Review: Bose L1 Pro32 Portable Line Array
Bose continues to develop its original stick PA offering with a new standalone sub, control app and improved performance.
Released in 2003, the Bose L1 introduced the world to the portable line array, or ‘stick PA’ as they’re now often known. Designed primarily for musicians and DJs playing smaller venues and transporting their own gear, the L1 stacked two columns into a vertical tower of 24 x 2.5-inch drivers mounted on a Power Stand with the controls and amps to drive the tower and a sub or two. Placed on stage behind the band, the system’s good resistance to feedback allowed reasonable monitoring levels for the performer with the controls close at hand for adjustments during the show. The columns height, wide dispersion and focussed projection spread the sound beyond the stage with an even distribution through the room.
The L1 proved a big success and has only had a couple of updates since release. The original L1 is now known as the L1 Classic range that was replaced by the L1 Model 1 in 2007 then again by the L1 Model 1S in 2012. Along the way, the B1 sub was replaced by the B2. The L1 has also been widely imitated and most big name audio manufacturers offer similar systems.
Now there’s the Bose L1 Pro range and the top model is the L1 Pro32. A stack of two columns with 16 x 2-inch neodymium drivers in each is inserted into the PS1 Power Stand making a straight-line array with a total of 32 drivers that stands 2.14m high. Each section of the tower weighs less than 7kg and they travel together in a convenient padded case. The columns look techy and modern, with the angled drivers visible through the concave grille.
Exclusive to the L1 Pro32 is the oval-shaped Power Stand, the smaller Pro8 and Pro16 models mount the assembled column directly into the sub cabinet. The Power Stand also travels in a nice padded bag and it’s also surprisingly light. Made of tough polypropylene, it’s hard to believe there’s anything substantial, like a 480W amp, in it but it powers the tower as well as holding it up. The lower column of the tower pushes into a slot in the top of the Power Stand and sort of locks in. The upper column sort of locks into the lower section to complete the tower. It’s quick and easy to erect. You wouldn’t want a drunk punter falling on it, but it’s substantial enough.
NEED TO KNOW
The control panel on top of the Power Stand is where the fun starts. As control panels go, it’s a big one, with generous space between the connections and controls. And there’s no confusing little screen — I could operate it without glasses. Inputs include two combi-XLR sockets with a button that toggles between Mic, Inst and Off (line in) plus a third aux input with 6.5mm and 3.5mm sockets or Bluetooth if enabled by the nearby Bluetooth button. A small button toggles between overall system presets including the usual suspects — Live, Music or Speech — with an Off setting for a flatter response. Phantom power is switchable on the XLR inputs. An XLR line out connects other devices and a USB C socket is for system updates. An Ethernet socket provides a connection for Bose T4S or T8S ToneMatch digital mixers.
The ‘surprise and delight’ feature is the multi-function knobs that control the three input channels. Each knob is surrounded by illuminated markings displaying the chosen level. They’re above an integrated green/red signal light that gives you a rough idea of the input level. They function as a volume control by default: pressing them toggles their function through Treble, Bass and Reverb levels for that channel. The knobs’ action is quite light and mistakes can be made but they’re great for fast changes during a show if the band is mixing themselves from stage.
Or the band can use the Bose L1 Mix app and control the sound from a phone screen. It mimics all the controls on the Power Stand so you can walk around the room and tweak the settings, including the broad environmental presets, during soundcheck. Or the boss of the band can have L1 Mix on his phone and control things without having to lean down to the Power Stand.
The L1 Mix app also provides access to the ToneMatch library of EQ presets. These are EQ shapes that match specific microphones to the L1 system. There’s a fair range of common mics in the library, mainly Shure, Sennheiser and Audix. Auditioning them with an SM58 gives you all sorts of different tone options from subtle to drastic and the presets do follow the mics characteristics… the Audix D6 sounds scooped, the Beta52a has some woof added. Reassuringly, the Shure SM58 sounded best on the SM58 setting. ToneMatch is available on each of the two vocal inputs so you can use different mics, if they’re on the list. If not, then you could scroll through the presets and choose one you like.
A small panel on the front edge of the Power Stand houses the IEC socket and my favourite connection on the L1 Pro32, the SubMatch cable. Used to connect the L1 to one of two sub speakers, it’s a chunky cable that conveniently carries both the signal and 240V. It uses new proprietary SubMatch connectors that have a particularly pleasing action with a positive locking click and a simple release mechanism. The Submatch cable is only a metre long and that could be too short in some settings but it’s easy to handle and fits in the bag with the Power Stand and the IEC lead.
SUB1 OR SUB2
Speaking of subs the new range offers the Dr Seuss choice of Sub1 or Sub2. The big news is they are now active. So they can be used as stand-alone subs that can be combined with the loudspeakers of your choice. The crossover is fixed at 200Hz. Both are loaded with an oval-shaped, deep-sided, exotically-named RaceTrack driver that allows the cabinet to be slim, nicely balanced and easy to carry with one hand.
Sub2 is fitted with a 10- x 18-inch driver (ie. it’s not circular) in a 24kg ported cabinet and provides thunderous delivery down to 37Hz (-3dB) with a built-in 1000W amp and processing to control the response and driver protection. I found a single Sub2 to be more than enough bass for a single Pro32 tower, particularly close to the speaker or in a smallish room. The subs don’t have the controlled dispersion and longer throw of the array tower and the bass drops off more quickly than the tower with distance. Two subs are suggested for big bass music and using two gives the worthwhile option of cardioid projection.
The L1 Pro32 would a great system for mobile DJs. Even with one Sub2 the system is loud (128dB) if you turn it up and the sound quality seems made for modern urban electronic music. The big deep bass, the subdued mids and exaggerated high frequencies suit Dr Dre and genre. The L1 Pro32 is a mono system. It accepts stereo inputs so you don’t lose one side of the music using a single array but stereo reproduction requires a second system. Bose suggest a stereo L1 Pro32 system with subs would be good for up to a 350-punter audience.
The first time I took the L1 Pro32 out was to Castlemaine’s Love Shack Brewery. They like their streamed music and run it at medium level in the outdoor courtyard space. The L1 Pro32 was an instant hit with several advantages over their usual distributed system. The first impression was the width of the throw, the 32 little speakers are mounted at 45 degrees to the tower with half pointing each way and the sound coverage is a genuine 180 degrees, you can be completely off to the side of the tower and still enjoy complete clarity. Customers were noticing and commenting on the looks and the sound quality.
The following week I took the L1 Pro32 back to the Love Shack when a band was playing and set it up directly beside a comparable-sized point-source system for the soundcheck. The array was okay at low to medium levels but at high levels the point-source systems mid-range definition and dynamic range made it easier to lift the vocal above the band. A whole band could use the L1 Pro32 but they’d need to keep it controlled on stage, especially if they’re using the stick for monitoring as well. The L1 has good resistance to feedback but turns suddenly if you try to push it up to rock level.
This is where the smaller array systems divide opinion but it’s not a case of one being better than the other. A PA like the L1 isn’t intended to replace point source speakers, it has a different approach: it throws wide and deep with good bass and a sizzling top end. It sounds great for music playback and bands or performers that don’t need balls-out rock ’n’ roll sound pressure levels. From a practicality point of view, the L1 sets the standard for convenience: one system for monitoring and for front of house, and potentially one trip from the car. The mix can be controlled from stage with a respectable-sounding reverb built in. So there’s no contest when it comes to travel and set up.
I recently heard an original L1 system being used in a park on a Sunday afternoon by a local trio playing popular tunes before the mayor and various dignitaries arrived for an award presentation — a perfect situation for a portable line array. The new Bose L1 Pro32 updates the concept with improved performance including enough power and throw to fill larger venues and the convenience of Bluetooth, the L1Mix app and the ToneMatch presets. The journey continues.