To understand why we developed MLA, writes the MLA development team, we need to look at the array technology prevalent at the time – the line array. Having produced our first line array in 2001, we soon found out that the physics of line arrays was much more complex in practice than had been theorised by early proponents.
With line array, we effectively had a technology aimed at producing coherent wavefronts exiting the speaker grilles, with the system tech tasked with ‘managing’ whatever came out of the array using zoning and preset libraries which had largely been derived by trial-and-error. Undocumented interactions between adjacent array elements added a further layer of difficulty. Unsurprisingly, the frequency responses and SPLs at the audience plane itself varied significantly, depending on the distance from the array.
We reasoned, ‘Wouldn’t it be more logical to completely reverse the situation and to specify exactly what SPL and frequency response is required at multiple points in the venue and then use this information to configure and control the array to produce that result?” This inverse thinking is the simple ‘big idea’ behind MLA.
The idea occurred around 2008 – partly due to R & D director Jason Baird’s operational experience of the company’s own line arrays, and partly as a result of fundamental research into array behaviour conducted by research manager Ambrose Thompson during the design of the OmniLine micro-line array. This project involved the development of a BEM (Boundary Element Method) acoustic model which enabled virtual array configurations to be accurately modelled and investigated for the first time. It is the accuracy of this model that is key to implementing the Multicellular Loudspeaker Array (MLA) concept, whereby intelligent software determines the array configuration and controls each of up to 144 individually powered cells, each with its own DSP.
Development of the concept involved a multi-disciplinary team of engineers; Ambrose Thomson oversaw acoustic modelling and the software optimisation algorithms; Phil Anthony was responsible for the acoustic design and worked closely with the electronic hardware development team of Iain Quarmby and Rod Short. Mechanical design was undertaken by Peter Lawrence and the overall project leadership and design definition fell under the auspices of R & D director Jason Baird.
MLA was launched in 2010 and made an immediate impression. PSNEurope editor Dave Robinson’s “It’s not normal” comment [Yep, I’ll stand by that – Ed] at the time (referring to MLA’s ability to ‘hard-avoid’ areas beyond the audience perimeter) and the 2010 PLASA Gold Award for Innovation indicated that MLA was clearly a new kind of animal.
As well as achieving commercial success worldwide, by achieving record sound levels out-front while meeting stringent off-site limits at outdoor festivals such as Hyde Park (pictured) and Glastonbury, MLA technology has proved it can deliver what we intended.
Published earlier this year and sponsored by QSC Audio, Genius!2is the second edition of Genius!, celebrating those clever people whose inventions have transformed the world of professional audio. The 30-page supplement is also available to read in a handy digital-edition form