50th Anniversary Edition
Issue 61

The Great Stick PA Roundup

We shake a few sticks at Dr. Bose’s ‘Triple-System’ PA problem and see what rises to the top.


March 29, 2017

Had a hard time taking stick PAs seriously? Maybe you’ve thought, ‘What’s this anorexic pole going to do that a couple of 12 ’n’ horns can’t?’ I get it, it’s easy to throw stones at the skinny kid, especially when the concept was dreamt up by Bose right around the time of the great 802 decommissioning. Sure, installers were still busy populating airports and exhibition centres with 502s, and plenty of customers were walking out of Hi-Fi stores with a set of satellite surrounds. However, in the pro audio market Bose’s name was making a slow fade out. Extremely slow given how many 802s there were/are out there.

Then the L1 system dropped out of the clear blue sky in 2003. And boy was it hard to wrap your head around. It wasn’t a ‘stick’ PA back then, it was a ‘shadow’ PA. Dr. Bose had dreamed up a solution to a problem no one was even sure they had: the triple-system approach to PA reinforcement. Basically, musicians have amps on stage, they’re then amplified to an audience through the FOH PA, and hear back a different version through the monitor system. Why not replace those three completely different systems with personal PAs for every performer that would resonate behind them like acoustic shadows.

The whole concept of not running the L1 as a PA, but as multiple personal PAs, was a revelation. Actually, it was more of a shock. During the launch, everyone had the same questions on their mind. ‘How’s it not going to turn into mush?’ and ‘How will they not interfere with each other?’ Then, looking the slimline figure up and down: ‘Is it going to be gusty enough? Like a real PA.’

The L1 didn’t immediately replace the ‘triple-system approach’ with its one-size fits all utopian model, and other manufacturers didn’t budge from their well-trodden path of churning out amps, wedges and FOH PAs in great numbers. However, Bose was bullish about its solution and quietly developed the concept many dismissed as hi-fi marketing fluff; trimming down the bulky amp unit, adding a compact option, and extending power for users needing to cover more ears.

In the last few years, other manufacturers have started to pay attention to Bose’s stick PAs, whether they’re buying the shadow concept or not. We decided to round up a gaggle of them to see how they stack up against the original, and find out whether the stick can replace a conventional PA just like Dr. Bose said it should.


1. Bose L1 Model 1S with B2 Sub & T1 Tonematch mixer

Price: $4275

Frequency Response: 40Hz-12kHz (±3dB), 32Hz-14kHz (-10dB)

Amplifier: 250W RMS (LF), 150W RMS (HF)

Crossover: 200Hz

Max SPL: 118dB Peak SPL @1m

Other Options: You can go all the way down to the $1649 L1 Compact system, with integrated sub and two channel mixer (similar to JBL Eon One). Next in line is the L1 1S and B1 sub without the Tonematch mixer for $2995. Adding the dual 10-inch B2 Bass sub bumps the price up to $3375, and the top end L1 II column with B2 bass — which Bose says can cover 500 patrons — goes for $4175. Add the Tonematch four-channel mixer to any system for $900.

2. dB Technologies ES 503

Price: $2299

Frequency Response: 37Hz-15kHz (-10dB)

Amplifier: 1000W (peak power)

Crossover: 206Hz

Other Options: The ES503 lets you split the two mid highs into a stereo configuration. If you only ever want to perform in mono, the 1200W ES802 system with 12-inch sub is $1999, and the smaller 800W ES602 with 10-inch sub is $1599.

3. HK Audio Line Base Single

2 x E835 mid-high modules & E110 sub

Price: $4999

Frequency Response: 38Hz-20kHz (-10dB)

Amplifier: 600W RMS (LF), 300W RMS (HF)

Crossover: 140Hz (12dB/oct)

Other Options: Elements’ strong suit has been modularity; you can build any system bit by bit. Lately HK Audio has assembled pre-made systems into four different models. The Line Base Single (on review) is the third in the range. The base model $3499 Easy Base Single kicks things off, gradually increasing in power, size and price up to the $6999 Big Base Single. No question, this is the premium-priced system in this line up considering that’s without a mixer.

4. Turbosound Inspire iP2000

Price: $2199

Frequency Response: 45Hz-20kHz (±3dB), 38Hz-20kHz (-10dB)

Amplifier: 1000W (peak power)

Max SPL: 123dB

Other Options: The iP2000 is the top dog, but if you’re willing to swap out the 12-inch sub for a dual-eight inch you can go for the $1599 iP1000, which has the same 1000W column loudspeaker. The $1299 iP500 has a 600W column loudspeaker and single eight-inch sub.

5. JBL Eon One

Price: $1799

Frequency Response: 45Hz-18kHz (±3dB), 37.5Hz-18.5kHz (-10dB)

Amplifier: 250W RMS (LF), 130W RMS (HF)

Max SPL: 118dB (peak)

Other Options: As the name suggests, there’s only one JBL Eon One.


Let me be clear, I’m into stick PAs. I’ve had the Bose unit we’re reviewing for about three years now. It’s been used as a PA in practise rooms, at parties, and a few wedding ceremonies in that time. Outdoors, indoors, I’ve even loaned it out a number of times and it’s always worked, always been easy for inexperienced folk to setup, and always comes back with its pieces intact. Apart from being simple to setup and break down — the included soft carry cases make transport a breeze — the part that’s most impressed me, time and again, is the sound.

I’ve used tons of different PAs, including lifting my fair share of 12 or 15+horns onto a pair of sticks. While I’ve heard plenty of impressive-sounding boxes, with loads of power and definition, I’ve rarely heard smaller PAs that sound as natural as the Bose L1 1S. I know, write me off, quick! It’s a Bose for Pete’s sake. But, for what it’s made for; which I would say is primarily playback, vocals, keyboard and guitar. It’s always done its job with a minimum of fuss, which is what you want, right?

The other continually impressive part is the wide coverage pattern of the cylindrical array. I thought I’d only ever need about 50-60 degrees of horizontal coverage out of any one box, unless I was using a line array. That’s to say, I’d never considered a reasonably priced PA for small- to medium-sized rooms with a super-wide dispersion. After all, I could always strap two boxes together if required; coupling be damned. That was, until I put a stick PA in a practise room. Previously we’d been using two speakers in all manner of configurations. Sometimes strapped together to make a wide dispersion, other times splitting them up on either ends of the room, or pointing one at the drummer, the other at the lead vocalist and everyone else just guessing. The stick PA revolutionised all that. Stick it anywhere in the room and everyone can hear it. Problem solved.

Likewise, weddings. No amount of tulle will cover up a big black box on a stand, let alone two of them. Give a bride, or a photographer, the option of a  slim column over two big speakers and they’ll throw money at you.

Buskers and meat market spruikers would benefit from a stick PA too. Forget those wheely boomboxes that fling mud at the ankles of passersby. A stick will elevate that ‘don’t be shy ladies’ annoyance to an appropriate ear level. The only things missing are wheels and an extendable handle so you can wheel it down Pitt/Bourke St mall. A rechargeable battery would be a welcome addition too, but we can’t expect the stick to do it all, yet.

Parties? No problems. Sure they might sum playback down to mono, but you won’t have cables stretched across a room, no tripod stands for drunk aunties to knock over, and you’ve got a winner.

As you can see, the humble stick PA solves more problems than just Mr. Bose’s FOH, monitor and guitar amp triple-system PA conundrum. But even amongst our line up of five stick PAs, there are completely different approaches to solving those problems.


I’ve had the Bose for years, and before the big shootout day I’d taken the Turbosound out for a bit of a work out and AT’s Assistant Editor Preshan had mixed a show on the HK Audio Elements. We’d also set them up in the office to make sure we had a handle on setup and features.

On the day of the shootout, we corralled all the sticks and lugged them down to Ballarat Christian Fellowship’s church hall, which is in an old Uniting Church building: high, vaulted ceilings with a vaguely square auditorium which suited the wide dispersion of these type of PAs.

The Bose L1 1S is broken up into four parts: the amplifier base with retractable wing feet for stability, a two-part column that slides into the base, a Speakon-connected sub that sits next to the base, and the Tonematch mixer connected via Ethercon. It’s the only PA of the lot to come with its own gig bags — padded column and base bags, and a slip-on cover for the sub. There are optional column bags and sub covers for the Turbosound, dB Technologies and HK Audio Elements rig. The JBL’s optional cover also has an integrated caster board. Each set of carry bags will set you back between $100-200.

The JBL Eon is the most portable. Its three-part column (two plastic spacers and one laden with speakers) packs into the back of the sub/mixer unit for transport in a similar way to the Bose L1 Compact (smaller sibling of the Bose review unit). You can also use any number of column attachments to adjust the height above the sub, even simply sitting the speaker column on top of the sub without any spacers. This is also a trick of the Bose L1 Compact, though its most compact configuration leaves the speakers packed into the front of the sub, basically turning it into a boombox.

The Turbosound was probably the second easiest to set up. Just slip the base column into the sub, the top column into that and you’re ready to go. All the audio is piped internally, and four prongs extending from the base of each column help locate them. The HK Audio Elements was basically exactly the same except for some plastic wedges that perfectly align the columns so there are no phase issues. These could easily get lost, but they did lock in to make the column rigid, a trait the Turbosound was lacking. The provided pole that downsized the HK Audio system to a single-column Smart Base Single variant also carried audio, which made for a neat setup.

dB Technologies’ ES503 system was a little different. Its top columns are rather small compared to the other systems. Two of these stacked on top of each other are about the same length as one of the HK Audio E835 or Turbosound Inspire elements.

To make a mono system, you clip two elements together, then stick it on an extendable pole that screws into the sub. You can select your configuration between this mono setup, or a stereo pair by placing one of the half-columns on a separate stand, which changes the DSP and channel handling of the mixer. You have to ensure you follow the instructions, plugging the Speakon into the A unit, which automatically feeds the B unit. Plugging into the B unit won’t convey sound to the A unit. Unlike the HK Audio system, there’s no fancy audio transmission integrated into dB’s pole, you just plug a Speakon connector from the sub into top unit A.


  • LIKE

    Gig bags included.
    Column interconnects rigidly without any pins or locks.


    Sub doesn’t double as base of column, requiring one more piece.


  • LIKE

    Two column pieces feel solid when snapped together despite not having a deadlocking system.
    You can use the two column pieces as separate speakers. It doesn’t have to be mono.


    Column interlocking tabs are plastic, be careful with those.
    No fancy internal audio connection between sub and column, although provided velcro straps tie down the Speakon cable.


  • LIKE

    Pole for Smart Base Single setup carries audio internally.


    Plastic wedges aligning columns easy to lose.


  • LIKE

    Columns just drop into place.


    Columns don’t lock together, leaving a little sway.


  • LIKE

    Packs down to one unit.


    Different plastic of spacer and speaker columns makes for a very tight fit that’s hard to separate.


While the Turbosound was the quickest to setup, it’s hard to beat the JBL in this category. It goes together quick-smart and the benefit of having all the bits transport as one unit is hard to pass. Again, the Bose L1 Compact is very similar in this regard.


I’ll start with the HK Audio Elements Line Base Single package, because it’s the easiest to sum up and gives away its position pretty early. It has one combo XLR/jack line input, the rest are outputs (a thru link, and Speakon connections to other passive mid-high and sub options in the range). It’s basically like any other powered PA; supply your own mixer. There’s also no DSP, just a button to select between +4dBU and -10dBV line level, a sub control that ranges from -12 to +6dB with a centre detent, and a knob to select how many column speakers you have connected.

Things get a little more interesting with the Bose Tonematch engine, which is a four-channel mixer (three mics and one stereo line input). The actual base unit only has a 1/4-inch line input, so the mixer is a must if you’ve got a mic. It’s a simple system with gain and level control, as well as a global effects preset you can activate per channel. Unlike the HK — which requires you feed it an already summed mono input — the Tonematch will do the summing for you. It’s similar to the rest of the units, which can all take stereo inputs and output mono. Like the HK, there’s no extra DSP for tuning the PA, it sounds how it sounds out of the box, unless you’ve got an external EQ to play with.

The JBL has a built-in four-channel mixer — two switchable mic/line mono inputs, and two stereo inputs (one with dual 1/4-inch and RCA inputs, the other with a stereo 1/4-inch jack). It also has a Bluetooth input for streaming from your phone, which doesn’t override the others, making it five channels in all. The two mono channels have treble and bass EQ, as well as a switchable reverb. It’s set to what sounds like a ‘Grand Canyon’ preset with a supremely lengthy tail. The tail doesn’t reduce in length as you turn it down either, making it a reverb that could be detrimental in the wrong hands. There’s also a stereo auxiliary RCA output with volume control for feeding a recorder or personal monitor mixer.

The dB Technologies ES503 has an onboard mixer and DSP control, you just have to get at it from a small LCD screen and single dial on the rear of the sub. It’s not the most elegant solution, but all the control is there.

The dB Technologies has a switchable combo mic/instrument input — making it the only PA of the lot to feature a direct instrument input — with gain and level. It then has a pair of line inputs, which can be ganged to create a stereo pair with single control, and a Bluetooth input for wireless playback. Like the JBL, it also has a mixable aux output, but this one is via a single balanced XLR.

The dB Technologies has six different output EQ presets to choose from, including a three-band custom EQ with a sweepable mid band. The Turbosound also has a three-band output EQ, but with a fixed mid-band.

The Turbosound probably has the best control feature set… if you have an iOS device. The rear of the sub houses two combo XLR/1/4-inch mic/line inputs that don’t appear to be linkable, and a Bluetooth connection. The Bluetooth link serves both as a conduit for playback as well as control via the Turbo Control iOS app. Android users are out of luck at the moment, though I did unearth some ‘sweet’ blowoff valve apps on the Play Store if you need some boost for your Chap laps. The app connected seamlessly to my iPhone, and it’s much easier to control the levels via the app than wheeling through the LCD and dial. However, iOS-less users will appreciate the LCD’s sub-top placement over the dB Technologies’ rear-of-sub position. It makes an arduous task slightly less so when you don’t have to lie prone behind the sub.

The app restricts any need to resort to one-knob operation as it can handle channel and master levels as well as a separate control for sub level. Beyond that, there are the controls for output EQ, position-relevant and program-specific tuning, and the Bluetooth connection.


  • LIKE

    Simple controls.


    A stereo summing input would interface better with mixer main L/R outputs.


  • LIKE

    Three-band parametric over output.
    Only PA with instrument input.


    Single dial and rear LCD screen uncomfortable to operate.


  • LIKE

    App makes operation easy.
    Sub control on app very useful.


    No sweepable mid-band on output EQ.


  • LIKE

    Simple operation with knobs!
    Effects, though global, are very usable.


    No Bluetooth input shows its age.


  • LIKE

    Lots of input types and channels.


    Extremely long tail reverb not very usable.


This is a hard one, but there’s no doubt these systems are used heavily for playback and designed to be discreet. Being able to operate background music playback and your mix wirelessly from a device is a big deal, and the Bluetooth link will roam to 30m. That said, having the right complement of I/O might be more important to you.


While they all look like sticks, all five of the units we reviewed have unique approaches to driver configuration that yield different responses.

I’ll start with the Bose. It has 12 x 2.25-inch speakers in an articulated array, meaning alternative speakers are splayed slightly to create a wider coverage pattern. There’s no vertical splay, and the idea is to create a perfectly aligned cylindrical source that doesn’t decrease in volume as readily as a typical point source and renders a wide coverage area.

The eight 3.5-inch broadband drivers in each of the HK Audio columns are positioned centrally, with no splay
either horizontally or vertically. It’s a
more conventional line source arrangement designed for long-throw
with a wide dispersion.

The Turbosound iP2000 is roughly similar, with 16 x 2.75-inch mid-high drivers pointing forward, and a horn-loaded tweeter at the very top of the column designed to extend the frequency range and throw. It’s an approach that separates the audio elements into a more standard three-way design and gave more weight to the mid-range.

The JBL Eon One uses six two-inch broadband drivers that are all symmetrical in the horizontal plane, but are splayed out vertically to increase the coverage below and above the speaker array. It means you get good horizontal and vertical coverage no matter how many spacers you use.

The dB drivers are raked in a curvilinear array. When you stack the two columns on top of each other, they spit out sound in a similar pattern to the JBL — up and down. It didn’t seem to be as consistent as the JBL, as we found the high end projected most strongly out of the curve. It didn’t seem to be a product of floor reflections, but either way, make sure you get the columns up high if you’re using them in a spaced stereo configuration.


A big drawcard of stick PAs is horizontal dispersion. To test each unit, we put on some music and walked from side to side until we found the rough point where we lost definition, power and top end; where the PA started to sound less direct. We marked out the position where we detected any change, repeated with different listeners and measured the angle from the centre point. While not an exact measurement, everyone came to the roughly the same conclusions within about 5-10 degrees.

While the dB and Turbosound coverage doesn’t stop at those degrees, they were both noticeably hotter and more direct until that point. Even though they both quote wider dispersion angles, they lose a bit of top end presence outside those angles when compared with the Bose which sounded clear and present all the way across, with no hotspots, and projected clearly almost entirely up and down the walls of the venue. Likewise the HK, even though it only has a quoted dispersion of 70 degrees, felt much wider. There was a little drop off in extreme highs, but it gave very consistent coverage well past 100 degrees. You could easily run either of those PAs in the 200 pax hall and cover the entire audience from the front of the stage. The JBL was probably the hardest to distinguish the point of fall off, but was sufficiently wide. I would run the dB in stereo mode to get more width, and place the Turbosound further back to get the horizontal coverage.

When you’re busking, or have a singer songwriter standing directly in front of the PA, they’re naturally going to block some sound from the PA, usually cutting top end. Because of their wide dispersion, the Bose, HK and JBL fared well in this test. The Turbosound was saved by its tweeter up the top of the array, while the dB lost some top end when blocked because the high frequencies seemed to project more from the angles rather than  the centre of its array.

The last attribute of these style of arrays is a natural level of feedback rejection. Talking into the mic, with the output level set to read around 95dBA SPL @1m. I could get up close and personal with every single stick, talking loudly into the mic without any issues. It’s the beauty of these types of stick PAs, you can be standing right in front of them and they don’t want to feed back. The width of the Bose gave it the edge, while it seemed the vertical angling of the dB and JBL hurts them in this particular test.


The Bose system’s wide and even coverage pattern benefits the consistency of the entire package, even when blocked, and delivers a high level of natural feedback rejection. The HK Audio was similarly impressive across these tests.


The other half of these systems is down below in the sub. They all did the job, with the Bose, JBL and Turbosound coming across pretty balanced in their standard configurations. The HK Audio was very tuneful and responsive, and the level range was spot on to adjust between speech and playback. The Bose had more than enough power when set to the high setting, but wasn’t as tuneful in some really loud passages. The Turbosound was powerful and well balanced. The JBL added very solid, well-matched support to the top end, which is good considering it’s the only one you can’t adjust separately to the master level. The dB Technologies was the most bass heavy in flat mode, we had to roll it back about 8-9dB from the 0dB setting to get it to sound similarly balanced with the rest.


While all the subs did their job, the dB’s single 12-inch had plenty of power when you wanted to jack the low end for playback and had a good thump to it when you vamped on acoustic guitar. Even though its crossover point was relatively high, DJs would really like this unit for its low end power and the ability to set its level independently.


While the peak power ratings of the dB and Turbosound look good on paper, the HK Audio had scads more guts than the rest, with the Turbosound splitting the gap between the HK and the rest of the field. While all of them would be comfortable handling a singer/songwriter or acoustic combo, the HK is the one you’d stick behind a band. It went from low to high levels and maintained its composure throughout. While they all comfortably pushed to 90dB SPL (A-weighted) at the FOH position around 10m away, the HK Audio could comfortably push beyond that above 95dB.

The Turbosound, the second loudest of the lot, can almost keep up with HK for level, but doesn’t hold together nearly as well. While the HK kept a similar tonal consistency from low to high levels, the three-way Turbosound system seemed to hit its stride at medium-high levels then started to fall apart at the very extreme. Similarly, the dB sounded better loud, as the top end started to cut through with the level, but didn’t fall apart when pushed to the end of its rope, which probably had more to do with limiter design than power handling.

The Bose and JBL both had consistent voicing — like the HK Audio rig — at all levels. You could hear the JBL trying when it was pushed, sounding a little less natural and more strident up top, while the Bose went the other way and started to get a little mushy. That said, you’re not going to want for level in a 200pax joint with any of these PAs.

HK Audio Elements


There are many components to a PA’s sound, as you can see. We’ve already covered much of the utilitarian measurable stuff: dispersion, feedback rejection, power. We’ve also had a good listen to the subs, but now let’s have a look at the detail, which is mostly contained in the voicing of the columns themselves.

Here, there were two main camps, those with DSP and those without. Of course, they all have some level of DSP involved to align the columns and limit the outputs; but while the dB Technologies and Turbosound both have adjustable responses based on positioning, program and personal preference, the JBL, Bose and HK Audio PAs don’t. That is, if they don’t sound good out of the box, they’re going to require some extra gear to pull them into line.

Over the course of the day we tested the PAs with a variety of playback sources, vocals and guitar. Basically, the usual variety you’d end up plugging into the back of one of these sticks. We used the church’s Soundcraft Si Expression 3 to level match the PAs and feed inputs to the sends so we could switch between each source and PA easily. We also checked out the Bluetooth, auxiliary and mic inputs separately, but for the shootout, all the inputs were fed into the PAs via the Soundcraft.

Once we had them all fired up, it was hard not to be impressed by the HK Audio system. It’s voiced in a way that pushed the midrange forward right where the vocals are prominent. It means that despite being a mono system, it sounded as if it had more front-to-back dimension than any of the other PAs. Whether it was vocals from a playback source or through a mic, they were very present and forward in the mix. While it was our favourite for vocal reproduction, it brought a lot of the picky string attack on the acoustic guitar, which is not the most favourable focus for a piezo pickup. However, once you mix the two together, the balance between accompanying acoustic and vocal focus was instantly spot on. Every time we came back to the HK, it was always the most present and clearest of the lot. Seeing as it only has a line input, you’re going to have to feed it with a mixer anyway, in which case you could wind a little more body into instruments if required. Notwithstanding, a PA that naturally amplifies your vocals above everything else is a godsend.

The Bose was the most natural sounding of all the PAs. There was no real sense of the localisation you get with a normal point source speaker; where you start to notice the sound is coming from a box. If you had to describe the sensation of listening to a cylindrical array, I’d say the sound emanates from it rather than projects. It’s very enjoyable to listen to with all varieties of program. Guitars sound full-bodied while defined, vocals are clear but not bitey, everything just sounds natural straight out of the box.

The dB Technologies is a very punchy system, but didn’t seem to have the natural-sounding extension of the first two systems. I ended up scooping it in the mid range a bit to tame the band-passed feel, and it opened the sound up more. It’s the benefit of having some DSP control over your output. For vocal reproduction, it still sounded a bit boxier than both the HK and Bose, and felt more congested once multiple sources were added. However, it’s well-suited to playback, and would fit DJ applications best.

Similarly, the Turbosound sounded great on playback, but wasn’t as defined as the HK Audio system when it came to separating sources. While the horn-loaded tweeter is there to boost the ultra top end, it seems that the balance between it and the 16 mid-high drivers only really starts to click when you put some decent level into it. Again, I found myself scooping a few dB out of the mid range, which is easy to do with the output EQ. Though, as you’d expect, using the graphic on the desk to tune it gave far better results.

The JBL is probably the dark horse of the lot. It doesn’t need any DSP, it sounds fantastic straight out of the box. In a similar manner to the Bose, it presented everything naturally and with good balance. It did have a bit more of a localised sound where you could almost hear the speakers working, but it was a small difference. As far as sound goes, it was well-balanced, crisp and reproduced every source naturally.

It’s hard to pick a winner in this, because the HK Audio was very impressive and the Bose was incredibly natural, while the dB and Turbosound really shined on playback sources with their midrange punch. For us though, it’s hard to go past the quality you get for the price with the JBL. We kept going back to it and continuing to be surprised by how good it was.


The stick PA is alive and well. While Bose has stuck to its guns and delivered yet another wide-dispersion column that sounds natural enough to handle any instrument, there’s a wide range of interpretations of what a stick PA can be. The HK Audio Elements line can be used as a heavy-lifting, vocal-focused FOH PA; the dB Technologies ES503 can split up into a powerful stereo DJ setup; the Turbosound can be controlled from anywhere; and the JBL Eon is an all in one package that will go anywhere and do anything. Don’t be scared to try them out, you might find you save yourself space, time and hassle with these skinny wonders.


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