It is funny sometimes when two worlds collide. Just when we think of the install and live sound arenas as being completely different and in their own realms, something comes along and shakes the very foundation that keeps us separate. Have the wonders of technology moved our universes closer together or were we not that far apart to begin with? Well, the new EAW DSA (Digital Steerable Array) might just be our missing link.
Installation, sound reinforcement
DSA250 – two-way; eight 4-inch LF drivers; eight 1-inch HF drivers. DSA230 – eight 4-inch LF drivers. Both – onboard amplifiers; Pilot operating/DSP software
$6,125 for DSA250; $4,458 for DSA230
I know when most “old” sound men look at the new DSA ($6,125 for a model DSA250), their first thought is “Hey, this is just a new version of the old column speakers from back in the prehistoric era.” At first glance they would be right, but, as always, it’s what is in the box and how it is controlled that makes all the difference. DSA comes in two forms: the DSA250 full-range enclosure and DSA230 low-frequency extension enclosure.
These were designed for permanent installation applications. This, however, is not how we are using them. The design and functional concept came out of the EAW KF900 Series large-format arrays with each driver having its own amplification and digital signal processing. This enables the user (using the free DSA Pilot software from EAW) to vary the vertical coverage pattern from 15 degrees to 120 degrees, as well as aim the coverage ±30 degrees. This pattern control is from 300 Hz to 16 kHz within a 120-degree fixed horizontal pattern – perfect for speech and some musical applications. Each DSA 250 is loaded with eight 4-inch LF cones and eight 1-inch soft dome tweeters, horn-loaded. The 230 is loaded with eight 4-inch LF cones with power and processing providing pattern directivity down to 150 Hz. The cabinets are self-powered, delivering 480 watts (8 x 40 W LF and 8 x 20 W HF) This includes 16 channels of complex DSP that includes: high-pass filter, low-pass filter, delay, PEQ, and limiting as well as the proprietary filters to facilitate steering. Average steerable frequency range, dependent upon cabinet configuration, is 90 Hz to 13 kHz with average peak SPL at 120 dB.
The connection and control of DSA is done over RS485 to a laptop running the DSA Pilot program. EAW has an optional card for CobraNet (CM-1), although I have not seen or used it. The Pilot program is easy to use once you have selected the DSA configuration that you are using, i.e. one or two 250s with or without a 230, flown in which array style, etc. All of the DSP is there with the PEQ for room adjustments and steerablity. The Pilot program is necessary to lay out your room configuration (height, distance of throw, rake, slope, etc) and to design the cabinet to work together to pattern your array to hit where it is needed and where it is not needed. The program does not have to be connected during operation (only for initial setup) although it can be beneficial even as a monitoring device. A multilevel password protection can be setup to eliminate unwanted tampering if continual connection is desired.
DSAs ship with mounting brackets and fly bars so you can hang or mount either cabinet in a variety of configurations. The cabinets are a slim 9.3 inches wide with the 250 standing at a vertical height of 50.8 inches and the 230 at 36.5 inches. The 250 weighs in at 84 pounds with the 230 at 62 pounds.
As I hinted earlier, these are designed for permanent installation. With this said, I believe that RCI Sound Systems is the only company using the EAW DSA Series in a daily in and out live application. We have found that the DSAs work great in some challenging environments. Provided you do your work in the Pilot program ahead of time, these have proven to be life/job savers. We built custom stands with the mounting brackets welded onto steel square pipes that stand about 8 feet tall. Using one DSA250 and one DSA230 per side we have found amazing vocal projection for your standard Washington D.C. podium/political type events. When supplemented with an EAW NT22 self-powered sub you get great reproduction, full range, for smaller more intimate music shows. The subs also work as a great “apple box” to raise the DSAs up higher when needed.
These have been such a success that I now have venues requesting first priority for their use. Special Events at Union Station in downtown Washington D.C., a host for events from Presidential Inaugurals to Bar Mitzvahs, has been one of those that I now cannot send the old complement of mains and delays to. They’ll not settle for anything less then the DSAs. All of our engineers, after downloading and learning the Pilot program, have had no problem with their set up and configuration for all aspects of shows. Currently, the DSAs have gone out of our shop with such regularity that we need to purchase another set.
It is easy to bring the DSAs into any event and they run beautifully. Just connect your laptop, punch in the dimensions and where your audience is within those dimensions, aim, and you’re done. The low profile (9.3 inches wide) makes them desirable and the sound is fabulous. To be able to fill a room with sound and direct it to the listening audience (and away from walls and from highly reflective surfaces) is amazing. I can place the DSAs off and behind the stage and focus the columns around a podium to the audience. In the corporate arena, this is what we need – to be unobtrusive, yet fill the room with quality sound.
Since they were designed for install on a “set and forget” basis, the only downfall has been that the connection from laptop over the RS485 to the cabinets drops out constantly. I had trouble maintaining a continuous connection for real time monitoring and EQ adjustments. The CobraNet interface card should render that problem solved. The only other downer is the price. It is a little high for your average live audio company to keep a stock for daily abuse. I would love to see a non-install version of the DSA in the future, but for now it seems we are the only ones pushing this purpose.
The EAW DSA cabinets have been what we have been looking for for years. I used to talk of inventing the “talking plant” so that audio could become completely unobtrusive but now we have a better, more viable solution. If you are looking for quality in a small, well-designed, and complete package, this is the missing link.