Choosing the right speakers with your ears

A local tech school is in the market for a new PA system. Someone in the organization is leaning toward a line array. The space has 20′ ceilings (low) and is short but wide. Sometimes a line array PA is the best option. Sometimes it’s not. How does one know? There are a few well known facts about line arrays. They need to be a certain length to behave well. The number I continue to hear is 10 to 12 feet. Longer is OK but shorter is not. There is a trend to use line arrays regardless of the circumstances and this post aims to reveal why that is a bad decision to make.

Here is a model of a Meyer UPQ-1P

Here is a model of a Meyer 3 box JM1P 60 degree x 60 degree array (can be rotated in either direction with the only difference being the location of the overlap seam)

Here is a model of a Meyer 4 box Leopard line array

Here is a model of a Meyer 5 box Leopard line array

Do people use short line arrays? Absolutely. Do they sound good? Questionable. If you choose a PA system based on sound quality and you don’t need the high SPL levels a line array can provide, a pair of UPQ-1P with some front fills is the optimal PA for the space. If you look at the models, the same is true. If you neither listen or model and go based on current trends, you’re likely to have a short line array even though it doesn’t sound or behave as well and costs more.

Obviously the most important aspect of choosing a PA system is sound quality. When you can’t model the PA you are considering, I would suggest you demo the PA systems you are considering and then let your ears be the deciding factor. Not your eyes. Not your expectations of what looks impressive. Not what a sales rep suggests. Use your ears…