Demo Power at Infocomm 2012 - A Peek at Harman's Latest and Greatest
By Matt D. Scott
As I sit back and reflect back on InfoComm 2012, I realized that no matter how long the show can sometimes seem, there is never really enough time to see everything we want to see and talk to everyone we want to talk to. You see, the show floor is really only open for a total of 23 hours. That's not even a full day! So when you look at your schedule for the show and realize how much time you book and set aside for meetings, booth tours, etc., you quickly realize that your floor time is incredibly important. I had a few stops where I spent over half an hour in each booth talking about products and equipment that I have no plans to use any time soon. Talk about wasting valuable hours! That time could have been useful to my show schedule. Not to say that these booths were a complete waste of my time, just something that I probably should have spent less time on, no matter how cool the product was.
I headed to InfoComm with wonderfully laid plans to visit five of the loudspeaker demo rooms, and to experience the latest and greatest from some of my favorite speaker manufacturers. By Thursday afternoon, my schedule was pretty full and I had yet to make it to a single demo room. Pitiful, I know (hangs head in shame)! Thus I decided I would make sure I made it to the last JBL Pro demo on Thursday at 3 PM in N101.
Being a man of my word, I was there just as they were getting ready to begin. The guys from Harmon had a complete range of their latest line of speakers on display and told us that they couldn't wait to get started. So with that, my first InfoComm2012 speaker demo had begun.
The Harman guys started out by explaining the signal path and amplification that was being used by each speaker series, all the amplification being Crown amps with built in DSP and the board being Soundcraft. They then got into the good stuff and started to explain the new AWC line, which stands for All Weather Series (again, some really good naming practices). We listened to this speaker and I was impressed with the coverage of the AWC82—found it very crisp and surprisingly full sounding, not only that... it’s paintable! You know me, I love a good paintable speaker for installed sound!
Next they got into a speaker that I loved. One of my major markets is HOW, and there is a huge spread in HOW that means you need a wide variety of products for a wide variety of spaces. We are always looking for a good installed speaker for facilities that don’t allow for large PAs. Enter the CBT200LA-1 Column Speaker! This thing of beauty is two meters tall and has a switchable pattern between 15 degrees and 30 degrees. It has an adjustable asymmetrical progressive gradient pattern allowing you to send more sound to the far and less sound to the near to allow for much better room coverage. On top of that, the CBT line is PASSIVE. You may think that’s not a big deal, but I say “Nay, Nay,” that is a huge deal. With a column, you don’t need it to be powered in most situations, and when it’s passive, you can just retrofit it one two three! Again, this thing just seems to cover a bunch of the problems that we have with columns in more HOW facilities—it really is a thing of beauty!
The demo kept progressing at a nice pace, and now we were getting into the big boys. They showed off the new STX 800 series. I’m a big fan of this line of speakers and (full disclosure) I own an older rig with a bunch of SR gear—this STX line is a wonderful step up from the SRX lines. JBL calls the STX the bridge between light duty portable PA systems and full size flown array touring sound, and let me tell you... they’re right, these sound amazing. We started with listening to the STX812 which is a 12-inch two-way, has vented gap cooling, and can be used on a pole or as floor monitors. We then progressed to the STX815 15-inch three-way that pumps out 131 db SPL a eight ohms. Both of these speakers can be pole mounted and have cable plugs right behind the pole plug to allow for better cable dressing. They thought of everything. We then jumped into the big boys and started with the STX825 and its dual 15-inch two-way design. It’s bi-amp or passive and pushes 136 dB SPL at four ohms, and sounded really tight and really crisp. When they added in the dual 18-inch subwoofers (STX828)—wow—it really had a sharp pound to it. They played Adele (more on this later) for this part of the demo and it sounded great! We then brought out the big boy of the STX line: The STX835, a dual 15-inch three-way passive monster. This thing is perfect to stack on top of the STX828 and really go to town with either bi-amp or full range passive operation.
All in all, a really good and informative demo that let me hear the speakers for what they were, which is something missing in most demos. I really enjoyed this demo and there were a few things that stood out to me:
- The Harman techs explained the technology used in each speaker in a very simple manner. By outlining the basics of the speaker without dipping into the heavy engineering aspect, it allowed everyone in the room to follow along and get thought the presentation quickly and smoothly.
- The demo tracks that were used were used throughout the entire presentation. This allowed us to hear the subtle differences of the speakers. They utilized a vocal track, featuring a British female and a English male vocal talent along with a instrumental track. They played back this track as they demo'd the outdoor loudspeakers then kept the vocal tracks and mixed up the musical portion for the PA speaker lines. When they played back the SRX line (I love this line and own an older SR system myself), they used the vocal track and then played Adele's 'Rumor Has It'. This hits a note with me, pun intended, because there is something to be said for a demo with music that I know. I have heard too many demos where they used some unknown indie band that I've never heard of, and definitely never heard the track. But when I know the track, I have a point of reference to what I'm actually hearing. I know what it should sound like and thus can actually sit in that demo and really have an effective demo session.
- The demos were time sensitive. They didn't play the entire song, but didn't just give us 30 seconds either. For example, when demonstrating the SRX 8000 series, they played the vocal tracks for just under a minute then when playing the music track, they played the cabinet for about a minute then bought in the subwoofer for another minute or so. Really allowing the speaker to play without overpowering the attendee. Very effective use of time that let them cover everything—no need to rush through the presentation.
- Consistent dB levels. There is nothing worse then blaring speakers. Listen, I love loud music just as much as anyone else. But when trying to demo a speaker, I don't need you to prove it to me that you can actually hit your dB level... I believe you, really I do! What was great about this demo room was that I would hazard to guess that they didn't get over 92 dB at any point in the demo. That means that my ears are able to properly detect nuances in the playback that at higher levels might not be discernible. We're looking for clarity when demonstrating speakers, not just volume level. As important as volume is, not assaulting my ears in a demo room is paramount. As I was walking the floor, there were a few times that someone would just crank a speaker up then ask someone if they could hear the clarity as they shout into the guys ear. I walked down the demo hall and heard a LMAFO party mix blaring up around 110 dB for quite a while. I've tried, and it's pretty hard to do a proper demo at that volume.
It’s not just about the gear used in the demo, the music selection, or the personnel running it... There are a lot of things that go into a proper demo, and lucky for me, my first demo at InfoComm had just about everything on point. Because the floor time is at such a premium, one really can appreciate a demo that is on point and doesn’t leave you wondering what else you could have and probably should have done instead of attending the demo. I know I walked past a couple other demo room that had me thinking I was glad I wasn’t in that room. And yes, they shall remain nameless. So please, take these words to heart when YOU decide to demo products for your customers. Think about some of the things I mentioned above—your demo will be better, and in turn, your clients will be happier and might even buy more!
May your future be bright and your lights dim!Matt D. Scott is the president and founder of OMEGA Audio Video, in London, Ontario. Matt had his first encounter with Pro-Audio at age 6 when a PA loudspeaker fell, cracking his head, and leaving a scar to this day. After mopping up the blood, Matt started his A/V career and has been working in Pro A/V, Commercial A/V, and Residential A/V ever since. Matt loves the industry and all things tech! A self-professed TechHead, Matt shares his opinions on social media, local radio, on omegaaudiovideo.com, on mattdscott.com, and through various publications.