Do You Really Need a System DSP?

I don't recommend this...

I don't recommend this...

A long time ago, in a land far away, a system processor in an installed PA was a 15- or 31-band graphic EQ or three. If the system had some delay speakers, there may have also been a delay unit or two in the mix. Things were simpler then. At some point, loudspeaker processors came on the scene and were able to do cool things like signal routing, EQ, delay and limiting. Today’s DSPs are truly powerful boxes that do all that and more. 

Back in the day, we typically didn’t even have output EQ on the console, so some form of EQ and or timing was required between the desk and the amps. Larger boards may have had several matrix mixes that could do some gain shading, but for the most part, the console sent a mono or stereo mix to the processing. We’ve been doing something similar for with DSP systems as well. 

More and more amps are arriving on the scene with plenty of processing built in. And sometimes, depending on the situation, that can give you more than enough horsepower to get things sounding tasty.

But the question comes up now, with all those powerful processing blocks available at the console level, do we even need a system DSP? Like many things in audio, the answer is, “It depends.” 

You Don’t Need a System DSP

When you are dealing with a small PA, say two mains and a sub or two, you can probably get by with the EQ and perhaps output delay that’s in a modern, digital console. Most digital consoles have parametric EQ on the main and matrix outputs, and I’ve been finding lately that if I’m doing more than 4-6 filters on a channel, something else is wrong. Many consoles also have GEQs on the outputs, which would also be handy for trouble spots. 

If your subs are in a different timing plane than the mains, you can probably run the outputs through a matrix and put some delay on the outputs as needed. So for simple systems, you can probably get by without a DSP. Certainly if you’re in a small portable setup, not having a DSP will be one fewer thing to schlep in and out each week, one fewer thing to cable and one less thing to deal with. 

When we had the flood of ’13 at Coast Hills, we ended up meeting next door in a gym on Sunday. We had our portable JBL Eonsand subs on sticks and I brought my X32 in to mix on. I was able to get a decent tune on the PA with the X32 and everyone was happy with the results. But like I said, it was a simple PA. 

I also just put in a small Nexo PS system and used only the DSP in the amp to do all the tuning. Again, it was a simple system; two mains and a sub. Once I dialed in one side to my liking, I copied the EQ to the other side and dealt with the sub on its own. 

You Do Need a System DSP

Once the system crosses a few boxes or you get into fills, delays or multiple types of boxes, a system DSP really starts to pay for itself. I’m about to install a L’Acoustics system that will have a main L&R cluster, two side fills, four center flown subs and four front fills. And while it’s true I could do all the timing and processing I need to in the amps, I’m not going to. 

With modern matched components, it’s a lot easier to use the DSP in the amp to load the presets which make the speakers sound pretty darn close without anything on them, then use a system DSP to do room correction, timing, and overall tonal shaping. That’s what we’ll do in this case. The L’Acoustics amps will be loaded up with the presets for each type of speaker they’re driving, and a Symetrix Radius will give me delay and overall EQ. I’ll also be doing all my audio routing in the Symetrix. Again, I could do it in the amps, but it’s a lot easier in a dedicated DSP. 

You Need Someone Who Knows DSPs

When your PA gets to the size that a dedicated DSP is needed, I recommend you bring in someone who knows what they’re doing to set it up. You can do a lot of damage to your sound and the speakers if you don’t get things dialed in correctly. Things can get complicated quickly and having someone who knows how to properly set things up will save you a lot of grief down the road. 

This is perhaps a bit of an over-simplification of the process, but it’s a good starting point.

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CTA First Listen: Bose F1

It’s always fun to check out new gear. Back at InfoComm, we saw the new Bose F1 speaker. Saw being the operative word. Whenever I see a company introduce another pole-mounted speaker in the sub $1,500 price range, I assume it’s no big deal, at least until I hear it. The F1 has some unique features that made me pause, however. 

Now, if you’ve followed any of my adventures with the RoomMatch system, you’ll know one of the things I really like about that system is the ability to precisely tailor the coverage pattern to the room by choosing the right modules. Bose took that concept and instead of applying it horizontally, did so vertically. The result is the F1. 

Variable Vertical Coverage

The HF section of the F1 is made up of 8 drivers in three sections. The drivers are similar to the HF drivers in the RoomMatch system. What’s different here is that the top and bottom sections of the cabinet can be folded up or down to create different vertical coverage patterns. Perhaps it’s best to explain what I mean with illustrations that I stole from the Bose website. 

More than just changing physical position, there is some magic sauce happening in the box that changes the EQ to suit each coverage pattern. Like the RoomMatch, the pattern was pretty well defined. During the demo, we all crouched down about 20’ out from the speaker while it was in straight mode. We were clearly out of the pattern. Then Tony clicked the lower section down and suddenly, we were in the pattern. 

While vertical is variable, horizontal is a fixed 100°.

Favorable Crossover

Another thing I like about the RoomMatch is how low the crossover is (500 Hz). It is well out of the vocal clarity range, which really keeps the weird phase stuff that afflicts most cabinets from happening on vocals. The F1 crosses over at 600 Hz, and the vocals sounded great. 

It was actually interesting listening to the demo, because they used the same music I’ve heard on RoomMatch demos on multiple occasions. The overall sound signature was similar enough that I told Bose I would do the same thing to this that I would do with RoomMatch (cut a bit in the 2-3 KHz range). Other wise, it sounded pretty solid. 

Clever Sub Arrangement

The F1 system also includes a sub which is very clever. Instead of a pole that fits into a socket (and gets dented, bent or lost), there are two sliding arms that come up out of the sub to fly the main box. It even includes cable channels to hide the wires. The sub sounded good, though for a dual 10”, you’re probably not going to do too many EDM parties with it. Still, it was no slouch and unless big bass is a huge need, you’ll be fine. The sub is powered by a Class-D 1000 W amp, as are the full-range boxes (I think; that part is not 100% certain). 

Good Sound

As always, the test is in the listening. I think all of us came away from the demo feeling this is is a really good-sounding speaker system. Certainly, there are a bunch of speakers in this price range that sound good, are portable and affordable. None do the clever vertical aiming thing, however, and that might be the thing that tips the scales. I really do like the package for portable situations, the way the boxes sit on the subs is cool, easy and fast. And the full-range boxes do have fly points on them for permanent installs. 

List on each component is $1,199, which is in the ballpark for similar products. Though you’ll likely be able to find it for less if you ask your favorite seller nicely.

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Martin Audio CDD Speakers

For years, Martin Audio has been known as a quality product, a very good sounding product, and an expensive product. Now, when you do a fair comparison with other brands, they are really right in there, but you’re typically talking about the higher end of the market. They have not really had a lower market solution. Until now. 

Bring on the Small Boxes

We first heard the new CDD line at InfoComm, and I’ll tell you, I was not excited about going to another speaker demo. I expected to hear yet another small box that does pretty much the same thing as a dozen other small boxes. But then they fired them up. All our project leads were in the room, and we immediately started looking at each other saying, “Hey, these sound good!” 

Now, there are literally dozens of single 8, 10, 12 and 15” driver speakers on the market. Most employ a single large—8-15”—LF driver and some type of horn. The CDD is different in several ways. First, the design is coaxial. The HF driver is located right in the middle of the LF driver. I’ve always liked this approach as it greatly improves phase coherence. The longer I do sound, and the more I’ve talked with guys like Bob Heil, the more I appreciate how much phase matters. 

The other thing that is unique—well, perhaps not totally unique, but special—is the asymmetrical coverage pattern. By attaching some waveguides to the LF driver, they have figured out how to do two things. First, they have a wider pattern close to the box, and a tighter one further away. Up close, the horizontal coverage is 110°, while in the far field, it’s 70° (vertical is a constant 60°). Second, they’ve “squared off” the coverage pattern (our rep’s words). And indeed, when we model it, the boxes do a better job of getting into the corners of the room without splashing all over the walls. And did I mention, they sound good?

The Shootout

At CCI, we’ve been using the Nexo PS10 for many of our small systems for quite a while. It’s a good-sounding box with a similar asymmetric pattern, which is useful for the longer, narrow rooms we find ourselves doing. So we wondered, how does the CDD compare? Last week, we hung a PS10 with an RS15 sub on the ground next to a CDD10 with a single 12” CDD sub and fired up the tracks. 

The difference was immediately apparent. Now, this is not to say that the Nexo box sounded bad, but it was quite a bit different. I’ve always felt the Nexo products have quite a bit of bite to them, and whenever I tune a Nexo system, I’m always taking out 2-3KHz to soften them up. The downside of that is a slight reduction in clarity. But I have made them sound quite good.

The Martin’s on the other hand, sounded pretty much like I would want them to with no EQ. When we turned them up, both got loud, but the Martin stayed smooth while the Nexo started to sting a bit. Now, I admit I’m an old guy, and I much prefer a hi-fi sound to the edgy, aggressive PA’s that a lot of younger guys seem to prefer. So, like many things, it comes down to what you’re after.

Aggressive Price, Not Sound

Like I said, the CDD line is not an aggressive, in-your-face, slap-your-momma kind of box. It just sounds really good. It is however priced very aggressively. Because the CDD doesn’t require special amps or processing, and because the speakers themselves are quite a bit less expensive than the Nexo boxes, total system cost can be significantly less expensive than Nexo. 

The mains are all flyable and the subs can be ordered in flyable and non-flyable versions. The line is expansive enough that you could cover just about any venue up to 400-500 seats pretty effectively with this line, and do it at a very reasonable price. You could also do ancillary rooms like kids and student venues with the same line and achieve consistent sound quality all over the church. 

Ultimately, I really liked them and have them spec’d into a job I’m installing in the fall. Once I commission them, I’ll be back with a full report on how they sound installed as a system. But I’m pretty sure both I and the church will be happy with them.

Check out the whole line at Martin Audio’s website.

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