REVIEW: K-Tek Stingray Small X

After a long wait, the new generation is finally here. I remember how excited that I was when I got the old blue bag before it was even called Stingray. Now here we are with some huge improvements and the same robust and protective frame that is the Stingray. Some people are passionate about only looking for the smallest, lightest solution around. For me, that’s a no go because I want build quality, accessories, protection, and a sleek branded design that myself and my clients can admire.  For this reason, I look nowhere else than with the K-Tek Stingray line. 

Unless one is specifically looking for a totally stripped down shell, or a DIY solution, there are really only two options around for a professional level audio bag: K-Tek and Orca.  There are some merits to be claimed by both sides, however I would place myself firmly in the K-Tek camp.  So when the fantastic Stingray X line finally released, you can imagine my excitement. 

I want to take a moment to point out the color above. This glorious purple is the result of the power of the internet. As you will later see below in comparison photos, for many years, K-Tek’s signature colors have been orange and black. However after a fun little “what if” on a forum, involving the early product photos and a hue adjustment in photoshop, a lot of people fixated on the purple. As it happens, K-Tek is a company that listens, and has decided to do a limited run of purple bags! Seriously, get them now while they are available!

As you can see, the general design of the Stingray X is similar to the design for the Stingray (I am a Sound Devices 833 user, so the Small X is the bag that I have). The only two huge changes which are immediately apparent are the two 1/4″ mounting threads on the front for accessories, as well as the increase in width for the main compartment so as to accommodate both the Sound Devices 833 and the Sound Devices 888. I have not tested other devices in it, but it can definitely fit the Sound Devices 633, Zaxcom Nova, Zaxcom Maxx, Sound Devices 788t, Zoom F8/F8n, and other similarly sized devices. The Small X is also also a similar weight when compared to the Small.

Early prototypes for the Stingray X had this mounting thread positioned on top of the bag. It was a smart move to relocate it to the front, so that anything mounted will be out of the way of the user’s hands. This could be used to mount antennas, a video monitor, a tablet/phone holder, you name it! For me, it’s a nice place to mount dipole antennas, and then I can just use a little bnc jumper straight to the antenna!

There’s that signature orange on my well loved Stingray bag (I really love the purple). As you can see, the main compartment is just a little bit wider on the Small X bag, since the 888 barely had problems fitting in the older model. This makes everything fit perfectly there, but still doesn’t make the 833 feel as if its swimming in the bag. Observe below.

It really doesn’t feel all that different for my needs, but to an 888 user, it makes a huge difference.

Another change to the main compartment is that while there is more space horizontally, there is a little less vertically (when looking top down at the bag). Because of this, you can see that my 411a and Audioroot BG-DH MKII BDS are a little more cramped. They still fit just fine, but it’s worth noting. It likely wouldn’t be as noticeable if I wasn’t using a Sound Devices SL-2. Both bags also have the same mounting rings for a harness.

Taking a side view, you can also see that the bottom of the bag extends out less far than it used to. That makes sense to me since I can’t imagine many practical instances where one would need more space at the bottom of the bag. It’s also a slight change. They also relocated the forward velcro loop to the bottom of the bag, which I believe is for mounting the Zaxcom Nova. You might notice that I have relocated the divider forward so as to accommodate my Sound Devices SL-2. This was made easier because K-Tek has shrunk the size of the velcro feet on the divider!

When comparing the feet side by side, you can see how much more limiting the old feet were in being able to adjust the positioning of the divider. I really liked this change, since it was a bit of a dance to get my 833/SL-2 balanced properly. Unchanged is the arch on the bottom of the divider, which allows cables to be routed easily inside of the bag, as well as the hole which leads into the front pouch in case that you have devices mounted there as well. Also unchanged is the wide velcro loop on the bottom of the bag for mounting your batteries

Speaking of balancing the 833/SL-2, when I first tried to attach it, it ended up like this:

That was less than encouraging at first, due to the fact that there are no ring loops on the SL-2, so the center of gravity is off in the bag. The first solution that I tried was simply to stretch the black velcro strap under the 833/SL-2 and attach it to the divider.

The problem was that the velcro strap wasn’t long enough to reach under the unit and then to the top of the arch. After scratching my brain for a bit about how to balance everything, I went out to my gear and grabbed a short, black velcro tie to add on for extra length!

Presto! That did the trick. Everything is now super stable. I would attribute all of this to the fact that Sound Devices neglected to send K-Tek a dummy unit of the SL-2 so that they could do proper tests on how this would mount. I have made K-Tek aware of the minor issue, which is again, a simple fix.

On the exterior of the bag, we can first see how the color has changed a bit, and I don’t mean the purple. In place of the solid black on the previous model, we have a much shinier black with spots. Also the straps across the front pouch now extend to the side pockets as well. Speaking of the front pouch, the openings on the bottom now open and close with a strong velcro, as opposed to with a zipper on the previous model. I rather liked the zipper, but this velcro turned out to be superior because you cannot accidentally pull it open. That’s useful if you’re going to store loose items in the front pouch. A major difference in the bottom of the bag is the removal of the feet on the battery flap. I felt that they gave the older model greater stability. That being said, I have not had any issues with the Small X bag being unstable or slippery. The feet on the side remain the same, although they are a bit more curved, which aids in the ability to tilt the bag backward to make use of………The new included kickstand!

Seriously, I love this thing. Could I make something up myself to do the same job? Of course. Have I made due just propping up the bag on other objects? Absolutely. Would I 1,000,000% prefer a specifically engineered, branded tool which was made for my bag and attaches to it instead? You bet!

The top is hard side velcro, which is designed to stick to the strip of soft side velcro on the back of the back, as seen above. There is a hard sewn fabric strip between the bottom of the kickstand so that it doesn’t go flat. It seems to be built of a firm, but lightweight metal interior, and then covered in the same type of fabric that comprises the exterior of the bag. It’s such a simple little thing to add, that makes a whole lot of difference. I do a lot of interviews in my work and it’s crazy how much of an invaluable tool that this is.

As you can see above, both bags still have the same mesh separator between the bag and the user’s body. This maintains some airflow in between and keeps us cool on hot days. It also can be used for mounting onto a roller bag/case handle.

Here we see the redesigned light gray zipper pulls. As someone who has had the simple knots on the older zipper pulls come undone multiple times, I greatly welcome this hard rubber change. The one aspect that I do not personally welcome is the reduction in total zippers on each side of the bag. It used to be that the bags had 6 zippers per side, and now there are 4 per side. It seems that 4 is generally enough, but on occasion I loved having the other 2 for flexible situations, like routing extra cables out of the bag. It’s not a huge deal, but I would have much preferred that there stay 6 on each side.

The retractable carrying handles have seen a slight change as well. Instead of only the padded swan fabric handles, the Small X also has another covering which was added to keep the handles more stiff. At first, I didn’t like the change because the old handles contoured to my hand, and the new ones put pressure on parts of my fingers that felt less comfortable. However, the more that I used it, the more that the new handles broke in and softened up. It’s not that they were floppy. They still held more rigid than the previous model, however they became a lot more comfortable to hold after a bit of usage.

Taking a look at the side pockets, you can see that they have remained similar to the previous model with both an inner layer mesh pocket, and the outer layer full fabric, with a set of pen/tweaker holders on the right side. Both have a velcro opening to access the inner pocket from the inside. Both also have a smaller exterior zippered pocked on the sides. I can honestly say that I use all of these pockets frequently. I like to have all of my small pieces on me so that I’m not fumbling around while wearing my bag.

The last thing that I want to talk about is a really subtle change that you probably wouldn’t even notice until you realized that your life was better because of it (specifically if you are using a 633, an 833, or an 888). The back of the bag comes up just a little big lower than the previous bag did. I really wish that I remembered to take a better picture of how high that it went on the old bag before I switched everything over. When using the mini faders on the 633, 833, and 888, the old bag (which you can see a little bit in the picture above) went up high enough that the fader itself sometimes rubbed on the bag. With the Small X, the fader sits well above the edge of the back of the bag, leaving the user free to make adjustments with much more ease.

Seriously, this was an incredibly important improvement that I didn’t even realize how badly that I needed, until I used it in the field.

I have taken this bag out on a bunch of shoots, and I couldn’t be happier. My gear not only feels safe and stable, but also looks really cool too. A couple of weeks ago, I had both my director and two of the actors come up to say that they loved the purple! The Stingray X looks and feels like a bag made for professionals, by people who solely focus on location audio gear. When you compare it to other bags, both professional and DIY, I believe that this is extremely apparent. So much time and care was taken with each part of the design. From the multiple mounting areas for antennas and accessories, to the new kickstand, to the RF shielded internal divider, to the layered pockets, to the collapsible front pouch, to the retractible handles, this bag makes me feel like my bag is on the same level as my recorder and wireless systems. There is nothing flimsy about it and I feel confident that everything inside is protected and ready for battle whenever I need it. Congrats on a new generation, it’s a fantastic step forward.

Did I mention that I love the purple….?


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