The Martin MLA hangs pre-show with Zac Brown Band members and crew members in the distance. All photos by Brendan Shanley @ brendanshanley.com
On Saturday, August 21, I traveled to the Verizon Wireless Amphitheater in Charlotte, NC; a place where I have seen and heard at least two dozen tours over the years. It being a typical modern “shed,” it lacks in lots of things: character, warmth (both aesthetically and acoustically) and comfort. But this time, two crucial factors (and some great engineering talent) made this possibly my most enjoyable concert experience I can remember: the Zac Brown Band (ZBB) and their newly adopted house speakers, the Martin Audio Multicellular Loudspeaker Array (MLA) System. This first headline tour for the band is also the first American tour for this remarkable new loudspeaker rig from Martin Audio.
I can’t imagine a better sound source than the Zac Brown Band and its touring support to showcase what this new speaker array technology is all about. ZBB writes and performs emotive, heartfelt and notably organic music, often lumped in a “Modern Country” category for the simple fact that it’s “new,” acoustic-based, and more about rural life and simple living than not, having more in common with the uniqueness within the jam band culture than Tim McGraw. Somewhat similarly, the intriguing technology behind MLA could be categorized just as “line array” at first glance, but it’s much further down the road than (now) common line-array technology.
The Martin MLA, close-up and pre-show at Verizon Wireless Amphitheater in Charlotte. Martin Audio product information describes the technology as follows: “MLA solves both consistency and setup issues by a combination of unique optimization software and cellular array design, enabling the sound engineer’s exact mix to be delivered throughout the audience with a degree of precision, consistency and repeatability not previously possible. With MLA, audience position and venue criteria are used as a basis for intelligent optimization of up to 144 individual acoustic cells within the array. Everything is done from an audience perspective; the software calculates what acoustic source is required to deliver a consistent frequency response and SPL over the audience; and the software configures an MLA array that can generate this source. In mathematical terms, this is an inverse problem that we solve using numerical optimization within the software. Having so many individual driven and optimized cells available massively increases the resolution of the array, resulting in a much more consistent frequency response and level throughout a venue compared to previous touring technologies.”
Did this technology translate to a better listening experience at the shed? Yes, and remarkably so. Hosted by Preston Soper of Winston-Salem, NC’s Special Event Services (SES, the system provider for ZBB) and the incredibly affable and enthusiastic Martyn “Ferrit” Rowe, technical training manager for Martin Audio, I was allowed to move to nearly every conceivable listening spot during the event to hear the consistency and quality that the MLA system provided. There’s no doubt that the specs Rowe shared with me are correct.
(L to R): Systems Tech Preston Soper, Martin Audio technical training manager Martyn “Ferrit” Rowe, Becky Bullins and PAR editor Strother Bullins listen at FOH, pre-show. “Starting at a reference level, at mix position, of 0 dB, two meters from the stage will be +1.5 dB, and at the rear of the room — 80 meters from the array — will be 3 dB down,” tells Rowe of MLA performance at the Verizon Wireless Amphitheater. “So [there ’s] an overall 4.5 dB taper from the front to the back of the room, all frequencies. Another thing you’re sure to hear is how wide the stereo image is from this array. We’re about 135 degrees of stereo imaging, which allows the front-of-house engineer [Eric Roderick] to better position things in the mix. Because of the minor differences in level, it leads to very good, wide stereo imaging.”
“Today, I came in, optimized the system, and handed it over to the systems tech (Soper),” continues Rowe before turning to Soper. “So, how much EQ have you done on my PA today?”
“Haven’t touched it,” Soper replies. “The engineer comes out, pushes the kick drum up, and says, ‘Oh yeah, sounds like it always does.’ That’s the level of consistency here.”
And listening at FOH, the front row, the far back corner of the house, and nearly everywhere else in between, the end result of MLA technology delivered. For that reason, I do believe that MLA is a new line array of truly democratic proportions. Possibly to the chagrin of the sellers of “gold circle” concert tickets, audience members grooving to the Zac Brown Band were aurally treated as near equals. Martin Audio's MLA is sure to draw attention from those interested in awarding their own audiences with such even-handed treatment.
Strother Bullins is the reviews and features editor for Pro Audio Review.