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Flexible Performers: Medium Format Line Arrays

A Real World Gear look at design factors, applications, and the latest models.

By Gary Parks August 12, 2015

Take our Real World Gear Photo Gallery Tour of the latest medium-format line arrays.

These days I’m surprised when I go to a concert or a performing arts center and don’t see line arrays flown at the sides of the stage, often complemented with digital audio networking, remote system control and monitoring, and real-time audio monitoring of the array’s response in the house.

These sleek systems have come a long way from the huge piles of cabinets and horns that I remember from the mid-1960s when I first started going to shows. 

Line arrays can provide many benefits, including more even audience coverage in terms of frequency response and SPL, control of vertical dispersion well into the lower midrange, improved sight lines, and ease of setup.

They’re designed to be flown and taken down quickly, often in “blocks” of individual modules, and to be flexibly adjustable to different curvatures – and a more limited quantity of modules can even be ground-stacked. This flexibility can be particularly useful in venues where arrays need to be adjusted regularly to accommodate different types of acts.

Line arrays vary in how amplification and signal processing are implemented, with many being self-powered and requiring only a line-level signal for each cabinet.  The electronics in such systems are highly integrated into the overall design, and built for reliability – since they are typically inaccessible during the performance. Other manufacturers choose to provide dedicated external processors and amplifiers matched to the requirements of the transducers and enclosure design, or recommend particular third-party processors and amps. 

Smaller-format line arrays, versus enclosures with 12-inch or 15-inch LF drivers, allow wider splay angles within the array elements, while still maintaining consistent coverage. This characteristic can be useful for covering smaller venues that have multiple levels, and can also help work around architectural structures like the edges of balconies. To help sound engineers achieve the most consistent results, many manufacturers complement their systems with predictive software that will calculate the expected performance of particular line arrays at differing splay angles and output levels, across a variety of frequency ranges and array lengths.

The definition of which characteristics makes a line array medium-format, as opposed to small- or large-format, is somewhat arbitrary. Is it how wide or high each element is, how much it weighs, how many components each houses, the diameter of the components, or how loud it gets? For this overview, we’ve based the selection on the size of the largest LF driver within the array, considering those with 8-inch to 10-inch cones to be medium-format.

Even within the medium-format category, there’s a lot of variety. Among the represented brands and models, the horizontal coverage angle varies from 80 degrees to 150 degrees from a single array column, with most ranging between 100 to 120 degrees.  Some manufacturers offer cabinets with the same “footprint” with differing horizontal coverage, allowing the user to better “customize” coverage for a particular venue.  Enclosure width varies from a bit over 23 inches to over 30 inches, and weight for each cabinet ranges from a bit over 30 pounds to over 100 pounds. Many are self-powered, and others have dedicated external processing and amplification. 

Most of these systems use a pair of cones to cover the lowest frequencies, and often will roll off the upper frequencies of one LF driver while allowing the other to cover the midrange. HF is covered by a compression driver, or occasionally a ribbon driver, with pattern control via a horn or waveguide with a narrow vertical coverage angle. Thus a 3-way system is effectively created, with the coupling of the two cones effectively creating a larger LF radiating surface.

The medium-format line arrays presented in this Real World Gear tour of recent models is not meant to be all-inclusive, yet covers a variety of manufacturers and design concepts based around LF components in the 8-inch to 10-inch range.

Take our Real World Gear Photo Gallery Tour of the latest medium-format line arrays.

Gary Parks is a pro audio writer who has worked in the industry for more than 25 years, holding marketing and management positions with several leading manufacturers.


About Gary

Gary Parks
Gary Parks

Gary is a writer who has worked in pro audio for more than 25 years, holding marketing and management positions with several leading manufacturers.

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