A line array is the modern deployment of a design first developed by Harry Olsen in the 1950s. The column loudspeaker cabinets of the late 1960s and early 1970s were an early elementary form of line-array. The music industry ditched them in the 1970s in favor of today's conventional point-source cabinets. There will usually be two arrays for standard stereo operation, although additional arrays or separate cabinets or clusters may be needed to fill the front-central and/or side sections of a wide audience area.
A line array features a number of loudspeakers arranged in a vertical line. The line is usually curved. Most line arrays are oriented vertically, although horizontal line arrays are commonly used for subbass. For a vertical line array, the curvature and length of the array combine to determine the directional pattern of the array in the vertical plane. In contrast, directivity in the horizontal plane depends mainly on the properties of the individual loudspeaker boxes and not on the geometry of the array. In typical installations, a line array may weigh from 100 to 1500 kg and be hung 15 m or more. The arrays must be hung at precise heights and tilted at precise angles. Array setup and teardown must be quite rapid - for average shows, 1.5 hours or less. For these reasons, mechanical rigging is a significant challenge, not only because of life safety, but also in the interests of positional accuracy, setup/teardown efficiency, and general ease of use. In this area, array design software must include functions to ensure that no array design exceeds working load limits or violates other mechanical constraints of the products involved. Line arrays can be active or passive. Active line arrays have a built-in amplifier, while passive require the connection of amplifying devices.
Benefits of line arrays
Principally it offers both perceived and measurable improvements in audio performance in large arenas compared with other types of multiple-cabinet loudspeaker system. These include:
- Greater efficiency (increasing effective acoustic output from a given amount of power and number of drivers)
- Narrower vertical pattern (concentrating output on the audience and reducing spill to reflective auditorium surfaces)
- Less difference in level over distance (i.e. between nearest and more distant audience positions)
- Less unwanted audible side-effects (specifically, comb-filtering) than in other types of multi-cabinet system
From an audience or front-of-house sound-engineer's perspective, line-array systems give a greater sense of proximity (‘presence’), as though the sound source was much closer than it actually is. Conversely, a line-array loudspeaker system is generally less prominent as a focus for attention (the location of the array is a less noticeable element in the overall experience than it tends to be with conventional point-source systems).
The line array modeling software was first fielded in the late 1990's, and until recently has evolved fairly slowly. The software was typically developed by the loudspeaker manufacturers and contributed to the community at no cost. Most of it was Excel-based, usually with additional VBA functionality added. The models used were 2D that displayed simple XY graphs showing directivity and coverage in the vertical plane. They predicted only the direct sound field due to the line arrays, and did not take reflections, reverberation, or absorption into account. Today, manufacturer-supplied array design software is evolving. Although many of the spreadsheetbased products are still available, many manufacturers are delivering or thinking about newer options, most of which involve 3D modeling and user interfaces.
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