EAW REDLINE SERIES POWERED SPEAKERS
EAW’s Redline series are more than just portable powered speakers, they’re chameleons that can change their stripes for any job.
Review: Mark Woods
The promise that a portable powered speaker can go anywhere and do anything is one of the audio industry’s white lies. Handy, sure, but great sound in any situation? I think not.
Lately, I’ve been reviewing more speakers in this open class that are getting closer to delivering on this promise with high-end DSP, well-programmed presets, or physically manipulable features. Still, it’s still a tough promise to keep and not many include all the necessary add-ons to excel. EAW’s Redline seems to have done just that.
One of the most compromising spots a powered speaker can find itself in is lying prone on the floor posing as a monitor speaker. Sure, it’s got all the right angles, but you didn’t actually think it was designed for that job, did you?
With a focus on the requirements of production companies, Redline is designed to be flexible. There are two full-range speakers in the range, either a 12-inch (RL12) or 15-inch (RL15) LF driver coupled with a 1.75-inch voice-coil HF compression driver.
Powered speakers nominally designed for FOH get used as floor monitors all the time and there are always two problems; the bass boominess and the horn throwing vertically. The low-end is easy enough to fix with EQ and Redline gets preset voicings for full-range, with sub, or monitor use. The narrow beam of highs you get with the horn on its side is a tougher problem and EAW has addressed it by allowing the horn to be rotated. It’s quite easy; star-head screws release the grill and Allen-key screws release the horn. Rotate and re-connect. As long as you’ve got the tools it only takes 5-10 minutes per box.
EAW goes one step further though. If you need to flip the box over so the horn is pointing at you from the other side of the box, the entire amp/connections module can be moved to the other angled rear panel so the connecting leads don’t get squashed against the floor. Unsurprisingly it’s a slightly longer job than the previous one.
Inside the cabinet is not a place you often go, but either of these operations give you a good view of the sizable cavity inside the cabinet, the electrical components and the four fluted bass ports. These bass ports are unusual and apparently the product of painstaking development to achieve the right length and exact placement.
The cabinets are deeper than most, look substantial, and are very black. The EAW logo on the front of the speaker is black. The red stripes that give the series its name, as well as cover the black grill screws, are magnetic and lift straight off leaving a completely black profile. You can stick them on the fridge so they don’t get lost.
I first got familiar with the RL15s as floor monitors at the Theatre Royal in Castlemaine, first for Courtney Barnett and a couple of days later for Marlon Williams, both strong vocal acts. Better suited to large stages than small, they stand quite high in front of the acts and throw up at 45 degrees. Set to the Monitor Preset my initial impression with Courtney’s regular Shure SM58 vocal mic was the big clear volume; quite a smooth, thick sound, and not too bright. Exploring full volume they first start to get edgy around 2-4kHz, right where the mic is peaky, but they’re stable at high levels. The next show had Marlon using a Shure KSM9; looking for high volume out of a condenser mic made for a good test. I ended up cutting a fair bit of 10kHz out of the graphic over that send but still got a good high level for the show and everyone was very happy with the way they worked. A strange concern for me was the way the vertical panel with the connections, power input and gain control were presented to the audience at the front of the stage. I had to trust that punters at the very front would avoid the temptation to make any tweaks. You can ‘mute’ the LEDs to help deter anyone that wants to be ‘helpful’.
ROAD READY — The cabinets are made of wood and finished in EAW’s tough Roadcoat surface. The perforated steel grill feels strong, and the stylish recessed handles work well. They look much better than your average powered speaker.
STICK ’EM UP
Competent as they are as floor monitors they had a different character when pointed at the audience and it’s a more natural role for them. On a stand, or pole-mounted on top of the subs, the RL15 looks the part and sounds great. Surprisingly detailed and coherent for this type of speaker, with a nice even coverage across its nominal 90-degree horizontal pattern, they have a touch of studio monitor about them. The RL15 on its own is a full-range speaker and the fluted ports play a part in delivering deep, tight low end. The HF driver is accurate with crisp percussive transients but it’s not at all harsh even at high levels. It combines seamlessly with the full-sounding 15-inch woofer to produce a very appealing sound that made me want to turn it up. They’re loud but well-controlled; the limiter steps in at just the right time, and even at the limit you can stand quite close to them without having your head shrieked off.
Then there are the subs. The RL15 full-range cabs have a very strong bass response on their own but adding the RL18s subs lifts everything. The RL15s don’t have to work as hard so they can deliver more mid/highs. The 18-inch woofer with 1000W of power is a thumpin’ beast but it’s well controlled and shares the RL15’s tight, fast response. It reaches down low with a stated response of 30-160Hz. For party tricks, one sub can be placed on top of another and with the press of a couple of buttons the DSP uses polarity, cancellation and summation to turn the subs into a cardioid array. I know everyone is doing it, and you need at least four subs if you’ve got them on both sides of the stage, in the normal manner. Nevertheless, it’s still a good trick and it works, with a noticeable reduction in woofiness behind the speakers. The cardioid stack looks kind of weird with one speaker pointing backwards but the control panel lights that end up pointing at the audience are, again, thoughtfully dimmable.
POWER TRIP — Driving the speakers are 1000W LF and 250W HF Class D amps. EAW uses several proprietary processes, both physical and digital, in its noble quest for transparency. Redline DSP includes EAW Focusing that concentrates on the speaker’s impulse response and DynO that keeps everything nice at maximum output.
READY TO ROLL
The RL15s, with or without the RL18s subs, are ideal for music playback and would make a perfect plug ’n’ play DJ rig. Though they are relatively light for their size, and you could squeeze a pair of RL15s in a large car or wagon at a pinch, they’re better suited to being packed into easily manageable roadcases for professional transport. Once delivered, the system is as easy to set up as possible. The RL15s need a decent speaker stand for full health and safety compliance, but also mount securely on a pole above the RL18s sub, if the whole system’s being used. Out of the box the sound is disco-ready and if they need any EQ at all it will be because of their environment. Controls are kept to the essential low-frequency shapers, with the Monitor setting trimming more than the Main + Sub setting. Either of these settings makes an effective HPF for reducing proximity effect if the speakers are being used for voice only.
As FOH speakers the RL15s project with ease and from the desk they sound bigger than they are. Being a point source system you can get more focused bite than the equivalent sized line-array and this makes them a better choice for live bands. Vocals can be pushed clear above the band and the limiting does a good job of subtly controlling the peaks at high volume. Running full-range on a speaker stand the voicing sounds just right and the low-end response is strong enough for some useful kick and bass levels in a small room. With the RL18s sub added, the system voicing is almost bass heavy — partly why it sounds so good for music playback — and some low-mid EQ trimming was helpful with open mics. Adding the subs greatly increases the amount of punchy, full low-end available and I found I was running them lower than the RL15 top box, even outdoors.
LIGHT WORK — They’re slightly bigger and heavier than your average prosumer speaker, but they’re definitely lighter than they look. 24kg for the RL15 won’t present any problem for the professional road crew you’d expect to see delivering these speakers. When you add the 18-inch RL18s sub-woofer, again a fairly big box, at a comparatively modest 37kg, it adds up to a very high output-to-weight ratio.
FINAL CAT CALL
These are catwalk speakers. The smooth sound, the deliberately discreet looks; I kept thinking they’d be perfect for one of those big, pumping fashion shows. Or maybe a corporate product launch with live performers, venues and music-based installations and, of course, production companies. These are professional speakers that are made to work and they’re priced accordingly.
EAW makes lots of speakers; over 100 different products split across 12 series covering everything from festivals to installations. What it doesn’t do is make a lot of portable powered speakers. I reckon it’s spotted an opportunity; a product for its time. I couldn’t decide if Redline was at the top of the high-quality powered speaker market or the entry level to the higher-quality, professional speaker market… it might be both.