In this guide, we’ll cover off what an FRFR speaker cabinet is, how they work, how they compare to standard cabs, and the pros and cons of using them in the studio, in a live setting, and at home…
The sheer level of technology guitarists have at their disposal these days is mind-boggling. It is easier than ever to create tones, input and record/play through your laptop or PC, or dial in amazing sounds from tiny accessories like the Fender Mustang Micro when you’re practising at home. Basically, it is a great time to be picking up the guitar.
The rise of modelling amps, things like the Fractal Axe-Fx, the Line 6 Helix, or the German-built Kemper profiling amps, both in the studio and in live situations called for a new type of cabinet, a cabinet designed specifically with these digital modelling amps in mind. This is why FRFR speaker cabinets are becoming more and more popular.
What Does FRFR Mean?
FRFR stands for “full range, flat response”, so an FRFR speaker cab is a “full range, flat response speaker cabinet”. These types of cabs – which are available everywhere these days – can and will handle any kind of tone or frequency you choose to run through them.
And you don’t even have to spend a lot of money on an FRFR speaker either – this FRFR speaker costs less than $300.
The idea is simple: create a blank canvass, free from the type of nuances you get with traditional guitar cabs, so that the “tone” of the amp modeller comes through unimpeded. Why do this? Simple: because a modelling amp like the Helix Line 6, for instance, already generates a “speaker tone” as part of its sound profiling.
Because the tone you create with your modelling amp is designed to be complete, it includes ALL the elements you’ll need, things like microphone placement and cabinet type, you no longer require a specific type of guitar cab to create a sound – it is ALL done via the amp modeller and then pushed through an FRFR speaker cab.
This is why FRFR speaker cabs are designed to sound completely neutral; the amp modeller creates 100% of the sound and the FRFR speaker cab is there to simply relay that sound to a crowd or your bandmates with as much fidelity to the original signal as possible.
This is why guitarists that use modelling amps tend to use FRFR speaker cabinets – or plug directly into the PA during live performances a la Meshuggah.
FRFR Speaker vs Guitar Cab
Some things are sacred. The sound of an Orange cab, for instance, or a Marshall 4×12 cabinet, for instance. These guitar cabs have been used for decades. Black Sabbath wouldn’t sound like Black Sabbath without its specific guitar cabs. Ditto AC/DC, SLEEP, and Metallica.
While FRFR speakers are used in live settings, there are “issues” with these types of speakers, especially if you’re going for a “blow the roof off” kind of sound. As the name suggests, FRFR speakers have a flat resonance, they do not push and move the air like a traditional cab.
If you do use a modelling amp with a traditional cab, you will need to make sure that it has a built-in amp, otherwise, it simply will not work. The Kemper does not have a built-in amp, for instance, while Positive Grid’s BIAS comes in a 600W powered version for this exact reason – so you can use it to play live via cabs.
This is why many metal bands that use modelling amps still run them through a stack of traditional guitar cabs. They want that organic sound, that nuance you get from a Marshall, or an Orange, or a Peavey. And that’s totally cool; metal and rock is all about tone, so you gotta do what it takes to dial it in.
Using FRFR Speaker In Live Settings
The upshot of using modern FRFR speakers in a live setting is that you can rock up to a venue and get your guitar setup in seconds. You don’t need to worry about microphones, the layout of the stage, or making sure all your knobs are in the right place. You plug the modelling amp into your FRFR speaker and attach your pedalboard switcher. And you’re done.
This is why bands like Judas Priest, Deftones, Trivium, Meshuggah and Periphery use modelling amps and FRFR speakers when they play live. They use them because it lets their guitar techs easily dial in a studio-perfect sound within moments.
Nothing ever changes with a modelling amp and an FRFR speaker, as the settings are all digitally stored on the modelling amp, and the FRFR speaker is designed to be neutral. All you have to do is switch the FRFR speaker on and remember where all your different tones are located on the pedalboard switcher.
The Subtle Art of Guitar Cabinet Microphone Placement
There is a certain magic about guitar cabs, especially in the studio and when playing live, when microphone placement comes into play. The combinations for tone and sound are infinite; you can change the amp head, add in pedals, move the microphones, alter the EQ – the possibilities are endless. All of this affects the sound, creating different sonic profiles and tones.
Can you do this with an FRFR speaker? Not really, no – everything is digital with an FRFR speaker. For some players, this is part of the appeal. You no longer need to invest in thousands of dollars worth of hardware. For other players, the idea of using an FRFR speaker is heresy. Like, I could never imagine Matt Pike using modelling amps and an FRFR speaker for SLEEP – it just wouldn’t sound/look right.
Certain sounds, big, nasty, organic sounds of the type you associate with bands like Boris, SLEEP, and Electric Wizard demand specific types of cabinets, amp heads, and pedals. This combination of elements, always specific to the player, is what makes the bands’ tone so unique and compelling. It is just as important as the lyrics or the riffs.
I’ve been using Orange for kinda a long time actually. I was watching Black Sabbath on MTV when I was a kid and I was like Orange, Orange, Orange. After that, we started buying Oranges up when we first, kind of, started the band. That’s kind of the tone I was going for – you know, in the beginner like a classic, rock, overdrive. Now I’m just using massive mountains of Orange.Matt Pike on Orange Blog
Powered or Non-Powered FRFR Speakers
If you’re using a modelling amp, something like the Helix Line 6, and you want to start using it live rather the lugging ALL your gear around with you, an FRFR speaker is something you will need to invest in. But you first need to know whether you require an active and passive (powered or non-powered) FRFR speaker.
As we noted earlier, the Kemper modelling amps are not powered, so to use this in a live setting with an FRFR speaker, you’d want a powered FRFR speaker. Similarly, if the amp modeller you’re using has a built-in amp, you can use a non-powered FRFR speaker – or run it through a traditional guitar cabinet, if you want a more natural, air-moving sound.
Now that’s out of the way, here’s a selection of the best FRFR speakers you can buy right now.