Hands-On Review:QSC HPR122i Powered PA Speakers
QSC: Quality Sound Comes from CA to PA
Darius Van Rhuehl
After being asked to review the HPR122i powered monitors from QSC, the first thing that came to mind was a quote from comedian Steven Wright, “It’s a small world, but I wouldn’t want to paint it.” Call it synchronicity, coincidence, or whatever you will, but I’ve had a QSC MX700 power amp cranking out wonderous watts of righteous RMS in my rack since 1993. I figured that my ears were probably in for a treat, especially since the HPR122i features amplification based on QSC’s best-selling RMX series power amps. As any studio or FOH pro will tell you, quality power amplification is key to great sound, and QSC has sat near, or at, the top of that list for 30 years. Still, building great amps doesn’t necessarily equate with building great speaker systems. I was curious to see if QSC had successfully married up these two disciplines.
Antici . . . pation
Naturally I expect great things from the company that supplies power amplification to the FOH gurus who do live sound for the likes of Radiohead, but loudspeakers? While I was waiting for the demo units to arrive, I went to the ProSoundWeb live sound forum to see what the pros were saying about QSC loudspeakers. I found a thread where a DJ said that he had just upgraded to HPRs. Though they sounded fantastic, he had a very expensive monitor management unit and DSP processor, and wanted to know how to set these units to optimize the sound of the HPRs. Two responses from owners of live sound companies caught my attention. One shouted in big bold letters—you don’t need that unit with the HPRs—everything you need is built in! Another said that if he really wanted to maximize the sound of his HPRs, then take the DSP units out of the signal chain and trust the engineers at QSC!!!!! (The five exclamation points are a direct quote.) Digging further, I happened on another story, where the designers of a gambling casino’s nightclub that plays host to acts such as Chick Corea, Cheap Trick, Alice Cooper, and the Blues Brothers, wanted a system that sounded so good, acts would feel comfortable leaving their sound systems on the truck. They chose a turnkey system that was all QSC—from power amps to DSP to loudspeakers. So far, not one act has brought their own sound system into the room.
An out-of-the-box experience
Finally, the HPR122i speakers arrived and, let me tell you up-front, they were well worth the wait. Taking them out of the box, the “no-slip” handles (sides and top) are your first clue about HPR build-quality. At first glance you know they’ll survive being drop-kicked by “helpful” friends who work for beer. The HPR122i features a very solidly built cabinet crafted with 13-ply birch. For those who don’t know, birch is the wood of choice for audiophile-grade speaker cabinets. The density of birch virtually eliminates sympathetic vibration, which can be the cause of unwanted frequencies, particularly in the low registers (which explains the punchy, focused bass of the HPRs, but more on that later). Amazingly, QSC managed to bundle their renowned power amplification in a relatively compact cabinet weighing only a few pounds more than their plastic-shelled counterparts. Never scrimping on build quality, if you’ve ever hefted a QSC power amp, you’ll understand why this is amazing. In terms of applications, QSC obviously had versatility in mind. The sides are angled so you can use them upright as mains via bottom polemount sockets, or on their sides as floor monitors. For fixed installation, the HPRs offer nine mounting points.
The 122i’s internal organs include a 12" woofer with a 3" voice coil and neodymium magnet fed by 400 class-H watts. For highs, its 1.4" diaphragm neodymium compression driver is powered by a 100-watt, class AB+B amplifier and is loaded on a 75° conical horn for excellent coverage in all mounting positions. Input is balanced XLR only (female in, male out), so if you have a mini-mixer with 1/4" main outputs, you’re going to need TS to XLR-male cables. On the very clever side, QSC thoughtfully added a rear-panel switch that lets you shut off the blue power LEDs on the speaker grille, a nice touch that will be appreciated by anyone doing visual presentations.
I fully expect QSC to “punt posterior and take names,” so I wasn’t surprised by the HPR’s sound quality—okay, a little surprised. They sounded like studio monitors on steroids. The bass was tight and focused; plus at 500 watts RMS, there’s enough power to push some serious air around for that chest-thumping kick we all love so much. Testing them in a rather large, two-story hall, I was successfully able to disrupt events on the second floor. Considering their size relative to the size of the building, that’s pretty impressive. With the intention of overdriving the speakers to check how they’d hold up under extreme sound pressure, I ran some overly percussive, bass-heavy music through them at high levels and didn’t hear a hint of distortion. As advertised, the HPR122i’s multiband limiter provides speaker protection with no audible pumping. The only way I could tell that the limiter was working was by watching the rear-panel Limit LED. Thanks to virtually “invisible” crossover points, the frequency response is consistent throughout the spectrum—even with the limiter in action. Meanwhile, just to satisfy my inner sonic snob (I’m a former Juilliard violinist turned rocker), I pumped a little Ludwig Van through them. Personally, I would be happy to have a pair for my home stereo, provided my neighbors would be kind enough to move elsewhere.
So we’ve established that DJs are going to love them, but what about bands? No problemo. We set up drums, keys, two guitars, and bass, and proceeded to rock with reckless abandon. Vocals came through clear and present, even with the band’s instruments miked, DI’d, and fed into the mains. Playing out with them yielded an interesting experience to say the least. It was the first time in all the years I’ve been playing that I got compliments on the sound system. As far as filling a room with sound is concerned, for any and all rockers who wish to visit sonic wrath on an unsuspecting populace sans lower back issues, the HPR122i’s 131dB SPL output will make that happen.
Q-DOS to QSC
The time has come to retire my not-so-portable rack and upgrade to HPRs. To my ears, they not only justified the word on the forum, they more than exceeded my already high expectations. Who are they for? If you’re searching for a compact fixed installation of superior quality and sound, you’ve come home. For DJs, VJs, or bands that want a road-ready, easy-to-set-up portable system with head-turning sound, it’s pretty much a done deal. Plus, if you grow into a larger system, they’ll make excellent floor monitors. In fact, you can start with the HPR122i for smaller gigs and add the two-way, 15" HPR152i or three-way HPR153i loudspeakers for larger venues. If you like bass that can push the planet slightly off its axis, might I suggest adding either a 15" QSC HPR151i or 18" HPR181i subwoofer. But whatever you decide to do for a PA farther down the road, make sure the journey starts with the QSC HPR122i.
QSC HPR Series Features:
QSC HPR Series Specs:
QSC HPR122i Multipurpose Loudspeaker
HPR152i Full-Range Loudspeaker
HPR153i Full-Range Loudspeaker