It’s mid-July and PSNEurope is sitting on the grass behind Coda Audio distributor Audiovation’s HQ in Wenden-Gerlingen, Germany. It’s a comfortable 26°C and a slightly strange Teutonic-reggae cover of Wish You Were Here is giving Coda’s brand-new AiRAY line-array system a workout less than 100 yards away.
It’s not a bad way to spend a Wednesday morning. But, as you may have deduced, PSNEurope is not in Wenden on holiday: rather we’re here to experience what Coda’s sales and marketing director, Paul Ward, is calling a “new category in line-array systems”.
The last time PSNEurope was a guest of Coda was at the October 2012 launch of the AiRAY’s predecessor, the ViRAY (see ViRAY sees Coda raise its game on global stage). A medium-sized line array which incorporates the then-new DDP (Dual Diaphragm Planar) wave-driver technology, the ViRAY was seen by many as an ambitious bid from the Hanover-based manufacturer to seriously challenge the world’s ‘top five’ established loudspeaker brands.
The ViRAY was well received, with especial praise for its innovative double-coil compression driver and star turns at Creamfields festival, the Pro Sound Awards-nominated WWI musical 14–18, comedian Jack Whitehall’s 2014 UK tour and its recent installation in the Liverpool Philharmonic Hall (the UK’s first ViRAY install).
Like the ViRAY, the AiRAY (pronounced “eye-ray”) – first seen at Prolight + Sound in April – incorporates the DDP driver, a patented evolution of the annular ring diaphragm driver created by Coda Audio founder Svetly Alexandrov (pictured, second from right, at the AiRAY launch with Audiovation’s Sebastian Baehr, Norbert Sangermann and Sascha Klein) in 1996, and the AiCOUPLER sensor-controlled subwoofer technology and linear-phase DSP processing (called ‘ViCOUPLER’ in the ViRAY). However, while it may be argued that with the ViRAY the company was too heavily focussed on specs appeal (a transgression in which it is by no means alone), 2015’s Coda Audio is increasingly occupied with more practical concerns.
Not just about the sound
In a speech to the 85 dealers, distributors and members of the press assembled in Wenden, in the Sauerland, about 45 miles from Cologne, Paul Ward outlined that the AiRAY system, despite its impressive vital statistics, is “not just about the sound”. Highlighting savings in truck space and manpower – two people can rig the system as opposed to six or more – as well as the associated increase in profit margins, he emphasises that Coda “wanted to make something that was relevant to the current market situation” and “sympathetic to the guys who are [going to be] using it”.
It’s this that is AiRAY’s primary USP: that of a line-array system which combines the output of a large-format system with the flexibility of a compact one – hence ‘a new category in line arrays’ – to reduce operating costs and increase the profitability of the sound companies using it.
“AiRAY was conceived to address the growing needs of system integrators and rental companies alike,” explained Ward. “No other manufacturer has provided these sonic results in a lightweight package that has the same footprint as a dual-8” system.
“AiRAY changes the way the market will look at high-output sound systems, now and in the future. We wanted to use our technology to create tangible benefits for the user without compromise in the performance. This has been achieved to a level which will set the standard for many years to come.”
This was then ably demonstrated by Alexandrov on an X–Y-axis graph – the X axis showing weight/portability, from “large, heavy, not flexible” to “compact, light, very flexible”, and the Y output, from “low output” to “very high output” – which pitted the AiRAY against standard 2 x 12” and 2 x 15” (large and heavy, high output) and 2 x 6.5” (compact and light, low output). The AiRAY, with a maximum peak SPL of 148dB from its 40kg boxes, falls, naturally, somewhere in the top right.
Value for money was also paramount for Alexandrov’s team when considering how the AiRAY would be rigged: its integrated three-point rigging system is designed to reduce investment cost by sharing system components with the ViRAY, including the aforementioned SC2-F bass-extension system and SCP subs, SCV-F flyable subwoofer and even identical bi-amp cabling. “Usually a sound system is a package of different system components like low [-end] extensions, subwoofers, frames, amplification, etc,” says Coda’s official launch blurb. “Therefore investing in a new system requires the purchase of its specific system components, increasing considerably the cost. [AiRAY] allows ViRAY users to upgrade easily to AiRAY using their existing SC2/SCV cabinets, LINUS RACKs, cables, etc.”
At the Audiovation demos, 12 AiRAY and three ViRAY boxes per side were complemented by SC2-F bass extension modules and SCP-F subs.
In a mature industry mostly dominated by a select few speaker manufacturers, Coda’s pitch for the AiRAY is refreshingly direct: roughly, ‘We’ll match Brand X on specs, but we’ll do it a lot more cost-effectively’.
But PA companies’ operating costs aren’t the only thing Coda is targeting with the AiRAY. With potential uses including both large events like festivals and arena shows and small and medium-sized applications such as corporate events, club tours or small theatres, the system’s size and weight (or lack of it) affords it an adaptability lacking in many larger competitors. According to Coda, the “large size, weight and inflexibility of [large , high-output] systems, as well as higher operating costs” has meant traditionally that “sound companies need to keep different systems for different applications. AiRAY changes the rules.”
One rig to rule them all
The company also highlights another ‘unique solution’ where AiRAY excels: in older venues with limited ceiling-load capacities. In particular, Alexandrov – who described the system as “the most difficult product Coda has ever created” – identified Europe’s historic theatres as a potential install application: “they are beautiful but weak,” he said, “so they [have to] fly small, low-output systems [which are lacking in sound pressure]”.
One attendee also pointed correctly to the AiRAY’s smaller footprint as being beneficial at festivals and large outdoor concerts, where organisers want to block as little of the view of the stage as possible.
In addition to the standard ‘pro-audio demo’ playlist of light jazz, world music, dodgy a capella cover versions and Phil Collins, the Wenden demos included two ‘live’ mixing sessions with Placebo’s FOH engineer, Adlib Audio senior engineer Ian Nelson. (Adlib is one of two UK Coda dealers and the exclusive dealer for ViRAY and TiRAY systems.)
Nelson (pictured), who has worked with Brian Molko and Stefan Olsdal’s alt-rock act for almost two decades, worked his magic on the multis from a recent live show before handing over his DiGiCo SD10 to attendees to try their hand at mixing songs like Loud Like Love and Space Monkey. (Watch Nelson mixing Loud Like Love at VIDEO: Ian Nelson mixes Placebo live at launch of Coda Audio AiRAY.) “If you want to come down here and show me what a terrible engineer I am, feel free!” he joked.
Although Wednesday was plenty loud enough, the system was given more of a workout – although, Ward assured us, there was plenty more headroom available – on Thursday morning, when guests were requested to stand as far away from the speakers as physically possible without backing into a hedge and given a bone-rattling blast of U R So Fucked by Infected Mushroom.
While all on site were impressed – including your correspondent, whose notes were full of words like “detailed”, “natural”, “smooth” and “non-fatiguing” even as his heart vibrated out of his chest – other reactions were mixed: workers on a nearby industrial estate phoned to request some AC/DC, while the residents of a village several kilometres away complained to the police about the noise. (Tough crowd.)
Still, it’s the customer, not the Sauerlandish curtain-twitcher, who is always right, and the response from the former was sufficiently positive that Coda received several orders on the day, including from 14-18 hire company Studio Haifax, which bought 48 AiRAY boxes with four LINUS RACK40s and 28 SCP subwoofers with four LINUS 10Cs via Benelux distributor Viladco.
“Attendees were very impressed with all aspects of AiRAY,” says Coda Audio’s Bjoern Marek. “Audiovation’s demo area is a paved space with a grassed slope behind to the back of it. When Ian Nelson put his multitrack mix of Placebo through the system, people were literally pushed up the hill because the SPL was so great!”