Mcgregor Keyboard Combo
big watts for ivories
HANG ON for a second while I get my breath back. Have just heaved this monster up the stairs... and Scargill thought his MacGregor was difficult to move.
"Combo" usually implies one-man-portability but this is positively a two-hulk lift and built for serious loud work. This is not a practice amp but a professional keyboard set up destined to be used either as your personal monitor in the midst of a powerful stage PA system, or to keep pace out front with a couple of the lead guitarist's stacks. Not a box to be trifled with, and can the next one have castors, please.
The standard line up for a keyboard combo is a 12 or 15in speaker partnered by an HF horn to cover the wide spread of frequencies that synths can create. But the McGregor owes more allegiance to a full range PA cab — a 15in cone, two mid-range 5 inchers and a bullet horn. Three input channels with individual volume, bass, treble and reverb levels feed through a seven band graphic EQ to the 200W Mos-Fet power amp.
The 32in high cab measures 20in wide by 15in deep (check the back seat of your car) and is hewn from 3/4in chipboard. A ¾in ply construction would have upped the price, but may have been worthwhile to warrant that 'professional' tag. Dropping something this heavy, even a few feet, is going to worry chipboard joints.
However, the corners get tough, stackable plastic guards, and the sturdy, McKenzie speakers are shielded by a wide, plastic mesh that took the ultimate test of being stood on without your feet coming anywhere near the cones. The speakers are clearly visible, and why not. If you've paid for four of them you want the world to know. Incidentally, it's a ported cab with an exit at the base, those areas of timber not covered by the black vinyl being painted a dull, battleship grey. The back's fully enclosed with a recess for two heavy-duty heatsinks, plus sockets for the mains, two alternative speaker outlets and a slave amp.
Round the front a slightly sloped panel is crammed with controls. Apart from the aforementioned knobs, there are two jack input sockets for each channel and push buttons for two effects' loops (highly recommended). These two pairs of send and return sockets are on the front panel next to the line-out socket, again good news as you don't want to be groping around the back of anything this wide and weighty.
There's a healthy 12dB cut and boost to the graphic which is divided at 60, 120, 300, 1k, 2.5k, 5k and 10kHz. (Why no 100Hz for taking out mains hum? Sixty and 120 imply American mains in mind.) Smooth firm sliders stay where they're put, but a centre click would have been helpful. Bonus points are awarded for the standard of the reverb. Some of the more percussive synth sounds did cause it to ring (an argument for digital reverb on certain keyboards) but otherwise it had a comfortable 'melancholy' depth to it, not too metallic nor clangy.
The effect of the 5in speakers is to restore some of the middle that other 'top and bottom' keyboard combos may have lost. Those amps with 12 or 15 inchers plus HF horns convinced synth players that they could battle it out with the bass and guitar solos. The McGregor is a reminder that the tonality and character of many more standard backing sounds we use — piano, organ, brass, etc. — are determined by the middle frequencies.
For a start, the graphic EQ is more useful, especially at the 1, 2.5 and 5kHz ranges because there are two speakers to carry out its instructions. I fed several keyboards through the McGregor, but perhaps the most interesting was Yamaha's CX5. On some amps, at high volume, subtle patches such as a Rhodes' impersonation merely become 'bright pianos'. By using the graphic to take out the 120 and 300Hz sections, and reinforcing those around 1kHz, it was possible to tune into the vital centre regions that identify a Rhodes. The bottly-ness that springs from the close proximity of tine bar and pickup was brought right to the front.
Similar pick-and-mix helped to thicken strings sounds, accentuate the breathiness in some of the digital brass voicings and put back body into completely synthetic noises based on ring mod, oscillator sync, etc. Sometimes they can be such special effects, you end up woofing and tweeting in the same ranges as the guitarist and bassist. Meanwhile, an entire band of frequencies the ear quite likes to listen to, go awol for the whole song.
The ported cab helps loosen up the lowest bass notes, but keep them under control with the graphic if you're doing fast bass lines or you could be shifting as much air as the drummer's right foot.
The individual bass and treble controls for each channel are also strong, but maybe extra switching could have been added to isolate the graphic for a single channel only. That way it could have been set up for one particular keyboard leaving the rest untouched.
Altogether — even, clean and loud. Some clicks from the push buttons, and a small, acceptable amount of hiss from the graphics a top whack. Had some problems with hum loops that required removing the earth from the plug (dock my pay, it's a dreadful sin), but that could be my keyboard set up as much as anything else. The more channels and effects' loops you use, the greater the chance of eventually being buzzy.
The 200W rating is a bit optimistic, but you wouldn't want to be locked in a cupboard with it.
MCGREGOR keyboard combo: £455
Review by Paul Colbert
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