We define “small-format” line arrays as those with 8-inch LF drivers, and it’s one of the fastest growing segments of the market with good reason.
When the modern version of line arrays hit the market more than a decade ago, the vast majority were of the large format variety (12-inch and larger LF drivers), with subsequent introductions primarily defined by ever-decreasing footprints.
That’s no wonder, since the use of line arrays in smaller venues is often limited by weight and height.
Compact enclosures are not only less expensive, but also weigh less and can bend more rapidly without breaking their coupling, due to the smaller diameter of their woofers.
The physics of coupling dictates a limit to the angle from one enclosure to the next, beyond which beaming and spotty coverage occurs.
While a line array with 15-inch woofers has a limit of about 5 degrees and enclosures based on 10-inch cones can bend by 10 degrees, those with 8-inch woofers can bend by 12 degrees from one cabinet to the next.
Smaller format line arrays can therefore provide a greater angle of vertical coverage in a shorter height, especially important in smaller venues.
On the other hand, line arrays lose pattern control at frequencies whose wavelengths are longer than the array’s height. To provide pattern control down to 100 Hz, for example, an array must be 11 feet tall and, with a typical cabinet height of under a foot, control down to 100 Hz requires a dozen or more cabinets in an array.
Hanging half a line array provides omni-directional low-frequency coverage that creates both a puddle of mud on stage and thin-sounding response at the back of the listening area, often where the mix position is located.
Most manufacturers provide companion subwoofers to achieve sufficient low-frequency extension for musical applications, which can become the top-most element in a flown array when there’s sufficient height, or can be flown adjacent or behind line array elements.
Subs that integrate into the bottom of a ground-stacked array provide additional height as well as supplying mass for stability, especially important when the array must bend back to address elevated listening areas.
There are several configurations. Some employ dual woofers with a center high-frequency section to provide horizontal symmetry. The simplest 2-way systems simply employ a single cone driver and a high-frequency driver.
Quasi-3-way solutions use dual woofers, but roll off one woofer early so the other is the only source of mid-range, eliminating cancellations from the other. True 3-way designs operate separate low-, mid- and high-frequency drivers in their own bands.
Small-format represents a growing market for line arrays, whether in performing arts centers, worship facilities, ballrooms, convention centers or auditoriums.
While the big guns are needed for arena rock and sports stadiums, there are endless opportunities to sell, rent, design, install, optimize and mix on compact line arrays.
In our Real World Gear tour of the small-format genre, we include 18 models, but there are dozens more that haven’t made it across the pond yet. With so much competition in this category, there are many high-quality products from which to choose.
Additionally, in the following pages we feature our new Real World Gear Spotlight which we hope you’ll find to be a valuable addition.
Take our Photo Gallery tour of more than 30 current models in the Small Format line array genre.
Mark Frink is editorial director of Live Sound International.