One of my favourite parts of Mediatech Africa, whether as a visitor in previous years or as a journalist, is the outdoor sound demos. It’s a rare opportunity to be able to listen to almost all of the major loudspeaker systems available in our market in one area in order to get a bird’s eye view of their performance and overall sound quality.
However, to extract an effective comparison in these kinds of demonstrations it is of paramount importance to listen to the same programme material at the same perceived loudness, otherwise the ear will be easily tricked into thinking a system is better when in fact it is just louder. Well, that is exactly what was done this year. In the intro sessions, a pre-mixed track of three sample recordings was given to each distributor to play back through each system at 85dBSPL so that the listeners may form an objective opinion. I was there to listen to multiple sessions throughout the three-day ordeal and this review outlines my top 5 contenders for the best sounding systems showcased at Mediatech.
Alcons Audio LR24
Truth be told, the Alcons LR24 is not available in South Africa yet but has been in the pipeline for release for quite a while and has left many fans of the Netherlands-based company waiting eagerly with bated breath.
The LR24 is a dual 12-inch medium format line array system that features a 14-inch tall high frequency ribbon driver, which is the secret to its sound. Alcons Audio, unlike many other manufacturers using dome compression drivers through specially designed waveguides, opted instead to develop the Pro-RBN driver because, as they claim, it produces a ’naturally cylindrical wave front” which is essentially the goal of any line source system. Alcons also claims that due to the inherent agility of ribbon drivers, transient response is increased dramatically and colouration due to compression driver distortion is basically eliminated.
At Mediatech Africa 2013 we almost had to give up hope in hearing the LR24 since there was a problem with the plane that was set to deliver the system to our shores via SA distributors Matrix Sound. However, luckily for us it arrived the on the last day and we were finally able to hear what all the fuss is about. From the first note it was clear that the claims made by Alcons were more or less true. I was instantly impressed by the clarity and “quickness’ of the top end. The midrange seemed smooth and natural and because of the increased top end intelligibility, the stereo image danced around my ears in an ethereal way. I like. I like a lot.
JBL VTX V25
The VTX V25 is JBL’s latest offering in line source technology. Following on the success of their previous Vertec systems, the VTX brings a slew of new technologies and patents the table and a heightened sense of quality that is immediately evident when hearing the system.
The V25 is a full-size three-way high-directivity line array element. It features dual 15′ differential drive woofers coming in at 2000W each, mounted in die-cast aluminium baffles. Probably the most interesting aspect of this system is the inclusion of the new D2 driver, a dual diaphragm compression driver that includes many innovations like specialised phase plugs and dramatically decreased distortion at higher levels. The VTX as a whole boasts many new patents in its design.
After hearing the VTX at the Rhema church in Randburg thanks to SA distributors Wild and Marr, I knew exactly what to expect. These speakers seem to “glow’ audio and have a fantastic tonal balance. The top end is dramatically different from the Vertec series and seems to have smoothed out quite a bit while the midrange is clear and unobtrusive. Of course, coupled to the S28 subwoofers they make an immensely powerful system with a lot of headroom and an even coverage.
The STM system concept is to provide three different modules that can be assembled into their rigging system to create smaller or larger systems based on the application. The three modules include: The STM M46 main module, the STM B112 bass module and the STM S118 sub module. The main module incorporates four 6.5′ LF/MF drivers and four HF compression drivers with a max peak SPL coming in at a gargantuan 145dB. The bass module includes a single 3000W +/ – 3cm excursion 12′ LF driver with a max SPL of 141dB. The sub module includes a single 18′ LF driver with a peak SPL of 143dB.
The system assembled at Mediatech by SA distributors Tadco was three main, three bass, and three sub modules per side in ground stack configuration. Firstly, for the size of the system, the sound was simply huge. I and others could not believe the amount of bass that we were hearing from six single-18′ drivers. However, because the arrays were ground stacked the HF waveguides were pointed directly at my head so the top end sounded a little bit hyped. I assume that if the arrays were flown we would get a lot better impression.
Martin Audio W8LM
Martin Audio is gathering a huge following worldwide thanks the success of their ground breaking MLA series. At this years’ Mediatech SA distributors Audiosure rigged up the W8LM, a dual-8′ mini three-way line array system. The enclosure features an eight-inch LF frequency driver, an eight-inch MF driver and twin one-inch HF drivers fed into Martin Audio’s proprietary constant directivity horn as seen on their W8L Longbow and W8LC line arrays.
The W8LM impressed me immensely on the day with its fantastic transient response and overall clarity. Given its small size it is quite astonishing what big sound this system can produce and I was left wanting very little from it in terms of tonal balance and stereo imaging which, by the way, was fantastic. The localisation cues were going off like fireworks in my brain and it just immersed me into the sound further. My only complaint was that the second day I heard the system it seemed to sound a little different but that just could have been me!
dB Technologies DVA T4
I love underdog systems that deliver the goods when everyone least expects it. dB Technologies, distributed in South Africa by Viva Afrika, showcased their DVA T4 system among others at Mediatech Africa this year and gave the competitors costing much more a big run for their money.
The DVA T4 is an active three-way line array system that combines an eight-inch LF driver, a 6.5-inch MF driver and dual one-inch HF compression drivers in an active line source enclosure. The built-in Class-D amplifier delivers a total of 420W RMS to the drivers in 100W(HF)x100W(MF)x220W(LF) configuration. The on-board processing includes 24-bit/48kHz DSP and a dual active limiter for multiband RMS/peak limiting and thermal protection.
After hearing three other high end contenders before the DVA T4 the bar was indeed high and expectations were low. But this little line array held its ground and turned out to be one of the favourites of the day, delivering an astonishing tonal balance across the spectrum. Paired with a ground-stacked end-fire array of DVA S30N dual-18′ subwoofers, the sound was full and chest pounding. However the impression was not heightened solely because of the bass. The top end was sparkly and clean with little perceivable distortion while the midrange retained the clarity and warmth expected from a high end system. Given the price of this little system, power, clarity and sweetness were delivered effectively.
One thing that the outdoor sound demos showed me this year is that there are many good line arrays on the market today, irrespective of price. In fact, I don’t envy the person who has to choose one between them all to add to their arsenal. There were others not mentioned in this review that also impressed me which made it even more difficult to pick five that I liked. The margin of quality is narrowing in this arena which, I suppose, is a good thing for the listener!