Hands-On Review:Bose Personal Amplification System
By Cameron Milzhe
When Musician's Friend and Bose corporation contacted me to ink up a review of the Bose Personal Amplification System, I was a little surprised. My area of expertise is not sound reinforcement. Don't get me wrong, I know good sound when I hear it, and I've taken my share of turns behind the mixing board for my band, but I haven't nailed down all the intricate details of what it takes to achieve superb live sound. You don't have to be an auto engineer to tell the difference between a BMW and a Yugo, y'know what I mean? Anyway, I wasn't even sure what the PAS was, but I figured, hey, they're the experts and if they want me to review it, review it I will.
I soon received four medium-sized boxes in the mail. I dutifully began opening the well-packed boxes, extracting system components until all the elements lay before me in a semi-circle spread. Despite my ignorance of the system, it was pretty obvious how it was intended to fit together. In just a few minutes I was standing in front of a suspiciously tall and thin post mounted on a home plate-sized base and a small, sleek sub about the size of a large breadbox. The pole contained what appeared to be a dozen small speakers in a vertical spread about six-and-a-half feet tall. A remote and three cords-that's it. I got my "What the hell is this?" moment out of the way, then hit the phone to get some background info on the finely-constructed yet curious-looking PAS.
Something completely different
The PAS works in a way almost entirely unlike any existing amplification system-making comparisons, even with previous Bose systems, totally useless. Instead of having a huge PA stack or a couple of mains in front of or to the side of the stage, and monitors on stage along with individual instrument amplifiers, you just have the PAS. Sounds iffy, doesn't it? After experiencing it first hand, I assure you it's not. It works extremely well, and for the purists out there who insist on having their amplifier accompany them to every gig, that's okay, the PAS will only make you sound better. But just think about this for a second: no more monitors. That fact alone gave me pause, and will for a lot of bands and performers looking to upgrade or replace their existing faulty, troublesome, and heavy PA systems.
Eager to experience the PAS in action, I hooked a CD player up to hear how it represented the frequency spectrum. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the PAS made "Doctor, My Eyes" sound incredible. Still, this wasn't the same Bose sound I have come to know. It was different in some pretty striking ways, especially in regards to dispersion. The L1 Cylindrical Radiator Loudspeaker dispersed the music in nearly a 180° wide arc that didn't lose definition at the edges or gain in volume in the middle of the wedge. I first tried simply meandering about the room, stopping in random spots to get a good, firm mental sample of the level. Then I went to the back of the room. My den/family room contains separate areas for foosball, table tennis, darts, and an entertainment/lounge area with couches, chairs, and TV setup, so it's fairly large and is a reasonable facsimile of a small bar or club. Starting at the back, I slowly walked in a (more or less) direct line toward the PAS, paying significant attention to sound levels. Incredibly, even when I was within a foot of the L1, the volume stayed within a consistent range.
So what was I hearing? Nice, clean, crisp sound with a lot of presence and detail. The natural-sounding clarity in the midrange was absolutely superb. It sounded good. What made this so exceptional was that I hadn't yet done any serious tweaking to the EQ or presets. I was running the PAS pretty much flat and getting fantastic results.
Playing in front of the pole
So what's it like performing without monitors? To find out I grabbed an EV RE200 and my trusty D-15. I discovered something interesting when plugging in the EV. I started to check the mic after plugging it in and got nothing, then slowly the mic faded into the mix. Cool-automatic silent switching. Strumming and singing through "Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic" was at first interesting, then highly pleasing, and then just very natural feeling. I was really impressed because I was sitting directly in front of the L1 and there was absolutely no feedback. At one point I even stood up and placed the mic about six inches away from the L1 as I sang into the mic sideways, and the system never hinted of feedback. An impressive feat, to say the least.
At this point I finally got around to messing with the EQ and presets. The Power Stand (PS1) has presets on channels 1 and 2 that accommodate some popular instruments and microphones. The presets are arranged in banks of nine, with 10 presets available within each bank. For example, there's a basic piezo bridge pickup setting for acoustic guitar. Punch up preset 22 and play. Want to come up with your own presets for your gear? No problem-the PS1 leaves room for that, too. The R1 Remote Control gives you even more options for tweaking your sound. With level, 3-band EQ, and master volume controls, you can dial in the precise sound you want without moving from your spot onstage.
The PAS offers a completely new way to amplify live music with benefits not previously possible with conventional approaches to sound reinforcement. Is this the best system for everyone? Well, it probably won't be your first choice if you're playing Madison Square Gardens, but if you're playing the typical 300-500 person club, this is it. You'll love the portability and ease of use, plus you'll finally be able to hear yourself exactly the way the audience hears you. If Bose has their way, you will never hear bad sound again. No kidding.
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