It isn’t necessary to go rifling through George Osborne’s battered red box to know that we live in straitened times. Across the board, overheads are under pressure and the call is for projects to be achieved at lower cost and with reduced labour. Pro audio and, in particular, live sound are certainly no exceptions to the rule; something that the recent edition of annual PSNEurope spin-off publication PSNLiveunderlined quite firmly.
So it stands to reason that cost efficiency is one of the factors underlining the explosion in availability of smaller, ‘baby’ line array systems. But so too are their innate flexibility – allowing them to be deployed for a wide variety of projects – and their impressive power outputs, frequently allowing jobs to be completed with a relatively small number of boxes.
Martin Audio is among the manufacturers to have joined the fray, proffering its MLA Mini system. Marketing director James King says that the mini line array is “definitely a genuine trend. While mini line arrays have been an important part of the line array toolkit for some years, they are seeing ever-increasing use because they are incredibly versatile and have a much smaller footprint than their mid-size and full-size siblings. ‘Smaller, lighter and more powerful’ is a continuing thrust behind all loudspeaker system development – and a well-designed mini line array is a good example of this.”
But just as with larger-format arrays, there is a school of thought that insists these mini systems should not be regarded as a panacea for all ills. Francesco Simeoni, senior loudspeaker system designer for Outline, whose smallest line array is the EIDOS 265, remarks: “I would like to emphasise that use of the so-called mini-arrays is appropriate only in determined contexts (necessity for coverage, throw and elevated dynamics), when for other types of venues it is still recommended to use the traditional classic ‘point source’ systems [due to] several reasons such as [practicality], functionality and economy. (Pictured, right, is the Outline MINI-COM.P.A.S.S. iMode line array with the passive FlySub 15 subwoofer.)
“A line array system, whether it is big or small, is a complex system requiring more competence and is more difficult to handle [with] respect to a point source system. That is why its deployment should be evaluated from case to case.”
Reliability and ROI
Notwithstanding such reservations, there is the overriding impression that, for rental companies in particular, a good compact system is a solid investment – and one that is unlikely to spend much time languishing on a warehouse shelf. Not only can it be used as a system in its own right, it can also augment larger-format arrays in large concert halls and theatres in, for example, side- or frontfill capacity.
James King notes: “Scalability and flexibility mean that the range of applications is huge – from four boxes pole-mounted above a sub for corporate events, through to small-medium scale live music venues, West End theatres and then up to 16-box arrays in concert halls. A ‘mini’ line array is the natural sidefill and frontfill system for the main arrays in larger venues, and can also be specified for HoW and stadium installations. No other speaker category comes close to a ‘mini’ in terms of its reach and scope.”
Coda Audio is another manufacturer that continues to make headway with its compact ranges, recently adding the TiRAY to stand alongside the successful ViRAY system. “With ViRAY, the aim was essentially to make a compact line array that could perform to a very high level,” recalls Coda’s international sales director, Paul Ward (pictured below right). “Not to do arenas as such, but capable of servicing large theatres – a Hammersmith Apollo kind of size – on its own. But we also saw scope for the integration of these compact systems with larger format line arrays, handling sidehang, underhang and frontfill duties.”
And so it has proven, with one of ViRAY’s early adopters, UK-based rental company Adlib Audio, recognising the system for precisely this kind of duality (read PSNEurope's interview with Adlib's Andy Dockerty for more). “They already owned a large Coda LA12 line array system and were looking for something to augment it in terms of downfill, sidefill and event stage crossfill,” notes Ward. “The ViRAY has allowed them to put together these kind of systems for everything from opera to heavy metal… as well as facilitating stand-alone deployments for large theatre applications.”
Adamson Systems Engineering notes a similar spread of applications for its compact Metrix product. “The system is geared towards reproducing anything from speech to medium SPL material including jazz, folk and light rock in small- to mid-size venues – although it has been known to ‘rock’ with bands that could be classified as ‘metal’,” says Adamson’s director of marketing & sales, James Oliver. “It is also ideal for side, front or balcony fill for larger installations; it complements the Adamson SpekTrix system nicely.”
Equally practical considerations pertaining to size and weight also conspire to render such systems a solid purchase. “In touring, truck space and trussing constraints are increasingly a concern for customers,” says Luke Jenks, director of product management at Meyer Sound, whose latest compact line array is the self-powered LYON system (pictured, main photo, at Mayday festival in Dortmund). “And in large spectacle shows, sound is sharing precious weight quota with more and more sophisticated lighting and video equipment.”
For a rental market pushed towards increased diversification by economic and competitive pressures, guaranteeing ROI (return on investment) is harder than ever. In this context, a mini line array – alongside a compact digital console – would seem to be the closest thing to a dead cert as exists. No wonder, then, that both product types have consistently ranked among the top priorities for investment in consecutive editions of PSNLive.
To be continued tomorrow...