Considering building a Column Speaker

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As a musician and electronics enthusiast, I've saved tons of money I couldn't afford to spend building my own amplifiers, PAs, and speakers. Lately I've observed, especially among solo and small combo performers, what great sound they get with Bose column speakers. I've honestly hated the sound of typical PA speakers for a long time, all bass and tinny high treble with little mid-range, and figured it was part of what you had to settle for to "cut through" the noise in a small club or bar. Not so of these column speakers! Their sound is well balanced, clear, and has good definition without being shrill.

But once again I find myself unable to afford or justify the expense of a bose column, so I'm considering a DIY. I'm looking for tips, experiences, do's and don'ts, and any successful plans.

I can handle the amplification part. I can handle the "bass box" part at the bottom. And I'm hoping, based on the outstanding performance I've found with some small speakers in recent years (like this VIFA/Peerless one) which sound great even in crappy enclosures, I'd like to think I could build a column with maybe 8 of these and a couple of high quality tweeters with crossovers, and it just might sound great. But then again it could sound like $H!+ :D . Any thoughts?
I have been in this business for decades, and amongst other things have toured as a sound man.

The reason you hear bad sounding PAs with snorting bass and shrieking highs is that the person running the sound put a smiley face curve on the EQ and turned everything up. Plain old conventional speaker cabs can sound excellent, thank you, and the crappy tones you may hear are not due to the form of the speaker. Someone may have crappy cabinets, you can get crappy columns too. It sure is hard to get good sound out of a carpeted box with a 15 and a row of 99 cent piezo tweeters, yet there are a zillion DJs out there doing just that.

If most bands would learn to use the graphic equalizer and balance the sound of their system, I bet most of those tinny box sounds would disappear.

I am not suggesting you abandon your column project, just suggesting you not blame the crappy sound of many bands on the non-columness of their speaks.
I have been in this business for decades, and amongst other things have toured as a sound man.

I am not suggesting you abandon your column project, just suggesting you not blame the crappy sound of many bands on the non-columness of their speaks.

Likely true. Then again a lot of low end PA heads are heavy on power (due to cheap Class-D technology and switching supplies), but offer poor granularity in their equalizer. You can't do much with just octaves. (Personally I wish more heads would offer a few parametrics ). But anyway, I've also NEVER heard a bad sounding Bose column! It may be due to the better "baseline" EQ in the bose electronics, or (as I'm hoping) it may be due to Bose simply having a long standing good idea and discovery about the sound of many small drivers. Remember the 901's that started it all?

Also, you surely understand that getting good sound and projection as a solo player, with a sampler and maybe a drum machine at best, is much harder then getting good sound from finished studio mixes, often supplied specifically mastered for DJ use. I've not seen DJs flocking to the Bose columns, but I sure see musicians doing so.

But having already built some decent floor speaker that handle the bass well, which give me pretty good overall sound from a platform stage, I'm just looking for a light add on that will allow me better "ear level" sound when I get stuck in a corner, in a place with typical lousy acoustics. It seems a column would take up little floor space and make for a lighter haul.
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Sorry, I don't hold the DJ market up as example of good, just as a market that soaks up those cheap BS speakers.

Good old three or four way box cabs can sound mighty good. We used to sell some great sounding Klipsch professional cabs, JBL made some great sounding boxes, I don't recall ever hearing an EAW system that sounded bad.

We used to sell Carver, and their "Amazing" speaker sounded real good, the ribbon carrying most of it, and I actually considered building some cabs for just those long ribbon drivers. Bose 802s had their day in the sun around this area. SO I have nothing against unconventional cabs.

We sold a lot of the companion 302 bottom cab.

I of course remember 901s. meant for home use, they reflected off the wall. But guys were buying them and turning them to face the audience, and I thought that sounded just awful.
I've also NEVER heard a bad sounding Bose column!
Well then you have never heard a band try to use one(or 4) of these as the PA for an actual rock concert or a DJ use them for a large event, all the clean mids and vocals you get at moderate levels turn into an uninteligible mush.

It may be due to the better "baseline" EQ in the bose electronics, or (as I'm hoping) it may be due to Bose simply having a long standing good idea and discovery about the sound of many small drivers. Remember the 901's that started it all?
Oh brother. Yes I remember the 901 and how it spattered sound all over the walls in an attempt to create a spatial effect, and then they turned the box around and created a PA speaker(the 802).. Oh the engineering that went into that. These things were great if all you wanted was mids, these boxes are THE reason Bose got the reputation "No highs No Lows.. must be Bose".Your problem is not with traditional PA speakers, you problem is with crappy PA speakers, go audition a Yamaha DXR powered speaker and you will see and hear what can be accomplished with some actual engineering. One of these will do everything you want and it will only cost a fraction of what one of the Bose columns cost. For relatively low SPL pub events where you already have subs I'd specifically recommend the DXR 10.

I've not seen DJs flocking to the Bose columns, but I sure see musicians doing so.
There are plenty of DJs using them and mainly for their compact size and weight, and of course many of them are also religous Bosofiles and continuously spout nonsense about technical superiority and totally unrealistic performance.. "I played a school prom for 800 with 2 L1/B1 system and rocked the place":rolleyes:

But having already built some decent floor speaker that handle the bass well, which give me pretty good overall sound from a platform stage, I'm just looking for a light add on that will allow me better "ear level" sound when I get stuck in a corner, in a place with typical lousy acoustics. It seems a column would take up little floor space and make for a lighter haul.
The column of small drivers does have a couple acoustic properties that are beneficial to this type of application, with output spread of a large number of drivers sensitivity to feedback is somewhat reduced and that means the column could even be placed directly behind the performer and act as both a monitor and PA. This column also narrows vertical coverage and widens horizontal coverage which can do a better job of covering the whole room from a single source. The design does have downsides though, if you use very small drivers like Bose does(2.5") then the bass module has to be capable of handling everything from about 250hz and below, and the column will require heavy EQ to achieve even half decent high frequency response, if you don't care for anything above 12khz then not so much, but in any case digital parametric EQ will be the preferred method of taming the beast. This most definitely can be a DIY but it's not a novice project, selecting the best driver to use and configuring the processing will require a pretty good understanding of acoustics, some test equipment and lots of experimentation. Can it be done yes, but you will have to do a lot of work just to match the performance of a modern high quality powered speaker like the DXR, the simplicity of this format cannot be beat.. no separate amplifiers or processing is required or even necessary, simply connect directly from your mixer with an XLR cable. Small, light. simple, easy, and good sound.
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I have a few thoughts

Back in my PA days (1989 to 1998) I noted the generally horrible sound quality of many PA systems. Basically, this was caused by either the cheapest speaker/amp combos available, really bad EQ applied to them, massive clipping, really bad set up or a combination of all of the above.

Some of the best sound I heard was from a pair of Klipsch LaScalas as a DJ kit or a pair of Cerwin Vega V18B three-way monsters (18" woofer, 12" mid and giant horn) with proper amplification, limiters and EQ. This was full range tech from 25 years ago but when done properly, it sounded very good--the LaScala sound was the one to beat. I eventually went with giant 157 pound 4 foot tall boxes with bi-amped configuration for control, adjustable limiters and 3-way operation to get the midrange correct. The final touch was to play Mariah Carey unplugged to listen if the mids and balance was correct.

I've heard the Bose some years ago, compared them at Guitar Center against QSC, JBL etc...they have mids to be sure but did not have enough SPL before distortion set it and the balance was off. Putting the QSC K10 with 18" subs against the Bose sticks with 8" powered woofer boxes was unfair, but they cost about the same system against system.

I did build a pair of line arrays for my garage using twelve 5" woofers, twenty-one 3" mids and forty-eight 10mm tweeters in a 6 foot tall cabinet. They work very well to limit the floor/ceiling splash, have very wide dispersion and with proper EQ--they work very well. They do require subs as they started to roll off at round 85Hz.

If you like the idea of full range type line arrays, Carvin has a great vertical line array using Faital Pro 3" neodymium full range drivers. The "sticks" are around 30 inches tall so you'll need at least two of them per stack to get it to work correctly. Eighteen 3" Faital Pros per side will work for small to medium sized gigs.

If you want to DIY your own, use Faital Pro 3FE22 neo drivers--a good option is to use the 16 ohm version and wire each box 3 series/3 parallel for a 16 ohm load. Two sticks stacked would be 8 ohm and 3 sticks around 5.5 to 6 ohms for larger outdoor gigs. They must be crossed over no lower than 160Hz so be aware you need sub support.

Before you jump all over it, the drivers run $32 each so if you build six of the "sticks" that is 27 drivers per side or 54 total drivers which run over $1,728 or if you want to start with four sticks, the 36 drivers will cost $1,152.

If I was going to go that route, I would use the Faital Pro drivers as they are specifically designed to be used for that, have waterproof cones and if you purchase the Carver lines using them--nice CNC machined birch cabinets--not plastic Bose boxes.

I have heard the Faital Pro 3FE22 drivers, a buddy of mine wanted bipole/monopole surrounds of a certain size so I designed a speaker that would do that with four of the Faital 3" full range and they sound incredible. Full range tech really has moved up over grandpa's bose!

I'm not saying don't build line arrays, I built a pair of them for my garage and they work well with proper EQ and sub support. What I am saying is make very, very, very sure that is what you want! Granted, using full ranges with EQ is much easier than using 12 woofers, 21 mids and 48 tweeter per box but it is still tedious. All that stuff has to be sealed not to mention the fun with wiring.

If you want the arrays for their small size, four to six 30" tall by 5"W x 7"D sticks fit in the back seat of any car--then go for it. If you want something that limits vertical dispersion sharply--they are your design. However, if you want to use that design specifically for midrange--then get a PA speaker that has great midrange! They do exist but you have to look for them and for them.

Another option for PA is to use cinema speakers, the kind used in movie theaters. Go to a THX theater and you'll never have any issues hearing the speech and vocals. They are designed using the same PA drivers but have EQ and proper setup and calibration on their side.

In summation, I did build a pair of 3-way line arrays with sub support--they do work and have a huge sound, very strong midrange and are cool looking. They do have issues with the highs, beaming etc. which I did calm down somewhat with tweeter lines and EQ. Using the Vifa 3.5" full range and PEQ would be much easier for home use and either the Faital Pro 3" or 4" full range for actual PA use with a MINIMUM line height of 5 feet or taller is the best bet. The 4" would get you to 100Hz but you trade bass response for treble response which can be an issue--maybe. 3" full ranges tend to be the sweet spot to almost get you there so if worried about response over 10KHz is an issue, it might be wise to use the 3 inch version.

If you wonder if full range line arrays are for you--you could purchase eight of the Vifa 3.5" full ranges and make two boxes with four of them stacked wired 2S/2P for near field computer desk monitors. Stack them vertically for 8 high and wire them for mono to get an idea how the dispersion works--play with PEQ on the computer and screw around with the design. If you like it, then get the Faital Pros for PA use.

The reason for the Faital Pros is they are very, very efficient speakers. The neo 3" driver is rated at 91dB 1w/1m which is 6 or 7 dB higher than the Vifas. Also not the Faitals use metal frames and the Vifas use plastic---probably not a good idea to use plastic frame drivers for hard PA use. You PAY for the neo, the metal frames, waterproof cones and very high efficiency from the Faitals but--such is the cost of using professional drivers in PA speakers--the good stuff costs $$$$.

Good luck!
Most PA systems I hear seem to always be clipping---not enough headroom. Most don't realize that it takes a LOT of power to avoid clipping---a speaker rated at 90 db/1 watt will need 10 watts to produce a modest 100 db SPL, but a 1,000 watts to provide the needed 20 db of headroom for live performance. Of course, that is only the start. Effective use of compressors, equalizers, and bi-amping is also required.
I guess I should apologize, because this was one of several threads I started in different forums during my research about building a linear array, but apparently one of the few I never got back to to post my final results. In any case, I had a very good result building my version of the BOSE L1. I didn't use as tall an array (only 15 speakers). As mine was intended to sit 2 feet up off the ground on a stand anyway, a 4 foot column was plenty for my target venues. But anyway, i did my research picked my drivers and went for it. I also decided early on that I'd target my design for good response from about 200hz and above, and use a bass speaker cabinet I'd already built for my low end. The final setup uses a Behinger 1000 watt (NU1000) stereo power amp (500/500) with a dual 16 band graphic EQ, with one channel powering the array and the other powering my low end cabinet.

I know sound is a very subjective thing. My final frequency response curves won't mean anything, and nothing beats hearing. But I will say I have used is for several months now including a few live performances, where I play guitar (electric and acoustic) while I sing, and I also use a drum machine and looper and occasional home made tracks to allow me a fairly full sound for a one man band. I've been very pleased with the near sound, and even more pleased with the sound at distances out 50 feet. And I've also been very pleased with the way it offers even tone and projection over a a pretty wide angle for listeners. I know these things because I use a wireless setup which allows me to walk around and listen while a I play along with a loo or track, and can easilly survey the way the sound permeates an area. One of the most amazing bits of feedback I got was playing in the outdoor "terrace" area of a local bar, and have people at least 50 feet away INSIDE the bar tell me later that they couldn't believe how clear they could hear me in there. That might have been just dumb luck.

Anyway, I did document my construction on a page on my website, which I'll link below. Its far from a step by step "how to build" page, but it does offer enough construction details for any experienced builder to easily duplicate what I did. Again my apologies for not following up on this thread with this finished link, but I'll be happy to answer any questions, and I'm very grateful for everyone that posted various suggestions for me.

A linear Speaker Array you can build
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Congrats on your build

Using full ranges and EQ is much, much easier than wiring/sealing 48 ten millimeter tweeters--then realizing you have to do it again for the other speaker!

If you want more information than you can stand about making line arrays with full ranges, look up the "two towers" build on this forum. The builder used 25 Vifa 3.5" full ranges and a Behringer 2496 PEQ to get them correct--as in perfectly flat and a perfectly smooooth sound. He actually gets them down to 20Hz with massive EQ but they are designed specifically for home use so can put up with that madness.

Welcome to the club of weirdos that build vertical line arrays--it took me three tries and 16 months to tame the beast they tend to be. If you put a gun to my head and I had to do it over again, I would of made my 6 foot arrays 2 meters tall as the extra height gives the effect at a longer distance.

If I was going to build them for PA purposes, I'd try out the Faital Pro 4" full range at 16 ohms and make each box 3 feet tall with 9 drivers each. This would allow 6 foot or 9 foot arrays sitting on 2 foot tall bass bins and they could handle a 100 Hz XO.

Thanks for giving us your results, enjoy your build and I'm sure they are much easier on your back! :)

HA HA!!! Yes not only my back, but as my main vehicle is a SCION XD, I had to take my max height into account early. :)

I'm pretty happy with my high end, and haven't had to boost it too much with the EQ. Plus for my use, most of my performance equipment already supplies way more high end than I typically use.

Surprisingly, beyond a few things I'd do differently next time, I wouldn't mind building these for people at a fair price, now that I've been through it. If I ever decide I need stereo backing tracks I could see building another. Sadly as a musician, I have to spend most of my time practicing MUSIC, and I'm easilly lured away by more "fun" construction projects! :D

I do wish someone would make multi pole high current switches available at reasonable prices. Its typical to want to try multiple speaker wiring options to match different impedance, or different power weighting. Even with the terminal strips I put in there, and its a pain to have to open it up to rewire everything. But most switches I've found with enough poles and positions to be useful are nearly $100!

I also have to say that I'd not be surprised to find my idea of the angled baffles becoming standard someday. Before I did that, and as I documented, my response was pretty bumpy, and it it was those angled internal baffles that smoothed everything out and pretty much saved the design. Otherwise, I'd have surely needed either a 1/3 octave EQ, or several parametrics to compensate, and then I'd surely have all kinds of weird phasing effects.
I did all sorts of things to combat turning a 6 foot tall box into a tuned resonator

My arrays are sealed and being 3-way, the 21 three inch mids needed their own sub-enclosure to protect them from the woofers. The sub enclosure is about 6 feet tall, 4 inches wide internal and about 5 inches deep internal. I used the 3" circles I cut out making the bezel and used some of them on the bottom/back/sides of the sub-enclosure to break up the sound waves. I then packed with with variable density pillow stuffins and covered that with denim from old blue jeans to prevent it from shifting.

The rest of the box had pillow stuffins, 3M 77 glue and various things. Throw 100 feet of wire in each one and it is acoustic chaos inside. Glued various bits of scrap and the wood cut outs from the bezel and it all worked out well. Looks like random chaos inside but that is the point.

It does work but when people ask me to "help them" duplicate my project--I decline quickly and point them in the direction of full ranges and EQ.

If you want more information on FR line arrays, here is the huge multi-year project from the full range side of this forum

A great read about how this mess works, how you actual hear sound and the ways to solve issues with many different issues he had. He breaks down the huge thread with links on the first page so you don't have to read 2,500+ posts.

If you wonder what a Faital Pro 3" line array looks like--you can buy it off the shelf from here

TRX3903 360W Vertical Array Speaker System ? Carvin Audio

This way if people want to buy one, the Carvin/Faital Pro version would meet their needs better for higher SPL and better SQ than the Bose. Yes, you will get stuck answering questions everytime people see such a thing--you brought it on yourself!

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