Why We Don’t Rent Line Arrays

Want to rent a line array? Are you sure? Our ground stacked Yorkville Unity rig sounds better than the “faux” line arrays you’ve been hearing. Don’t be fooled by marketing hype and what you see other providers using. 2-4 per side of VRX or HDA “array” type speakers will not come close to the clarity of what we can provide for less money.

Line arrays are the latest “cool toy” in sound and seem to have become standard for most applications. They are very expensive and look cool but in 90% of the applications they are used for they are either the wrong tool for the job or at the very least, not the best tool. As a sound provider or even as a client you have to ask yourself which is more important: having speakers that look cool, or having the best sound possible.

Given the size of the events we typically do, we are not in the same market as those who fly true line arrays, however for a lot of the events we do, other providers will suggest 2-5 line array elements stacked on some subs. We have heard these systems in our frequent field research trips “in the wild” and came to the conclusion that the small ground stacked line array is not something we want to invest in because it offers no value to our clients.

The advantage to line arrays is that you can produce at more constant level across the audience assuming they are correctly deployed. This works because the volume drops off at half the rate over distance of a standard “point source’ box. This effect is a result of the line array boxes interfering with each other; something you normally do not want because it reduces your volume at the source and requires you to have to put out a whole lot more power into each speaker in order to collectively end up with the same total volume.

What you hear with a line array is the sound of all the boxes smearing together in order to produce a single sound at a more consistent volume. The problem is that deliberate smearing means you have to sacrifice clarity and use 6 to 12xs as much power to achieve the same volume and coverage area as you need with traditional clearer sounding speaker boxes. I can put up (2) $2500 boxes on each side of my stage and achieve the exact same coverage and volume as you will get with (6) to (10) $2500 line array elements on each side of the stage. And it almost all situations, my speakers will sound better.

Guess which one is going to cost you a whole lot more money to rent?

A couple of things to consider:

1. Constant curvature speaker systems are not line arrays. They are basically point source speakers sitting sideways on top of each other with a very narrow vertical coverage area until you stack 4-6 high. They do not function as line arrays (thankfully) nor provide much benefit over a good point source system unless you use a lot of them (more than 2 per side) which can be expensive for both the provider and the client or if you need a very narrow vertical coverage area. Sometimes this can be beneficial. Overall they are less flexible than a good point source box but still a better solution than a line array in most situations.

2. 4-6 line array boxes on top of some subs or even hanging will not function as a true line array. In most cases, they will sound worse than a good trap box. In this case you can have a system that looks cool but simply does not sound as good as it could. I would, however, use 3-4 constant curvature boxes before I’d  use 6 line array boxes.

3. To get a true line array effect most hangs have to be 10-15 ft long. This requires expensive rigging and even after you have paid all the additional costs, the end result will probably not sound any better than a properly deployed point source system.

4. The majority of smaller sound companies that use line arrays only do so because their clients insist they do. They do not use them because they sound better. Because, most of the time, they do not. They do, however, require a lot more expense to use and therefore they need to charge you, the client, a lot more $$$  to provide a line array than a point source system that sounds just as good.

5. A properly deployed line array can sound fantastic, but it is not the right system for every job, not even the big ones and will not sound any better than a properly deployed point source system. Unfortunately in most real life scenarios we have encountered line arrays do not sound better, but in fact sound worse than the standard trap box that could have been used for the show.

6. Given a limited amount of money to work with, a sound provider can always purchase a better sounding point source system than line array system. Line arrays require special rigging, higher cost to insure against for liability and that additional cost gets passed on to the customer who simply does not get a better sounding system for his money.

7. Line arrays require special system tuning no matter how well they are engineered.  There is a much greater chance that a system tech will get this wrong rather than correct. A properly designed point source box can basically just be aimed properly and it will perform as expected.

Our goal at 4th Street Sound is to provide our customers the best possible sound for their money. We simply do not feel, given all we know about line arrays, that they are the correct tool for the majority of jobs we are asked to do. If you’re looking at our services right now, we feel you will be better served with a point source solution, even if that means we have to invest into more capable point source options down the road  to meet your needs.


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