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Extra-deep road cases that won't break your back or wallet
Thu, 03/15/2007 - 16:59
It's tough to find the right road case for non-standard equipment. I did a successful (and fairly exhaustive) search for road cases for extra-deep RADAR recorders and I thought I'd share my results and photos. In short, I found two good choices, by Gator: The GR-4L with the GCAGE-4L back lid; OR the GRR-4L with the GCAGE-4RL. Of course, this article is good for other deep gear too. More on RADAR here.
[Update 8/2011: Gator has discontinued the GCAGE lids. They have a few leftovers but are not making them anymore.]
The long details...
I sought cases that met these criteria:
+) One RADAR recorder per case, 4 rack units tall.
+) Light enough that they could still be lifted by one person (RADAR is 43 lbs already)
+) Deep enough to accommodate the extra-deep RADAR chassis with the SCSI terminator
+) Off-the-shelf, not a custom-made case, to keep cost down
+) Tough enough for regular regional travel by van, handled by engineers.
-) Shockmount cases are too heavy
-) Wood/rug cases are too heavy
-) Price. Lower = better, duh.
-) Not necessary to be tough enough to be thrown on a tour semi or cargo flight by road crew.
Also, to keep weight down, all accessories, cables and drives are packed separately.
So I surveyed a bunch of dealers and manufacturers websites for cases, and it came down to SKB and Gator. These two companies make hard plastic road cases that are tough but relatively light. They are very similar in general but have a few essential differences. (Their products are so close that I think one company is either an "employee defection" or close "tribute" to the other.)
In the past, I've had almost every era of SKB case. They have evolved over the years into good cases. Every few years you just need to send the case lids (or the whole case) back to SKB to replace the latches which get worn out.
The clincher this time is the RADAR's extra-deep chassis, and it needs to be a 4-space case. This rules out almost every case. SKB's extra-deep cases are all shock-mount cases, so they are too heavy. The SKB 4U Roto Shockmount Rack (SKB-R904U20) is the closest but it weighs 33 lbs!
Gator wins, because of one item they make: the G-Cage. It is an extra-deep back lid which replaces the standard Gator lid. It's primary marketing point is a zippered pouch to hold cables. But if you put it on the back, the G-Cage is perfect for extra-deep gear.
The G-Cage comes in two models, to match the main case body. The GCAGE-4L for Gator's regular cases:
or the GCAGE-4RL for their cases with handles/wheels:
So the choice comes down to the style of the main case body. Either the regular GR-4L:
Or the version with wheels, a retractable luggage handle, and a small air gap under the 4 rack spaces, the GRR-4L:
I went with the tricked-out GRR-4L and matching GCAGE-4RL. The GRR-4L weighs 4 lbs more than the GR-4L, but that seemed worth it. Your mileage may vary, it could be a toss-up, see notes below.
So, how did it work for the RADAR? Great! The RADAR fits perfectly, and it's not impossibly heavy for one engineer (of medium build) to lift, at about 57 lbs. Photos are here:
There's only one issue that's a pain but fixable. The front case lids have these annoying metal tabs which are designed to give a little more support in the middle of the lid. They slip into slots on the front bottom edge of the case. (See pics.)
But these tabs are angled in such a way that you can't take the lid off when the case is sitting on a flat surface, or stacked on top of another case! Thus to take the lids off you need to lift the whole case up a few inches. lame.
I tried to skirt this by flipping the case lid upside down. No dice, because you'll scratch the front panel of your equipment. Bogus! (Maybe bending them would avoid this?)
One consolation... since the GCage lacks these tabs, only the front lids have this problem.
However a quick modification can solve this. The metal tabs are riveted on to the case lid through the metal edge of the lid. I see three ways of doing it:
1) Bend the tabs back so they are flat against the inside of the lid. They would have to be all the way flat to be out of they way of the metal slot fixture on the case.
2) Punch out the rivets. (This might leave a hole though.)
3) Cut them off. (This is what I did.)
I asked Gator but they wouldn't help with the mod, and they pointed out that doing this will void your warranty. But they acknowledged that others have complained about these tabs.
So I brought the lids to a local auto body shop and they cut them off and sanded the edges down. All good now!
The wheels and luggage-style retractable handle are helpful but I'm still leery of rolling my RADAR around so I often use another hand truck anyway. You can NOT lift the case by the luggage handle! (There's even warning stickers not to do this.)
The extra air gap is a plus to this model. It's not quite as big as one rack space, but offers breathing room and a little area to stash cables, papers etc when not in transit.
The mesh inside the G-Cage can be zipped up or left unzipped. There's more space if it's unzipped, or you can store cables in there and zip it up. Either way, I recommend taping up the zipper handle so it doesn't rattle/scratch against the back of the RADAR.
Gator uses an interesting kind of rack rails. Their competitor SKB has little slide-in clips that attach to a blank rail. These clips have the actual screw threads, so when they inevitably strip, you just toss them out and replace. Gator uses one long loose bar to provide the threads. It is not permanently attached to the case so it can be replaced. It affixes to the BACK of the blank rail via some gummy stuff to keep it in place, so it can be an acrobatic feat to put gear in a rack. Not for daily swaps.
These cases have a lock and key to secure the lid. The same key worked for both my cases. Not sure if the same key works for all Gator cases out there. I asked Gator and they weren't sure either. So it is a security impediment, but not impenetrable.
Gator makes GCages to add depth to their other size racks too (6-space, 8-space etc).
You might notice in the pictures that I mark the corners of cases and lids to make matching them up easier. (I deal with dozens of SKB cases.)
Where to buy? It's hard to find one dealer that has each of the parts of this plan in stock. You might have a backorder wait. Try the links I listed above, and here are links to the dealers:
Instrument Pro lists all of these, and use my discount coupon to get 5% off, AFF01:
(Yes, these links credit me as the referrer. But hey, this was a long article!)
All in all, a great solution to a unique scenario. Hope this helps!