When it comes to speaker systems, I realize that the large-format touring line arrays are 3-way designs, and very popular for good reason.
I personally, though, love the smaller two-way line arrays.
Quickly let’s define what a 2-way speaker system is. You will a have a compression driver that handles the high frequency and upper midrange and then will have woofers or cone drivers that handle the lower midrange and low frequency content. So, your frequency response gets divided into two sections.
Most of what we listen to is on 2-way speakers whether that’s studio monitors or stage monitors or small point source speakers on a stand. There is nothing wrong with a good 2-way speaker.
When I think back over the past 20 years, and some of the different recording studios I worked at, outside of the traditional soffit mounted large monitor systems (which are only used to play the mix back loudly to impress the client) everything was always mixed on 2-way speakers. Whether a Yamaha NS-10, Meyer Sound HD-1, Genelec 8050, Mackie HR824 speaker system, everything was 2-way design.
So, for me a great 2-way line array sounds like a great set of studio monitors.
Over the past 12 years, I have installed 2-way line arrays at several churches and have always been thrilled with the final results. Among those 2-way systems that I have installed have included those featuring Nexo GEO S12, Nexo GEO S8, Nexo GEO M6, Martin Audio MLA Mini speakers and even a JBL VRX system, right after they came out.
If you are interested in learning more about line array systems, including Nexo speakers, for houses of worship, check out the following demo room session, "The Right Speaker: Choosing & Designing Systems for Your Room," slated for the WFX Conference & Expo on November 14 in Orlando.
I may be biased toward Nexo gear, as my company owns plenty of Nexo equipment (with a disclaimer that I am not a dealer). Part of why I own so much of their gear is because they have a great selection of 2-way line array systems.
Outside of our Nexo Alpha boxes, everything we use is a 2-way design. Now there many other companies that make great sounding 2-way line array systems, like RCF, Electro-Voice, Meyer Sound, d&b audiotechnik and L-Acoustics, just to name a few.
What are some of the differences or perceived differences between a 2-way line array and a 3-way line array system? For the most part, it’s a difference in output, quite frankly most 3-way line arrays are larger boxes, with multiple components in them, designed to get really loud for modern touring acts.
For most churches, needing that kind of volume is just not a crucial need. That being said, particularly with some of the larger boxes, the smaller 2-way line arrays like a Nexo S8 rig, do not have as much low mid or low end of a larger box, made up of multiple low frequency drivers.
In my experience, though, this is not really a bad thing. In a lower volume church setting, you end up taking out a lot of that frequency range, while you are mixing, to help clean up your mix. The smaller boxes really do a great job getting vocals to cut through clearly and have them sit on top of a mix.
For most churches, there typically isn’t going to be a need for extreme volume output and are instead focusing on great even coverage, and a good sounding system.
In such desired configurations, the smaller boxes do a great job covering anywhere from 1,000 to 2,500 people, and then some of the larger 2-way boxes can serve to cover from 2,000-to 5,000 congregants, with no problem at all.
Once again, your main goal is to get something that has good even coverage throughout the room, both in terms of volume, as well as frequency response. Usually to get this, you need a longer array - more boxes - to get that kind of coverage in a room. This leads into another reason I am so fond of a good 2-way design.
There is a great cost savings you can achieve, using a 2-way line array, versus selecting a 3-way design line array for your speaker configuration.
For most of the 2-way line arrays on the market, they are passive boxes, meaning they have an internal crossover that is built into the box, and only require a single amp channel to provide full-range audio to the speaker. This saves a church a ton of money in several different ways.
Since you are not triamping, like you would be with a 3-way line array system, you will not need as many power amps for your rig. This means that your 2-way line array system will require at least half as many power amps for your system.
By using fewer power amps in a system, recognize the benefit that your electrical cost will be significantly reduced by comparison. Other reduced costs will add up from savings from what you would otherwise have to pay the electrician for installing the circuits, but also the bare wire and number of circuits that have to be put into the electrical panel.
Another area that you end up saving a good amount will be with speaker cable. I’m sure that probably sounds pretty silly at first, but think about it. If you have a 3-way system, one that you are having to triamp, you are running six conductor cables over large distances. Such a configuration can quickly become very expensive, just in raw cable cost. Also NL8 connectors are more expensive then NL4 connectors, so additional savings can be made there.
With a passive 2-way system, you will save a lot of money, because you can just use a decent 2 conductor cable for your speaker connections. When you look at the potential combined savings on the number of amplifiers purchased, a reduction in electrical costs, and then the price difference in cabling, it adds up to a very significant price difference. This allows you to spend your resources on a better speaker system, in trying to achieve better results.
The Martin Audio MLA Mini, was my choice to install while I was at Blue Ridge Community Church. In its 2-way design, it’s has the power amps/processors built into the companion subwoofers that go with the system. Aside from that system, I have only installed passive 2-way systems at all the churches I’ve either worked at or done consultant work for.
If your church is looking at replacing your current audio system with a line array design, I hope you will consider the advantages that a 2-way system offers in terms of price and performance.
Even so, one of the best things you can do is to go to the speaker demo at WFX in Orlando between Nov. 13-15 and listen to the different systems that are there. It is next to impossible to find anything like that conference in the United States, where you can listen to a vast number of different line array systems side by side, in the same setting using the same source material. It’s a great way to either confirm what you had planned or give you reason to reconsider your plan.
I hope this discussion on 2-way line arrays has been helpful and informative for you and I would love to hear from you if you have any thoughts, ideas or questions.