EV continues to riff on the portable speaker concept, adding DSP in all the right places with EKX.
Review: Mark Woods
In its effort to provide class-leading portable speakers at every price point, EV has slipped yet another series into the mix. The new EKX series features active or passive versions of 12-inch and 15-inch two-way, full-range speakers with matching 15-inch and 18-inch subs. For those who know their EV portable speakers, the EKX series is second from the top, ahead of the entry-level, moulded-body ZLX and wood cabinet ELX series, and just below the fully pro ETX series. Aimed at bands/DJs/venues the EKX series puts high power in a wooden box that’s light enough to carry but loud enough to rock.
I was impressed with the top-of-the-range ETX series released last year and the EKX series shares it simple, good looks. Minimal weight is a theme for this series of speakers and the EKX-12P weighs just under 19kg, so it’s fairly easy to transport (padded bags available) and lift onto a stand single-handed. Having only one handle is a bit stingy but it’s metal and a good size for easy grabbing. The cut-out angled side for floor monitor use does compromise the space for another side handle but there’s plenty of room for one on the top.
LINE ‘EM UP
The EKX series incorporates EV’s SST technology (Signal Synchronised Transducers) that places the LF and HF drivers as close as possible and in line with each other for maximum phase coherence. The front of the horn flare sticks out over the top of the LF driver, which means the waveguide can be quite large (for better pattern control) and the gap that’s created acts as a bass port. The transducers are a DH-1M one-inch titanium HF compression driver and an EVS-12M 12-inch woofer. On-board power is quoted at 1500W peak. QuickSmart DSP provides the necessary protections and user controls but also plays a big part in the overall sound of the speaker with EV’s digital filtering responsible for internal fine-tuning. The result is a speaker that sounds good straight out of the box.
On the rear of the cabinet, connections are made via two combo XLR/jack input sockets, each with its own gain control, and a mix out for linking to other speakers. I noted the omission of RCA inputs on the ETX series, not entirely forgiven by its more professional leanings, so it’s good to see them included on the EKX series. I don’t know when RCAs became part of professional audio but you’ve got to have them on these type of plug ’n’ play boxes, especially if they’re aimed at DJs or bands.
ONE KNOB WONDER
I like the one-knob mic/line input level control, it’s safe enough (i.e. the gain doesn’t come on too fast, and there’s not too much of it) and probably safer than the ‘sudden-death’ instant 35dB boost you get from the mic/line switches found in many portable speakers. In fact, there are no switches at all apart from the power on/off. The Master Volume/DSP knob sits next to the small LCD screen and defaults to Master Volume at the last-used setting — makes sense to me. It will turn the speaker all the way to off, or give 10dB of gain at full level. Pushing the Master Volume/DSP knob in gains access to the user controls. All parameters are selected by turning or pushing the knob, and it’s easy to navigate.
There are plenty of practical options within the DSP, including preset function modes for music, live and speech, as well as settings that optimise the speaker’s response for different physical placements; on a stand, on the floor, etc. General settings include a variable HPF and specific settings for matching the EKX full-range speakers with specific EKX subs. A simple fixed-frequency three-band EQ section is included but should only be used when no other EQ is available as the speakers have a commendably flat response anyway, and can be optimised further with the DSP’s placement settings. You also can’t see when the EQ is active without checking the DSP menus, so if someone uses the speaker after you, it may not be immediately obvious to them that an EQ is inline.
DSP KEEPS THINGS TIDY
In use the EKX 12P has plenty of power behind it and stays tidy courtesy of the DSP, especially over the vocal range. The location presets make a significant difference to the low/low-mid response by applying a tailored boost for speakers in the air and a similar reduction for speakers on stage or against a wall. The overall frequency response has EV’s typical smoothness between 1-4kHz with a slightly exaggerated response above 6kHz.
The horn is a bit grainy if you listen closely but you won’t notice it in a pub, nor the slightly noisy variable-speed fan that comes on automatically as the internal temperature rises. You might notice the DSP though, as it runs a tight ship. You can give it a full-strength, roadie-style ‘check, one, two’ and it will not overload; in fact, it sounds quite good up on the limiter. The available input gain is well set for live use, there’s not enough to get you into trouble and it’s reluctant to feed back, even on full gain with an SM58. If you need more gain then get a mixer.
“You can give it a full-strength, roadie-style ‘check, one, two’ and it will not overload; in fact, it sounds quite good up on the limiter”
As front-of-house speakers in a small room these are easy to set up and perform well. Their strength is a strong, clear vocal range. They’ll fill a small to medium room with a decent level, and won’t overload if the input levels get too high. As you’d expect from portable speakers of this size they start to run out of puff below 100Hz, especially at higher volumes, but these provide good bass depth for music playback and lighter live music. LF response is quoted as -3dB at 60Hz (-10dB at 50Hz). If you want much kick in the PA you need at least the EKX 15P or one of the matching subs.
LIFE BEYOND THE STICKS
The subs come in two sizes, the EKX-15S and the EKX-18S, and they both have 1300W of peak power. At 26 and 33kg respectively these have a good power-to-weight ratio and can be safely managed by one person. If you have three or more subs per side they can be stacked for a cardioid pattern (rather than the natural omni pattern) by pointing one backwards and selecting cardioid in the sub-woofer options. The DSP takes care of the technicals via EV’s Cardioid Control technology and the result is a reduction of over 30dB in LF energy behind the speakers.
As floor monitors the EKX series work better than most powered speakers. This is generally a compromised application for powered speakers as they’re often designed with enhanced LF response for stand use, making them couple uncomfortably with the stage and creating a boomy mess. Plus, the narrow horn coverage you get with the speaker on its side makes for a beamy HF throw with relatively unfocussed LF throw.
I used a pair of 12Ps as part of the monitor system at this year’s Blackwood Festival of Music & Culture and they saw bands that ranged from whisper quiet acoustic ditties to the full roar of angry youth. Selecting the monitor setting in the DSP effectively reduced the low-end woofiness and that was pretty much the only EQ required. The 60-degree horn flare is narrower than ideal but wider than many and worked well as part of a multi-speaker setup. They performed all weekend without fuss or feedback with plenty of detail for the acoustic pickers and enough balls for Masco Sound System.
EV’s professional portable speakers are the result of continued technical development and the price/performance equation continues to improve for the buyer. With the addition of the EKX range, EV has a speaker for every budget and with the low street prices on offer the EKX series delivers a lot of sound for the money.