Portable loudspeakers have generally been utilized in the rental and staging market since their inception, but many clients in the fixed install market are beginning to explore systems that are flexible in different environments. While large fixed systems are usually a staple in new buildings, some clients looking to add elasticity to their AV are requesting portable systems for their multipurpose rooms.
Anchor Audio's VP of marketing, Devan Cress, noticed the new desire to go portable. "With budgets being tight in school districts, a portable PA is a better solution than a permanent installed system because it can be used in different environments. We sell a lot to schools and the military, and that's something we definitely continue to see." Yamaha's product manager for live sound, John Schauer, agreed. "We've seen portables becoming more and more of the loudspeaker market. Any questions of reliability from the past have been resolved. And they've lightened up in weight. Lighter and more powerful is the trend."
While portables are taking up much more of the market, there is still the occasional client trying to get more out of a portable than possible. Danley Sound Labs' president, Mike Hedden commented, "What happens is lot of times people want a 20-pound loudspeaker they can pull out of their Chevy Chevelle that can cover Madison Square Garden. That's just not going happen." EAW's applications support group manager, Joe Fustolo had the same opinion. "I see a lot of it having to do with budget. If you want a proper system to fill a large theater it's going cost you more than a $1,500, Radio Shack setup." Schauer agreed, citing the speakers' drive ability. "One of the worst problems you have with portable cabs is people expect them to do more than they can. They'll use them outside and they'll run them too hard, or they won't get them off the ground so the sound can disperse. Luckily most portables are self-protecting. Ours have limiters built into the cabinet."
When selecting the right loudspeaker, most clients have to decide between their budget and adequate coverage. The newest portable speakers are attempting to address this problem, but the budgetary concerns often outweigh coverage. So clients expect a few strategically placed portables will adequately cover their area. Hedden explained, "Based on the targeted sound pressure levels at the distances being asked for, the biggest problem is having a high enough Q, in terms of directivity of the loudspeaker, to get sound to the back of the room without having the portables fall victim to the current technology du jour of the line arrays. It's a total fiasco. We've fallen victim to this concept of the line array. People think, well if I vertically stack three boxes it's going to magically behave in impossible ways. You can't get a 30-pound loudspeaker to get 100 db to the back of a 175-foot long throw, it's the inverse square law."
By redesigning portables, many manufacturers have focused on making the sound quality surpass the industry's expectations of these speakers. Hedden said, "The market is growing, there's an enormous need for really good portables, because there's lots of just okay portables. In the past it's been assumed that since it's portable it's not going to sound great. We've made sound portable, can't we make the quality portable too? Of course we can, and they're getting better all the time."
Besides sound quality a large factor in portables is weight. To address this problem companies like Anchor Audio have begun changing their materials. Cress explicated, "We've started using newer drivers that reduce the weight by two-thirds. Technology always invents ways to make things lighter, so we continue to try and be a part of it."
Another impending issue for manufacturers is the recent passing of the ROHS compliance in California and Europe that limits companies from making products with lead. Anchor has already changed their processing to displace the lead in all its products. Cress said, "Hopefully everyone can become compliant in the near future, but you're going to see a trend in the manufacturing market with companies canceling products because its too expensive to change them or they'll be forced to make new products to become ROHS compliant."
Portable speakers will continue to take up more market space as the sound quality gets better and they become lighter. There are also advancements being perfected in wireless speakers, but that technology is still a ways off. But for clients that need flexibility, portable speakers will always provide a quick and easy system at a relatively low price.
- Anchor Audio's Beacon is a sound system within a self-contained, durable enclosure. The Beacon comes equipped with an array of 11 speakers (eight midrange and three bass), a 300-Watt (AC) amplifier and mixer, a battery capable of delivering 60 Watts, and can be configured to accommodate two wireless microphones or optional CD player. The Beacon's lockable enclosure affords mobility via built-in rollers and a retractable extension handle that makes it easy to tilt and roll into place. This patented case snaps open to reveal an array of eight midrange speakers mounted on an expandable housing that deploys to stand six feet tall, thus eliminating the need for a separate speaker stand. The enclosure also features side pouches for carrying microphones, CDs, and extras.
JBL's MRX500 Series
Loaded with JBL Professional's brand new 400W differential drive transducers, the new MRX500 Series provides musicians, DJs, and every portable PA customer with a professional-grade performance. The new line, consisting of five passive sound reinforcement loudspeakers, is typically 20 to 30 percent lighter than competitive systems. The JBL MRX515 15-inch two-way, multi-purpose speaker system boasts 70-degree x 70-degree nominal coverage with a power capacity of 400/800/1600 Watts (continuous/ program/peak), a new annular polymer diaphragm compression driver and dual-angle pole socket. For added versatility, the MRX515 features two Neutrik NL4s. And for extended bandwidth in one cabinet, the new JBL MRX525: Dual 15-inch two-way, speaker system also carries a 70 degree x 70 degree nominal coverage and more advanced power handling of 800/1600/3200 Watts. The MRX512M is a 12-inch two-way, multi-purpose speaker system with a 70-degree x 70-degree nominal coverage pattern and power handling of 400/800/1600 Watts (continuous/program/peak).
EAW's NT Series
EAW's NT Series loudspeakers are compact and lightweight while providing high output in both portable and fixed installation applications. They incorporate an active DSP technology called Gunness Focusing that corrects the sonic problems inherent in conventional compression driver phase plugs, horns, and low-frequency driver technology. Available in 12-inch and 15-inch two-way full range models with a choice of 60-degree or 90-degree high-frequency beamwidths, NT Series loudspeakers offer a 1000-watt LF amplifier and 500-watt HF amplifier and incorporate weight-saving design elements. The result is a loudspeaker that approaches the weight of powered, plastic-enclosure models but provides the acoustical and physical performance of heavier wood-enclosed designs. The trapezoidal design of the enclosures also makes them easy to use as a main PA loudspeaker or as a floor wedge for stage monitor applications. Cabinets include handles, pole-mount cup, integral rigging points, and integral flytrack hardware.
SLS Loudspeakers' new 8290 multipurpose portable PA box's full-range passive high-quality dual 8-inch design incorporates a compact multi-angled cabinet with maximum sound pressure levels. Established as a solution for professional applications that require the intelligibility of sound, the 8290 is equipped with SLS' PRD500 planar ribbon driver that is contained within a 90 degree die cast aluminum waveguide. Its dual 8-inch woofers provide increased control in the vertical plane.
Like its smaller counterpart StagePAS 300, Yamaha's StagePAS 500 portable PA system delivers audio performance in a professional package that provides flexible input capability. The 500-Watt, 10-input, portable stereo StagePAS 500 offers optional rolling carrying cases (YBSP500). StagePAS 500 features two 2-way loudspeakers and a 10-channel stereo-powered mixer. Each speaker contains a 10-inch woofer and 1-inch compression driver, driven by a 250-Watt (x2) Class D amplifier. The mixer features balanced XLR connectors, mic/line switches and balanced 0.25-inch jacks, 2-band channel EQ and switch-able 24-bit digital reverb. The first two channels feature a compressor/limiter switch that controls dynamics on those inputs.
Atlas Sound's SM8CXT And SM12CXT
The SM8CXT and SM12CXT from Atlas Sound feature coaxial transducers in small footprint, multi-angle enclosures with options for stand mounting via the Atlas model SSA7 stand adaptor. A 90-degree conical coverage pattern coupled with efficiency ratings of up to 99dB 1W/1M (SM12CXT-B) make the SM series from Atlas Sound a choice for portable systems such as those used in hotel meeting spaces and other small to mid size speech and music reinforcement applications.