Which One Is Better: Compact Line Array or Regular Two-Way PA Speakers?
More and more speaker manufacturers recently are introducing their own compact line array powered speaker designs. Six years ago I turned to this type of speaker, and didn’t look back! I was more than pleased with the sound reproduction and my audiences also like that. One cause for my enjoyment is the convenience of set-up and amazing portability inherent in this type of system; however, the standard powered PA speakers can also be easy to set up and are also becoming extremely portable. I will quickly explain the basics of every category of the speaker in this post. While we see who wins the battle of compact line array vs regular speakers, I’ll also evaluate the pros and cons of each one.
Compact Line Array Speakers
With the L1 system, Bose launched the new pattern of compact line array speakers in 2003. Initially named this device the personal amplification system but it ultimately was known as the L1 portable line array. Bose released the L1 Compact in 2009, and again revolutionized the compact line array speaker design with a smaller, powered, portable speaker. The line array setup used in these speakers is just a series of small speakers in a line. Bose ‘s proprietary configuration tilts every speaker in alternating directions to maximize the system’s horizontal coverage. This line array arrangement provides a remarkable 180 degree horizontal coverage.
Bose ‘s L1 systems make use of 2′′ speaker drivers for high and medium frequency sound. Some manufacturer’s systems use different speaker sizes in a similar linear arrangement. Typically, the resulting line array is mounted above a powered subwoofer integrated in an enclosure. Bose, JBL and other manufacturers have also introduced their own proprietary line array speaker stand extensions which mount neatly in the base unit, support the line array and provide internal speaker wiring for a smooth, easy-to-set package. Audio features are also unique in line array systems.
Because both the high and mid frequencies are transmitted via the line array, a clear, present mid-range sound is reproduced as well as crisp sibilant highs. The Sub-to-Mid crossover point is typically somewhere around 400 Hz. It ensures that the larger driver within the sub-woofer handles only bass frequencies, as should be the case. The resulting sound of the whole system is distributed more evenly over the entire frequency range.
Regular PA Speakers
I possessed numerous regular speakers in the early years of my singing career. These regular PA speakers consist of a single large speaker for low and medium frequency sounds followed by a single horn combined with a high frequency compression driver. Those speakers have usually powered speaker enclosures nowadays. In such two-way speaker enclosures the crossover points range from 1.5 kHz to 3.5 kHz. If these regular PA speakers are used in a 3-way setup with a subwoofer, usually the crossover for the sub is set between 80 Hz and 120 Hz.
An examination of the crossover points in the two-way configuration tells us that in this arrangement, mid-range sound would be somewhat absent because a large speaker would be responsible for all frequencies up to 1.5 kHz or more. That is because high frequency compression drivers for mid-range frequencies aren’t made. The result is a speaker with less ability to reproduce mid range frequencies. Another characteristic trait of regular speakers is the harshness of the reproduced high frequencies. Horns and high-frequency compression drivers throw high frequencies into the crowd, but they tend to be less pleasant to the ear.
This system may be advantageous for reproducing pounding bass (with a subwoofer) and melodic sibilant sounds. This type of speaker can also be more beneficial in larger venues where volume and power are required.
The Verdict: I Prefer Compact Line Array Over Regular PA Speakers
A closer look at the compact line array vs regular speakers shows a flaw in the regular speakers’ mid-range frequency reproduction. It also points to harsher high frequencies, which can throw a greater distance but are less pleasant to the ear than those offered by compact line array speakers. That’s why when I reproduce my compact line array system versus my old regular two-way PA speakers I find my vocals are more present. Another explanation that I think is due to their superior horizontal coverage compact line array designs have the advantage over regular speakers. This is most obvious in the designs of Bose’s L1 and L1 Compact line array.
Another edge I give to compact line array speakers is that they tend to be more portable and easier to set up thanks to designs that integrate speaker wiring with the elevated line array support. Regular PA Speakers require the use of separate speaker stands and cables for similar support. Further study reveals that many compact line array systems also include a more robust mixer section which allows more channels, effects, bluetooth and even wireless control. It is now clear to me that compact line array speakers are superior to regular PA speakers due to their smooth mids and highs, portability, improved coverage and ever growing capabilities.
The ultimate goal is to produce a great sound, in the most efficient fashion … isn’t it?