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Review: Atomic Amps CLR Powered Wedge Neo Version

Scott Peterson

Global Moderator
Moderator
Review: Atomic CLR

This review is based on well over 11 full months of focused, daily use and extensive gigging experience using the Atomic CLR in a variety of situations and circumstances. I wanted to do a fully-blown review before this, but wanted to give MANY different situations a go before I put my opinion out there. I did a first impression thread on the Atomic CLR when I first got it; and I've done a comparison/contrast between it and the RCF NX 12SMA. But I never did a straight up review; suffice to say, it about time I did review the CLR.

There is also something new in the Atomic CLR and I have been field testing that, so I thought it would be a good time to formally offer my thoughts on the CLR and detail the new part of the equation that is available. For two months, I have now worked with the Neo version of the CLR powered wedge. Note the details specific to that version towards the end of the review.

Initial Impressions/Observations

I was apprehensive of the speaker originally before it arrived because I was: a) very satisfied with the RCF; and b) there was an enormous amount of pre-release chatter and the expectations were exceedingly high given the design and input from one very notoriously outspoken and well known person involved. I got my first CLR originally as a review sample and posted this first impressions thread and a compare contrast thread to the RCF.

To sum up those threads: My impressions of the CLR were positive. It was impressive upon first blush and as I worked with it, what it does and how it does it were highlighted more and more. I've posted numerous times that it was not immediately apparent to me exactly how good I would come to perceive the speaker was precisely because it was so good at what it does.

I use the "Tilt" mode setting, Sub "off" setting when it is on the floor setup as a monitor. On a speaker stand I use the "FF" mode and Sub "off". When it is on it's side and facing forward on the floor, I use the "BL" mode and Sub "off" settings. These seemed appropriate given the instructions in the manual.

I got familiar with the controls and gain staging pretty well out of the box. Given the output levels I set my own presets at with the Fractal Axe-FX II and how I've set up the physical output levels with prior powered monitors, this didn't take long to figure out. Generally, I leave the input control of the CLR at about 12:00 - 2:00 (as on a clockface) for the input level and about 12:00 on the output level and then use the output level (the actual physical knob) of the Axe-FX II to control my output volume.

What I've found when playing live is that - depending on the setup and stage and size of the room, etc - these are good settings. If necessary, I just change up the output level of the CLR once the output signal level necessary for FOH input levels is set. I've never 'run out of juice' on any size stage, even outdoor festival stages.

The first thing I do with any speaker that is purportedly flat and marketed as 'reference quality' is test that claim. To do that, I run program music through it (routed out of my DAW into a Mackie ProFX-8 mixer that doubles as my typical audio interface with my DAW) and test tones. Regarding the test tones, I test with a db meter (I have a few) and my ears. My home studio/office is an acoustically treated room with a cathedral ceiling. I've recorded, mixed and mastered here in this space for many years. It's a very even sounding room; it was professionally treated about 13 years ago with Auralex products.

With program music (examples: Jonatha Brooke's "Steady Pull", Sting "Ten Summoner's Tales"; Classical CD's, Jazz CD's, Rock/Pop/Country and different test reference CD's I've used over the years) , it was obviously and immediately apparent that this speaker is very even, has a great bass response with no mud; detailed mids and an open top end. My impressions were that it has a remarkable amount of headroom and never felt 'pushed' or 'boxy' at all. Getting the output levels up to about +115db and trying test tones through it (I used ear protection during this); the response of the different tones as reproduced was exceptional. The dispersion axis of that response was exceptional.

I have since run those same tests almost monthly to check my impressions; and have witnessed the same thing even after gigging it 40+ times. It is standing up performance wise through very demanding duty. It's performance out of the box is the same months down the road. I noticed no 'break in' phenomena.

The acid test is then how does it work for me as a guitarist; and coming from a very capable powered speaker like the RCF? With the Axe-FX II, I have always used my studio near field setup to program, judge and tweak my own sounds and the Atomic was as faithful or better in all regards. It was louder, it matched the bass extension and tightness (my studio setup has a JBL sub) and everything was remarkable in every way. The only advantage my studio setup had over the CLR was that was stereo.

On The Gig

The CLR is taller than the RCF on the ground; but it is more narrow. So its stage footprint is actually smaller than the RCF overall. That allowed it to more easily fit it in some unconventional stage setups - and a lot of the sort of stages I play are not big expansive pro stages. As any weekend gigger can testify; you get crammed in corners, small stages barely big enough to fit the drummer on... let along a band; sometimes you are literally on top of your rig with no space at all or you can be pushed out in front of the 'stage' (aka 'drum riser') and have to make it work.

I have used the CLR primarily as a sidefill shooting across the stage; but also in front of me shooting back toward me and as a backline both up on a stand (if I can) or just down on the floor. I do not use it tilted forward like a conventional cab in the last instance; I tend to still use it positioned as a wedge shooting up. In the tightest rooms, this has been fine. Because my bandmates are hip to what I prefer and cool with it - 90% of the time I am in the PA.

The CLR has done fine in every instance I've had to use it. I have never run out of headroom or lacked volume. My primary band is a two guitar/keys/bass/drums/vocals and the other guitarist runs a conventional rig (usually a Egnater Renegade head (65 watt) into a conventional guitar 112 cab). We both setup on opposite sides of the stage typically both aimed sideways across the stage whenever and wherever possible. We have never had any issue with him or I being too loud; I can be as loud as he can possibly go; but we are both typically mature enough to try to keep our stage volumes somewhat manageable and are very aware of that. Our drummer is a very dynamic player and controls his volume likewise.

With the very wide dispersion pattern of the CLR, I was worried about bleeding into the vocal mic's running the CLR as a sidefill. That ended up being a non-issue. I also found that I was actually turning my overall volume DOWN in comparison/contrast to the RCF because that wider dispersion meant it was easier to hear me (speaking both of myself and my bandmates). One other interesting sidenote is that I end up being right next to my vocalist in a lot of the stage setups we end up in. And when I run the CLR in these cases as a monitor in front of me firing back, when I ask her about it (because I do not want to be a dick about my volume compared to the vocals) she has told me that I was fine in every case. That's far more a vote of confidence than it might appear at first blush. lol.

Here are some gig shots of different stages I've played and examples of the sometimes crazy ways we have to set up. That the CLR performed well for me in all these different circumstances is a very positive statement. It has.










Gig Tests

We played some outdoor festivals on physically large stages; and these are always the biggest tests for ANY rig IMHO. You have the ability to just crank the SNOT out of your rig and play at insane volumes because playing in open spaces outdoors just tends to swallow up gear no matter how loud you want to go.

The CLR passed that test; but on the biggest stages... I wanted two of them. It was cranked - literally wide open. Hot sun, though the stage was semi-covered; no issues with overheating, thermal shutdown, or hiccups at all.

We had a travel gig to Grand Rapids last spring and our bassist could not make the trip or do the gig. The keyboardist and I split bass duties on that, trading off playing bass every other set for two nights. I used the CLR to do my parts and the CLR delivered. I am not fully convinced that a full time bassist would choose the CLR as a primary speaker; but all I can say is that it more than did the job for me.

One of the things I (normally) offer the bands I play in because of my rig is the ability to switch between acoustic guitar and electric guitar on the fly even inside of a song (using the Variax and more recently hijacking the Tone Matching capability of the Axe-FX II to use my non-piezo PRS with convincing live acoustic tones) and the CLR has done wonderfully on this. For acoustic players, this is a great choice as your 'acoustic amp' due to how even and full it sounds.

Overall

I cannot express how well the CLR does what it purports to do in practice at least in my experience. It has delivered enough volume to keep up with any situation I've run into on my gigging schedule. It excels even at low volumes on P&W gigs where I have to keep my volume DOWN as a rule. No issues. Loud? No problem. Soft? No problem. Exceptional performance in any case. Notably wide dispersion. I have come to rely on this speaker in any setup, any circumstance without any doubts that it will do the job dependably and excellently.

Pros


  • [*=2]Sonic/Timbre - it is as even response as some studio monitors. There is no hyped top end, no hyped bottom; not muddy and mids are not forward or 'edgy'.
    [*=2]Headroom/Power - it has done full 4 set nights in stuffy clubs and full 3 set days in the sun outside; never felt it was under-powered or lacked punch. 100% uptime. No issues with thermal shutdowns, limiter kicking in or feeling it was too quiet. No fan = no self noise. It's noise floor is excellent as long as you use proper gain staging on the input level. (Note: if you crank up the input trim all the way, you will get it to hiss - there is *no* need to crank that input fully with most pro audio gear (including the Axe-FX II).
    [*=2]Controls - the preset settings have worked as they should; the gain staging was not difficult to understand and setup to get quiet output when at rest and incredibly powerful output when playing
    [*=2]Handling - though the original CLR design is 46.4lbs on my scale; the handle (same handle as you find on a good quality 412) is easy to use.
Cons


  • [*=2]Weight - though not excessively so, it is almost 45lbs. It's heft - before I got a cover for it - made it 'interesting' to get in and out of the car more than it was difficult to lug it around. I dinged it up more just getting it in and out of my car's trunk than anything else. Riding on my cart it got scuffed up bouncing around as the cart rolled.
    [*=2]No Cover - you need a cover for this, Atomic does not have one available. I had Susan at Studio Slips do one, I cannot recommend it highly enough. Worth every penny.
Intangibles


  • [*=2]Logo - some like it, some dislike it. It is fine IMHO, never thought about it. You can pull it off the grille if you want; it is glued on.
    [*=2]Grille - current versions have 8 screws; original version I have has 4. Even on the 8 screw version, only 4 screws are actually in use. Tom King has imformed me that is for people that mount it on a stand and want to remove the grille and have the logo on top instead of sideways.

Neodymium Version

An interesting option that Atomic is going to offer is a Neodymium version. Even at under 50 lbs (as noted above, my original CLR is 46.4lbs on my scale). Tom spoke to me about possibly field testing a neo version... I jumped at the chance.

A lot of people have issues hefting heavy gear. One of the most mentioned reasons (among others) to look into a modeling based guitar rig is for cutting weight and lightening the load overall. Some looking at the 46lb CLR have said - too heavy. Fair enough. The Neo version addresses that.

The Neo version is 33.2lbs. on my same scale. The perception of how light it is deceptively less than that because it is balanced in regards to the carry handle and everything about the speaker is the same as the original standard version. It's really easy to pick this up with one hand now. VERY easy to carry around and get in and out of my car.

Performance is identical to the standard version. And I mean identical right out of the box. I've read a lot of opinions about speaker break-in and have been working for a few months with the Neo version to see if it was as dependable as the Standard version. Same results. No break-in phenomena. Same dispersion. Same even response. Side by side, the two Atomics were identical in timbre, volume and response.

I am informed by Tom King that the Neo speaker is built in the USA. The Neo version CLR is assembled in the USA. Due to the cost of the materials and labor, the added premium for the Neo version is $400 USD. They are available via special order direct from Atomic only. I have no insight into how this will work with Atomic; so contact them for details if you have questions about getting one.


Retro-fit Standard CLR to Neo Version?

Tom also has informed me that current owners that have a CLR and would prefer a Neo version can contact Atomic directly and have their CLR converted to the Neo version. I do not know all the details; but I would suggest you contact Atomic if you are intested. I liked the lighter version so much that now both of my CLR's are Neo versions and I could not be happier.


Conclusion

This has been one of the best performing pieces of gear for me by any measure. It does what it is supposed to do; it does it well, it does it dependably. The performance versus value for the price is off the chart on the positive end. It excels at anything I have thrown at it. I have worked this speaker hard on gigs, I have used it daily at home and it has never failed to do the job and/or impress me. I have not heard a speaker for less that $2500 each that can compete with it as a powered wedge; it is such a stellar performer that you could use this as a studio monitor (with enough power to blow you quite literally through the back wall if you wanted to do that).

It is rare that something that was so highly anticipated really lives up to that and exceeds it. With the addition of a Neo version for those that want it, you can have a fully professional level solution to match with your professional level rig. I have spoken to many CLR owners now that use all sorts of modelers and all have been positive about the results. I fully believe that once keyboard players, vocalists and acoustic players hear themselves through this (not to mention electronic drums) that Atomic will have a massive crisis of overwhelming demand far beyond the modeling based guitarists it is primarily marketed to now.

The CLR isn't flashy. It's so un-hyped in use that it doesn't 'jump out' at you. Everything you put into the thing comes out very honestly, with no perception of anything but pure reproduction. When you couple that sort of legit even response with enormous headroom and power... it's a heady combination.

I can honestly give the Atomic CLR my highest recommendation if you are looking at getting a powered speaker that is versatile, powerful and has an un-hyped timbre. I now have two of the CLR; it was just that good.
 

Phostenix

Power User
Hmm. Now that there's a lighter version, it may be time for me to start selling some things. :) Thanks for the review.
 

aziz

Power User
Glad to have the choice if it helps in keeping 1 manufacturing job in USA!
 
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viabcroce

Experienced
Great review Scott :)

this is something really interesting, and now that the CLRs have gained users' trust, I'm sure the Neos will sell as well.

Glad JM&TM changed their mind :D

[JM] The weight is an issue that is easily addressed; it only takes money. Show of hands: how many here would pay an extra $300-400 retail to get a speaker that is about ten pounds lighter? As of today, that's the premium that NdFeB (Neodymium-Iron-Boron) magnets would add, and that price differential will only grow in the near future.
Neo magnets offer no advantage other than lower weight. In fact, there is a slight disadvantage: the bulk demagnetization temperature of the material is lower than that of conventional strontium ferrite (ceramic) magnet material. We had already begun prototyping with neo drivers when we began receiving urgent emails from vendors with price-increase notices and reductions in the time for which price quotes would be good from the typical 90 days down to 30 days or less. It's possible - not yet decided, and not my call - that, at some future date, an optional-at-extra-cost neo version will be made available, but Tom and I were in complete agreement that the added cost combined with extreme price volatility (the Chinese hold a worldwide monopoly on neodymium at this time) made ceramic-magnet drivers a no-brainer.

PS: There have been further increases in the cost of neo-magnet transducers. My earlier estimate was out of date when I posted it. The required price increase would be far greater than the range I mentioned, which takes neo out of consideration for the foreseeable future.
 

GM Arts

Power User
Many thx for the thorough review Scott.

The only thing holding me back is the form factor. My main use will be as backline, and it looks like the wedge sits at about a 30 degree angle, too shallow for backline. The stand I currently have gives me about a 65 degree angle which works well, but the CLR cab model is too deep to balance on that stand.

Anyone found a suitable backline stand for either CLR model? I'd prefer something close to the ground.
 

BreadTooth

Experienced
Great review, and falls in line with my experience using the CLR's with our workshops as a small PA and monitoring solution.
2 CLR'S on stands in FFmode sub off, 1 CLR on floor in TILTmode sub off.

With gain stage set correctly, our workshops sound excellent even in problematic rooms with reflection challenges.

We love our CLR's and my AxeFx sounds massive with all 3 hooked up!
Huzzah!
 
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fox5150

Inspired
Thanks for the complete review Scott. I'm having a very similar experience with my CLR too. Just need to unleash it on the unsuspecting public now!



From the recent Atomic Amps post on Facebook:

"Atomic Offers Lightweight "Neo" Version of CLR
Orange, CT - November 19, 2013

Atomic Amplifiers is pleased to offer a lightweight version of it's CLR Series Active Wedges and Cabs. These new models will be available as either a custom option for new orders or upgrade/modification for existing CLR owners.

Using high performance neodymium drivers, the Neo CLR weighs in at a mere 33lbs, shaving nearly 15 pounds off Atomic's standard ferrite driver versions while providing identical performance to the company's highly acclaimed speaker system.

Atomic CEO and Founder Tom King said "While our existing CLRs are not excessively heavy, we decided to provide this option after hearing feedback from customers who require a lighter solution because of touring demands or physical challenges".

Neo CLRs will be assembled in Atomic's Connecticut, USA facility using a proprietary USA made driver and custom firmware.

Availability outside the US will be determined later.

Pricing will be $1399 for new CLR orders and $400 to upgrade existing CLRs. Quantities are limited and will be made available on a first-come, first-served basis.

To Reserve your Neo CLR or upgrade your existing CLR, email orders@atomicamps.com, type "CLR Reserve List - Neo" in the subject, provide your full name, shipping address and model your interested in (either ACLR-AW-N for the Neo Active Wedge or ACLR-AC-N for the Active Cab) and state whether its for a new order or an upgrade."


Hopefully it will be available in the EU soon as well!


Sent from my iPhone using Tapatalk
 

jamn4jc

Experienced
Cool. I would love to score a great deal on a used Active Wedge -- anyone wanting to upgrade and need some seed money?
 

Stratoblaster

Fractal Fanatic
Great review and it's nice to see the CLR's are definitely up to the job of gigging in harsh environments and can hold their own in many live situations (not that I had any doubt they could). Invaluable feedback for those who haven't heard/tried them yet.

@fox5150: Thanks for passing on that info from Facebook; very helpful as I'd have missed that ordering/upgrade info since I don't check out Facebook.
 

Severed

Fractal Fanatic
While I am extremely happy with the sound of my 2 CLR active wedges, I still think $1000.00 each was a little pricey, shipping and Tax and I was into it for $2500, and I hate to say it, but the finish is cheap and damages extremely easy, and thats a huge thing for a gigging musician is having nice equipment that is semi durable.

Now, If I wanted to upgrade it would cost me $400 each plus shipping both ways = another $733 EACH MONITOR.......

Don't get me wrong, I love the product (mostly), and maybe I'm just not getting it, but this just seems exuberantly expensive for what it is.
 

Echophilia

Inspired
While I am extremely happy with the sound of my 2 CLR active wedges, I still think $1000.00 each was a little pricey, shipping and Tax and I was into it for $2500, and I hate to say it, but the finish is cheap and damages extremely easy, and thats a huge thing for a gigging musician is having nice equipment that is semi durable.

Now, If I wanted to upgrade it would cost me $400 each plus shipping both ways = another $733 EACH MONITOR.......

Don't get me wrong, I love the product (mostly), and maybe I'm just not getting it, but this just seems exuberantly expensive for what it is.

Yeah I'm happy with the 2 I have and they are a little heavy for an old "Back of Mine". They do sound great but they do get dinged up very easy. Just moving them around I bumped one into the other and it made a quarter size dent-Wow-Wish the exterior was more durable for gigging needs? I can't justify the upgrade at this time either.
 

Rocket Brother

Power User
Nice review Scott - my thoughts on and experience with the CLRs are 100% in line with yours.

While I am extremely happy with the sound of my 2 CLR active wedges, I still think $1000.00 each was a little pricey, shipping and Tax and I was into it for $2500, and I hate to say it, but the finish is cheap and damages extremely easy, and thats a huge thing for a gigging musician is having nice equipment that is semi durable.

Now, If I wanted to upgrade it would cost me $400 each plus shipping both ways = another $733 EACH MONITOR.......

Don't get me wrong, I love the product (mostly), and maybe I'm just not getting it, but this just seems exuberantly expensive for what it is.

I have the opposite opinion - I think the CLRs are insane bang for the buck.

1000$ isn't pocket change for most of us and you are certainly entitled to your opinion on value and cost - but consider this - you are buying a professional product not a consumer or prosumer product.
The CLR in my opinion and experience from playing several respected "market leading" pro stage FRFR wedges is that I haven't tried anything at or below the 3000$ mark (each that is !!!) that sounds as good as the CLRs.
Look at in that light and you might understand why I consider the CLR as insanely good value.

Whether the price of the Neo upgrade is worth it for you is a personal thing and dependent on your use for the CLR and your available funds.
For players who have a bad back, travel a lot, for those that fly to gigs/on tour or players who do all their own gear hauling including PA and lights; weight can get really important really fast.

At the end of summer this year I backed a british singer who was prominent in the 90's for a private birthday show in Mallorca.
I flew in with 2 guitars in a Mono dual guitar gigback, Axe fx II in my carry on luggage, my midi board and exp pedal in my regular luggage and as such only the single CLR I brought in an ATA case was taxed as an extra overweight item.
Lets just say it wasn't exactly cheap to get the CLR on the plane, so if you do even just occasionally bring a CLR on a plane with you that 400$ up charge will earn itself very quickly with the added bonus of your CLR being lighter for you or your crew to handle.
Just my 0.02$
 
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