Atomic CLR active wedge review
Having had my pair of Atomic CLR Active wedges now for 3 months I feel qualified to give a more extensive review, than some of the brief impressions I have posted so far. In summary I would say these units are outstanding in terms of sound, performance, form factor and value for money and I can honestly say I am getting the best live guitar sound with an AXE FX II that I have ever had in my many years of playing, with many different rigs, which I will expand on.
I am not a frequent poster on FA or anywhere else. But to try and give you some insight into my background, I have been playing guitar for 37 years and have been in many varieties of live performing bands over that period and also have been involved in home recording for the last 15 years.
I have always loved sound and tone and am told by those for whom I have engineered and produced CD that I have a good ear for sound. I am an amateur, in that my day job is working as a doctor, but my passion is music and I have a lot of live playing experience and recording experience. My main gig currently so to speak is Praise and Worship and regularly play in front of large crowds with great bands and large PA’s and have to master a wide variety of styles, These days P&W music is a whole mixture of rock, indie, funk, gospel R&B and metal, with all these tones required on the guitar. You have to be versatile and also quick and be a good lead improviser so all these skills are required and you have to be able to get the right tones and listen to others in the Band to create the right sound. For these reasons I feel I am reasonably qualified to speak on tone and sound and musicality. I also dep for a touring pro in another P&W band when he is on tour with another commitment, play in a covers band and also am recording various projects some of which will be released commercially. I have a good studio and my reference monitors are ATC 100 A which are renowned by mastering engineers for their accuracy and reference quality.
I have only had the AXE II for 18 months and have appreciated the upgrades with every step with increasing confidence in crafting my own sounds. I can now say coupled with the CLR’s that I am the happiest I have ever been getting great recorded and live sounds. Previously I was a tube head and have had a whole variety of rigs including Mesa Triaxis with 20/20 for many years and then I had a Bad Cat Black Cat 30 with a large pedal board. You would need a truckful of amps to get all the variety of tones that can now be effortlessly created by the AXE FX II!
The Axe II was used with old style Atomic Reactor passive wedges and an Atomic 50/50 power amp until I got the CLR’s (and are for sale if anyone is interested). This rig is also better than anything I’ve had before and I considered getting the passive CLR wedges, however the active wedges have a lot of advantages as I will explain not least portability which becomes an increasing issue when you are involved in many different projects and are increasingly ageing! . I am certainly not in anyway missing the valve power amp! The sound of the amp inside the CLR is phenomenal and its so compact that its an engineering miracle to have this degree of power and headroom in such a small package
Forgive me for that preamble but at least you can understand where I am coming from! Now onto the CLR’s!
The form factor has been dealt with in many previous posts, particularly Scott Peterson. They are just lovely. Great looks and finish, the metal grille gives the feeling of strength. The weight does not seem an issue as they are well balanced with the handle on the side. The size is surprisingly compact for the weight of sound and depth they deliver and are easily stored in the back of my small estate car with my Axe and MFC in their flight cases. The fact you can get a world class rig into your car boot without all the weight and bulk is very welcome and an awesome step forward for gigging guitarists!
The thought that has gone into the connections and controls is very clever and you can connect balanced or unbalanced and mix two inputs. This makes for versatility in use from on onstage monitor to use as a small PA. The wedges are perfect for both and can be used in traditional backline on their side, floor wedge or pole mounted. There is a clever DSP algorithm to compensate for these different uses which really works well
I am going to concentrate on sound now as that is the most important thing to most of us, particularly as it is a given that the form factor is excellent.
When I first plugged in with the AXE II it was wow!! The sound was more natural and had more musicality to it than I had noticed with other FRFR speakers. Its difficult to convey this in print, but it just excites you and makes you want to play more. Feedback is much more natural like real guitar cabs and the dispersion is awesome. On stage the beam like directivity of real guitar cabs can be a real problem and this just is not an issue. You can hear yourself more clearly at lower volumes and all the touch dynamics we are so used to from tube amps are replicated beautifully from the Axe II. Using the AXE with firmware 10.06 its like standing in the room with a real Plexi at full tilt but at a listenable volume. The lushness and chime of Vox amps comes through in a most musical and satisfying fashion. It really is like owning the real amps and the interaction with the guitar feels real. Remember I have played through many different amps and rigs in many different venues. This beats them all and its such a pleasure to be able to express yourself with really authentic sounds!
Mid-range accuracy and replication of reverb and delay trails and hearing small audio details are where monitors need to shine if they are going to rise above the crowd. My ATC 100A excel in this respect and that is necessary when you are mixing. They are like an audio microscope! I can honestly say that using the CLR active wedges gives a very similar feel in terms of those details. i.e they are dead accurate and you can hear the subtleties. This is where I feel Jay Mitchells design has excelled because I am used to good sound with my ATC 100A and to hear similar qualities from a unit many times less expensive is impressive. This was remarked upon before when Jay’s Frazier unit was auditioned. Clearly Jay’s long experience has to be of great advantage in this field and he understands how to couple his proprietary designs with the right power amp to optimise the entire amp/speaker/cabinet transducer response. The whole package works!! The amp in the CLR active wedge is Digital Class D, which makes it powerful and light weight. I hear no tonal coloration whatsoever, it sounds similar to my Class A/B amp in my ATC 100A i.e it’s the design and the entire package that count and what you get is a beautiful flat response. Patches set up on the ATC 100A translate perfectly to the CLR’s and vice versa so you are getting a really good reference monitor as well as a unit that can deliver Rock SPL!! What you’ll find is that you won’t need to turn up to ear damaging levels to get that sound you and your band have been looking for!
What you put in you get out and I have found that there is no coloration or harshness or boominess to the sound. As long as the patch is well created it will be accurately replicated. What you hear is what you have programmed in. This became very apparent to me after listening to recorded music through my ATC 100A and then playing back through the CLR. Very similar flat response, uncoloured. The music heard as it should be.
All in all a wonderful playing experience as a guitarist. The headroom and power is there with a wonderfully detailed and musical sound. Lightweight, powerful, good looking. These units are a must have and no wonder they are in demand! Great days we live in when we have such great equipment to play with.