Misaligned and Disarrayed

whatweknow-logoSuppose for a moment you were a line array loudspeaker product. Genetically speaking, your DNA could have come from more than 150 different manufacturers, which collectively produce over 350 products (including all passive and active systems sold as “line arrays”), based on a survey of the products listed for sale on the half-dozen primary on-line sources for pro-audio gear.

You could have been manufactured or assembled from — as the auto industry likes to say — “globally sourced parts” on almost every continent on this planet except perhaps Antarctica (and I’m not sure than won’t happen if somebody gets a government grant).

You could be active or passive, powered by almost every conceivable style and type of amplifier configuration and contain anything from simple passive LF/HF shading controls to extremely complex networkable DSP.

You could be connected to a complex multi-node high speed facility wide network or operate as a stand alone system connected to nothing except audio signal sources components.

You could have the mass of a small Steinway per element or be a micro-sized cabinet designed to almost disappear when properly painted and suspended.

You could also be a set of loudspeaker parts mislabeled by a marketing department as a line array, when your actual acoustical performance in no way resembles that of the actual coverage and response parameters of a “real” line array configuration.

At this point it should be obvious that there are a stupendous number of possible things you could be, some of which might actually resemble the acoustical physics definition of what a line array type source should be.

“Everybody makes one so our company should make one too.”

We have considerably more products in this category than could reasonably be supported by even an incredibly robust industry, and thus what we have ended up with is a large quantity of products that exist for no other reason than “everybody (whoever that might include) makes one so our company should make one too.” I think even a casual analysis of that product development rationale would yield a “why.”

(To be fair, there are a few companies that have not jumped into the pool on this product type, but they are most certainly the exception rather than the rule.)

With this humongous quantity of product across a sizeable price spread, it is almost inevitable that these products get deployed into far too many projects, simply because they are so heavily promoted and marketed given the level of competitive pressure in the market and the resources used to make them exist.

“Integrators are simply throwing product at a project.”

They are far too often presented as “the solution” — even if they are the wrong choice for the space, application and/or venue. Given the number of venues I have visited where these systems are used (and it is without question that they were not the right choice if any rational thought had been expended on the design consideration or requirements), it is painfully evident that integrators are simply throwing product at a project, because there are so many other similar projects that have used the same approach.

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This thought process and rationale has no actual basis for support other than something like “all the other churches in town are using one” or some similar logical fallacy.

What has been lost in this rush to deploy a technology is the real work of analyzing the needs of the customer, the facility and the users. Instead of doing a logical and sensible examination of what the venue might really require or frankly need, we are reaching for a boilerplate answer because we have the designs and can capitalize on re-using the same already paid for work again and again.

It’s sort of like what has happened in too many instances within certain areas of medicine or surgery. Doctors and surgeons go for the easy answer or most promoted drug or therapy because it takes less time, is accepted by the insurance companies and requires little or no actual evaluation of what might be the correct solution. Thus it’s frankly cheaper, faster and easier — but not necessarily medically correct or necessary.

“Doctors continued to do the operations because insurers pay.”

If you don’t believe me, do a browser search on “unnecessary surgery” and see what comes up. For example, read this revealing article. In another similar study was this very revealing comment, from Dr. David Kallmes of the Mayo Clinic, which ties directly into the above statements about line array usage, “said he thought doctors continued to do the operations because insurers pay.” Sound familiar?

As an industry we need to back up and re-think this whole process and get back to what we know is right, professionally correct and ethically sound. Every project, venue, and client deserves the benefit of our hard-won expertise and knowledge in determining what the BEST and most practical solution to their sound reinforcement needs is, not the easy way out!

There are absolutely situations in which a line array solution is the best answer, but there are just as many in which it’s not. Just because we have an enormous variety of such products to pick from does not mean it is or should be the first choice. We owe it to our clients to provide the appropriate answer to their needs, and we have a responsibility to explain why we have chosen a particular solution and demonstrate how it best solves their problem in a fiscally responsible way.

It is increasingly obvious that too many members of our industry have forgotten this creed.

“STOP! Think about the real needs of the client.”

The next time you are tempted to reach for the last design you deployed in a particular style of venue or system, STOP! Think about what the real needs of the client are and what they are paying you for — your expertise and your knowledge of how to correctly and efficiently solve their specific problem.

“Maybe the correct solution is a line array.”

Maybe the correct solution is a line array — but I’ll wager that it’s probably not.