Everyone Loves A Cub
Custom Sound Keyboard Combo
Paul White casts an approving ear towards Custom Sound's Cub 60 combo. If you're on the lookout for a cheap way to get rid of your neighbours, this could be for you.
For those keyboard players that still indulge in that unnatural perversion known as playing live, there have been precious few compact, affordable keyboard combos to choose from. Until Custom Sound released the Keyboard Cub 60, that is.
So there I was, at about five minutes before midnight on an especially gloomy summer's night, preparing to sneak out of the office early. Then, out of the blue, I was intercepted by a man claiming to be the Editor of E&MM. After a few minutes' small talk passing the time of night, and discussing the pros and cons of reviewing amplification equipment in the office after the rest of the staff had gone home, he conned me into reviewing this combo. So here I am, slaving over a hot word processor whilst he lives the life of Riley in the pubs and clubs of downtown Cambridge.
But back to the job in hand. Custom Sound have been making a wide range of group amp gear for some while now, but until fairly recently, they hadn't attempted a foray into the compact, portable amp market that's previously been dominated by the Japanese. Fairly recently was when the UK company introduced a range of small, cuddly little amps called Cubs. Externally, they look rather reminiscent of Roland's Cube amplifiers, as their dimensions are fairly similar and they even have a similar name.
Yet although the Keyboard member of the Cub family measures only a petite 18" x 18" x 12.5", it weighs more (23kg) than you'd think from a cursory glance, mostly because it seems to be made out of the special grade of chipboard H M Government normally reserves for constructing fallout shelters. Lurking within this structure is a Fane 12" speaker and a small horn tweeter, fed from a 60-watt bipolar amplifier which, in turn, is fed from a dual-channel preamp.
With the exception of inputs, all connections are made via sockets on the Cub's rear panel. These include an effects loop, DI Out, Slave Out, Headphones and a Footswitch socket for the amp's built-in reverb. Mains enters by means of the now familiar IEC connector and the Power switch has a neon built into it so that you can tell the power station up the road is (a) working as it should do and (b) supplying a small part of its output to your keyboard combo.
What sets the Cub's appearance apart from that of its Oriental competition is the material covering its cabinet. Not for Custom Sound the bland predictability of black leatherette or perforated PVC. Instead, they've gone for a woven textile which looks distinctive and is said to be resistant to snags and tears.
No amplifier would be complete without controls, and the Cub has quite a few of them. There are two sound channels which in point of fact turn out to be identical - so, at the end of the day, we might as well just, as it were, talk about one of them and leave the other to your imagination. Each channel has a Gain control, Treble and Bass controls and a couple of switches titled Rev and Eff. The former switch brings in a very respectable spring reverb unit, the sound quality of which comes as a real freshener after the endeavours of some of the circuits that occupy similar positions in competing amps. It's not a Quantec, but it does its job well enough.
The Eff switch does a similar job, except that it brings into play any effect you may care to plug into the external effects loop, such as a trusty DDL, chorus unit, or WEM Copicat.
"Performance - The sound remains clean up to surprisingly high levels, due largely to the choice of speakers."
The master section incorporates only master Volume control and the Reverb Depth control, a red LED informing you when the reverb is active.
One good thing about testing an amplifier late at night is that you can wind it up to high levels without offending customers at the furniture showroom downstairs, or aggravating the researchers at the software company up the corridor. With all those tucked safely in their beds, you're free to decide whether amplification equipment really can amplify things properly without introducing nasty side-effects of its own.
And all in all, the performance of the Custom Sound belies its modest cost. The sound remains clean up to surprisingly high levels, due largely, I suspect, to the choice of speakers. The reverb is warm yet fairly bright, and doesn't add greatly to the pleasantly low background noise. As for the two-band EQ, it's never going to be world-shatteringly exciting, but again, does its job with no fuss.
The solid cabinet construction and that covering material combine to give a sound free from nasty resonances or undue colouration, even at the low end. This size of cabinet is never going to win prizes for its bass response, but the Cub still gives a punchy, fat sound at the bottom end... And we all know how the Editor likes a fat bottom.
For practice work or for small club gigs, the Keyboard Cub is hard to beat. Its sound quality is not at all bad, especially when you consider that some shops will be discounting it to under £200. The reverb works well, and the circuitry as a whole runs quietly — important if you want to do any recording or if you just don't like the sound of frying chips accompanying your music.
I reckon this British product should leave the Japanese wondering just how we can do it for the price. Which makes a change, as it's the reverse that's usually true. The Cub sounds good, it looks good, and it's furry enough to keep you warm in winter.
More from Custom Sound, (Contact Details)
Review by Paul White
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