Live Review: Bose L1 Model 1S with B2 Bass Module and ToneMatch Audio Engine

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Bose offers a “personal line array” that is well built, easily transportable and super intuitive.

With an intuitive, well made product line, Bose L1 Portable Line Array Systems address the needs of self-mixed musicians, bands, or DJs. Judging by their lowest cost rig — the L1 Compact priced at approximately $1k — these wouldn’t be considered “budget” systems and potential buyers might want to consider the benefits of a larger system like the one I review here: the L1 Model 1S with B2 Bass Module and ToneMatch “audio engine,” a small analog mixer with super-intuitive and flexible DSP, which streets at $2,499.

Features

The system consists of five basic components: the L1 Model 1S power stand, L1 Model 1S top array, L1 Model 1S bottom extension, B2 bass module with dual 10-inch woofers, and the optional T1 ToneMatch audio engine. Each L1 Model 1S component comes with a padded, well-made gig bag, making it easy to carry. For me, two easy round trips to the car was all it took to move this complete PA system, totaling approximately 100 lbs..

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In typical Bose fashion, the L1 range is sleek and slim, engineered to be simple to use and transport, and packs a sculpted, arguably “bigger” sound than its looks would imply. The build quality also feels “road worthy.” Bose claims that the L1 Model 1S rig will deliver “180-degree coverage for audiences of up to 300,” and in my experience that is accurate only under certain performance circumstances — when used indoors in moderately reverberant rooms.

For me, setting up the L1 the first time perfectly illustrated Bose’s design philosophy: it’s the “little things” that make their products so appealing, like how the power stand includes four flip-out steel legs, cleverly designed to move in unison when one is positioned. Click the bottom extension into the power stand, then the top array into the extension; all audio and power connections have now been made and a single column, 12-speaker line array is ready to go. Finally, connect the B2 bass module and T1 ToneMatch audio engine to the power stand via Speakon and Ethercon to the power stand, respectively. Other than attaching the ToneMatch mixer to the included mount (it slides and locks into a groove on the bottom extension), the L1 is ready to go.

The T1 ToneMatch mixer is a major selling point for the L1 system. Main features include a back-illuminated LED screen, three XLR/TRS analog inputs with phantom power; four quarter-inch TRS line inputs (channels 4/5 and L/R); fader knobs with Mute, FX Mute, and CH Edit buttons per channel; an intelligent signal/clip indicator LED system for channels 1 through 4/5); and the ToneMatch digital processing engine itself with a rotary switch for parameter selection.

ToneMatch provides some well conceived presets; for example, menu choices are as specific as a Vocal Handheld Mic followed by a variety of appropriate EQ, Compressor/Gate, Modulation, Delay and Reverb sub-settings. The included chromatic tuner is also assignable, independently, to any input. Settings, Preferences and Reverb Type are also assignable globally.

Scene Snapshots are storable (all ToneMatch settings plus Mute, FX Mute, and Channel Edit statuses) and there’s a USB I/O for two channels (any combination of two, Channels 1-3, Channels 4/5, Master, or Aux).

In Use

During this review period, I used the L1 in a variety of environments: at a local small/medium size church, in both the sanctuary and around the facility, indoors and out, as well as a small bar/club venue.

The beauty of the Bose L1 Model 1S system lies in two key features: its finely engineered components and its brain, the T1 ToneMatch mixer. The T1 was so easy to use, I didn’t open the manual until after my first three gigs with it, then simply to check my knowledge of its features. This mixer comes close to exemplifying the label “idiot proof.”

Once I learned the T1‘s input level color scheme (channel LED flashes and/or holds yellow for present/low level, green for ideal, and red for high/clipping level), my first sound check was off to a swift start. During this evaluation (and in my partial absence), novice church users were able to move and reconfigure the system, plug in instruments and mics, and begin a music worship service on their own. I doubt they would have experienced similar ease and success with a standard mixer/powered speakers rig.

I quickly discovered the L1’s ideal application: an acoustic duo or “around the mic” multi-instrument gig featuring vocals and/or acoustic stringed instruments, performing in a coffee house or small club or auditorium. I also used it to amplify distorted, electric guitars, then auditioned it with drums, and most varieties of standard gigging setups; the L1 would be a perfect PA for electronic drum kit users playing in small venues and houses-of-worship.

Bose’s selection of built-in effects and presets sound great. I found the Comp/Gate’s “KickGate 1: Regular” and “KickGate 2: Fast” particularly good and very useful on drums — an easy way to create a high-energy, punchy kick drum performance in lower, non-arena SPLs. The delays, modulators and reverbs were also good and intuitive to use.

When I employed the system at a local church (~ 200 members), I first tried it behind the performers, set up behind the pulpit. Bose recommends their L1 systems serve as both a main mix and monitoring system for musicians. (Bose actually encourages each performer to have their own L1 rig.) As I suspected, this is a less-than-ideal idea under many circumstances because the speakers are firing into the microphones. In this instance, I was not surprised when we experienced some initial feedback and squeals via open vocal microphones and resonant-happy acoustic guitars. We fixed it, but with some frequency sacrifices, leaving the overall sound a bit carved out/hollow in comparison. To avoid EQing and gating the life out of sound sources, I would still rather use the L1 with a dedicated powered monitor and place the L1 in front of the performer(s); with the ToneMatch mixer’s flexible mount, you can face the mixer in the opposite direction, stand behind the L1 and reach the mixer as you would a music stand. Best of all, the svelte Bose rig will never be as visually distracting to the audience as traditional portable PA boxes and stands can be. Frequently it would go completely unnoticed by the audience.

On that note, I must admit that the overall sound and “body” of the system falls short in direct comparison to the most modern, high quality “speakers on a stick.” To me, the overbuilt, high SPL Class-D powered speakers available on the market today has become the portable PA user’s new benchmark in terms of power and fidelity. As these 1000W, two-way speaker boxes become the norm, users consistently expect such performance from every PA, even the L1 Model 1S, that possesses enough appealing qualities to buy, even if not the loudest, most powerful rig on the block. It is worth noting that, thanks to the B2 bass module with three, manually switchable output levels ( “-,” flat, and “+”), this system will provide more than enough low end frequency response at its maximum SPL, or tastefully duck lows when troublesome instruments, such as overly resonant acoustic guitars, dominate the mix.

Meanwhile, ease of use, light weight and appealing design are the L1 Model 1S’s forte, making it an attractive choice. As with any system, the user needs to understand its limitations.

Summary

Having dedicated a great deal of time to reviewing portable PA systems over the past few years, I’ve developed “technical empathy” for artists. While considering the technical aspects first, I remain aware of the needs of the working musician. Loading in five minutes before the downbeat, they don’t want to worry about system setup. For people like that, the Bose L1 Model 1S system is perfect.

Price: $2,499 street

Contact: Bose | bose.com