Hands-On Review:Sound excellence from a compact, integrated PA
By Thom Mix
Keep it tight and keep it light. That could be the slogan for Bose Panaray systems. Built around amazingly engineered small drivers, Bose professional loudspeakers are low profile, highly mobile, and incredibly responsive on the low end. Combine that with virtual indestructibility and you've got a great solution for small bands and mobile DJs like yours truly. Musician's Friend sent me a complete setup: a pair of Panaray 802 Series III loudspeakers, a pair of Panaray MB4 modular bass loudspeakers, a pair of 1800-VI amplifiers, and a Panaray System Digital Controller. "Take it out on the road for a few gigs," they said. "Give it a genuine workout."
Fire your roadie
Actually, I don't have a roadie to fire. I get plenty of gigs—I'm working at least five nights a week—but I just treat hauling gear as part of my job. In this regard, the MB4 speaker cab instantly became my friend. None of my gear is exactly featherweight, but my old 15" subwoofers are absolutely brutal to lug around. In contrast, the MB4s practically leaped out of the box. And with their balanced, recessed handles I could carry the 802 IIIs, one in either hand.
Trust your ears
Frankly, the light weight and small size of the speakers left me doubtful they could handle the raucous rooms where I often ply my trade. Before I trusted it with an actual gig, I set up the system early at a medium-sized venue—a club I usually play Thursday nights. Setup was extremely simple. I just plugged my board into the controller, the controller into the amps, and the speakers into the amps—one 1800-VI for the bass and one for the higher frequencies. After selecting a preset on the controller and setting the amp levels, there were no adjustments to make within the PA. I just tweaked my mixer for the room and voila! The sound was heavenly—totally transparent. There was a fat, dense low end, heavenly highs, and rich mids. Even looking at them as I listened, I just couldn't get my mind around the idea that these little drivers could produce this huge sound. I thought there must be some big drivers hidden back in the cab or something.
Bigger - Better
I hooked up with a technophile over at Bose to get the skinny on how these little 4-1/2" drivers could pump out this big 15" sound. "Remember, these aren't just any little drivers," he said. "They're the core of most of the Bose Pro speakers. Over a lot of years, more engineering, testing, and tinkering has gone into the development of these speakers than any other speakers in the world. They're only 4-1/2", but they have a huge excursion—they move a LOT farther than other small speakers. And they have gigantic, heavy magnets." He went on to explain that if you multiply it out, there are 127 square inches of cone surface in one 802-III cab, roughly equivalent to a 10" driver plus an 8" driver. But they actually have a lot more punch due to their long throw and the effect of coupling, which increases the auditory impact by the exact placement of drivers relative to each other to create complementary sound fields.
And there's another very good reason to go with smaller speakers—they move faster. Bass tones often end up muddy and poorly defined because most traditional large woofer cones are too cumbersome to provide quick, tight response. More speakers with the quicker response of small cones move a lot of air with very rapid response.
Panaray 802 Series III Loudspeakers
By far the most outstanding pieces of gear in the system were the 802 III loudspeakers. The explanation of the Bose engineer was all well and good, but I had to see for myself how these little wonders work their sonic magic. I put one on the bench and yanked the cover. The surrounds on the cones were made of a space-age looking, flexible material that was arched way up to make room for all that excursion. The speaker was designed to hold up indoors or out in pretty much any kind of weather. It really showed in the cab, which was heavy-duty, mica-reinforced, polyethylene copolymer structural foam (translate: "serious plastic"). The soft materials on the drivers were all developed to handle heavy weather and lots of hard years of road use. The hard parts were all specially coated to resist weathering. The cab had a metal grille and a very tight-fitting cover that clamped on with four draw bars and featured a recessed handle. There was a rubber seal where the cover met the cab that gave me the impression I could drop the whole thing in the river and it wouldn't be much worse for the wear. Speakon connectors provided solid signal from the amp.
I pulled out one of the speakers. That guy wasn't just whistling Dixie about the size of those magnets. The edge-wound Ferrite V ceramic magnet had almost the same diameter as the entire speaker cone. When I thought about eight of those big suckers working together, the huge sound wasn't such a mystery.
Walking around the room as it played, I was most impressed with the broad dispersion of this system. At a mere 13" x 20.5" x 12.5" each, just the two 802 IIIs filled all parts of the square room with sweet sound. There were speaker mounts on the back and bottom for flexible placement options. And at 240 watts continuous handling with an internal protection breaker, I knew I didn't have to worry about overloading them. Bose expresses their total faith in the indestructibility of these things with a five-year transferable limited warranty.
Panaray MB4 Bass Loudspeakers
These subwoofers put out a surprising amount of thump. I placed one each in two corners of the room. Together they had plenty of drive to keep my audience feeling the beat as well as hearing it. At only 45 pounds each, and with an upright design that makes them as easy to carry as a suitcase, they really made cartage and setup a breeze. The heavy-duty end caps on the cabs had recessed handles and felt like they added great support and durability. A metal grille protected the 5-1/4" drivers. But the real strength of the MB4 was its incredibly tight response. I usually build up to some pretty fast-tempo music with big bass. These things handled it with a clarity and precision I've not heard from any other subwoofer. And they boasted an honest 40Hz to 300Hz response range.
The MB4s had the added benefit of directional projection. Unlike most subwoofers, which distribute the bass evenly around the room, the MB4s could be arrayed and pointed at the area where I wanted the most volume. I actually used this feature to good effect in one small club where the bartender sometimes complains about the music blasting her brains out. I directed the MB4s away from the bar and onto the dance floor. It made a noticeable difference. (This required a set of array brackets that held the speakers at exactly the right distance from each other for maximum coupling.)
Panaray System Digital Controller
Any PA system requires careful EQ to provide optimum performance, but the Bose Panaray System has special needs due to its small drivers. The Panaray System Controller performed precisely the right EQ adjustments to make the system respond with complete transparency. The guy at Bose explained that they have a big team of egghead engineers who spend huge amounts of time figuring the optimum EQ configuration for each possible setup. They program the results into the controller. Using a very intuitive scrolling interface, I was able to simply select the preset for my setup and make no further adjustments.
I could then control any EQ adjustments for the room from my board. I didn't use them, but the controller provided features that let me edit parameters for delays, routing, levels, system, and limiters. It also provided four independent signal delays and four independent output limiters to protect the speakers from spikes. It featured two input channels and four output channels. It even let me adjust the angle from which I viewed the LCD, but I never needed to. Its beauty was in its invisibility. Once I selected the preset, I never had to think about it again.
Like the Controller, the beauty of these units was their simplicity and transparent performance. They delivered 450 watts per channel into the 8-ohm speakers. There was no discernible noise and no lack of headroom. The units were easy to handle and they stayed cool. I was even able to array them so that they started up sequentially to avoid power surges. The 1800-VI has XLR/1/4" ins and stripped wire speaker outs. Optional plug-in modules are available for the amp that make it possible to run most Bose professional loudspeakers without a controller.
A name that's not just hype...
I used the system for five gigs in three venues and it performed perfectly in every situation. It gave me no problems whatever. Taken as a unit, the Panaray system provided the best sound quality and dynamic response of any PA system I've worked with, particularly when it came to sound dispersion and tight bass. The system was built to take tough touring and needed minimal setup tweaking. I always wondered whether Bose could possibly live up to its exalted reputation. Now I know it does. If you're in the market for a topnotch, headache-free PA, Bose definitely has a system that will work for you.
Features & Specs:
|Panaray 802 Series III Loudspeake||Panaray MB4 Modular Bass Loudspeaker|
Panaray System Digital Controller
1800-VI Power Amplifier