HK have turbo-charged their compact line-array system with new dual-driver subs and double-height tops. Have the improvements been worthwhile?
A couple of years ago, we reviewed the original HK Elements portable line-array system, which has now been thoroughly revised to offer more power and flexibility. There's a new range of subwoofers, both powered and passive, plus separate power amplifiers that can be used to build mix-and-match systems. For this review, we used a system comprising two of the new powered E210 SAS subwoofers feeding six passive tops. Originally, the line-array tops came only as modules fitted with four 3.5-inch mid/high speakers (the E435), but now there's the option of the eight-driver E835, reviewed here.
The cable-free E-Connect system has been carried over from the earlier range, and this allows the tops to be fed from the subs via connections built into the speaker pole (or plugged directly into the sub). Where two or three tops are used together, the top one plugs into the one below it. This means that each side of the PA needs only one signal input and one mains feed. E-Connect is based on a ruggedised form of quarter-inch jack fixed into the centre of a mechanical 'stub pole and socket' connection system.
The E835 is built using a lightweight aluminium housing, the whole thing weighing only 4.5kg. It measures just 110 x 745 x 120 mm, and can handle a nominal 300W RMS of power.
There are no separate tweeters, as the small drivers cover both the mid-range and high end. The 835's line-array format gives it a 70-degree horizontal coverage but with a narrower coverage in the vertical plane, helping to keep sound off the ceiling and directing it into the audience, where it's needed. The sensitivity is 100dB for 1W at one metre, and the four speakers of an E835 present an 8Ω impedance.
It is possible to use these stacked up to three high, or to use E835s in conjunction with E435s. Stacking two or three units obviously lengthens the line array, and so tightens the vertical dispersion as the wavefront becomes more cylindrical.
These tops can't be used on their own, as their low-frequency limit is only 140Hz, so a system must include at least one subwoofer. The new E210 SAS sub houses a pair of Class-D amplifiers, where a 1.2kW unit powers its own pair of 10-inch drivers and, if necessary, an external passive L Sub 1200. The second power amp, used to power the tops, also delivers 1.2kW into a 2.6Ω load, and so is able to drive up to three E835s or six E435s.
Measured at the -10dB points, the E210 SAS's frequency response is 38Hz to 150Hz. An active system crossover is built into the sub, and protection circuitry includes a limiter, a subsonic filter and measures to protect against DC at the amplifier output, overload and overheating. A temperature-controlled fan operates when needed.
Each of the sub's two long-throw drivers has a 2.5-inch voice coil, and their combined impedance is 8Ω. The ported, birch-ply cabinet, which features a rugged metal speaker grille and scratch-resistant paint, measures 380 x 670 x 560 mm and is a fairly hefty lift, at 36.7kg, although the sensibly placed handles help. E-Connect mounts are fitted both to the top and to one side of the cabinet, so that they can be used either horizontally or vertically. A blanking plug is used to seal off the unused E-Connect port.
A slightly different EQ is required depending on the number of tops stacked in each line-array, so there's a rotary control on the rear of the sub for selecting either two, three, four or six modules. The 'two' setting corresponds to either two E435s or a single E835. 'Three' corresponds to three E435s, while four corresponds to either four E435s or two E835s, and so on.
The subwoofer level can be adjusted from -12dB to +6dB, and there are separate limit LEDs for the sub and the top amps. For audio signals, the sub's rear connector panel offers an XLR 'combi' input for jack or XLR connection, an XLR thru connector, and a pair of Speakon outputs (these are four-pin connectors using just two of the pins, as is usual), one socket for connecting a passive sub and the other for connecting to mid/high units when mounting them away from the sub. Power is via a V-Lock-equipped IEC socket, which locks to the included cable, although a standard IEC cable will also fit. Padded covers are available for the subs with padded bags on offer for the tops.
Our test venue was the massive beer tent at Malvern's West Fest, where the stage hosts anything from solo artists to large bands. My initial concerns on assembling the system were twofold: I was worried that a stack of three E835s might not be very stable, and also that the sound from the lower E835s would be partially wasted, due to their not being very high above the ground, as the subs would be at ground level rather than on a stage.
Although the tall column did have a bit of play in it, the E-Connect system incorporates a short tube, around 70mm long, fitting into a socket in the unit below, so the mechanical integrity is better than it might at first appear. There's also a plastic widget that slots between adjacent tops to keep them in line. It is important to have the subs set up level to keep the column of tops vertical, though, so I'm rather surprised that the designers didn't think to incorporate a couple of basic spirit levels into the casework.
Being honest, I'd be worried about the outcome if an inebriated punter fell against the speaker, as all the strain goes on the connector points, and with a stack around two metres high, that's a lot of leverage. Fortunately, we didn't have occasion to put this to the test! Interestingly, HK must already have received similar feedback, as future production runs of E210 SAS subs will have a new E-Connect socket 'plate' fitted, which is slightly recessed so that the lowest top box sits in a lipped 'dish', providing a more stable base for building a tall tower of tops.
In terms of coverage, the results were better than we could have hoped for, so even if some of the sound did end up being absorbed by the knees of the front row of the audience, there was still plenty left to reach the bar at the opposite end of the tent, with a few hundred people crammed into the space between. That's where line arrays win out, as the sound doesn't drop away as much with distance compared with conventional speakers. The overall clarity of the system was also impressive, and the mid range in particular felt a lot more 'hi-fi' than from most conventional box speakers — something that shows up especially well with acoustic instruments. Having a wide dispersion angle meant that we had no dead spot between the speakers, and those new subs certainly managed to deliver a solid, tightly controlled low end with plenty of power in reserve.
I like the simplicity of the Elements concept, especially the E-Connect system, which makes setup and pull-down very straightforward. A full three E835s per side might make the rig too tall to fit in some smaller venues, but then by the very nature of the system it is scalable, so you can use one, two or three E835 tops (or E835/E435 combinations) as appropriate, with the subs in landscape or portrait mode. The physical stability of the stack when all three E835s are used still makes me a little nervous, as some stages are rather too bouncy for comfort, but as long as you can keep them level and put them where they are removed from rowdy revellers, they should be safe enough.
The sound quality is a cut above what you'd expect from all but the most exotic compact systems, with the side benefit that the narrow column architecture is less visually intrusive, and offers better horizontal sound coverage, than a typical PA speaker. Transportability is also good, though I'd recommend buying the proper carrying bags to protect the tops. While the tops are amazingly light and compact, the subs are inevitably heavy, but still a little less bulky than an equivalent 1 x 15 sub. Certainly, the whole system would fit into a typical hatchback with the back seats down, while still leaving room to spare for a few other bits and pieces.
Those new and more powerful subs mean that you can rely on the system to handle drums and bass without wimping out, while the new E835 tops allow you to set up a longer line. The whole system feels much more 'grown up' and more powerful compared with its first incarnation, and although it's not a budget system, it isn't excessively expensive for the performance you can get from it.
Other small line-array systems are made by Fohhn and dB Technologies, and there's also the Bose L1, which is slightly different in concept but has similar applications for smaller venues.
- Directs the sound where it's needed.
- Visually unobtrusive.
- Fast setup.
- Clear and powerful sound.
- Compact and easy to transport.
- Columns look a little vulnerable, especially with three tops stacked together.
A great combination of performance and portability, offering much more power than the original Elements system.
Korg USA +1 631 390 8737.