ElectroVoice Sx200 Series
Personal PA system
You're sick of playing through cruddy house PA systems. Yet assembling a full-range PA system of your own seems hideously expensive. The answer could be a modular system like the new ElectroVoice Sx200 Series. Chris Kempster slips the handbrake on and opens the doors of his Transit...
For gigging bands, there's nothing worse than getting lumbered with a crap PA. The songs may be well-crafted and tight as a Scotsman's wallet, the band might be steaming, but it's all to no avail if the FOH sounds like a pig's bottom after a particularly large helping of All-Bran.
Relying on the infamously variable quality of in-house PAs is not something any musician would willingly do, but many performers can't afford to get a PA of the quality needed to rock the party long and hard. The days of getting away with lugging a pair of ancient HH cabs down the pub are long gone - punters have been educated by going to clubs and listening to DJs pumping the building with mega sound systems, and they now expect to hear the same expansive sound from live bands.
Fortunately, the past few years have seen the emergence of a new type of PA system, pioneered by Bose and now manufactured by many companies who, between them, have made this relatively new marketplace extremely competitive. Extremely compact and robust, they put that smooth, professional sound within the reach of the average working band. Not only can the main speakers be used on their own, the system can also be expanded to include a bass bin that will give you the feel-it-rather-than-hear-it low end you get with big PAs. This modular approach has several benefits: first, you can save up for the main speakers and then add the bass bins at a later date, when finances permit. Second, you can tailor your PA to the venue you're playing - if it's a small place you might find that the main speakers are adequate on their own, while for a bigger venue you can take the full system out.
ElectroVoice's new system falls into this 'compact and modular' category. The system we're testing consists of a pair of Sx200 main speakers, a pair of Sb120 bass bins, and an Xp200 system controller. Using bass bins means that you need to split the input signal and amplify each component separately, and this is part of what the Xp200 will do for you. On the system we were provided with, amplification was taken care of by two Crown amps, delivering 300 watts/channel each, and the amps and controller were loaded in one large rack.
The Sx200s, successors to EV's established 200 Series, are surprisingly compact - even smaller than you first think due to their tapering sides. Think of them as wedges on end. The units are made of super-tough plastic which looks and feels as if it will survive the Pig-and-Whistle school of hard knocks. This type of material is certainly strong, but it also helps to keep the overall weight of the unit down to less than 40lbs - an important consideration at midnight when there are ten minutes to pack up everything. Grabbing hold of the recessed handle on the side confirms this - you can easily carry an Sx200 in each hand.
The top end of the sound spectrum is taken care of by a 1" compression driver with a titanium diaphragm, which is deeply recessed into the cab. A moulded horn helps to increase the projection of these high frequencies, and is supposed to 'increase intelligibility in noisy, reverberant rooms'. The bass driver is a 12" Pro-line woofer, covered by a sturdy metal grille which will keep out all but the most forceful of steel-toe-capped DMs.
Moving to the rear, we find that connections are made in a recessed panel. There are two terminals: one for the output of the amp, another for daisychaining the speaker's output to another cab. Again, this is in keeping with the system's 'expandability' ethos. If and when you get bigger power amps, you can just buy another couple of Sx units, rather than totally new speakers. The connectors are Neutrik Speakons, which are superbly heavy-duty and perfect for the job. Before you can hear anything, you need to insert the lead, twist, and then screw on the retaining flange. Unlike some jack- or XLR-equipped speakers, there's virtually no chance of a cable being ripped out here.
Externally, the bass bins are almost identical to the Sx200s; the difference is what's inside them. Sharing the same dimensions means that the main speakers can be mounted on top of the bass bins, and very attractive they look there, too. Locking nuts are provided to fix both units together, just in case anyone (the lead guitarist, probably - Ed) knocks into the stack during the gig. Because the units are so lightweight, though, I would still be worried about the whole stack being knocked over - some kind of fixing to the floor may be necessary to prevent this happening. A better alternative would be to get some ElectroVoice stands (100BK), which I'd say are almost mandatory when using the Sx200s on their own, and preferable even when using a larger system. These speakers also have hanging points, and when using multiple units this would be the preferred method of setup.
"The top end is clear and sharp, while the bass is tight, well-rounded, and impeccably controlled"
Another 12" woofer is used on the Sb120, with a large port directly above it. Like the Sx200, there are two connections on the back, one input and one output (for daisychaining units). Similarly, there are the same carrying handles and fixing points for stands.
To get the best out these units, EV recommend using an amplifier that can provide between two and four times the average power rating of the speakers (300watts). That means you'll need an amp delivering between 600 and 1200watts per channel. However, the company stress that this arrangement is for professionals who won't be tempted to push levels too much, or have accidents, such as 'catastrophic feedback or dropped microphones'. So it might be more sensible to get an amp with a power rating that won't destroy these speakers even at full volume.
This is the 'brain' of the system, and resides in a black, 1U racking box which can be conveniently racked alongside your power amps. The controls are minimal: pots for input level, low-frequency profile, and sub level. A solitary green LED flickers red when the signal is clipping. The back panel supports three pairs of quarter-inch jack sockets, the inputs of which will take a feed from your mixer. The output is split into two, with one pair of jacks feeding the amp for the sub bass, and another feeding the main output.
In the absence of bass bins, the Xp can be used in conjunction with the Sx200 to provide increased bass output, since it has low-frequency enhancement circuitry which is tailored to match the low-frequency characteristics of the Sx. In fact, an extra 12dB of bass output can be milked from the Sxs, and that could definitely come in useful in certain situations.
However, to utilise the full capabilities of this controller, you need to link up a couple of bass bins. The Xp's mono-summed subwoofer outputs provide crossover and infrasonic protection, with 24-dB-per-octave filters rolling off the response below 37Hz and above 134Hz.
For the test, the main units were tested separately, before hooking up the bass bins up as well. Many bands will use the system in both these permutations, so it's important to establish that the main units can function well on their own. And function well they do. Feeding them with a mixed bunch of program material proved to me just how far PA speakers have come in recent years. The top end is clear and sharp, while the bass is tight, well-rounded, and impeccably controlled. A surprisingly full sound can be obtained from these units alone, and for smaller venues they'll certainly provide adequate muscle-power.
Using the low-frequency profile pot on the Xp controller significantly increases the bass performance of the Sxs, and this extends the commendably flat frequency response to around 50Hz. Having this relatively flat response means you shouldn't have too much trouble with resonating frequencies, unless the room acoustics are particularly nasty.
"As the band and audience warm up, you might increase the low-frequency profile progressively... Then, when the place is really rocking, give it some sub-bass"
The projection and uniformity of sound are particularly good, due in part, perhaps, to what ElectroVoice call the 'constant-directivity system'. The effect of this is to provide uniform response within a 65° span, which in layman's terms means dependable audience coverage without 'hot spots' or dead zones at certain frequencies.
The fun really starts, though, when you hook up the bass bins. No matter how good the main units are, you still won't get that heart-thumping, kidney-resonating bass sound that you hear when you go to big-name gigs or clubs. Turn up the output of the Sb120s and you'll get that familiar feeling - listened to in isolation they don't seem to be doing that much, but combined with the Sx200s they are truly awe-inspiring.
It's easy to overdo it, though. Get a bit carried away and you'll start shaking the house to the foundations, and the punters will start throwing up from inverted alimentary canals. I can imagine starting off a set with the main speakers taking most of the strain. As the band and audience warm up, you might increase the low-frequency profile progressively to beefen up the sound. Then, when the place is really rocking, give it some sub-bass to blow everyone away - metaphorically speaking, you understand.
I found this a superb system to use - easy to transport, simple to set up, and capable of producing an incredibly powerful yet controlled sound that would make all but the most inept bands sound as if they mean business. While the initial outlay may be substantial depending on how much you buy from the outset, investing in a system like this means that you never have to rely on the inadequacies of in-house PAs again. You can forget about what you're gonna sound like - that should be consistently good - and concentrate on your music and stage act.
The modular nature of the design makes it possible to add to the system bit by bit. You don't even have to stop expanding when you've got the Sx200s, Sb120s and the Xp200 tested here. No sirree, you can go on adding speakers to your heart's content - just remember that you'll need a helluva lot of amp watts to drive them!
Prices inc VAT: Sx200 - £650 each Sb120 - £530 each Xp200 - £385
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Review by Chris Kempster
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