Going EVM: the EVM-12L and EVM-12S reviewed

EVM-12L

There’s the normal guitar speaker world, stocked with models of past and present from brands such as Celestion, Eminence, WGS, Jensen, and Fane. Then there’s the isolated EVM zone, a strange thing, at a distance like some modern religion you’re peripherally aware of; something that happens to other people.

Those people have effectively opted out of the speaker game/tail-chase that plagues the rest of us, settling on these suspicious, hulking alternatives as the mouths of their instruments and generally getting on with the business of playing guitar. Meanwhile, we obsess about a little more of this, a little less of that, swapping out one highly colored traditional speaker for another, in a cycle of buying and reselling that develops our ear but not our musicianship.

What makes Electro-Voice speakers different? What are these self-satisfied weirdos getting from them? To find out, I bought some.

Stranger Danger

Unique aspects of the EVM speakers are apparent before a note passes through them. Prohibitive cost alone suggests build or quality unlike the old staples: an EVM-12L, the best-known model among guitarists, costs around $265; the ubiquitous Vintage 30 from Celestion, $145. Speakers from Eminence and WGS, less still. EVMs have a reputation for ruggedness, too, holding their price well on the used market. If you need two, or four, or eight, the numbers add up quickly.

As does the infamous weight: 19 pounds, twice that of your average Celestion. Players who must heave their own gear in and out of venues long for a lighter product with similar tone.

More weirdness: a brutalist, eight-fingered die-cast frame gives the EVM a military grade appearance, that only afterwards makes the industry standard pressed basket look flimsy and cheap. When I tried to install EVMs in a Marshall cab, the stock hardware wasn’t up to the task — the bolts couldn’t reach the T-nuts on the baffle because the speaker frames were so thick. The speakers look powerful, and they are, handling 200-300 watts, depending on the model.

evm12l_terminals_wiring_harness
Building a simple harness makes the EVM-12L compatible with normal guitar cab connections.

You can’t even count on standard hook up. The EVM-12S examples I have came with your everyday .205″ solder tabs/slip-on connectors, but the 12L features spring-loaded binding posts that want bare wire. I made a little harness, with bare twisted wire on one end and flat connectors on the other, to make swapping easier.

There’s a fear that everything about these will rub you the wrong way, different as they are. Their history of use in PA systems is especially concerning – will they have that dry, characterless sound of a guitar plugged in to a hi-fi? Will their range be too great, shooting out piercing highs that dedicated guitar speakers usually crib off? Will they be stiff and stubborn? Let’s turn ’em up and find out.

Matching Characteristics

Beginning with the similarities between the two models, both EVM-12L and 12S are surprisingly warm and smooth for flat, PA-like speakers with higher range than most Celestions. They serve up a big fat juicy tone from the neck position of a Les Paul, a real slab; Gary Moore used an EVM-loaded Marshall cab on his huge sounding Still Got The Blues record; Joe Bonamassa gets a powerful, muscled tone out of them today. That bend up to E from the 15th fret on the B string? You can’t help but do your Judge Dredd face.

Their alleged fidelity isn’t a problem with overdriven, modded Marshall sounds as you might think. I expected a raspy helping of fizz on lead and rhythm work, but found only a strong, authoritative smoothness. Yet that fidelity seems to engage at low gain (or lowered guitar volume) settings; both speakers had a shimmer or clarity down here I hadn’t heard from any other guitar speakers (and God, I’ve been through a lot), clear in a musical way, not sterile or hi-fi, but bouncy and sweet. Deep twang and vacuum-packed, 3D-feeling quack tones from a Strat loaded with Klein RNB pickups. How the EVMs can be so crisp and delicate with clean tones, yet bold and fat at high gain, I don’t know. They can reproduce some eye-watering high end, though, letting loose overtones usually buried. With fifteen guitars and two very different amps, there were sore spots along the high E string that were shrieky, real head drillers if experienced on axis, a characteristic that must be weighed against the better ones.

Both models felt less gainy than the likes of a G12M Greenback, an old favorite of mine which seems to add dirt at any volume level. Upping the gain by a quarter brought back some ease n’ grease, the speakers being tight but in a tactile, responsive way.

Differences

The 12L immediately felt thicker, if you weren’t a fan you might say more stuffy, than the less well-known 12S. Not being as clear in the top end, it wanted a notch more treble versus the settings that worked for the 12S. The 12L sounded more even, the less aggressive of the two, though it seemed more likely to jab you with those E string squeaks.

The unshakable grip of the speakers made me want to do a lot of chugging rhythm. Comparing back-to-back recordings of the same riffs, the 12S was clearer and tighter at this job, percussive and quick – the speaker has noticeably less bass – though the 12L was no slouch, just fatter sounding.

Chewy double stops were detailed and enchanting on the 12S, with its slightly slimmer tone; more midrange. For girth, the fattest sound, the 12L beats not just its brother but all speakers I’ve tried. It is so rounded, giant sounding, forming a remarkably solid partnership with overdrive and a Les Paul. The 12S, apparently due to its shallow cone, is meaner, having the clearer mids, and rocks the hell out of high gain plexi sounds and 80s riffs. It’s still a reinforced tank of a speaker, though, with a density and power greater than your everyday example; there’s a sense of punch and weight to its performance.

EVM-12 schematic

Enclosures

Purists sometimes insinuate that the EVM speakers should be used in specialized TL806 or “Thiele” cabinets, made to a specific vented design that gets the most from such drivers. In guitar, of course, there are no rules but ‘do what sounds good’ and Electro-Voice’s literature asserts that they work well in “virtually any sealed, vented, or open-backed enclosure,” so don’t be deterred. The port or vent in a TL806 cabinet, EV explains, bellows out the lower octave of bass, coaxed into doing so with little required motion from the speaker, resulting in both extended low end and cleaner sound from the now less taxed speaker. Again, we are less concerned with harmonic distortion and flat response in guitar land, warping the signal at every stage to form something personal and entirely unfaithful to the original plucked string.

I tried the EVMs in three enclosures: an open-backed combo, a sealed 2×12, and a full size Marshall cab. The most striking configuration, found by accident in a moment of transition, was mounting one speaker in a detuned, i.e. the second hole left empty, 2×12. Like stepping on a magic pedal, this boosted everything at once – vibrance, punch, bass, clarity – yet held it all together even more tightly than before. (Interestingly, cabinet guru Kevin O’Connor of London Power published plans for the perfect 1×12; one 12-inch speaker and one 12-inch, detuned port – basically a 2×12 with a speaker missing.) I’ve run more traditional speakers this way, before I knew what it was, with great results, but something about the range and vigor of the EVMs seemed to latch on and make the absolute most of it. Unfortunately, it is a pig to mic, two mics being required to pick up the split duties of the speaker and the port. Fine if you can set it and forget it in a studio, but less casual for a dirty demo in the basement, or for the soundman who points the same 57 at the same part of every player’s speaker, night after night, now being told that he needs two mics, positioned just so, because you’re special. Very possibly you’ll end up with one of the standard setups, which imbue their usual flavors: a bright, detailed, dispersed sound from the open-back; a woodier, punchier and much more directional effect from the closed-back.

Eminence DeltaLite II 2512

This 250 watt speaker with the wacky new magnet material – neodymium – is an alternative replacement for the EVM-12L, and as such, players often want to know if a DeltaLite II can deliver that same, strident tone while saving their spines (and wallets – it’s currently around $100 cheaper.)

Physically, it is the more attractive option. At 6.8 pounds it’s lighter than most guitar speakers, let alone the 19 pound beast with which it competes, and it still has a serious looking die-cast frame. The binding posts are better, screwing down like hi-fi gear, but these and the EVM types are both annoying for guitarists to deal with, who almost universally have incompatible slip-on connectors inside their cabinets.

It’s immediately noticeable that the DeltaLite II has less treble than the EVM-12L. It’s not subtle, something you need to go hunting for with your eyes half closed, but apparent right away. Switching between each speaker in opposite sides of the same 2×12 combo, the DeltaLite II is muddier when playing low notes at the bottom of the neck, when some top end clarity can help describe what’s happening with overtones. Not so little top that you have trouble playing accurately; there still a nice fast attack which keeps you from getting lost, but the sound isn’t as wide or full. A benefit of this cribbed treble is that the speaker exhibits less shriek than the EVM, won’t leap out and spike your ear if you hit something unpleasant. With less fatigue, it’s easy to crank away on the DeltaLite II for hours, and a pleasure to do so. There’s something comfortable about it, stony neutrality with a warm top end. It is however a lighter and less vibrant tone across the range; there’s not the surprising life or illusion of heft that the EVMs impart. While nimble and inspiring, then, for our purposes here the Delta doesn’t fit the bill as an EVM-12L impersonator.

Hello, Amp

The take home message is that EVMs sound neutral – not pushed or hyped in certain frequencies, like the highly flavored speakers we are used to – and powerful. Though on paper ‘neutral’ may read as boring, the opposite is true. There’s a sense of opening a doorway to the sound your amp is really making, rather than listening down a strangely shaped nozzle. This comes at a price – the money, the weight, the inconvenience, the forceful high end – but returning to normal speakers, all of which seem somehow diminished, like they don’t try as hard, flush with their own permanent coloring, is telling. EVMs just do more. Whether or not they do too much is going to vary from application to application, person to person.

If you like the idea of getting off the speaker-swapping rotary, with an outside solution that exudes capability, these may be the last speakers you buy.

17 Replies to “Going EVM: the EVM-12L and EVM-12S reviewed”

  1. Mr Gray, I agree that EVM12L is a lone outsider from the general speaker pack, i ve found your review helpful and it helped me to once again to buy an EV speaker i had an old fender combo with an EV 10 inch speaker (force10 i believe) like so many i sold it in a silly mood. Never quite found that certain clarity and transparency of what your playing whether its dirt tor clean. will pick up my EVM12L on Tuesday for my pine closed back enclosure. Thanks again for helping me to remember what i already knew but had forgotten.
    I have an old Fender 75 head which should be able to drive the EVM12L well.

    thanks again

    richard

    1. It’s not the lone outsider

      You also have JBLs (D120/130, K120/130 and E120/130) and Altec 417 all of which are heavy, expensive, well made-made sound reinforcement speakers that work well for guitar and will “open up” your amp.

      JBL E series are a secret bargain because everyone thinks they want the vintage D series.

      JBLs are more percussive than the EVs and a bit less shrieky.

      Jerry Garcia, Jim Thomas of the Mermen and Pete Townshend all use JBL.

    2. HI!Thank You for the Great review! need some help with EVM 12L speaker ! will be great to know the speaker frame dimension in mm(How thick it is) ?Thank You!

  2. I came across this site on the web, looking for a substitute for the evm12l.
    Your review helped me to actually STOP looking and just use what I have. My search had already made me start thinking in that direction, but you have helped me to just put my foot down. I first got a 12L quite by accident. I was going through my “Rack” phase in the 80’s and went into the local music store where a guy I know gave me a good deal on this speaker, a mesa black shadow EV….who knew. The other guitar player in my band never liked the fact that my “cheaper rig always sounded better than his “rig of the month” that he went through trying to find the next thing. The EVM lay dormant while I proceeded through the processor phase until a few years ago when I finally came full circle and came back to tube amps and stomp boxes. After going through a few combo amps I ended up with a Marshall JVM 410h. I got a 2-12 cab and loaded it with G12t-75s. I remembered the EVM at some point and swapped one of the celestions….MAGIC. Ihave since bought a couple more EVMs and I loaded an old floor monitor with one and use it a church in my face for monitor and mike it to the board. The EVM handles the 100 watt amp very well (at lower volumes of course) . My latest discovery with the EVM was, I recently bought the Marshall 50th anniversary JVM 1 watt combo amp. It sounds pretty good as is, but I unplugged the on board speaker and plugged my monitor cab with the EVM in it, WOW. The speaker is so efficient, it actually boosted the volume of the 1 watt amp and sounds so full you wouldn’t believe what all thet sound is coming out of. The speakers I’ve looked into actually cost more than getting REAL 12L’s used. I’m done looking, Thanks for the review……

  3. Your review is well done, right on.
    I’ve used an EVM 12L since 1993, and it has never failed me. There’s little speaker distortion, at least I can’t hear any, and the performance is consistent. I’ve used it for many music genres and never does it sound out of place.
    I did a search for a lighter EVM alternative and the closest speaker I’ve found is the old Celestion Sidewinder 150watt. It has similar midrange and high end, but the low end is less solid and distorts a tiny bit. It too is very efficient. The Celestion is a bit lighter and isn’t as big making it easier to stuff into an amp like a Fender Deluxe Reverb. To fit the EVM into mine I had to move the reverb tank a bit.

  4. Hi. Very nice review!
    I have some problem with my open back mesa mark III combo. The low end is very, very small and dry. I wonder if it’s normal, or the speaker need a recone (its 24 years old). To give perspective, I have a small combo amp (blackstar HT5) with 10 inch celestion g10n40, it gives a lot more low end compared to mesa with the EV.

  5. […] a review of the 12L vs. 12S which does a very good job of explaing the diffenreces and features: Going EVM: the EVM-12L and EVM-12S reviewed | Pick Roar $150 shipped ConUS; Paypal friends and family. Attached […]

  6. Man I really dig this review! Iv been looking for new replacement speakers for about three years for my Splawn quick rod that is currently loaded with Celestion gt12-75s.
    They sound good but not great. The thing is that I use Prs guitars and I feel like the gt12 are not projecting the clearly that I’m looking for. For the longest time I thought it was my tubes, changed them out for some fresh Electro-Harmonix el34. I found that it seriously improved my tone, but something was still missing. Iv tryed greenbacks, creambacks, etc. Nope. Iv read reviews on the EVMs and its hard to take people seriously, to much sceptics. But reading this I feel like this is exactly what I thought they would sound like. Now time fork the Chang Chang! Thanks man!

  7. Hey I was woundering if there are any thoughts on the difrent types of EV12L, meaning vintage compared to more modern. I noticed that Messa has a speaker, and I think I saw a fender Ev on eBay a wile back. Anyways i have four vintage ones coming and I can’t wait!

    Just hoping I made right choice, would be sick to compare them side to side with brand new ones. I might buy a new classic, if I don’t like it, I guess I could use it for workout equipment

  8. I wonder now, a yr later if there are any newer evm12 alternatives that can fit the bill like the emi delta pro 12a or the emi em12 . Any new comparisons? thanks

  9. The Eminence EPS-12C (or EPS-15C) is something to consider. The EPS-12C was designed to be a 12″ version of the EPS-15C. The EPS-15C was designed to be a “Pedal Steel Guitar” speaker and a light weight neodymium version of the Peavey 1501-4 Black Widow speaker. The EPS-15C, in my testing, reminded me of a JBL K-130 that I used to have in a Fender Twin Reverb. This is no coincidence as the Peavey 1501-4 was designed to be a higher power clone of the JBL K-130 that Peavey originally used in the first Session 400 Steel Guitar Amps.

    Now back to the EPS-12C, it too reminds me of the JBL D-120F’s that were used in Fender amps. So, if you are looking for a replacement or similar sounding speaker for a JBL, take a look (listen) at the EPS-12C neodymium speaker. Its not real good for a steel guitar speaker, but works well with my Telecaster.

  10. I use evm 12s in my Roland jc-120. Big difference between guitars. Gibson or strats. The best tone is in single coil pick-UPS through the jc-120 with the 12s. Amazing,big , fat , wet , tone. The single coils , from whoever Gibson p-90 or fender singles are noisey but the evm 12s in the Roland jc -120 and a standard 4×12 cabinet (Marshall) round out each other so well. I would swear I hit the jack pot. Mixxing the evm 12s with other speakers to the same amp is pure gold, solid tone , clean or dirty.

  11. Brent Nhork says: Reply

    I’ve been using EV12L speakers for twenty years now. I tried to go back to JBL’s but found them just too shrill and ice-picky for my tastes and needs.
    My favorite go-to-amp is an ’83 Peavey Special 130, loaded with an older, black label series II EV12L. It’s punchy clean and very articulate with smooth bass attack. I get compliments on my tone from non-players even. These speakers wake up my amps and deliver what I need and want consistently and reliably, gig after gig. These are simply the best guitar speaker made. No need to look at anything else.

  12. Hi Gray, thanks for the nice review. I’ve used EVM-12Ls since the 80’s, mostly in open-back cabinets. When reading of your ‘accident’ with the 2×12 detuned cab, I pulled out an old Marshall 1922 and loaded it with one 12L. What can I say… it sounds terrific! I’ll definitely stick with it. Thanks for this very helpful hint.
    ps: I was using an old Acoustic G60T tubehead in this setup. Never heard the amp sound that sweet!

  13. iplay pearldrums says: Reply

    I just opened a 4-12 cab. that a guitarist left behind when he quit a project we were doing, I knew that there were 2 celestions on top & 2 EV’s on bottom. He made this setup so he could transport it in a Festiva for gigs w/ his Carvin X-100B head. I think it was about the Carlos Cavazo sound.
    Before we setup in a new practice place he had 4 EV’s in a bottom cab. & 4 -celestions in top. As the drummer playing w/ him I will say this is the best setup I’ve heard since ’86. Talk about BASS when he played the low string on a Fender Anniversary Strat w/ 12 guage strings!! & it screamed when he played a YAMAHA guitar w/ 8’s or 6’s.
    I was checking the wiring on the 4-12 so I could use this as a monitor ….pretty big huh?? lol….
    The Cele’s were in parallel @ 16 ohms ea. & the EV;s in series @ 8 ohms ea. in series. The brands were going to 2 separate jacks. I put the EV’s in parallel. W/ 2 jacks

  14. HI!Thank You for the Great review! need some help with EVM 12L speaker ! will be great to know the speaker edge off the gasket height in mm,where the speaker connected to the baffle ? Cheers! Andrey!

  15. The edge off the EV EVM 12L speaker frame in mm Please!

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