Studio monitors are designed to accurately reproduce music across a broad spectrum without signal loss or distortion but they can’t handle the SPL demands and other necessities of a live show. Conventional PA speakers can deliver plenty of volume, but except for very high-end systems, they can’t deliver the extremely clear, accurate sound one expects in a studio. As a result, a PA speaker that delivers studio-monitor quality for live shows has remained an unfulfilled fantasy—until now.
This fantasy has, at last, become reality thanks to a partnership between PreSonus and Fulcrum Acoustic’s legendary engineer David Gunness (formerly of EAW and Electro-Voice). Rather than take the usual brute-force approach to PA-speaker design, the team designed a coaxial loudspeaker that would employ Fulcrum’s unique DSP-based approach.
The result is PreSonus StudioLive™ AI-series Active Integration Loudspeakers, the first affordable, active PA speaker systems that deliver studio-monitor accuracy on stage—exceptionally clear, coherent sound—while supplying the features and protection systems required to mix a live show that sounds great in a wide variety of venues, and with virtually any musical genre. Starting in Spring 2014, these features will include wireless and wired control of all setup, tuning, and monitoring functions, using an iPad® or laptop.
The StudioLive AI series consists of three full-range systems and a subwoofer. The three full-range loudspeakers feature an external-subwoofer mode that sets customized high-pass filter thresholds and time-alignment settings so that when the full-range systems are combined with the StudioLive 18sAI subwoofer, they form a true 4-way system.
Three-way coverage with lots of “woof.”
The StudioLive 315AI is perfect for large venues and bands that need full-range speakers with plenty of low end. The StudioLive 315AI provides 3-way coverage, with a 15-inch speaker for low frequencies and a custom-designed, 8-inch coaxial speaker with a 1.75-inch titanium compression driver to reproduce the mid and high frequencies. These transducers are driven by a hefty 2,000W RMS of triamplified, Class D power.
Multi-way, non-coaxial speaker designs have long been the way to go in PA applications. But they suffer from the changing relationship between the listener and the speaker elements: When you move around in the coverage area, the sound is inconsistent. Even more troublesome, the crossover point between the drivers can sometimes be audible.
Coaxial systems solve this by having the drivers on the same axis, thus providing a single point source for a consistent acoustic center. This results in symmetry of response on both the horizontal and vertical axis, at any given angle. The crossover transition is seamless (inaudible) at all angles. (By “symmetry,” we mean that whatever response is observed at a given angle with respect to the axis, the same response will be observed at that angle in the opposite direction. The loudspeaker’s behavior is “mirrored” about its axis.)
Non-coaxial loudspeakers cannot exhibit this symmetry.
All of which is great for coaxials, in theory—yet coaxial PA speakers have not exactly taken over the world. That’s because coaxial designs are fiendishly difficult to get right. The challenges are complex and, to date, impossible to solve with acoustic design alone. Making it work at high sound-pressure levels is especially difficult.
Fortunately, a company called Fulcrum Acoustic developed a solution based on a sophisticated combination of driver design and signal processing that we’ll discuss in the section “Coaxial done right with TQ™.” This eventually led to StudioLive AI-series PA speakers.
The rear of the 315AI reveals a combo XLR/TRS line input and an XLR microphone input with an XMAX™ Class A mic preamplifier and 12V phantom power, as well as an XLR mix output. In addition to the input mixer, you get speaker level-attenuation control and USB and Ethercon connections.
The lightweight plywood enclosure is pole-mountable and has two ergonomic side handles, interlocking stacking, and M10 fly points. Four operation modes allow the user to choose DSP presets for their application, such as MP3 playback, live performance, or stage monitoring—or create a custom preset using SL Room Control software for Mac®, Windows®, and iPad® (expected in Spring 2014).
Coaxial done right with TQ™
The StudioLive AI series is based on an all-new coaxial speaker design that combines an 8-inch midrange transducer and a 1.5-inch titanium dome compression driver/wide-dispersion horn. The transducers are custom-designed, and each speaker has more onboard processing power than three rack-mount speaker processors!
This powerful DSP enables the use of Fulcrum Acoustic’s high-end TQ™ Temporal Equalization algorithms, resulting in a coaxial speaker system with exceptional clarity and coherence. The processor is used to manage horn reflection, linear time and amplitude anomalies correction, performance contouring, and dynamic and excursion limiting.
The result is studio-monitor sound on a huge scale: Studio…Live!
No driver is perfect, nor can a driver be made perfect with hardware alone; there are always compromises in physical systems. To overcome these driver compromises, many speaker manufacturers apply DSP in the form of a combination of multiband EQs but the processing is more or less an afterthought—it’s not accounted for in the design of the transducer. This sorta works—more or less.
A few high-end loudspeaker companies have developed sophisticated solutions with active DSP that is co-designed with the speaker, but these are expensive solutions. And only one company has done it with coaxial designs: Fulcrum Acoustic.
So instead of taking the crude, old-skool approach, we partnered with Fulcrum Acoustic and licensed its high-end TQ™ Temporal Equalization, which, up until now, could only be found in very high-end speaker systems.
With TQ, the basic speaker and enclosure designs meet the fundamental physical requirements for accurate, clear sound—characteristics that cannot be obtained with DSP. The TQ algorithms deal with the remaining issues using multiple fully addressable, fairly large Finite Impulse Response (FIR) filters to eliminate horn reflections and to correct linear time and amplitude anomalies. The hardware and TQ settings are designed to work together from the outset, rather than taking an existing speaker system and trying to correct it with DSP.
As explained in Fulcrum Acoustic’s white paper, “With this filter, we can implement more detailed frequency response adjustments; and more importantly, we can implement the precise temporal (time domain) filters that are responsible for the most remarkable TQ benefits. Loudspeakers tuned with TQ provide a crisper stereo image, greater soundstage depth, more separation between the components of a complex mix, increased resistance to feedback, more seamless transitions between distributed loudspeakers, and a less fatiguing listening experience at very high SPLs.”
Collaborating with Fulcrum Acoustic co-founder, Dave Gunness, PreSonus software designers incorporated custom TQ algorithms into the onboard DSP. The result is a PA system with remarkably clear, coherent, studio-quality sound.
These speakers use a nontraditional, asymmetrical, 3-way crossover scheme and some very tricky time-based processing to increase the output capability and overcome any weaknesses of the drivers.
Traditional 3‐way systems improve the upper midrange by covering it with a smaller, more articulate cone, but they don’t provide any help in the low midrange, and the midrange cone often has less output than the woofer it replaces in that range.
PreSonus StudioLive AI loudspeakers were designed to address these problems by employing massive crossover overlap between the woofer and 8‐inch coaxial cone. For example, the StudioLive 312AI’s coaxial chamber is tuned to 120 Hz, so that the coaxial driver can contribute to the impactive range of the kick drum (100 Hz to 200 Hz) without incurring large excursion. (The enclosure tuning nulls the excursion at its resonant frequency.) It couples with the woofer up to about 800 Hz before taking over and transitioning to the compression driver. In the overlap range, the combined output is significantly higher than either one of the components individually.
This scheme has never been implemented before – largely because it is not possible without digital processing, but also because nobody thought of a way to do it, and it takes some pretty crafty phase manipulations to get everything to work.
The onboard DSP also makes possible an extensive set of control features for customizing and optimizing the system and for monitoring and fine-tuning performance in real time. Starting in Spring 2014, every StudioLive AI loudspeaker will incorporate a 31-band graphic EQ, 8-band fully parametric EQ, limiter, variable high-pass filter, and output delay, as well as complete remote control over output level and performance monitoring. To get anything approaching the control features using outboard speaker processors would cost at least $2,500.
The future is Active Integration
Products that sense each other, interact and work together via wireless and wired communication, feature 32-bit floating-point DSP and seamlessly integrated software, and run on CPUs far more powerful than competitors’ current audio products—PreSonus has realized this dream with its new Active Integration technology.
Active Integration incorporates communications, wireless networking, and huge amounts of DSP into a specialized, custom chip. Essentially, we’ve put a computer into these speakers, with enough processing power to handle not only the specialized TQ algorithms for tuning the coaxial system to near-perfection but also providing extensive remote control over system performance, EQ, and much more.
PreSonus Active Integration products employ cutting-edge OMAP™-L138 multi-core 350 MHz processors — a whole computer on a chip. These 32-bit, 96 kHz multi-stream CPUs include an operating system, wireless and 100 Mb Ethernet communications, USB 2.0 and 1.1, and lavish amounts of RAM.
StudioLive AI series are the first live-sound speakers to employ Active Integration but the technology also is at the heart of the new StudioLive 32.4.2AI digital mixer and will be an essential technology in an entire ecosystem of PreSonus products in the future.
Since StudioLive AI speakers have more DSP than a rack-mounted speaker-management system, you don’t need any external processing devices. It’s all built in, including graphic and parametric EQs, a delay, and a limiter, all of which can be controlled wirelessly.
Furthermore, the networking and communications features make Active Integration products incredible convenient to use.
In Spring 2014, you’ll be in control—here, there, and everywhere
Every Active Integration product—including StudioLive AI-series speakers—includes both wired and wireless communications. The included USB Wi-Fi LAN adapter enables wireless networking. Wired communications are provided via an installed option card with an Ethercon port that connects to your Ethernet-based LAN network.
The master control center resides in SL Room Control, a rich, easy-to-use, system-configuration software application for Mac®, Windows®, and iPad that offers individual or group control of all StudioLive AI-series speakers on the network. Expected to be available in Spring 2014, SL Room Control gives you control over most onboard controls and lets you monitor key performance indicators.
Thanks to Active Integration, all of your StudioLive AI speakers—including satellite systems—are networked and operate as a truly integrated system. A Network Setup Wizard automatically detects each speaker and allows you to quickly connect to your wired or wireless network. Once connected, you can create, edit, save, and recall speaker-setup parameters.
You have control over output level, a high-pass filter, a 31-band graphic EQ and 8-band parametric EQ (total of 10 bands, including a feedback notch filter), mute, speaker delay, and signal polarity.
Operation modes allow you to choose between optimized settings for different applications. Normal mode is for live front-of-house applications, MP3 mode is optimized for playing back prerecorded music, Floor Monitor mode is ideal for stage wedges, and User mode lets you create a custom preset.
You also can monitor performance contouring, dynamic limiting, and excursion limiting, as well as checking real-time temperature and clipping.
What’s more, you can control your StudioLive loudspeakers individually or as a complete front-of-house system!
With SL Room Control, you can full configure, tune, and monitor networked StudioLive AI PA speakers from anywhere in the venue on a laptop or iPad!
For more information on SL Room Control, click here.
Also coming soon: the divine interface
Active Integration doesn’t stop at remote control. By Spring 2014, you'll be able to swap out your StudioLive loudspeaker’s Ethercon control card for the StudioLive Dante upgrade, and you can ditch those analog cables.
Audinate’s Dante technology is a combination of software, hardware, and network protocols designed to transfer many channels of uncompressed, low-latency digital audio over relatively long distances and to multiple locations, using a standard Ethernet network.
Dante is intended to build and improve upon previous Ethernet-audio technologies (e.g., CobraNet and EtherSound), including the ability to pass through network routers, native gigabit support, higher channel count, lower latency, and automatic configuration.