Understanding Loudspeakers for Your Venue

By Kevin Watson, CTS-D, CTS-I, AVL Engineer - 29 Jan, 2020

The number of loudspeakers available in the industry is tremendous. With thousands to choose from at various sizes, shapes, and types — it’s easy to be overwhelmed by the choices. If your organization is looking for a loudspeaker solution, read further to understand the different types, their uses, and why we, as designers, use special tools to ensure the right fit for our customers.

Passive vs. Active Boxes

First, it’s important to understand some terminology. Passive Boxes can be any size or shape but will require an external amplifier. Generally, passive loudspeakers have the speaker drivers within a cabinet, along with internal processing such as crossovers.

Alternately, Active Loudspeakers contain an amplifier within the cabinet; therefore, it actively amplifies as one unit. Active loudspeaker systems can be efficient as the amplifier inside is sized appropriately for the drivers, which takes the guess-work out of finding the right amplifier or having more power than needed. At times, electronics can go bad within active cabinets, which can be the downside if they are hard to reach.  Lastly, since they have a built-in amplifier, remember to run power to where they will be.

Point Source & Line Array

Two other commonly-used terms in the loudspeaker industry are “point source” and “line array.” A point source loudspeaker cabinet is a speaker that is hung by itself. Therefore, a single source, creating a point for which the sound comes from.

Alternately, line array loudspeaker systems are multiple speakers that are generally hung vertically with one another.  The cabinets work together to obtain greater volume and varying coverage patterns.

Point Source loudspeakers can be used everywhere — from conference rooms to gymnasiums, to auditoriums. There are many different coverage patterns available that allow designers to select the best point source for the audience area. Every year, manufacturers are developing new cabinets that are louder and have tighter coverage patterns. However, when one combines multiple loudspeakers and forms a line array, you can obtain a much higher output. Usage examples for these types of systems range from a high-energy house of worship production to professional sports stadiums.

Column and Digitally Steerable Arrays

Column arrays differ from line arrays in that they are tall and skinny speaker cabinets, made from numerous small drivers. Generally intended for voice applications, some do provide low-frequency production for music. Column array speakers thrive in highly-reverberant spaces as they keep the sound shooting outward, instead of upward and into reverberant areas. Airports, gymnasiums, and cathedral churches are great places for column arrays.

The active version of a column array speaker is a digitally steerable array that has electronics and amplifiers built-in. Using digital processing, designers can steer the sound towards the audience.  Some advanced loudspeakers even allow multiple lobes that allow you to aim towards the front, the back, or even a balcony separately. These types of speakers cost more due to the processing and amplification for each driver, but they can perform extremely well in a large, reverberant space that otherwise would be unintelligible.

Making the Right Decision

With so many types, output levels, and sizes of loudspeakers, we as designers use computer software to help select the most appropriate one for your venue. Our 3D modeling software allows us to input the room dimensions and assign materials to wall surfaces to create a model of the venue. Utilizing data the manufacturer provides, we insert their loudspeaker to see how it covers the audience areas and determine volume levels. We have access to 2D and 3D perspectives, which provides the best representations for how the loudspeakers will perform without being in the actual space.

If you’re struggling to figure out what type of loudspeaker is best for your venue, New Era Technology is here to help you find a customized and appropriate solution for your venue space.

For more information, please contact New Era Technology at solutions@neweratech.com

Author: Kevin Watson, CTS-D, CTS-I, AVL Engineer