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Old 03-24-2010, 10:45 AM
WildPicker WildPicker is offline
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Default New Shootout: Small Powered Speakers vs Bose, BagAmp, etc.

There have been some great discussion on these forums about some of the recent options for smaller, lighter sound systems. Thanks to all who have contributed! As a performer approaching the age of 50, I’ve been comparing some of these smaller options for a while. In April I’m facing 20 Earth Day performances out in Illinois in a span of just 10 days, all requiring sound set up for groups of 100-250. So any claimed breakthroughs in “lighter, simpler, better” PA equipment are of special interest. What follows are my opinions. As always, your mileage may vary.

The “Mini Line Arrays” by Bose, Fishman and BagAmp
The concept on these is intriguing enough that I’ve now tried all three of them. My short take on them is that they certainly set up easily. As others have mentioned, all are greatly improved by running through a decent little mixer. Something like the upcoming Allen Heath Zed 10FX mixer, or even the Mackie Pro FX8 are a huge improvement. At the higher end are the Dynacord CMS mixers (think Midas mixer with great effects). The little Bose digital mixer actually sounds good, and is incredibly compact. But it's expensive ($500) for a mono mixer, and requires scrolling through lots of screens and menus. I'm old fashioned enough to prefer an analog mixer with real faders and knobs. But the main thing is all three units greatly benefit from some separate mixer. Without one, the limited EQ and digital effects of these three units were frustrating for me.

Overall volume is loud enough for small venues (think 60 person coffee house) with all three. But the quality of the sound is simply not equal to what you can get from good powered speakers. In a side by side comparison with the powered speakers described below, the sound of these mini columns is colored and/or harsh as you turn up the volume. The lowest notes of an acoustic guitar require fairly flat frequency response down to around 70 Hz, and these little column speakers just don’t have it. Note: I haven’t worked with the more expensive Bose L1 Model 11 with the powered sub. But then again by the time you’re spending $2,500 for this mono system, or $5,000 for two of them to make it stereo, it’s neither inexpensive nor light weight.

Powered Speakers
While the earlier mini-columns are all somewhate similar in price and and weight, powered speakers vary greatly in size, weight, and price. They go from budget Behringer stuff under $200 up to ultra high end speakers by Kv2 Audio, Meyer Sound, Nexo, and the EAW NT series that can run $2,000 to $3,000 apiece. When done right, a good powered speaker sounds terrific. They are usually bi-amped, with separate amplifiers matched to both the woofer and the compression driver. The good ones use carefully designed electronic crossovers, EQ, and digital processing to get the fullest and most accurate sound possible for their size, weight and price.

Which ones make good sense for guitar players and singer songwriters? A good place to start is with some of the 10 inch speakers. The 10 inch woofer versions generally go low enough for bass, while still staying fairly compact and light weight. All else being equal, a smaller 8 inch or 10 inch speaker will do better in the critical crossover range (very important for vocals) than a big 15 inch two way speaker. The 15 inch speaker is better suited for the bass thump of pop music and wedding DJ’s, but is not a good choice for most acoustic musicians, even apart from size/weight considerations.

Recent Shootout Impressions:

Kv2 EX-12

At 60 lb and $2,400, this is my reference for just how good things can sound. As you’d expect at this price, the sound is very clean, detailed yet smooth. Nothing harsh, even at high volumes, and yet every nuance of tone and texture is there... truly like high end studio monitors, only in a PA speaker. These are my first choice if I’ve got a show in a larger 400-600 seat theater, church or hall. The cabinet is baltic birch, which helps with the sound, but also contributes to the weight. The interesting question is how close smaller, lighter and cheaper speakers can get to this level of sound for smaller shows.

FBT Maxx 2A (10 inch)
At 27 lb and around $750, this is an excellent all around choice for either main PA speakers, or as floor monitors. The sound is warm, not harsh, with plenty of low end and midrange detail. Sound quality at medium to moderately high volumes is surprisingly close to my reference Kv2 EX-12 speakers. The FBT Maxx 2A just won’t go as loud or as low. Other lightweight 10 inch speakers to consider in this price range are those made by RCF, who used to make the early Mackie speakers. Recent Mackie speakers have been dissappointing by comparison, as have been the JBL Eon series.

Electro Voice ZX1A (8 inch)
At only 19 lbs and around $450, this new 8 inch speaker got my hopes up. It’s wonderfully light and compact. The sound is extremely open, clear, bordering on hyped on the high end. EV claims the speaker is only 3 dB down at 60 Hz. If true, this would be a great achievment. But in two different batches I tested, the bass really fell off dramatically below 100 Hz. Vocals sounded clear and open; a good guitar sounds clear but thin on the bottom. Ukulele would probably do great. Overall this speaker strikes me as a good bet for a floor vocal monitor, but not the best choice for main speakers, even for small shows, unless run with a sub. Note: the earliest batch of these have a recall out from EV due to concerns about a possible electrical gounding fault. This is a safety issue. If you buy a pair, make sure yours have been fixed or weren’t in the affected run.

QSC K8 (8 inch)
At 28 lbs and around $650, this is the smallest and lightest in the recent QSC K series. The larger K10 is also a strong contender, if you don’t mind the extra weight and expense in exchange for a little more low end and throw. These speakers are smooth sounding, very clean, and very powerful. Not quite as much mid range detail as the FBT Maxx 2A, but a very nice, open sound. Their dispersion patterns are unique amidst the other speakers, which will be a plus for some users and a minus for others. The K8 has an very wide, conical dispersion. For a small show, say in a library, or small coffehouse, I can use a single one of these up on a speaker stand, angled slightly downward, a little behind me and just off to the side, kind of the way most folks use the “mini line array” products. No feedback problems at moderate volume, and beautiful sound quality for me and the audience. If it was a choice between one of the “mini line array” columns behind me or one of the K8 speakers, the K8 would win hands down. In a pinch, you can even run a vocal mic and a guitar directly through these, and "mix" them together in the speaker itself, but without any EQ or effects. As with the mini columns, I'd sure prefer a real mixer. But for a minimalist application, a number of these powered speakers are virtually plug-n-play.

For larger shows it’s necessary to put up two speakers, one a bit to either side. The wide dispersion still allows me to hear plenty of what’s going on, without bothering with a separate monitor. The downside of wide dispersion is if you’re playing to a large group in a deep hall or 400 seat theater, the sound won’t “throw” as far as with larger tighter dispersion speakers. But if you’re getting up to 400 person shows, it’s time for bigger main speakers and/or a powered sub, and monitors as well.

FBT Jolly 8BA (8 inch)
At 19 lb and around $450, these are similar in size, price and weight to the EV ZX1A speakers, but totally different in sound. These are much warmer sounding, though not as clear and open. They have a bit more low end response than the EV’s. Overall I like them better than the EV for something like piano, guitar or fiddle, though I like vocals better on the EV’s. If the budget were limited to around $400 per speaker, these might be my first choice in a compact 8 inch speaker. But if the budget allowed more, then the QSC K8 would be my next option. Note: the Jolly 8BA also works well as a floor monitor, in constrast to the K8 which isn’t angled properly for floor monitor use.

Conclusions
So... after all the listening, which speakers am I taking with me for the 20 show extravaganza in Illinois next month? If someone else with a good back were setting up sound for me, it would be the Kv2 EX-12 speakers. Or if I were only settting up one show each day, I’d probably go with the FBT Maxx 2A speakers and something like the EV or Jolly as a floor monitor. But for setting up and breaking down two shows a day, I’m actually going with the QSC K8 speakers. For me, their smaller size wins out, combined with not having to set up a monitor speaker at each show.

In the end, any speaker decision comes down to how you’re going to use it, and which tradeoffs matter most to you in terms of weight, size, price, and simplicity. If possible, rent or borrow several different systems and work with them in different spaces. A quick "audition" in a noisy Guitar Center store doesn't tell you much, and the sales kids usually lack the time (and experience) to try and understand your specific needs and application. Talk to folks you trust, but develop your own ears and knowledge.

If you're just starting out with an inexpensive guitar and playing a couple open mics, don't go nuts on your first sound system. But if you really care about your sound, you've searched long and hard for the perfect sounding guitar, and it's your career, then know that everything in the signal chain affects the final sound heard by you and the audience. Microphones, pickups, cables, speakers... don’t forget a good mixer!

Good luck and keep playing!
Steve Schuch
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Old 03-24-2010, 11:26 AM
brokenpretzel brokenpretzel is offline
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thanks for the shootout. i'm actually trying to decide between the k 10 and k 12 for my setup with 7 string guitar. i tune that as low as f# and use an .80 flatwound string there so it sounds more like a bass than a guitar on that string. i think i like the 12" more in one shootout i did but the 10" had substantial bass and is quite a bit lighter at 32 lbs versus 41 pounds. The dispersion is wider also on the k 10. any thoughts there? thanks
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Old 03-24-2010, 11:59 AM
WildPicker WildPicker is offline
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Are you saying your guitar goes down to the F# nearly one octave below the typical low E? If your guitar has significant output in that range, the only real way to do it justice is with a dedicated sub. But those are sure heavy and a pain to haul around.

Regarding the QSC K10 vs K12, the increase in bass response is only slightly more with the K12. Overall I'd go for the lighter weight of the K10. Also like its wider 90 degree dispersion for most situations.

Keep in mind when comparing speaker dispersion patterns, this mostly applies to the upper frequencies ABOVE the crossover point. Below that point, speakers become more and more omnidirectional. Low mids and bass are completely omnidirectional, regardless of what the claimed dispersion may be.

Keep playing,
Steve Schuch
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Old 03-24-2010, 12:16 PM
brokenpretzel brokenpretzel is offline
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yep f# below typical e.
i have had success with my acoustic image amp coupled with a jbl eon g2 15" but that speaker is part of my studio pa and weighs 46 lbs.
i want to like the k10 more but it just felt like there was more body in the k12
i know that is not a scientific description just an emotional one. My guess is that there wouldn't be much difference in a small room and that the k 12 would show it deeper bottom and projection in a larger room. i could get one of each and hope that when i need both they would sound good together. often i just play thru the acoustic image and it is both my stage monitor and sound for the audience and also send sound out thru the powered speaker. this setup works well.
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Old 03-24-2010, 12:31 PM
DavidE DavidE is offline
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So far my experience with my Bose L1 (now the Classic) is that it's best without an external mixer. I did pick up a Bose mixer used/mint for a good price, so I'm going to test that soon.

My singer and I quickly learned to not miss reverb or delay on our vocals. I add some to my guitar through pedals. Very clear sound now.
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Old 03-24-2010, 06:03 PM
jricc jricc is offline
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Great info, thanks much.
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Old 03-24-2010, 06:54 PM
SpruceTop SpruceTop is offline
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Hi WildPicker,

Thanks for your shootout results!

I've recently bought two QSC K10 speakers and a Bose L1 Compact, so I'm ready for just about anything from performing in a closet to a medium-sized venue. I feel the Bose L1 Compact makes both a good small-venue, stand-alone system, or an excellent monitor/fill PA system when used with one or two QSC K10 speakers for larger venues.

Regarding the Bose L1 Compact, it handles any of my guitars' bass notes easily (standard concert-pitch tuning), and reproduces the bass registers of canned music with decent low-frequency reproduction up to quite loud listening levels. You're right about these smaller systems, whether Bose L1 Compact or Fishman Soloamp (which I've owned), getting harsher-sounding as the volume is cranked to loud levels, but for small venues, the tone is really decent when held to low-to-medium volume levels.

Regards,

SpruceTop
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Old 03-24-2010, 11:36 PM
BoB/335 BoB/335 is offline
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Anyone else hear about these FBT MaxX 2A speakers?

Steve,

You seem to think a bit higher of the FBT Maxx 2A yet your conclusion has the K-8 over the FBT Maxx 2A?
Could you give clearer details as to why?

Last edited by BoB/335; 03-24-2010 at 11:53 PM.
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Old 03-25-2010, 01:41 PM
WildPicker WildPicker is offline
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Heh BoB,

Both the FBT Maxx 2A and QSC K8 are excellent speakers for their price/weight range.

As mentioned, I find the FBT Maxx 2A goes a little deeper, and stays a little flatter over the midrange. A little more sonic detail there in the way they voiced this speaker. Overall I think they are a little (but only a little) fuller and more accurate. And they throw the sound farther in a larger space. But because of their more traditional "90 vertical by 60" horizontal" dispersion, I usually want a separate floor monitor when using these, unless the space is really small. (The Maxx 2A also makes a great floor monitor for larger shows, and includes EQ on the back, useful for rolling off the low end when used as monitors.)

For my "20 shows in 10 days" Illinois blitz, I'm going with a pair of the QSC K8's mostly to simplify the chore of setting up sound twice a day, and to save space in the car for a lot of merchandise. They're more compact physically. But then there's the unusual 105 degree conical dispersion of these speakers that also makes it easier to forgo a floor monitor (see below).

This is unorthodox, but can work fine if you're not cranking up the volume too loud, if you stay right on top of your vocal mic, and if you have a pickup on your guitar. By placing the K8's up at tallest setting on speaker stands, about 6-10 feet to either side and slightly BEHIND me, and tilting them down and in slightly, I can usually hear just fine what the audience is hearing, without feedback, and without a separate floor monitor. The QSC K series speakers come with their own built in 7 degree "tilt adjuster." Terrific feature... just wish it went to 15 or degrees! For more downward tilt, I use a separate Konig Meyer tilt adaptor. http://www.k-m.de/en/products/catego...-2/?no_cache=1 Very useful for getting sound into the audience's ears, and reducing the amount of sound lost to the ceiling or echoing off the back wall.

So, while not quite as full sounding as the Maxx 2A (but almost), with the QSC K8 I save myself space in the car, an extra trip back and forth, set up and breakdown time, plus a slightly quicker sound check, all multiplied by 20.

Hope this explanation helps. Every show and set up presents some tradeoff between quality of sound, size/weight/complexity of set up, and cost. Like I said in the earlier post, if I had a roadie, or only one show a day, the choices would be different. I'm glad to have a choice of speakers based on specifics of a show.

Please give a phone call if you want to talk more details with me!

Keep playing,

Steve Schuch (603) 464-4321
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Old 03-25-2010, 09:26 PM
DrDavid DrDavid is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by WildPicker View Post
Heh BoB,

Both the FBT Maxx 2A and QSC K8 are excellent speakers for their price/weight range.

As mentioned, I find the FBT Maxx 2A goes a little deeper, and stays a little flatter over the midrange. A little more sonic detail there in the way they voiced this speaker. Overall I think they are a little (but only a little) fuller and more accurate. And they throw the sound farther in a larger space. But because of their more traditional "90 vertical by 60" horizontal" dispersion, I usually want a separate floor monitor when using these, unless the space is really small. (The Maxx 2A also makes a great floor monitor for larger shows, and includes EQ on the back, useful for rolling off the low end when used as monitors.)

For my "20 shows in 10 days" Illinois blitz, I'm going with a pair of the QSC K8's mostly to simplify the chore of setting up sound twice a day, and to save space in the car for a lot of merchandise. They're more compact physically. But then there's the unusual 105 degree conical dispersion of these speakers that also makes it easier to forgo a floor monitor (see below).

This is unorthodox, but can work fine if you're not cranking up the volume too loud, if you stay right on top of your vocal mic, and if you have a pickup on your guitar. By placing the K8's up at tallest setting on speaker stands, about 6-10 feet to either side and slightly BEHIND me, and tilting them down and in slightly, I can usually hear just fine what the audience is hearing, without feedback, and without a separate floor monitor. The QSC K series speakers come with their own built in 7 degree "tilt adjuster." Terrific feature... just wish it went to 15 or degrees! For more downward tilt, I use a separate Konig Meyer tilt adaptor. http://www.k-m.de/en/products/catego...-2/?no_cache=1 Very useful for getting sound into the audience's ears, and reducing the amount of sound lost to the ceiling or echoing off the back wall.

So, while not quite as full sounding as the Maxx 2A (but almost), with the QSC K8 I save myself space in the car, an extra trip back and forth, set up and breakdown time, plus a slightly quicker sound check, all multiplied by 20.

Hope this explanation helps. Every show and set up presents some tradeoff between quality of sound, size/weight/complexity of set up, and cost. Like I said in the earlier post, if I had a roadie, or only one show a day, the choices would be different. I'm glad to have a choice of speakers based on specifics of a show.

Please give a phone call if you want to talk more details with me!

Keep playing,

Steve Schuch (603) 464-4321
Hi Steve,

Very helpful and interesting information. Thanks for sharing the details of your approach.

Where did you purchase the K-M tilt adapters?
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Old 04-07-2010, 06:29 PM
BoB/335 BoB/335 is offline
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Well I finally heard the ZX1A vs. the K8 today. Both had a good clear sound at a pretty good volume. I thought the K8's sounded smoother but the acoustic guitar they gave me to play sounded kinda muffled compared to the ZX1A. Vocals stood out more with the ZX1A but sounded almost harsh compared to the smoother sound of the K8. The salesman (who actually seems to know sound) pointed out that the EV's had more midrange which caused the vocals to sound more forward and he favored them as a stronger performance speaker for live cutting. He also favored them for the lower cost. I couldn't help but think that my Collings would sound better through the K8 than the guitar they gave me (wish I could remember what it was. I didn't really like the playability or the sound. Think it was under $400)

So, I felt the difference wasn't as drastic with the vocals. Both sounded clear. ZX1A vocals were a bit more forward but smoother through the K8.

Guitar sounded better through the ZX1A but I'd rather deal with brighteneing up the dullness of the guitar through the K8 with some eq (eq was set flat on everything) than to tame the "somewhat" harsher sound of the ZX1A.
Does that make any sense?
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Old 04-07-2010, 07:01 PM
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Really good stuff here you guys... thanks.
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Old 04-07-2010, 07:48 PM
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I just thought I'd chime in on this, since I have recently acquired a second ZxA1. I got this at an even better price than the first, both reasonably lower than I've even been able to find B-stock K8s. If you're interested in the details, PM me.

I can say this - I've tried the ZxA1s in 2 configurations - just the 2 of them, and the 2 of them with my Bose L1 Compact between them, and they sound great, to my ear, in both circumstances at low to reasonably high (as high as I would care to go) volumes.

I would be perfectly happy with just the EVs, but I love the sound of the three of them together, and that's what I bought them for...gigs where the compact alone isn't enough.

I'm currently going through an A&H Zed 12 FX board using a Shure Beta 87a and a Shure Beta 58 microphone, and I don't find the vocals harsh at all, and I'm EQ'ing them flat. The guitar sounds nice and full.

Again, I have never even seen a K8 in person, so I can't comment on the comparison, but I find that, for the price I paid, the ZxA1s are a great value. I'm completely set, and everything is nice and light.

The one thing I wish I didn't do is buy the $80 bag for the first ZxA1 I bought, because I really don't want to buy another, and I'm thinking the best thing to keep them is cheap rolling suitcase from Wal-mart with some padding between.
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Old 04-07-2010, 11:33 PM
BoB/335 BoB/335 is offline
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I was also using a Beta 87A in the store. That's what I would be using and is also why it wasn't fair that I didn't have my own guitar with me. (Hey, this wasn't a planned trip)

I want to be fair to the EV's. If the K8's weren't there to compare to then I sure would have been impressed with the ZX1A's. (and btw, I was impressed) It's just that as I was listening I was thinking about a long night of listening and the smoothness of the K8's in comparison made me think of "possible" ear fatigue in the long run.
Maybe I should just get those 803's!
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Old 04-08-2010, 08:53 AM
Bobby1note Bobby1note is offline
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Steve,

Thanks for that shoot-out report. I'm somewhat puzzled however in your choices for comparison.

The KV2 EX12 is undoubtedly a wonderful speaker, as are others in the KV2 line-up. Their subs are superb as well. What surprises me about your shoot-out is, that you didn't compare any other 12" tops, especially after you heard such a dramatic difference in performance, compared to 10" and 8" boxes. I believe you owe it to yourself to try out some JBL PRX 512Mi's, EV SxA360's, or the Yorkville NX55p's (which is what I own, among others). They're also considerably lighter than the 60lb KV2's you mentioned, and certainly, much more affordable. (roughly $1600.-$1800./pair.) The Yorkville's have the best "bottom-end" of those speakers I've mentioned btw.

I'm all for "lightweight" P/A gear, however, as you heard in your shootout, there is also a point of diminishing returns.

+1 on the separate mixer btw, (Allen & Heath or Soundcraft). I have several of these mixers, ranging in capability from a 16 channel A&H MixWiz2 16;2, to a Soundcraft EFX-8, to a diminutive SoundCraft Compact 4, and soon to add the A&H Zed 10FX as soon as it becomes available. The SoundCraft MFXi series, is also worth a look. (2 aux sends).

Bob
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