Make one thing perfectly clear: Your live mixes!
StudioLive. Active coaxial PA systems with the accuracy of huge studio monitors but driven with irresponsibly high power, plus sophisticated networking and iPad control. Your live mixes never sounded this good!
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 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, an affordable 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. These features include wireless and wired control of all setup, tuning, and monitoring functions, using an iPad® or laptop.
We’re about to dive into the technology that makes all this possible. But we didn’t develop the technology to brag about it. We did it to create a loudspeaker with audio performance far superior to that of conventional speaker systems. We also gave StudioLive AI speakers advanced features that will help you get the best results quickly and easily. But audio quality has always come first.
Before we released our StudioLive AI PA speakers, we mixed a lot of gigs with them to make sure they delivered everything we thought they would. We have never been disappointed, to say the least. To our ears, these speakers provide the best stereo imaging we’ve ever heard in a PA. They get extremely loud but are so clean that they never hurt your ears—even when pushed to the limit. Their three-way design enables them to deliver amazing vocal clarity.
The gain structure of the StudioLive AI loudspeakers was designed to optimize the dynamic range of an entire PA system. Most other powered speakers in this price class aren’t. As a result, some powered speakers seem to get louder more quickly than the StudioLive AI loudspeakers but they actually start to clip well before a professional mixer’s optimum output level has been reached, resulting in reduced dynamic range.
Professional mixers output from 22 to 26 dBu—for example, StudioLive-series mixers output +24 dBu—and for optimal performance, the input level of a powered speaker should match that level. Unfortunately, many powered speakers in this price class start to clip well before the mixer’s optimum output level has been reached.
For example, if a loudspeaker starts to clip at around +12 dBu, it reaches its full output potential at a relatively low input level, so you’ll have to keep your console’s main fader well below unity gain to protect your speakers and to keep them from distorting.
However, at this lower level, you aren’t maximizing your mixer’s dynamic range. For example, if a StudioLive mixer’s output is attenuated by 12 dB to pair with our example speaker’s limited input sensitivity, it will only provide 100 dB of dynamic range. However, if a StudioLive mixer is allowed to operate at unity (+24 dBu), its resulting dynamic range is 109 dB. In losing 9 dB of dynamic range with other powered speakers, you are sacrificing fine details that add definition and intelligibility to your live mix.
In contrast, StudioLive AI loudspeakers won’t start to clip until +24 dBu, allowing you to operate your mixer at unity gain and take advantage of its full dynamic potential. The result is a bigger, more full sound because the quiet details in the mix aren’t lost.
Furthermore, StudioLive AI-series loudspeakers have been designed to make it very simple to achieve optimized gain staging when used with a professional mixer. The Line input and Speaker output level controls on StudioLive AI loudspeakers provide attenuation only. Because of this, you just need to set your mixer and your StudioLive AI loudspeaker Line and Speaker output-level controls to 0 dB (unity). This configuration also makes it quick and easy to ensure that all the speakers are set to the same gain.
In short, StudioLive AI loudspeakers truly perform like very large, loud, and extremely accurate high-end studio reference monitors. In a sense, that’s what they are: Our Sceptre active studio reference monitors use the exact same coaxial technology.
The Coaxial Conundrum
Coaxial designs offer the advantages of a single point source for a consistent acoustic center and a symmetrical dispersion pattern. But designing coaxial systems without acoustic anomalies has been extremely expensive—until now.
Multi-way, non-coaxial speaker designs have long been the way to go in speaker 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.
Non-coaxial loudspeakers cannot exhibit this symmetry.
All of which is great for coaxials, in theory—yet very few companies have successfully marketed coaxial studio monitors, and only a few very expensive models are considered to be truly of professional caliber. 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 “The Magic of TQ™.” This eventually led to PreSonus Sceptre-series monitors (and also to PreSonus StudioLive™ AI-series PA speakers).
Meet Dave Gunness
Here’s the speaker-design genius who solved the coaxial conundrum.
Dave Gunness is Fulcrum Acoustic’s Vice President of R&D, lead product designer, photographer, technical writer, and lead coffeemaker.
While at the University of Wisconsin, Gunness covered part of his expenses by singing and playing guitar over loudspeakers of his own construction.
Upon graduation, he made a living as a pro loudspeaker designer at Electro-Voice and later at Eastern Acoustic Works (EAW). Gunness holds five patents and writes technology white papers, many published by the Audio Engineering Society.
The KF900 large-scale sound-reinforcement system, the DSA digitally steered array, and a suite of innovative processing techniques marketed as “Gunness Focusing™” are all consequences of his career-long emphasis on improving loudspeaker performance with innovative software tools and DSP.
These days, he spends his time designing products and inventing new technology applications. Sometimes they let him out of his office to get a little sunlight and fresh water.
The Sceptre and our StudioLive™ AI PA loudspeakers utilize a lot of technology—acoustical know-how, DSP algorithms, user controls, and more—and were the result of collaboration between Dave Gunness and PreSonus’ engineering team. But the speaker magic is all Gunness. We speak his name with reverence at PreSonus!
The Magic of TQ
Each Sceptre monitor contains a DSP chip that enables the use of Fulcrum Acoustic’s TQ algorithms. The result is speakers that deliver the full benefits of coaxial design.
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.
StudioLive AI-series loudspeakers start out with a CoActual™ transducer that solves many basic coaxial problems through its physical configuration and is also designed so that DSP can be used to correct other issues. In the CoActual transducer, magnet structures are in close proximity for extremely smooth off-axis response. The purpose-built high-frequency horn contributes to frequency-pattern control and keeps high-frequency energy off of the woofer cone. The woofer’s larger radiating surface works with the HF horn to improve bottom operating-range directional control.
Then Fulcrum’s Temporal EQ™ (TQ) DSP algorithms are applied. It starts with the standard complement of Infinite Impulse Response (IIR) highpass, lowpass, and parametric filters, plus delay. To this is added fully addressable, fairly large Finite Impulse Response (FIR) filters that implement more detailed frequency-response adjustments; and the precise temporal (time domain) filters that are responsible for the most remarkable TQ benefits. As explained in Fulcrum Acoustic’s white paper, “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.”
It seems pretty incredible that a computer—a custom digital signal processor—can eliminate physical horn reflections. But it’s possible when the resonances happen consistently. Knowing in advance how the loudspeaker will respond to a particular signal, it is possible to calculate a special new signal that not only avoids exciting natural resonances, but also actively kills these resonances before they become audible!
Collaborating with Fulcrum Acoustic co-founder, Dave Gunness, PreSonus software designers incorporated custom TQ algorithms into the onboard DSP. The result is an affordable PA speaker with the remarkably clear, coherent, detailed sound of a high-end studio monitor.
These speakers use a nontraditional, asymmetrical crossover scheme and some very tricky time-based processing to increase the output capability and overcome any weaknesses of the drivers.
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 future is Active Integration
Products that sense each other, interact and work together via wireless and wired communication, are seamlessly integrated with 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.
To be specific, PreSonus Active Integration products employ cutting-edge OMAP™ 5 multi-core ARM 350 MHz Cortex-A 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 StudioLive AI-series digital mixers 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.
The StudioLive™ AI loudspeaker’s Active Integration DSP gives these groundbreaking new PA speakers studio-monitor accuracy. Starting in Spring 2014, PreSonus StudioLive AI-series PA speakers will offer wireless and wired control of all setup, tuning, and monitoring functions, using free SL Room Control software for Mac®, Windows®, and iPad®, making these controls extremely convenient to use.
Meet the family.
The StudioLive AI series consists of three full-range systems and a subwoofer so you can configure PAs for a wide variety of spaces and applications.
The StudioLive AI series consists of three full-range systems and a subwoofer. Which model you choose depends on where and how you will use them.
The StudioLive™ 312AI is an active PA speaker system with a 12-inch ferrite woofer and an 8-inch midrange driver and 1.75-inch titanium compression driver that are configured in a unique coaxial design and are driven by 2,000 watts of triamped, Class D amplification (1,000W for the woofer, 500W for the midrange driver, and 500W for the tweeter).
This model is great for mains when used with a subwoofer, and it makes a great sidefill or floor monitor.
If you need more “woof,” consider the StudioLive 315AI, which features a 15-inch woofer, along with the same coaxial mid/high drivers and power amplification as the 312AI. This unit is the best choice if you are not using a subwoofer, though of course adding a StudioLive 18sAI subwoofer will give you even more bottom.
If space and ease of transportation are issues, consider the StudioLive 328AI. Instead of a single woofer, it pairs two 8-inch midrange drivers to deliver surprising low end. Because of its compact size, we’ve found it easy to transport and set up the 328AI in places like New Orleans’ French Quarter, where access is difficult, and one has to cart everything down the sidewalk. This form factor also makes the 328AI a great choice for contractor installs.
The rear of the StudioLive AI-series full-range systems 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. StudioLive AI-series full-range loudspeakers feature dual-position pole mounts that allow you to mount the speaker atop a stand at 90 degrees. Using the downward-tilt mount will focus the loudspeaker’s energy onto the audience and avoid destructive reflections. This is ideal for situations where the loudspeaker is mounted atop a tripod stand and placed on a stage or where the pole-mounted loudspeaker is on the floor and the coverage area is relatively shallow (conference, coffee house, etc.).
All three full-range loudspeakers are phase- and time-aligned to create a true four-way system when paired with a StudioLive 18sAI subwoofer. For applications that require a more linear (“flat”) frequency response between the subwoofer and full-range speaker, simply engage the highpass filter on the full-range StudioLive AI-series loudspeaker. This will also readjust the phase and time-alignment to keep the full-range system in phase with the 18sAI subwoofer, enabling you to create the best four-way system for your application.
Each full-range model also provides three DSP contours, allowing you to tune your loudspeaker. Load the Normal contour for most live sound applications. When your source audio is less than ideal (e.g., MP3s or unmastered recordings), use the LBR Source contour to smooth out the harshness that digital file compression can introduce and to give your unmastered recording a more polished sound. Loading the Floor Monitor contour will help limit the effects of half-space loading, while allowing you to get maximum gain before feedback with vocal mics when using your StudioLive AI loudspeaker as a floor wedge. Each contour literally “retunes” your StudioLive loudspeaker so that you get always get the best sound.
In Spring 2014, you’ll be in control.
With PreSonus SL Room Control software, expected in Spring 2014, you can configure, tune, and monitor networked StudioLive AI PA speakers from anywhere in the venue. You can even visually display the room layout on a laptop or iPad!
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 group 31-band graphic EQ and 8-band parametric EQ (total of 10 bands, including a feedback notch filter), mute, speaker delay, and signal polarity. Best of all, all of your custom parameters are stored onboard the StudioLive loudspeaker in the User layer, which can be turned on or off from the back panel, so you can take your custom settings with you.
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!
For more information on SL Room Control, click here.
Also coming soon: the divine interface.
Active Integration doesn’t stop at remote control. 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.