high sensitivity/efficiency, high power handling, high excursion driver that would offer flat frequency response and a flat polar (dispersion) response. This took mountains of R&D with Eminence before coming up with an excellent OEM driver.
It’s clear to me that the Big Baby 3’s incredible performance is no fluke. Barefaced has worked tirelessly while adhering to incredibly high standards to achieve the results I’ve been enjoying.
Every design and manufacturing choice has been driven by the desire to make cabinets that sound as good as possible and have the durability to last for a very long time. I was excited to hear that Alex is working on a bass amplifier, as well as active powered guitar and bass cabinets. The Big Baby 3 isn’t the cheapest 1×12 on the market, selling direct from England at $1,415 (including import tax and shipping at the current exchange rate), but its performance is undeniable, and like most things in like, you get what you pay for. For more information on Barefaced cabs, as well as a ton of information about bass cabinet design, acoustics and audio engineering, visit Barefaced online.