What’s the Soundman’s Perspective?
By Craig Vecchione
The Bose Personal Audio Systems have been on the market for a number of years. As the moderator of Harmony Central’s Live Sound forum, I’ve witnessed and been a party to many discussions from a soundman’s perspective of this system. To say opinions are polarized would be a gross understatement. I’ve often felt more like a referee trying to break up a hockey fight than a forum moderator in many of the discussions.
I’ve had several opportunities over the years to use the system and I’ve heard it in many venues. Sometimes it’s sounded very good, sometimes less than stellar. Human error? Room acoustics? Until now I didn’t have a system at my disposal to test and compare directly to a “conventional” reinforcement system. Bose was kind enough to send me an L1® Model 1S, a B2 Bass Module, and a T1 ToneMatch®, and I’ve had several weeks to put it through its paces, see what it is and isn’t capable of, and make some comparisons with passive and active speaker systems and conventional mixers. First let’s look at the details...
What You Need to Know
L1® Model 1S:
The system has carrying bags, one each for the stand, speaker, and bass module. The ToneMatch® engine has a snap-on hard lid to protect the controls and display, and a carrying bag. The speaker bag has adequate room for cables.
I compared the Bose system with several conventional speaker systems, one analog mixer and one digital mixer: JBL SR-X (4735 and 4719), JBL PRX715, Cerwin-Vega P-Series, Peavey RQ2318, Soundcraft Expression Si. The analog system using my venerable Peavey mixer uses a Driverack, and QSC RMX and PLX power.
Over the evaluation period, I invited as many people to listen as possible. We’d A/B the systems, and change settings to enhance each system based on listener input. The consistent opinion was that the Bose system had outstanding vocal clarity. I’d go as far as to call it spectacular. The definition was better than I could get with any of the other systems. Guitars sounded great, especially nice acoustics (Martin D-28, etc.) which were simply amazing. What surprised me was that it required little or no ToneMatch® tweaking to get these results. I’d have to surmise that the poor-sounding systems I’d heard in various venues were set up that way by users. Everyone has different hearing.
Considering how large and expensive my conventional passive system is, I was very impressed at how well I could get the Bose system to sound. This was especially so when one considers the conventional system is a stereo pair versus a single Bose system. Coverage is claimed to be almost 180 degrees. I found this to be true. The line-array effect of focusing sound in a wide flat pattern works better the higher in frequency the source is, and low frequency is naturally non-directional, so coverage is very good. Nearly every room I’ve heard the system in had even coverage throughout.
Nothing is perfect, and there’s no exception here. Bass response is where I’ve got issues. I’ve got an MIA P-Bass, a G&L L-2500, and a Rickenbacker 4003. The 5-string G&L simply isn’t usable on this system, as there’s no low-B definition at all. In my experience, below a G, things get sketchy. The tuner can track the low strings well, and sending the preamp output to the conventional system or one of my bass amps resulted in good low frequency sound, so the issue apparently lies in the speaker system. Using recorded media, some LF sounded pretty good; the kick was discernible, the bass sounded decent. But the lows just didn’t have the same spectacular quality as the mids and highs. Looking into this a bit further, I used sinewave test tones to listen to response through the frequency spectrum. I could hear a noticeable drop in output between about 100Hz and 240Hz. That’s the missing “thump”. I was again surprised, as 10-inch drivers should easily handle this. I could adjust output with the para EQ, but the definition wasn’t very good and tended to get boomy.
My conclusion is that this system is exceptionally well suited to solo and duo vocal-and-guitar acts playing any venue up to about 200 souls. Getting back to the forum discussions, it was very common to read a sound provider recommending that such acts use a 12” powered speaker pair for front-of-house, and one or two more for monitors, often stating that this conventional system would far outperform the Bose for the same money. I can now wholeheartedly disagree. Just one Bose L1 system has more than enough output to keep up with a pair of 12” speakers on sticks, and the fact that it can be placed behind the players with little fear of feedback means a far smaller package is needed since monitors aren’t needed at all.
Once you add bass guitar and drums, I think some bands should consider looking at conventional systems if their genre requires significant low frequency output.
This brings me to the last point, portability. I was able to consistently set up and break down the Bose system in less than 10 minutes, taking my time. I could carry it to and from my vehicle in two easy trips. No hand truck, no two-person lifts. For a sound guy, that’s amazing. And a nice break for my 52-year-old back.
Bose L1 Model 1S system MSRP $2,498.95 Sale $2,248.95
Bose L1 web page
Bose Live Sound Page
Bose Home Page http://www.bose.com/
Craig Vecchione is an IT professional by day, and dabbles in pro audio and bass guitar in his spare time. He’s been the moderator of the Live Sound Forum since 2006.