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The Latest Trends in Installed Loudspeakers

MGM's Park Theater was outfitted with 230 speakers to support an immersive concert sound experience.
The band Aerosmith celebrated its 50th anniversary with a residency in Las Vegas dubbed Deuces Are Wild (which was curtailed by the pandemic). In a collaboration between Aerosmith, THX, and L-Acoustics, MGM’s Park Theater was outfitted for an immersive concert sound experience for fans. L-Acoustics installed 230 speakers around the venue (about 190 more than a typical concert of this size) and sound engineers employed L-Acoustics L-ISA to direct up to 96 sound objects (instruments, vocals, and sound effects) in 3D space around the audience. (Image credit: L-Acoustics)

The pandemic has disrupted many areas of the pro audio sector, but for loudspeakers, at least, there remain many constants. SCN explored some of the latest trends and how products might evolve post-COVID-19.

“I don’t see the application of loudspeakers changing that much, but the role of loudspeakers in the system and the interaction in the system has to evolve,” said Daniel Saenz, QSC’s amplifier and loudspeaker product manager. “For integrators, time is money. Manufacturers will need to provide loudspeaker solutions that make installation and deployment quicker and easier. For example, integrators who use the Q-SYS audio, video, and control platform with QSC loudspeakers can take advantage of built-in advanced voicings filter sets to easily enhance performance and the speed of installation with optimal results.”

Better Interaction

Daniel Saenz

Daniel Saenz (Image credit: QSC)

Going forward, Saenz stressed, loudspeakers can no longer be considered a standalone product. The pandemic has emphasized the need for unified loudspeaker systems that can be easily integrated and managed remotely.

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“It’s important to remember that loudspeakers are a piece of the greater audio, video, and control system. They shouldn’t be considered a separate part of any room design. With more AV teams working remotely, it’s critical to work through any issues and consider the full design of the system,” Saenz said. “With that, COVID-19 has underlined the need for more loudspeaker options that offer remote, ideally network-based diagnostics so AV teams can troubleshoot room issues without having to send people on site.”

The uncertainties brought about by the pandemic have inevitably made it hard for many companies to really hit the gas on innovation.

“In the past year, COVID-19 has forced players in our industry to slow down their R&D activity. The overall pace of product releases has slowed, so it’s tough to single out overall trends that have emerged across the past 18 months,” said Stéphane Ecalle, L-Acoustics’ global director of product marketing.

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Elevating Livestream and Residential Events

Stéphane Ecalle

Stéphane Ecalle (Image credit: L-Acoustics)

However, Ecalle remains optimistic. After all, the key to navigating uncertainty is to listen to the market and adapt.

“Earlier this year, we were addressing some uncertainties surrounding average event size,” said Ecalle. “Even as concerts and festivals slowly return at full capacity across the globe, it is too early to tell. Integrators and other manufacturers are adapting to the changing situation. Overall, it appears to be evolving in the right direction.”

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Ecalle said a key area of focus for L-Acoustics over the next few years is the development of high-end residential systems for private live entertainment and livestream events.

“Our professional solutions are well suited to and can be adapted for that market,” he said. “Outside of that, the conversion of venues and movie theaters to accommodate livestream events has opened new gaps to fill in terms of loudspeakers and sound design. Last but not least, we expect to see L-ISA Immersive Hyperreal technology gain traction in the install and rental market, with smaller, more distributed array configurations.”

Power-to-Size Ratio

Tim Boot

Tim Boot (Image credit: Meyer Sound)

Along with new gaps to fill, the pandemic has also created growth amid the uncertainty.

During the past 12 to 15 months, Meyer Sound has experienced a surge in demand for its small to medium-sized sound reinforcement products, according to Tim Boot, Meyer Sound’s director of global marketing.

“Take our ULTRA-X20 compact point source loudspeaker, which offers the same technologies as our ULTRA-X40 loudspeaker, but with smaller drivers, and in a lighter, more compact package,” he said. “We launched the ULTRA-X20 at ISE in February of last year, and then the world shut down a month later. Yet the product has continued to do incredibly well because it speaks to the increasing need for a powerful compact loudspeaker that you can use in many different applications. It can be a main speaker, it can be a fill, it can be a distributed install speaker. It’s kind of a jack-of-all-trades speaker, and that type of product is doing really well right now.”

Leopard-M80 narrow coverage compact linear line array

Meyer Sound’s Leopard-M80 narrow coverage compact linear line array is designed for focused coverage and long-throw applications. It’s a variation on Meyer Sound’s Leopard design that provides a precisely controlled 80° horizontal pattern instead of the 110° coverage of original model. (Image credit: Meyer Sound)

But Boot is quick to note that this is not exclusively a COVID-19 trend, though the pandemic may have accelerated it. “Even pre-COVID-19, we’ve seen demand for products that do more, particularly in portable applications. COVID showed us that the rental companies were using whatever inventory they had to support whatever events were being created—whether that was a drive-in concert or church services in a parking lot. We had a customer in Mexico deploy a large-format line array for a small event simply because the socially-distanced audience covered so much space. We’re in an era where we need to have flexibility with our systems and be ready for anything.”

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Changing Requirements

Boot added, “We’ve seen production requirements changing, even before COVID-19. Video increasingly drives the requirement for more compact sound systems, for example. And there are considerations for truck space, and space on stage. There’s a benefit to being very compact, and that’s always been an advantage for [Meyer Sound products], being self-powered and having loudspeakers with exceptional power-to-size ratios.”

As an example, he pointed to Meyer Sound’s Leopard-M80, a narrow-coverage variant of the Leopard compact line array loudspeaker. “It’s much smaller relative to its output. That’s a benefit for production companies. There are fewer racks on stage, fewer boxes in the truck. The Leopard-M80 fills out the Leopard family, along with the regular Leopard and the 900-LFC Low-Frequency Control Element. It’s a killer system. The Leopard-M80 reinforces our commitment to that product line, and we’ll continue to pursue that kind of very compact power.”

Back on Track

Manufacturers are exercising caution while new opportunities arise to adapt and innovate, but in many respects, it’s business as usual.

“As all of the segments of the industry recover, the demand for the traditional types of loudspeakers—large-format line arrays, small-format line arrays, point source speakers—is going to increase, because pre-COVID, globally, pro AV was growing. We’ll get back to a traditional growth state, for sure,” added Boot.

QSC AcousticDesign Series loudspeakers

QSC’s latest range of AcousticDesign Series loudspeakers includes ceiling models with a Snap-Fit magnetic grille and a patented X-Mount Surface Mounting System for surface models to reduce installation time. (Image credit: QSC)

“Coming out of the pandemic, the pent-up demand for live experiences is spurring demand for new and upgraded sound reinforcement systems among touring musicians, regional sound companies, and houses of worship,” he said. “Our new authorized e-tailer Sweetwater gives us direct access to a broader market of musicians and audio professionals. For them, we’ve been bundling the ULTRA-X20 with our USW-112P compact subwoofer as one of a few ‘power couples’ aimed at improving ease of setup for a new consumer base that might be purchasing a Meyer Sound product for the first time.”

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Boot is also positive about the continued need for traditional, large-format loudspeaker systems, with promoters like Live Nation now planning an increasing number of tours and large-scale events for 2022. “If you plan more events, production companies need more equipment to support them, and that’s much more about traditional, large-format loudspeaker systems. I expect we’ll see that demand increase. Ultimately, the demand for performance will never go away. People are always going to be looking for high-performance, high-quality products.”

Looking into a post-pandemic crystal ball, Boot concluded, “The demand for ease of use is going to increase, because ease of use translates to a cost to end users in regard to how much labor they have to bring in. Software is also going to be a big part of the way we deploy systems, and we’ll see software become more deeply integrated.”

 

Click here to read more stories from the September 2021 issue of SCN.

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Ledetta Asfa-Wossen

Ledetta Asfa-Wossen is a freelance education, technology, and business journalist based in the UK.