Dorset Sound & Communications

Sound system design for the 21st Century

SoundTips
Line Arrays

Line arrays come in several flavors - concert, compact processed, and compact passive. The concert line array is made up of a chain of speaker cabinets - from 6 feet to as long as 30 feet in some cases. It is what you will see in many large arena shows. Some large churches have installed them. At the Olympics they were stacked on dollies at field level. They are highly processed and very expensive. Worth it if it does what is needed better than something else. ElectroVoice X-Array, DynaCord, Renkus-Heinz, QSC, OAP and many others produce fine examples. Manufacturers are building smaller and smaller "elements" making them more suitable and economical for medium sized venues.

The compact line array looks like what we used to call a column speaker. Column speakers fell into disrepute about 30 years ago. They uniformly sounded ratty. Dispersion patterns were at best unpredictable and at worst ragged with rogue lobes and dead spots. Many were made up of no more than five or six car stereo speakers in a long box. A true compact line array packs many more speakers into it’s length - some as small as 2 inches in diameter. Processed compact arrays such as the Renkus-Heinz Iconyx, EAW DSA and Duran Intellivox actually have built-in digital signal processing and amplification. Often each speaker driver or pair of speaker drivers in the line have an amplifier channel. This treatment gives the ability to electronically steer the beam of the speaker and adjust what it looks like - how wide and how broad, where it focuses and even split the beam to cover the floor and the balcony from one position.

There are only a few accepted passive compact line arrays on the market - Frazier, Bose MA12, Renkus Heinz Iconyx, Sennheiser/K&M and Innovox are the best examples. These are much smaller and are often combined to improve reach or pattern control. A double stack of Bose MA12's is a little over six feet high and only five inches wide. While they do not have extensive on-board processing as above, a compact array still depends on a digital signal processor (as with any other standard speaker system) to adjust tonal balance. We have found the Bose MA12 very useful in low ceiling rooms, echo prone rooms and wide seating arrangement rooms. 

Many compact line array configurations have found acceptance in highly reverberant Catholic churches and cathedrals that do not lend to classic speaker array designs due to acoustics and aesthetics. They are also useful where, due to aesthetics or architecture, hanging a suspended cluster is inadvisable. We have installed several church systems where long, thin  line arrays blend into the surroundings so well as to be almost  unnoticeable

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