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Real World Gear: Column Loudspeakers

A look at the latest models defined by scant appearance with increasingly exceptional full-range performance...

By PSW Staff April 14, 2014

Take our Photo Gallery Tour of the latest column loudspeaker models. (Photo credit: EAW)

Despite their rather scant appearance, many modern column loudspeakers deliver exceptional full-range performance, and this can be furthered by companion LF boxes and subwoofers.

Although they’ve been around for more than a half-century, column loudspeakers are popular because they offer a compromise solution for those who need efficiency in the vocal range combined with even coverage and a very slim, unobtrusive profile.

A look into line source coupling behavior and pattern control tells us that loudspeaker cones exhibit coupling behavior up to a frequency whose wavelength is half the distance between adjacent acoustic centers. Driver spacing determines the highest frequency at which a column of identical drivers acts as a line source, while the height of the column determines the lowest frequency with directivity. As with modular line arrays, a short system might efficiently throw the midrange, but lower frequency performance can be compromised.

The addition of dedicated low-end modules that you’ll see offered with some of the models in our report serve to bolster LF output. It’s common for line source columns to be combined as multiple cabinets to achieve better performance as taller systems for bigger rooms. Longer columns provide pattern control reaching to lower frequencies. A 9-foot column can provide control to 125 Hz, so combining three 3-foot columns can also increase LF performance.

The additional control provided by line source columns is attractive given that a primary application is reverberant public spaces, including houses of worship, auditoriums and passenger terminals. In fact, the characteristics of columns – wide horizontal coverage, minimal vertical coverage above and below the enclosure and coherent sound in the vocal range – are all attractive features for these kinds of venues.

There are two primary types of column loudspeakers: those that offer the ability to “digitally steer” the vertical beamwidth and those that don’t. But it’s not quite that simple, because several models offer some vertical steering capability at a variety of degrees (pardon the pun).

Digitally steerable models incorporate individual amplification, delay and equalization for each driver, allowing the column’s vertical coverage to be tilted down (or up) and focused for short or long throws, though its horizontal coverage remains fixed. A growing segment of the market is the development of line source systems that deliver true full-range performance in a portable package, exemplified by the Renkus-Heinz IC Live.

With advances of this type ongoing, it’s no wonder that column loudspeakers continue to grow in popularity. Enjoy our Real World Gear Photo Gallery Tour of the latest available models.


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