Did you know that a single invention, known as line arrays, had a profound impact on the architecture and design of modern music festivals as well as the sound quality? Famous media outlet WIRED interviewed Dave, a sound engineer and sound system designer who has provided audio for Coachella since 2001 and has worked on festivals both before and after this transition.
What are line arrays in audio and why have they changed everything at concerts and music festivals?
A line array is just a group of speakers that all operate in the same frequency range that are arranged in a line, usually vertically. Since the speakers are positioned at somewhat different vertical angles, they may cover a larger area than a single speaker could.
Line arrays use speakers that are layered on top of one another to provide a uniform and rounded horizontal sound field. Line arrays stack all the issues vertically where we can least hear them, resulting in a very smooth sound that is comparable to a single driver when two people are walking side by side.
How do line arrays work?
It would take a lengthy physics lesson to explain how line arrays improve sound quality, but suffice it to say that the sound from one speaker interacts with the sound from the other speakers to create constant sound levels around the room. The audio won’t be too quiet for those in the rear or too loud for those in the front of the room. Additionally, a line array speaker system can reduce interference by limiting the volume of sound picked up by open mics at the podium or on the stage.
The inconsistent sound was produced by the point source notion of employing many speakers, and interference from the same sound being heard with a slight time delay between signals caused it to sound beaming and hot-spotted in the middle, fading on the left and right.
Line arrays in today’s music festivals and events
Line arrays helped create today’s festival layout, preventing sound from one stage from affecting another with the use of laser range finders, 3D mapping, and precise angling. Sound designers can aim sound to a specific distance and have it taper off relatively quickly, making it possible to cover specific areas.
Line Arrays at Coachella
Dave shows us how the festival setup has changed over the years, from 90 speakers per side behind rainbow scrims to tall, slender line arrays in Coachella 2011, and then to the K1 system, which allows the hanging of 24 boxes deep. Line arrays made sound clear and more evenly spread, and wherever you stand, you’re still able to hear the music.
The Future of Line Arrays
L-Acoustics unveiled its new L Series with its unique Progressive Ultra-Dense Line Source (PULS) technology last week at a private event held at the Hollywood Bowl. The L Series ushers in the maximum power, control, and consistency in line array architecture, elevating line source technology to its apex.
L2 above and L2D below are two components that make up the L Series and are intended to be used together or separately. In a 46% smaller and 40% lighter size, one L2 or L2D element gives the same contour as four K2 elements. The audio benefits of L Series include better rejection everywhere else, industry-leading SPL per size, and unmatched uniformity over the audience area. Along with the advantages for audio, the L Series revolutionizes deployment with a smaller, lighter footprint that takes up less room in trucks, has fewer components, and decreases the number of steps required to load in and out.