QSC CP SERIES Powered Loudspeakers
QSC shook up the portable speaker market a decade with the K series. Can it do it again with the cheaper CP?
Review: Mark Woods
It’s coming up to a decade since QSC’s original K series burst onto the scene with an impressive array of features that changed expectations for portable speakers. The coherent sound quality was the immediate attraction. Solo artists and small groups playing acoustic instruments took to them first, but their appeal quickly spread as their punchy bass response and ample DSP-controlled power worked well for pumped-up music playback, too. The packaging was equally good with distinctive professional looks, flexible and mixable inputs, good handles and the best tote bags. They were clean, loud and indestructible; a good combination.
In 2016, they got even better. The totally reworked K.2 Series replaced the K Series. The cabinets were still made from polypropylene but more solidly constructed; the updated 2kW amps and improved drivers made the sound bigger and louder; and the introduction of an LED screen really enhanced the user’s control. The top of the line QSC KW Series features a texture-painted 15mm birch cabinet for ruggedness and the deadening benefits of the wood.
CP: COST VS PERFORMANCE
In the realm of powered boxes, the K and KW series sound great, but they are relatively up-market. Could a cheaper QSC speaker shake up the market like the K did a decade ago? With QSC’s reputation established, the new CP Series looks to broaden the brand’s appeal with prices well below the AU$1k barrier. It positions them at about half the cost of the QSC KWs, and two-thirds of the K.2 Series. It also puts them right in the middle of a crowded field of big-name competitors.
It’s not much of a series at the moment. There are only two models, the diminutive CP8 and the average-sized CP12. They both get a new 1000W (peak) amp controlled by the same DSP that plays a big part in the sound of all QSC speakers by controlling the overall voicing, presets and dynamic behaviour. Proven technical features are also shared. Directivity Matched Transition (DMT) synchronises the HF and LF drivers to deliver an even frequency response across the listening area. Intrinsic Correction is a multi-band limiter that keeps the speakers tidy at high levels as well as providing effective overall limiting and overload protection. On the odd occasion, my pair of K10s have taken beyond normal abuse — screaming vocals, kick drums forced into them and cranked as loud as they’ll go — and they don’t complain or stop.
The CP12 looks like a QSC, with its familiar concave front and perforated steel grille. It’s a more compact design, with the horn offset from the centre and the port moved up beside it to save space. It makes the new CP12 about the same size as the old K10. It’s also 5kg lighter than the original K12, at just 13.7kg. The smaller CP8 is only 9.5kg… that’s very light.
There are some noticeable cost-cutting differences. On close inspection, the finish on the CP Series polypropylene cabinets is a bit rough and uneven, making them look like cheaper speakers when compared to the smoother impact-resistant ABS finish used on the K Series. The top handle is good but the moulded half-handle on the side is not much use.
JACK’S AROUND BACK
The rear panel harks back to the simplicity of the original K Series; all knobs and switches, no fancy screen or advanced user options. The presets are selected via a single six-position rotary knob with printed descriptions of the suggested applications. Connections include two combo XLR/jack inputs with gain knobs. Channel 2 has a sunken Mic Boost switch, which helps limit the number of times you accidentally engage 25dB of gain when you don’t want it. Another small saving is the single, post-gain mix out socket, QSC’s more expensive series get additional thru outputs beside each input for greater routing flexibility.
The other way to get signal in is via the increasingly common mini-jack (3.5mm) socket that’s trying to replace the once ubiquitous pair of RCAs. I was first pitched the benefits of mini-jacks by another manufacturer. It was sold as an alternative to Bluetooth. Knowing what the wireless connection does to the already compressed bits of digital fluff that pass for audio files these day. They figured it would better if users plugged their phones in so the speakers wouldn’t get blamed for the poor quality audio. In practise, it’s not that simple. Firstly, normal headphone sockets are not a great interface, either physically or electrically. Then there’s the inconvenient fact a leading brand of mobile phone hasn’t got a headphone socket anymore, so you’re restricted to using Bluetooth anyway.
“The power and the DSP combine to ensure they’ll run loud on stage but remain stable without needing external EQ”
THAT QSC SOUND
First impressions of the sound of the CP Series are positive and the overall voicing has a familiar, appealing QSC sound with no obvious shortcomings. The first time I used the CP12 was on a stage as a floor monitor. I had it positioned right beside an original K10 and I couldn’t hear any difference. Once I got to know the CP series and compared them directly to the originals I could hear some differences, and those differences would be magnified in a comparison with the K.2 Series, but I had to look for them.
The CP Series is all new with presumably cheaper drivers and while the 1.4-inch compression driver and flare is still smooth across the upper-mid vocal range it’s a little grainy in the higher frequencies by comparison and more likely to emphasise sibilance than the original. The mids seem a little peaky around 400Hz but it could be cabinet resonance rather than the driver, the cabinet makes a distinct note in that region if you tap it in the right place on the side.
In use the Default setting delivers a normal balanced frequency response suitable for FOH or general music playback. The presets are minimal but do more than they let on. Monitor setting is straightforward and cuts the low frequencies where they would otherwise combine with reflections from the stage to cause muddiness. The Speech setting is more interesting. The original K Series has a Vocal Boost switch that boosts the high-mids, but there’s no equivalent on the CP Series. Instead, the Speech setting has been designed to eliminate microphone feedback close to the speaker. It’s done with what QSC describe as smart EQ filters that reduce the offending frequencies without taking too much of the rest of the sound with them and seems to be aimed at DJs talking over the music or between tracks. Instead of any boost it sounds slightly scooped around 2kHz but it’s effective at reducing feedback, even with an open mic right in front of the horn. Thoughtfully, the Speech setting only works on Channel 2 (with the 25dB mic boost button), leaving Channel 1 on the Default setting.
The Dance setting boosts the low frequencies and adds some high-mids and highs for some bass-heavy, party-time sounds although the extra bass EQ does limit the overall volume. You may require a sub depending on the environment of the dance party. A lack of fine control or advanced functions like delay or detailed EQ options won’t be missed by casual users. Operating the speakers is kept simple, and eliminating the LCD screens stops errant settings from being hidden in menus.
Music playback was my favourite application for these and they’re ideal party speakers; easy to use and they won’t overload. As a small FOH setup they’ll fill a room with strong, clear vocals and have a useful amount of LF grunt (the CP12’s LF response is quoted at a respectable -6dB at 49Hz) even when mounted on stands. They can also be yoke mounted for installations or flown from integral M10 installation points.
Portable speakers are a handy size for floor monitor duties and often get the call. Typically I’d say they should have rotatable horns to avoid the compromise of the narrow horizontal throw of a speaker laid on its side. However, the CP series has a 75-degree conical throw horn, so it provides even coverage over a wide enough area for the job, and wouldn’t make any difference if it was rotatable. The power and the DSP combine to ensure they’ll run loud on stage but remain stable without needing external EQ. That combination of conical horn and stable power makes them easy to use in a hurry if you decide to throw one on stage at the last minute.
Both Default and Dance presets offer versions of their settings with an 80Hz crossover if they’re being used with a separate subwoofer. There’s no specific CP series subs, but the newly released QSC KS112 single 12-inch 1000W sub is a good match power-wise and it’s suitably compact. The equally new KS212C dual 12-inch 3600W cardioid sub is probably over the top.
MEASURED AGAINST THE BENCHMARK
The QSC K10 tote bags are my benchmark for tote bags and the CP Series gets the same. Proper canvas with strong handles and easy to get the speakers in and out. The worst I’ve done to mine in nearly 10 years is get them dirty. I’ve had cheaper polyester bags supplied with other brand speakers that have ripped in a matter of months.
There’s a lot of products in this popular price range but the QSC CP Series speakers will compete with their high output-to-weight ratio, versatility and sound quality. QSC’s reputation will be maintained and more people will hear its products. The CP Series offers good value but the only slight worry I have is the gap between the price of the CP Series and the K.2 Series is maybe less than the gap between the performance. They couldn’t make the CPs sound as good as the K.2s I know but the K.2 series speakers are exceptionally good and available for just a little bit more money. A budget is a budget though and if you’ve got a limited one, then it’s now likely enough to get you some of that renowned QSC sound.