Having the experience of facilitating and conducting pro audio product reviews for over 15 years now (from Audio Media to Pro Audio Review to Pro Sound News), I’ve read (and written and edited) many, many “peer to peer” reviews—for example, recording engineers reviewing recording products for recording-oriented readers, or guitarists reviewing guitars for guitarist readers, and so on.
What I haven’t seen are equipment and instrument reviews written by musicians and engineers together for the benefit of rehearsal (or “jam”) space owners—where musicians ideally walk in and just start playing together with little tinkering needed, hopefully carrying very little equipment with them, too.
In past years, these may been called “garage band setups,” yet today are far too sophisticated for that moniker. Interestingly, such environments are analogous to many modern houses-of-worship (HOWs), too. And amazingly, it’s more possible to affordably and effectively equip these environments with new products than ever before.
Such environments’ equipment needs are quite different from, for example, a well-equipped, semi-pro recording studio, a small live venue/club, or even a musician’s practice room or bedroom-based audio production rig. As such, the best choices in gear for the Ideal Rehearsal Space are good, affordable, sound great, are especially easy to use, and—possibly most importantly—are durable.
So, here you go—the second installment in the new series, Equipping The Ideal Rehearsal Space, with my bassist collaborator, David George.
Technology Editor, NewBay Media AV/Pro Audio Group
I hadn’t used Dean Markley cables before this evaluation. In the past, I’ve only used a Dean Markley acoustic guitar pickup, and that was years ago before Fishman—along with most every major guitar manufacturer—began factory-installing pickups and preamps into acoustic instruments. I’ve thought of Dean Markley primarily as a guitar string company, so I really wasn’t expecting much in the way of cables. Boy, was I wrong!
The Blue Steel instrument cable was the first to be tested. Immediately, I noted no grounding issues. That, in and of itself, is a solid sell for me. It’s usually not a problem for rehearsal, but the slightest grounding issue can wreck a live gig. My gigging stand-by—a 10-foot Planet Waves cable—has worked great with my newer basses, but with my older collection, I have a universal grounding issue: a 60 Hz hum that is only relieved by placing my hand on the strings or touching a metal object. My ’99 Jazz was the worst: just changing body positions would cause an annoying, “pop” or even a sound reminiscent of a dirty pot. As long as I remained perfectly still and grounded myself, I was OK. With my Vovox cable, used exclusively at home, the results could be even worse. So I went for broke when testing the Blue Steel: a live gig with the noisiest bass I own, the aforementioned ’99 Jazz.
This time around, the rehearsal space testing ground was a garage built for an RV. Wiring was exposed along the walls and the only lighting was fluorescent; it was a worst-case scenario, as you might imagine. Yet these Blue Steel cables performed flawlessly: no hum, no pop, no crackle, nothing but just clean J-bass tone. In fact, that rehearsal was the best that bass has ever sounded, to my recollection.
The Blue Steel speaker cable was used at the same rehearsal between a Hartke 2500 and a Hartke 15-inch XL cabinet. I’ve been using a Monster speaker cable to connect the amp and cabinet. I didn’t notice any difference between these two cables, but I did notice I had to turn the volume down on the amp. It almost seems like the Blue Steel allowed me to push more power than the Monster. I’m not sure of the physics involved, but that is indeed what happened. Without proper equipment, actual power handling would be impossible to measure, but it, “felt” louder to me, without a doubt.
At this time, I’m not sure of the prices of these Blue Steel cables. But if they are priced somewhere between the Monster Cable and the Planet Waves cables I regularly use, they will be worth every penny.
Dean Markley Blue Steel 10-foot instrument cable, Dean Markley Blue Steel 3-foot speaker cable
Cables used in comparison:
VOVOX, Planet Waves and Monster Cable
Instruments used for testing instrument cable:
2017 Ernie Ball Music Man Cutlass Bass 4, 2009 Fender American Deluxe Jazz Bass 4
Amp rigs used:
Hartke 2500 with 15-inch XL-series cabinet, Trace Elliot GP7 SM with 2×10 Cab (UK Made)