Small, mobile, intelligent: 2014’s lightest loudspeakers19 November 2014
Upon the first dissolution of King Crimson in 1974, founder and guitarist Robert Fripp famously told the Melody Maker of his intention to henceforth serve as a “small, mobile, intelligent unit” able to adjust more swiftly to the changing times. Forty years later, the same kind of expectations might well be applied to much contemporary equipment oriented towards small- and medium-sized touring applications.
‘Small’ and ‘mobile’ should speak for themselves; the less space taken up in trucks and venues, the more that can be assigned to other items of equipment or seats for fee-paying customers. As for ‘intelligent’, most rental companies now handle a greater cross-section of projects than ever before – from conventional rock shows to theatrical events to corporate gigs – so flexibility of systems is very much the name of the game.
Although this year’s PSNLive survey indicated that, after several years in abeyance, larger events are again increasing in terms of their overall importance to hire companies and touring engineers, small/medium-sized events remain the bedrock of the live sound business. Combining bankable annual regulars with valuable one-offs, smaller applications keep the wheels turning for many companies in-between the bigger paydays afforded by larger festivals and arena tours. It’s no surprise to discover, then, that many manufacturers remain ardent in their desire to provide versatile, cost-efficient products for just such applications…
The requirements of smaller tours were certainly at the top of the priority list for West Midlands-based HRA Loudspeakers (profiled exclusively by PSNEurope in August) as it set about developing its XR Series Regional Touring PA. One of the newest additions to the UK loudspeaker manufacturing landscape, HRA’s Regional Touring PA comprises two models that can be used flexibly individually or in combination: the 15” + 1.4” XR1 Active system rated at 1350W rms and the 2 x 15” XR2 subwoofer rated at 2,100W rms.
“The objectives were to develop a system that is light in weight [the XR1 is only 33.9kg] and very modular, allowing it to be stacked easily in quite small spaces,” says HRA sales manager Steve Williams (pictured). “It is also very easy to link together systems to increase the size of the PA, so whether you are doing very small, close-knit gigs or medium-sized ones, it is possible to tailor the Regional PA to fit.”
Williams adds that the “modularity and scalability reduces the need for hire companies to hold stocks of multiple styles of enclosures yet still be able to fulfil multiple events of varying sizes and forms”. The decision to go for self-powered designs (based around Class D technology provided by Powersoft) is also advantageous for rental outfits “working to reduce the amount of room occupied in the truck and at the venue,” he says.
A similarly keen awareness of the realities of contemporary touring informed the development of the M28, the new omni-purpose module in the suite of STM (Scale Through Modularity) loudspeakers from French manufacturer Nexo. Developed to deliver “a new level of versatility”, STM allows contractors to design a wide variety of systems from four core modules. The Nexo Universal Amp Rack – comprising NXAMP4x4 amplifiers, two digital input patches, two digital output patches, and an optional ethernet or Dante network card – can feed 12 STM modules in any combination in groups of three.
The M28 prioritises versatility; accordingly, the two-way cabinet – which offers 90°/120° of horizontal dispersion and 0° to 15° splaying angle between modules – can be arrayed in the same column with the M46 in a large-format STM system, arrayed in the same column as the B112 bass cabinet in a mid-format STM system, or used independently from the M46 and B112. Nexo also highlights the M28’s facility for easy rigging, with CompassRig technology enabling pre-setting of inter-cabinet angle values, and the REDLock handle locking front-rigging points from the rear of the cabinet.
The result, says Stuart Kerrison from Nexo’s Concert Sound Division, is “a truly flexible system where the same components can be used without compromise on every application regardless of audience size or configuration. STM is a system which can be out earning money for a rental company 365 days a year rather than sitting in the warehouse waiting for the next appropriate-sized gig, and therefore actually costing that company money. This allows them to maximise the return on their investment, to amortise their system faster, and to be very competitive with their pricing.”
South-east London-based Subfrantic Production Services is among the most recent PA companies to take an interest in the STM family. “One of our big annual commitments is the Warren pop-up stage at the Great Escape,” says Subfrantic proprietor Steve Davies (pictured right). “For the last two years, we have seen our Turbosound FlexArray go in there and work very successfully. However, we decided a while ago to look at buying a new PA system and we’re in ongoing discussions with a number of manufacturers about why we should buy their kit.
“After being initially sceptical [Nexo technical system specialist] Val Gilbert persuaded me to go to Paris to check out the Nexo STM and I’m really glad I did. “It’s very well-thought-out and has some really mad science behind it in places, but the end-result is well worth investigating.”
Plenty of other manufacturers are also juggling the need for ease of (re)configuration and consistent performance. For KV2 Audio system users, notes sales representative Tom Weldon, “high quality performance and high output from compact designs” tend to be critical factors. To this end, the ESD 15 passive three-way enclosure can be run with KV2’s dedicated ESP range of amplifiers or hire companies’ existing third party amplification, and may be flown or stand-mounted for fast and simple rigging. Meanwhile, deploying a similar three-way approach but on a “larger and louder scale”, the ESR Series features two products – the ESR 2.12 and ESR 2.15 – both with dedicated stereo amplification units and wide dispersion patterns.
“The ESR Series can cover auditoriums of up to 1,500 people with just one cabinet per side,” says Weldon. “This helps reduces the impact of speakers affecting sightlines and the requirement to use multiples or delay units which helps significantly reduce set-up time. The amplification packs feature low-pass outputs if the requirement for extend bass response is required.”
Further products set to satisfy these multiple requirements are currently in the pipeline, reveals Weldon: “We will be releasing an active version of the ESD 15, which will offer incredible power and performance from a self-contained unit. We will also be releasing our smallest product designed for delay and fill applications. This unit – currently un-named – will feature a coaxial 5” and 1” driver and will boast KV2’s renowned quality from an ultra-compact cabinet.”