EAW MICROWEDGE MW12
Loud things can come in small packages.
Text: Mark Woods
Listening to rock music has been held responsible for many things over the years: anti-social behaviour, teen pregnancy and even increased suicide rates. That’s all rubbish, of course, although I’ve long held the suspicion that the high suicide rate among rock musicians was due to the quality of their playback – so there is some connection there. Anyway, one thing rock is definitely responsible for is foldback. Rock has required the development of stage monitors (affectionately known as ‘wedges’) as the primary means of producing enough sound on stage for the singers and performers to hear themselves above the (often extreme) volume that seems necessary. Wedges need to be as loud and as resistant to feedback as possible. Good ones are clear and accurate as well, but even good wedges are not perfect; they throw sound back into the microphones, they take up space on the stage, they block the view of performers’ feet, and punters sometimes pull their connecting leads out during a show.
MicroWedge stage monitors have been designed primarily for use with rock bands. Developed by Dave ‘Rat’ Levine of Rat Sound Systems, California, earlier versions have been available for around 10 years. These have successfully combined high-quality audio with practical design ideas that could only have evolved from real-life experience with live bands. Rat Sound Systems has recently entered into an agreement with EAW to manufacture and distribute an improved line of MicroWedges under the name ‘EAW MicroWedge’. Currently available in Australia are the MW12 and the MW15 models, which house 12- or 15-inch low-frequency drivers, respectively. Each model features an upgraded transducer and an EAW-designed crossover for higher sound quality, combined with a lighter but stronger enclosure.
All MicroWedges utilise a coaxial speaker arrangement with the compression driver and its 90-degree horn mounted in the centre of the low-frequency driver. This creates a point source for the sound (with all frequencies coming from the same place) so the frequency response remains constant across the listening area and coherency is maximised. The usual arrangement of having the HF and LF transducers separated creates a distributed source with response irregularities across the listening area, and increased susceptibility to feedback. The consistency of response also improves the sound from front-of-house, as a fair bit of the sound from wedges inevitably goes back into the microphones, so the more accurate it is the better.
MicroWedges have a clever, multi-function tuning port that’s been designed to couple with the floor to enhance the low frequency response. The internal structure of the cabinet is also devoid of parallel internal walls, to reduce cabinet resonance. There’s a switch to choose between passive and bi-amped modes, and the MicroWedges can be used with or without a processor. In passive mode, they connect to an amp in the normal manner via a Neutrik NL-4 socket. Switched to bi-amped mode it’s possible to use any active crossover/amp combination to drive the speaker.
For full control, the EAW UX8800 processor and a powerful amp (1kW or more) is recommended. The UX8800 is a comprehensive system/speaker processor that can be loaded with up to four specific settings for different speaker systems, and uses Gunness Focusing technology to correct speaker inconsistencies and eliminate horn honk, time-smear and LF cone resonances. The UX8800 controls crossover, EQ, alignment and limiter settings, and if you enter the power amps specifications, it will calculate limiting for each speaker. There are currently three EAW MicroWedge presets in the UX8800 named White, Gray or Blue. White is flat, for engineers who want to add EQ themselves, Gray has a reduced HF response for bright rooms and Blue has been EQ’d to suit the response of typical vocal mics. They could have been more effectively named Flat, Dark and EQ’d.
The MW12 enclosure is surprisingly small but feels solid. The coaxial speaker arrangement minimises the footprint and the trapezoidal shape, rounded face and low height combine to produce an attractive and practical wedge that’s fairly easy to carry in one hand. The port on the front is an example of Dave Rat’s functional design, there’s not usually much in speaker ports but the MicroWedge port contains the Neutrik NL-4 input and link sockets, the safely-hidden active/bi-amp switch and the carry handle. It’s vented, there’s room for excess cable in there and it’s possible for one leg of a fold-up mic stand to be inserted into the port to get the wedge as close as possible to the performer. Once connected, the cables are neat, easy to gaff down and well protected from accidental/deliberate disconnection.
The bottom of the cabinet has four large MicroWedge-branded protective rubber feet, one integrated strip of rigging hardware for flying the cabinet. a four-inch microleg that adds 14º of tilt, and polemounts. The low height and small size of the wedge maintain clear sight lines as much as possible. With some acts it’s important to see the artists’ ankles and all performers look shorter when the bottom of their legs are hidden behind wedges. This could explain why rock musicians often feel the need to stand on wedges. You can stand on a MicroWedge, even in the middle, without chipping the tough finish or denting the steel grille. The foam under the grille deliberately offers good protection from rain or spilled/thrown drinks.
How does it sound? My first test was with the MicroWedge MW12 switched to passive mode and connected to a normal amp – no processor. Compared to a passive 12-inch JBL wedge I use regularly, the MicroWedge was much clearer, with detailed, accurate high frequencies, clear mids and a surprising amount of bottom end. The coverage was very consistent across the front of the cabinet. For music playback it sounded fine with no EQ, normal vocal mics enjoyed a little EQ at 2.5kHz, and because it’s such a clean sound, it was deceptively loud (I’m learning to live with the slightly uncomfortable feeling I get listening to gear that sounds much better than my own).
The next test was an on-stage comparison with the MicroWedge connected via the EAW UX8800 processor and a Powersoft K3 amplifier. Becoming old-fashioned fast, but a standard for many years are the ‘Lord Nelson’ wedges, originally built by Troy Balance for the Little River Band in the ’80s. Four of them have made a tree-change to Castlemaine and they’re still in regular use at the Theatre Royal packing a JBL 15-inch driver and a JBL two-inch compression driver on a wooden flare. They’re loud, in your face and they always perform well. Side by side on stage the first thing that was obvious was the LF response of the MW12. Its 12-inch driver was producing lots more bass than the JBL wedges’ 15-inch driver and you could feel the stage vibrating around the cabinet. Moving across the cabinet front was, again, a pleasure – slightly brighter right in the centre but consistently smooth all the way to the sides. The same test with the separate HF and LF driver JBL wedge revealed how well the coaxial design works. Testing with a couple of different types of microphones illustrated how accurate these speakers are with a good quality hand-held large-diaphragm condenser mic sounding studio-clear in its detail.
The MicroWedge MW12 is very, very loud. With a powerful amp and the processor preventing overload, one wedge can produce a deafening volume. I’m often surprised by how loud some singers want their foldback but if you can’t get enough volume out of these then the band may have to consider turning down (not likely) or the singer accept that he or she is half deaf… probably from too much foldback. If full volume is required then so is some EQ. The UX8800 processor settings are interesting, I wasn’t sure I’d use the Gray (Dark) setting but the Blue (EQ’d) setting is just right for plug ’n’ play situations. To get every last dB out of them, most engineers will use the White (Flat) setting and EQ them according to the situation. When using standard vocal mics they need some reduction around 2 – 4kHz, a few dB around 400Hz, and maybe some control between 100Hz – 250Hz depending on the stage and/or venue.
AS GOOD AS IT GETS?
The EAW Microwedge MW12 is as good a foldback wedge as you can get and sets the standard for audio ability and functional design. The cabinets address all the common wedge problems and some you didn’t know you had. They sound great on their own and can be simply connected to any existing passive/bi-amped system. Used with the EAW processor you get dedicated processing, handy presets and the ability to realise their full potential for the most demanding high-volume situations. They rock.