This article, from the archives of the late, great Recording Engineer/Producer (RE/P) magazine, provides an in-depth look at a concert sound milestone tied into a tour by Neil Diamond in 1985. The text is presented unaltered, along with the original graphics.
First introduced to the public in 1985 by JBL Professional, the new Concert Series represents what is perhaps the first attempt by a major manufacturer to address the growing need for pre-manufactured speaker systems, complete with all accessories.
In recent years, several firms have introduced factory-built enclosures that have found acceptance in both the touring-sound and installation-contracting industries, and a few of them included accesories such as cables, dollies, and flying hardware.
The significant development is that the Concert Series systems are complete and ready to operate with the addition of only program source and mixing equipment. As part of the new series, loudspeaker cabinets, power amplifiers, electronic crossover and loudspeaker signal processing equipment are available, as well as equipment racks. The systems are pre-wired, tested and ready for immediate use, with road cases available for touring applications.
Typically, touring sound firms have steadfastly clung to the development of proprietary loudspeaker systems, maintaining that the established manufacturers do not build what they require. Firms such as Meyer Sound Laboratories, Eastern Acoustic Works and Turbosound have been changing that. Each of these companies has made significant inroads into the touring sound market with mass-produced enclosures.
The new Concert Series systems, which come complete with power amplifiers and signal processing, add a new dimension to the pro sound marketplace, with potential applications in installation-contracting as well as the rental sound business.
This article will examine the development of these new JBL systems, and their first large-scale use by Stanal Sound for Neil Diamond’s recent arena concert tour.
Touring Sound Company Involvement
In early 1985, JBL Professional’s VP of Marketing, Mark Gander, examined possibilities for a new product line that would address the market need for pre-built loudspeaker enclosures. A decision was made to offer systems that incorporated both direct-radiating and horn-loaded designs.
A new two-box, direct-radiating system developed by Stanal Sound, Ltd. (North Hollywood, CA, and Kearney, NE) and a one-box, horn-loaded enclosure assembled by Electrotec Productions (Los Angeles, CA) were deemed to have good potential for market development. OEM agreements were reached, and the concept of entire pre-built systems developed.
“Touring sound evolved over a period of years from a pile of parts used by inexperienced persons, into the sophisticated tour companies we see today using modular speaker packages,” Gander explains. “JBL builds the components used in the majority of touring sound systems on the road. The fact that two of those [sound-rental] companies can come to a major manufacturer, with proprietary enclosures that can be incorporated into our product line, shows just how far the concert-sound business has come.”
Gander feels that the time is right for the commercial development of entire packaged systems. “Audio equipment manufacturers are selling end-users the promise of good sound,” he offers. “It takes a certain amount of education and expertise to take raw components, and assemble a quality sound system. Offering a correctly engineered system, made up of individual components that can stand alone on their own merit, is a step in the direction of consistently good sound for the end-users.”
JBL Professional VP of Sales, Ken Lopez, stresses that the new Concert Series systems are well-integrated. “For a matched system to be available off-the-shelf is a new concept,” he concedes. “Users have the ability to go to one source for everything… cables, racks - all that is
needed to be up and running. Our recent distribution agreement with Soundcraft mixing consoles can make the package idea even more attractive.” (See News item in the February 1986 issue of R-e/p regarding JBL’s acquisition of the sales and marketing responsibility for Soundcraft products in the U.S.—Editor.)
Stanal Sound Involvement
With its production wood/fiberglass shop in Kearney, NE, and considerable experience in the development of hanging sound systems and the application of fiberglass for road use, Stanal Sound was particularly well-suited for helping to develop this first commercial concert-system package.
“I have always maintained that a market existed for correctly-designed concert sound systems,” advises Stanal president Stan Miller (read more about Stan here). “Many sound companies try to keep their speaker systems secret. We felt that ours had more potential than that.”
StanaI’s two-box system, with trapezoidal cabinetry and integral hanging points, was incorporated into JBL’s product line with very few changes. Miller considers that his experience with touring-sound systems for nearly 20 years has paid off: “We feel it is important for the primary enclosure that a system is built around to be a stand-alone device. The 4870 loudspeaker system is a full-range device with 15-inch speakers. The 4845 18-inch low-frequency box, while matching the 4870 in size, is essentially a subwoofer. Additionally, we have developed half-sized, long-throw horn boxes and two-way, down fill devices.”