I am most often tasked to review products while employing them in a real-world environment. For this particular review, though, I employed three previously reviewed products to solve a sound reinforcement problem for a budget-restricted house-of-worship (HOW).
I was asked to help spec a small speaker system upgrade in a 1940s-era church building hosting primarily traditional music, yet with some very specific limitations. Being a small, heavily carpeted, 120-person maximum capacity sanctuary with high plaster walls and large stained glass windows, its present speaker situation was a 40-year-old drop ceiling holding four passive full-range speakers, squarely placed over padded wooden pews driven by a 20 year old portable PA-style Yamaha 6-channel mixer/amplifier. The HOW’s sound sources generally consist of spoken word via pulpit with a nice Shure podium microphone, two Electro-Voice mini-condensers over the 15-18 member choir, a miked baby grand, and an occasional large diaphragm cardioid condenser in front of guest vocalists, acoustic guitar, etc.
The problem was that its older congregation was not hearing well enough, and the simple need was more decibels delivered to the rear pews; the existing system worked—just not well enough—yet could be simply augmented. However, the ceiling couldn’t be altered, per request—not to mention the ceiling speakers’ placements seemed to be largely ineffective for those hard of hearing—nor did the church want to cut into walls, dramatically modify any part of the sanctuary, or even call an electrician. No cables should be pulled through the walls, either. Speaker wall mounts would be okay if they could be painted white. $1,500 was the budget. And yes, the speakers should be white, too; if they could be dismounted easily and used as portable PA for special events, that would be ideal.
Hmm. I recalled several powered portable PA speakers that I had personally reviewed in the past and would feel confident in recommending—but in white, that narrowed it down to Electro-Voice and QSC. Needing a pair, wall mounts and a wireless scheme, E-V’s fine ZXA1 fit the price point at $499 street.
Electro-Voice ZXA1 Compact Powered Loudspeaker
Available in black or white, the ZXA1 is a small (19lbs., 18” x 11” x 10.4”) 800W peak power two-way full-range speaker featuring an EV8L 8-inch woofer and the DH2005 1-inch exit compression driver, the latter of which is a titanium diaphragm tweeter coupled with a rotatable 90 x 50 degree waveguide; the speaker provides 123 dB of maximum SPL output. Constructed of high impact polystyrene with a galvanized steel grille, the ZXA1 also provides portable PA-friendly I/O: dual XLR inputs (mic and XLR/TRS combo line inputs, respectively) and one XLR output.
König & Meyer (K&M) 24110 Speaker Wall Mount
At $95 each (street), K&M’s heavy-duty steel 24110 Speaker Wall Mount was a good choice for semi-permanent mounting of the ZXA1 pair, high and out of sight lines aimed toward the back of the church, placed approximately over the fourth pew row from the front of the sanctuary. We auditioned the ZXA1 speakers on standard speaker stands before choosing their spot on the wall, testing decibel levels near the back of the church as we auditioned various spots and heights.
Notably, the 24110 allows speaker tilting of up to 22 degrees in 11 settings and side-to-side adjustment of up to 90 degrees. It’s the most adjustable permanent speaker mount I’ve used, it’s well made, and I’ve always preferred using K&M stands if I can get my hands on them; they’re well made in Germany and comparatively costly, but worth the investment. They are also easily paintable. As the church already owned a Alto Professional Stealth wireless system for powered speakers in its educational building, adding a two-unit Expander Pack (at approximately $185 street) would keep us under budget and would work well, too; the existing Stealth system had been a success for the church. Stealth’s transmitter is switchable between Mono and Stereo, sending one or two channels of audio to every Receiver in range (reportedly up to 200 feet away, but easily up to 150 feet, as I discovered) and on the same channel (one of 16 UHF channels). Transmitter features include two balanced/unbalanced XLR/quarter-inch TRS inputs, dual antennas, a red LED signal clip indicator (flickers at -4dB before and glows solid at clip), press/hold-style Channel Select button and LED display, and two rotary input trim knobs. Frequency response is a sufficient 50 Hz - 17 kHz, +/- 3 dB. Unit dimensions are 6.3 x 5 x 4 inches.
Alto Professional Stealth Wireless Receiver (Expander Pack)
Each Receiver—a small 4.6 x 2.8 x 1.3 inches—includes an antenna, Power button, XLR output, AF Indicator LED (glows when signal is recognized), RF Indicator LED (glows when signal is received), Power Indicator LED and a press/hold-style Channel Select button. On the Receiver’s side, a Left/Right Selector and Squelch (for setting a noise limit) are available.
For the $1,500 budget and rather strict limitations, this wireless/powered speaker solution was ideal and extremely simple to set up. While I wouldn’t recommend just any facility take the wireless route for its main sound reinforcement, it certainly met all needs in this case, as the existing room could not be altered; an Alto Stealth-based system would be especially appealing in “porta-church” scenarios, too.
König & Meyer