Bose L1 Plus B1 Sub–Woofer

By Tony Mah
Line arrays, line arrays... all we hear about are line arrays. It sometimes seems that every major act on the planet is using them. So you want one on the cheap? Sorry, line arrays are the most expensive type of speakers to carry. They're largely reserved for sound companies that can consistently land the big acts... Or at least they were, until now.
Enter the Bose L1 line array, noted by some as the easy–to–use successor to the legendary Grateful Dead Wall of Sound approach. Bose markets the L1 exclusively to musicians, telling them the L1 can replace their backline amps, floor monitors, main speakers and sound engineer. Bose provides no specifications in the product packaging, although they are available on the company's web site. Instead, they offer a 45–day free trial (they will even pay for the return shipping). The company hopes that once you listen to it, you'll be totally blown away and returning the L1 won't be an option.
The L1 is a fully integrated powered sound system. You get a base containing three 250W amps, a four–channel mixer, the 6.5–foot line array and the subwoofer. The system we tested also included a Line6 POD guitar amp modeler and a VCA–like wired remote control. The L1 is really easy to set up–just insert the first column piece into the base, like dropping a pole into the ground, and mount the second column piece on top of the first. The sub plugs into the base using a four–pole Speakon. Two of the poles supply power to the subs from the amp and the other two poles are used as line sensing circuits to adjust the active crossover for single or dual sub operation.
The L1 was gigged at four venues and used in a variety of different ways, from exactly as Bose intended with the microphones in front of the speakers, to conventional powered L/R speakers patched to a mixer. Bass from the two 5.25–drivers was tight and clean going down to 40Hz, but it didn't get very loud. The mid–range was clear for voice and easily traveled the length of the rooms. The treble from the 24 2.25 paper drivers fell sharply at 12kHz and did not have the airy hi–fi extension of a metal dome. The 2.25–inch full range driver's highs above 6kHz sounded over–extended and harsh, like it was being pushed to produce frequencies beyond what it could handle. The only way to make the highs sound usable was to roll them off by 6db.
The Bose L1 with the B1 sub is the least expensive way to get in on the line array bandwagon. It excels for simple gigs like corporate display booths, weddings, small meetings and any gigs where there might not be a professional sound engineer to patch the equipment and mix. The L1 also works well as a backline amp for guitars, keyboards and bass. Perhaps a rental package with an L1 and a wireless microphone will solve the complaint, "We rented a wireless mic from you and it didn't work. It was feeding back all night so we want our money back." But the L1 with B1 will forever be a niche product for customers willing to trade fidelity for ease of use and higher gain before feedback. The L1 feature set functions as Bose intended, except it needs to sound much better to appeal to a pro audio sound engineer.

Point/Couterpoint: Another View

Shortly after Tony turned in this review, I got the chance to see and hear the latest Todd Rundgren show and to talk lead sound guy Robert Frazza about his choice of the Bose L1 system as sidefills–essentially Todd's only stage monitors for this tour. His comments follow. –Ed.
As you know, my only experience so far is using them as sidefills for Todd Rundgren & the Liars 2004 tour. I've had great results. Todd travels about the stage quite a bit so the even coverage on stage is a big plus. I have not put an analyzer to them, but I usually roll a little top end off about one click. I should also mention that they are set to the zero EQ setting, which I think is no EQ. I have put a dB meter to them from center stage comfortably operating at 105dB. I am using a beyerdynamic SEM–881 microphone on Todd.
Todd's edict for this tour was an absolutely clean stage, and the fact that we were traveling with a minimal crew and just a trailer behind the bus (not a single truck!) meant that footprint size was a big consideration. Todd was a pioneer in the area of personal monitors, but wanted to go without them for this tour. As soon as I saw the L–1 system, I knew I wanted to use them as monitors. The original approach was to have an L–1 behind each band member's stage position, which was abandoned when the band decided they preferred their PMs, but they have worked out great as sidefills for Todd. We get very even coverage across the entire stage and even use the side bleed to fill the middle hole you get when there are no amps on stage instead of using front fills.
I should also mention that I'm looking forward to using them in a different setting, possibly the Bill Bruford's Earthworks tour in December.

But Does It Feedback?

The L1, like all properly designed line arrays, is more resistant to feedback than a conventional point source speaker. In a conventional speaker, the physical distance from the microphone to the speaker is the same as the acoustical distance. If you put the microphone three feet from the grille, both the physical and the average acoustical distance would be three feet. For the L1 or any line array, the acoustical distance from the microphone to the speaker is always greater than the physical distance. If you put a microphone three feet from the 6.5–foot L1, the physical distance to the closest part of the line array is still three feet, but because of the line array's length and the difference in distance between the closest and furthest point, the average acoustical distance is four feet. The L1 is a true line source from 150hz to 8kHz and inside that range, the L1 will, from feedback perspective, behave as if it is four feet away. Line arrays also drop off in level at 3dB when distance is doubled, compared to 6dB for point source speakers.
What it is: Entry–level powered line array sound system
Who's it for: Musicians, small churches and small rental gigs
Pros: Easy to use and excellent gain before feedback
Cons: Low quality treble, all line level inputs are unbalanced
How much: $1,998 SRP