This portable line-array from LD systems is incredibly easy to use, but does it deliver the all-important sound quality?
Sound systems for live use come in different shapes and sizes, but not many of them come as a self-powered vertical line-array that requires no stands or interconnecting cables, takes up less floor space than a lead singer, and can be rigged in under a minute. One system that can do all of this is the new Maui 28 from LD Systems.
When the Maui 28 arrived at my workshop, it was set up for me by Andrew Richardson, General Manager of Adam Hall Ltd, who are the UK distributors for LD Systems. I say 'set up' but there wasn't much setting up to do, as it took about a minute to take the three sections out of their transit bags and assemble them. When Andrew simply switched it on and said "there you go” I had already thought of three upcoming jobs I'd definitely be using it for.
LD Systems describe the Maui 28 as a "compact, active and modular 'all-in-one' system”, which sums it up pretty well. When they say 'all in one' that's exactly what the Maui 28 is: a single 'stack' of self-powered speakers that simply plug together to form a slim mini-tower sound system. There are no cables needed, except for an IEC mains lead and whatever input you want to feed the system with. The full rig consists of a powered subwoofer, which houses all the signal processing and amplifier modules, and two passive mid/high line-array sections that mount above it.
The mounting and connection system is well-engineered and the component parts are easy to put together. There are four large metal pins that act as locators and provide a secure and wobble-free physical joint, while the electrical signals use a heavy-duty multi-pin connector that sits in a boat-shaped recess. The locating pins engage before the signal connectors do and, as the rear pins are a lot thicker than the front pair, it's not possible to plug the connectors in the wrong way round.
The easiest way to fit the unit together is to join the two array sections first, as the extra weight pushes them into the top of the sub more easily. You do have to watch out for low ceilings, though, as the resulting speaker column is quite long.
One of the things that comes to mind immediately when first meeting the Maui 28 is 'can you use just the top bit?', to which the answer is definitely 'no', as the sub contains all the active electronics. The Maui 28 won't work unless both top sections are in place, but I did try running it incomplete, just to see what would happen. While the sub will function happily on its own, and therefore could be pressed into service with another small system if need be, using just a single mid/high section results in an output level that's hardly audible. When all three sections are properly joined, an LED labelled 'locked' activates, and the system fires up. The first time I rigged the Maui 28 by myself, it took about a minute, but with practice it's possible to put the sections together in a matter of seconds, leaving only the mains lead and the input to connect. Impressive stuff.
The input and control panel is very simple, and everything is nicely spaced and easy to access. There's a pair of XLR and jack 'combi' inputs, and a pair of unbalanced RCA inputs, too — a nice touch for those wanting to connect an iPod or similar device. Two rotary controls set the main system level and the relative subwoofer level, and there are also outputs for passing the signal through to another system.
A large, finned heat-sink occupies much of the rear panel, and the fins are set below the surrounding cabinet edge so that they're protected in transit. On the top, alongside the two level knobs, is a row of LEDs that variously indicate power-up, signal present, limit and protection status.
The Maui 28 splits the input signal into no less than five frequency bands prior to amplification. The power-amp modules sit within the subwoofer, and the multi-pin connectors carry the appropriate speaker signals to the drivers. The sub employs a pair of eight-inch woofers in a wooden reflex enclosure with a large port at the front, and the three mid-frequency bands and the high bands are fed up the column to different parts of the vertical array. The array itself is an aluminium tower housing 16 three-inch drivers and a small tweeter horn right at the top.
I wanted to understand a bit more about the crossover points: assuming that the lowest of the five frequency bands was fed only to the sub, I also had to assume that the remaining four bands would not be directed to four different sets of drivers, as this would compromise the line-array's dispersion pattern.
I managed to obtain some information from the manufacturers, in particular a chart showing how the five frequency bands are fed to the drivers, but not the actual crossover frequencies. If my interpretation of the diagram is correct, it appears that the 16 drivers are fed in groups of adjacent fours, and that each group is fed with at least three adjacent frequency bands.
The subwoofer outputs only on the true low-frequency programme material, and above these frequencies everything up to 20kHz is divided into low-mid, mid-range, high-mid and treble. These bands are fed in a blended manner to the column of drivers.
In terms of output power, the published figures tell us that the subwoofer amp is rated at 200 Watts, with another 200W for the array section. The maximum output (in SPL) is rated at 115dB, which sounds about right for a system of this size and purpose, while the overall frequency response is 45Hz to 20kHz.
The figure printed in the LD Systems product-overview brochure says the dispersion is 60 by 60 degrees, which may either be a misprint, or they're talking about 60 degrees horizontal either side of the driver axis. Either way, a listening test shows that the coverage is indeed very wide, and intelligibility remains clear to at least 60 degrees off-axis. In a 'real world' reflective acoustic space (my workshop) and the various test venues, I could walk almost all the way round the Maui 28 and still hear the whole programme quite clearly.
On first listen, the Maui 28 took a little bit of getting used to: I found that listening to it from four or five feet away simply isn't the way to hear a balanced sound, as your ears are on a level with only part of the array. This results in a rather harsh sound.
When I was able to set up the Maui 28 in a larger space, however, and listen to it from further away, the sound was smoother and much more integrated. I still found the high end and higher mid-range frequencies a bit too prominent at times, but my personal preferences could be easily met by using a little external EQ adjustment.
Using the Maui 28 live was an interesting experience. I didn't try to use it as a band PA, but I did take it along to an exhibition stand, a corporate presentation and a church. Each venue had a different requirement: the exhibition setting, for example, demanded that the sound system be very much in the background, and ideally not visible at all.
I couldn't have found a better solution than the Maui 28 for this job: we stood it behind the display stand next to some black drapes, and it almost completely disappeared into the background. The church was another venue where low visual impact was essential, and the Maui 28 was positioned behind and slightly to the side of the lectern, where once again it melted into the shadows.
The presentation job didn't require an invisible sound system, but the rigging time was extremely tight, and using my normal system I would have had to run speaker cables across the room. This in turn would have involved lots of taping down of rubber covers or long cable runs right around the sides of the room. In all three applications, the Maui 28 was the answer to many prayers in terms of audio performance, visual impact and convenience.
In the exhibition and church settings, the Maui 28 was located behind the microphone, while in the presentation setup it was much further back and closer to the presenters than I would place my conventional speakers. Feedback really doesn't seem to be a problem with the Maui 28, and I was able to obtain a high level of gain without the usual mic and speaker placement or equalisation issues. I even tried putting an old and not particularly well-behaved microphone a few inches in front of the array and turning it up to the level used during the presentation: there wasn't a hint of feedback even when I clapped my hands to try to excite some howling.
The line-array technology used in the Maui 28 is designed to produce a very wide dispersion pattern, projecting the acoustic output over a given horizontal distance with less attenuation than you'd hear using conventional single speakers. There are some very interesting papers on the subject that make excellent bedtime reading — in fact, you could have an absorbing debate with yourself about whether arrays like this produce cylindrical wave-fronts and so on. Since it's unlikely that the Maui 28 will be fronting up at Wembley, it's more interesting to talk subjectively about how it performs in smaller places such as clubs, pubs, bars and the like.
In the spaces in which I used it, the Maui 28 certainly seemed to be able to reach everywhere in the room, and the programme balance was maintained pretty well throughout the whole space. With acoustic sources such as speech and piano, I left the subwoofer level the same as the main level, but for recorded music I needed to use an extra quarter-turn of the sub level pot for the required impact.
The church test, in particular, was impressive, and with the Maui 28 standing behind the lectern the reader could hear most of what everyone else was hearing. This is another great selling point for the Maui 28, as individual performers on stage together could use one each for their personal amplification and monitor.
The classic application for this type of small line-array is often portrayed as one where every band member uses a single unit, and the audience hears a natural group balance without the need for a mixer and a main PA. Having only a single Maui 28 to play with, I couldn't try this, so my tests were all of the Maui 28 as a stand-alone unit, and it worked very well every time.
After carrying the Maui 28 around and rigging it a few times, I have to say I was beginning to get quite attached to it. It certainly isn't a chest-thumping, pub-rock band PA, but for solo or small combo performers in need of clarity and balance, I'd be very happy to put it out on stage.
I've grown quite fond of this system, and I've come to regard it as something of a problem-solver. Depending, of course, on the application, it solves problems of limited space, including venue, storage and transport issues. It also solves problems of limited time in a venue, in that it is so ridiculously quick to set up and take down. It even solves the common problem of the 'invisible PA', where you need something to be heard and not seen. The effective line‑array solves problems of coverage in difficult spaces, and it can even enable performers to hear their own performance without separate monitoring.
The Maui 28 has a lot to offer. It's a highly portable, visually attractive, versatile and forgiving live sound system, and is definitely worth giving a try for your public address requirements. It won't be to everyone's liking, but with so much potential, and at this price point, it has to be worth a close look.
Although there aren't too many systems that work in precisely the same way, the Bose L1 and HK Audio Soundcaddy line arrays offer similar functionality.
The Maui 28 is nicely made, seems sturdy enough, and should stand up to everyday use. The subwoofer has a black coating called 'Dura-Coat LX' that withstood the odd knock without any scarring, while the aluminium line-array boxes have a nice, smooth, satin-black surface, and are slim enough to make handling them very easy.
When it comes to transport, the sub is relatively light, at 29kg. I found it slightly awkward to carry on my own, due to the heat-sink fins, which are rather sharp at the top and tended to dig into my body, right where my flat stomach used to be. The handles on the sub are simple cut-outs, but are smooth and have a plastic shell fitted behind. The top sections, meanwhile, pack into a neat little carrying bag and are very easy to move around. There's an optional wheel-board available for the sub too, so if LD Systems made a sail for the line-array, we'd have a new sport on our hands!