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Power amps: 10 new chapters

The current popularity of powered loudspeakers might lead some observers to predict a long-term decline for standalone amplifiers. But by nominating 10 exciting new developments in independent amps, David Davies thinks he has proven that any such claims are extremely wide of the mark…

More power, reduced rackspace, lower cost. If one was pushed to identify the three defining trends of the standalone amplifier segment in recent years, one might well arrive at this particular triumvirate. But such an overview would be to sell manufacturers short during a period in which their R&D activity has arguably reached new heights.

As ever, to some extent this is a case of necessity being the mother of invention. In the case of live touring, rising overheads and a need for artists to maximise revenue as much as possible in the face of declining income from recorded work has had a direct influence on product design, with smaller, lighter, more cost-effective amplifiers being very much the order of the day. To a lesser degree, the same factors also impact amplifiers destined for the install environment, although the need for features that smooth the integration process is perhaps of greater importance here.

Increasingly sophisticated onboard processing is a particular characteristic of this new wave of products, whose continual arrival over the past few years underlines an R&D cycle that has had to accelerate to satisfy changing demands.

“With so many manufacturers going down the ‘closed system’ route, one might assume that the days for standalone amplifiers might be numbered, or at least force them to be relegated to the lower end of the market,” says XTA’s Waring Hayes. “We don’t believe this is the case, and there is a reason why speaker companies turn to OEMs for their processing and amplifiers… we can do it better!”

1. QSC goes Class D for GXD
The arrival of QSC’s latest innovation – the new GXD Series Processing Amplifiers, which were introduced at Winter NAMM – has been accompanied by a refreshingly direct admission of a past failing. Senior product manager Dale Sandberg acknowledges that QSC has “sometimes been the latecomer to technology trends. This is especially obvious in amplifiers where our top-selling models for years have relied on traditional Class AB and Class H designs.”

In fact, Class D topologies – now increasingly ubiquitous due to their high efficiency – have found their way into select QSC products, including the PL380 amplifier and the PLX/CXD platform, which blended Class D amplifier technology with DSP. And now comes an evolution of the GX amplifier series in the form of the small event-friendly GXD.

“The GXD started as a response to customers primarily in the musician and entertainer segment who liked the GX amplifiers, but wanted more control over their system,” explains Sandberg. “Specifically they wanted DSP so that they could maximise the performance of their passive loudspeakers. And while the GX amps are not that heavy we realised that if we went to Class D technology, we could reduce the weight of the amps, making them even more attractive to this segment who often carry their own PA.”

The results of their labours are the GXD 4 (400W per channel at 8 ohms and 600W per channel at 4 ohms, with a max total peak power of 1,600W) and the GXD 8 (800W per channel at 8 ohms and 1,200W per channel at 4 ohms, with a max total peak power of 4,500W). Complete loudspeaker processing capability, 20 preset ‘starting points’ for selected typical systems, a digital limiter to prevent destructive clipping, and smart loudspeaker protection are among the other components of the two-product range.

2. XTA reckons it’s all about flexibility with APA
Efficient Class D topologies and sophisticated DSP also collide in XTA’s APA (short for ‘Adaptive Processing Amplifier’) series. Introduced at InfoComm 2014, the first model – the APA-4E8 – incorporates four channels of power totalling 20kW peak output into 4 ohms, and continuous power available of 3,400W per channel into 4 ohms. An extensive suite of XTA DSP is part of the package.

“‘Adaptive’ is the key here,” confirms Waring Hayes, who is XTA and MC2’s technical brand manager. “It covers a whole host of areas and allows the amplifier to modify signal processing (as well as other tricks we can’t divulge here!) to increase efficiency, reduce distortion, and protect drivers better than pure voltage limiters ever could. On top of thinking about the adaptive side of the technology as being something ‘automatic’ that happens without user intervention, there is the adaptive side of the amp that means flexibility; being able to process audio through the amplifier’s extensive DSP tools, and send this back out onto the network is very useful.”

Given this feature-set, Hayes thinks that APA is just as applicable to fixed installation as live and touring sound projects.

3. MC2 fills light-in-weight amp line-up with E60
Meanwhile, on the MC2 side of the combined XTA/MX2 business, the forthcoming E60 is set to join the E Series light-in-weight touring amp line-up, “filling a gap in the four-channel models at the widely used power level of about 1,200-1,500W per channel. The E-475 sits at about 750W x 4 and the beast that is the E100 is way above that at 2.5k x 4 so we needed to cater for this middle ground. Using the APA power stage technology will mean it is set to be the best-sounding and most efficient amp in the range, and early listening tests would so far confirm this,” says Hayes.
PIC: ALSO: Waring Hayes pic
Cap: Waring Hayes: “E Series fills a gap”

4. Lab.gruppen and the high efficiency PLM+
Following the same lines as the successful 20000Q, but with “twice the processing power, twice the throughput, and a whole host of additional features and improvements,” the PLM+ range features two models: the PLM20K44 and the PLM12K44. Each model sports four analogue inputs, four AES inputs, four power outputs, four Lake Contour modules, an 8×8 Dante I/O, a 2-port 1GB network switch, dual redundancy and more.

While the PLM+ products are primarily geared towards the touring market, a more install-friendly equivalent, the D Series, is also available. “You have here the great advantages of Class D amplification coupled with extensive reliability and protection features, so it’s a real win-win,” says Martin Andersson, who is product manager for Lab.gruppen.

5. Powersoft has the power (guaranteed) with new X Series
Guaranteeing reliability and consistency of power supply is an obvious priority for many new amplifier R&D efforts, and Powersoft’s X Series – which was introduced to the market in 2014 – is no exception. A primary objective at all times is “to improve as much as possible the power supply since it is this part that is most exposed to external elements, and also the most important part of the power amplifier,” says sales and marketing director Luca Giorgi.

Hence, then, Powersoft’s emphasis on a “truly universal power supply which is capable of running in any situation, even in the event of a neutral line loss or one of the phases. Meanwhile, the integration of a very powerful DSP with mixing capabilities, together with a wide input signal acceptance (Dante, AES3, analogue) is simplifying the job of tour sound professionals,” he adds.

The current X Series range comprises two models: the larger X8, offering eight channels in a 2RU chassis, and the X4 with four channels in a single rack unit. Both models share the same power density and are capable of delivering up to 5,200W at 2 ohms per channel.

6. Crown Audio sets the controls for DriveCore expansion
Already a successful component of the Crown range, the DriveCore Install (DCi) Network Series amplifier range has grown once again in recent weeks with the announcement of two new models – the DCi 4|2400N, DCi 2|2400N and the DCi 2|1250N. Both models deliver 1900W into 8 ohms, 2400W into 4 ohms and 2100W into 2 ohms, and as with other DCi models they offer networked monitoring and control capabilities via their primary and secondary Ethernet ports.

In a possibly more unexpected DriveCore-related development, Crown has announced a new embedded amplifier initiative to provide third-party active loudspeaker manufacturers of CE and CI finished product with access to the Crown Audio portfolio of amplifier technology. The first amplifiers to be made available through the Empowered by Crown series offer power points from 75W to 2 x 750W continuous and 2 x 1,000W burst @ 2 ohms.

Speaking to PSNEurope at ISE, Crown senior director engineering and marketing Marc Kellom refuted the suggestion that the programme could be a reaction to insufficient levels of activity for its own range. “That’s certainly not the case,” he said. “Crown is extraordinarily healthy, but Harman is a public company and you’ll see that all of us are under a target of double digit growth every year – so expanding our reach and entering new segments is one of the ways we make that happen.”

7. L-Acoustics ‘renews’ amplified controller range with LA4X
Explaining the ethos behind one of the most significant recent additions to the L-Acoustics range, the LA4X amplified controller, applications engineer electronics Marc Bénard explains that L-Acoustics “had been manufacturing amplified controllers for some time and working closely with our users to gain their feedback. We wanted to renew our range and our users were telling us that a 4X4 configuration – something that could manage four input channels and four output channels – would be useful to them, so that was our starting point,” he explains.

In addition – and for the first time – L-Acoustics has incorporated power factor correction into the LA4X “and that translates directly into the LA4X drawing less power from the grid. Plus, it’s a Class D amplifier, something that we used successfully with the LA8, and which allows LA4X to dissipate less heat. So the LA4X takes in less power and generates less heat than its predecessor, for the same amount of output power.”

8. Nexo brings NXAMP processing capability to new controllers
Industry observers will be aware that Nexo’s NXAMP4x4 is one of the most powerful amplifiers on the market with delivery of 4 x 4,000W into 2 ohms. Now the French company has sought to bring “the sound quality and processing capacity of our high-end NXAMPs” to the DTD Digital TD Controllers for Nexo PS Speakers and LS Subs.

“The challenge was to match the popular PS15/LS18 speaker combination with a low-cost controller, when most of our users expected the high-resolution digital processing of our NXAMP range,” says Joseph Carcopino, a senior R&D engineer at Nexo. “I think we’ve done that, and while we were at it, we’ve revived some features from Nexo legacy products (eg. connectors on the front panels) which makes this DTD unique on the market.

“Anecdotally, we added a USB port for programme change and a small but nice OLED display to show the current preset selected. Looking at the USB port, it occurred to us: Wouldn’t it be nice to be able to stream audio directly from any computer or smartphone directly to this digital controller, for easy soundcheck or background music playback?”

9. Yamaha consolidates CI presence with XMV series
Whilst the touring range continues to grow, Yamaha is also expanding its CI-oriented offer with series including XMV. “The multi-channel XMV series has become a feature in hotels, cinemas, bars, theatres and other leisure venues, and has recently been joined by the MA2030 digital mixer amplifier and the PA2030 power amplifier,” says Yamaha Commercial Audio sales & marketing manager Karl Christmas.

Incorporating interfaces designed to allow fast set-up and straightforward daily operation, the two models feature a Class D amplifier circuit, delivering 30W into two channels at 3 or 4 ohms selectable, or 60W into one channel at 70V/100V line. The fanless design keeps noise and power consumption to a minimum and the units are designed to precisely match Yamaha’s CIS series loudspeakers. In addition, the MA2030 features DSP functions geared towards background music applications, including a feedback canceller, ducker and auto leveller.

10. Coda Audio achieves integrated amplification with LINUS10
Recently introduced by Coda Audio, the LINUS10 is billed as an integrated DSP, network, comparator and amplifier solution delivering two channels of 5,100W into 2 ohms. Features include a pair of dynamic comparators for use with the company’s sensor-controlled subwoofers, a new integrated 96kHz SHARC floating point DSP with advanced IIR and linear phase FIR filters, and Coda LiNET technology to allow eight freely configurable digital audio signals to be transmitted over a CAT5 cable. In addition, the LINUS Live Remote Software means the amplifiers can be monitored and controlled over Ethernet.

Integrated into two Coda touring racks – the LINUS RACK20 (2 x LINUS10) and LINUS RACK40 (4 x LINUS10) – the amplifiers “have already been a feature of a number of high profile events, including the UK’s Creamfields Festival, Germany’s Wilhemlstal Open Air Festival, and Contact Festival in Munich,” says Coda’s Marcel Pitann.

Fully amped
Despite the obvious high level of creativity, there is a general feeling that the market share of standalone amps will contract further over time. But more powerful onboard processing and other features that ease touring or install deployment – not least among operators with variable skillsets – should ensure that they retain a credible long-term foothold.

Sandberg provides a neat summation: “As with most other manufacturers, we have seen a reduction in standalone amp sales in the portable PA market, which can be directly tied to an increase in powered loudspeaker systems. However, this is offset by an increase in amps sold into integrated or installed systems. For production it is a declining market, but I don’t think it will ever completely disappear; there are just too many applications where having the amps separate for accessibility, for modularity or for simplicity makes sense.”