- by Evan Hooton
in Road Tests
“Innovative live sound solutions” and “World’s first smart mixing system,” they say. While a newcomer to the speaker/mixer market, Line 6 has a long history in technology, from its POD-enabled guitar processing to its respected family of XD digital wireless units. And with that in mind, I wanted to investigate these new speakers and mixer.
I arranged to get one of the first production StageSource loudspeaker systems (and Stage-Scape M20d mixers) to review. The review system included two L3t three-way tops and two L3s subs. These form a compact (yet scalable) system offering accurate highs and some actual “thud” in the low-end. Stacked together, with a L3t on top of an L3s sub (without a pole), these measure in at 5’8”. I know this because I am 5’8” of vertically challenged enthusiasm with little upper body fullness. Now that I have made myself vulnerable and exposed, thanks to Line 6 for putting wheels on the dual-12 subs and making the fairly lightweight (57.5-pound) tops.
If need be, I could fit both tops and subs, a box of cable, two powered monitors, some mic stands and a small compact mixer into the back of my Nissan Xterra. I can do a small corporate speech reinforcement event or coffeehouse gig and not have to break my back and have confidence that I have enough system to cover a few hundred people.
One For All and All In One
The L3t ($1,199/each, street) is a 1,400-watt, three-way, tri-amplified loudspeaker with a configuration of dual 10-inch woofers and a 1-inch exit compression driver placed between the two LF drivers. On the cabinet’s side is an integrated multi-channel mixer with two mic/instrument combi jack inputs (and -20dB pad), XLR line aux input, stereo RCA aux input, 3-band EQ with sweep mid, a 12-band feedback suppression on each input, XLR outs, master volume, two onboard effects engines (“Smart Mod” and “Smart Reverb” on each input channel) and a networking L6 Link in/out port. Dont’ need onboard mixing? Try the L3m ($999 each), an identical speaker minus the mix functions.
The L3t’s pole-mount has an optical sensor and internal accelerometer that detects speaker orientation. It’s also armed with six DSP-based Smart Speaker modes, including “reference” PA, floor monitor, music playback, or as backline for keyboards, acoustic guitar or electric guitar. Having tested them all, I can say there’s a preset for every situation you’d possibly want to use the L3t for. Used horizontally on the floor, the accelerometer kicks in the floor monitor mode. Used vertically without a pole activates the Virtual Tilt-back function, which optimizes speaker tuning to achieve an upward tilt to its main axis. But technical gab aside, the L3t is a precise and high-end sounding speaker and has the potential to be a face-welding cabinet with its crisp, clear high-end and LF response down to 47 Hz (-3dB).
The 82.5-pound L3s subwoofer (also $1,199/street) is like a 400-pound sumo wrestler packed in a shoebox. The 1,200-watt, bi-amplified, bass reflex configuration dual-12 woofer cabinet makes you take a second look. It also has a selection of Smart Speaker modes to select for either a Reference PA or a DJ rig, both with bass enhancement modes. Through its analog inputs, you have control over the desired crossover frequency and can choose: 80/100/120 Hz and Off. The high-pass frequencies are sent out of the stereo output so that you can go straight to the input of your top cabinets. The crossover, when connected via L6 networking Link to the speakers, is controlled from the StageScape M20d digital mixer. It has three pole mount sockets: one on the top when the L3s is in a vertical position, and two on the side for horizontal use. The input panel has a polarity switch and a master volume knob — in case you need to tame the beast. You may be surprised.
The M20d Digital Mixer
This M20d mixer ($2,499/street) features 12 combi mic/line inputs, four 1/4-inch TRS line inputs, a 1/8-inch stereo aux input, stereo streaming from USB or SD card, four XLR monitor outputs and XLR left/right outputs. It also has an SD Card slot, USB-A/flash drive slot and a USB-B control port to connect to a PC/Mac. All input/output connections are digitally controlled via auto sensing connections; when you plug into either an input or output, the appropriate icon appears on the 7-inch, very crisp color touchscreen. You can touch and move the icons around as well as choose from the preset library of icons and names to customize the look of your virtual stage to create an onboard representation of your performance space. Very cool. This would be a very effective resource for schools, churches and bands whose staff consists of novice or volunteer members. You always have a visual representation of your input source and can either select the icon on the screen, select from the list of sources at the bottom of the screen or tap the corresponding knob to access the editing features of that channel.
Each input channel has two modes for accessing processing, labeled “Quick Tweak” and “Deep Tweak.” The quick tweak mode gives you control of your EQ labeled “Tone,” your dynamics (labeled “Punch”) and a Global FX section. The Tone and Punch sections offer seemingly appropriate terms that correlate to a desired sound such as warm, bright and deep in the EQ section; and punch, pump and open in the dynamics section. So setting up a channel and getting your desired sound with one touch of the screen and moving the cross-hair type cursor around is really a great tool that allows absolutely anyone to step up to the console and mix a show (as long as they have a decent ear!). For more advanced users, the Deep Tweak mode has a more familiar interface. You have a six-point EQ with four sweepable mids, a low shelf and a high shelf. A dynamic EQ along with a gate and compressor are available on every input.
Users can multi-track record 18 channels (16 inputs plus stereo aux mix) plus the main L/R mix output to either an SD card or directly to a Mac/PC in a 24-bit WAV format. The mix can also be controlled via the available iPad App and an optional Wi-Fi adapter. That offers a complete duplicate representation of the M20d on your iPad, which lets you roam as you please and control your FOH and monitor mixes.
The M20d has two surprising features that are great options. The first tool is an Auto Trim function that can be set either per channel on an individual line check, or as a global function. Just select the channels you want to set the trim for and push “Start Analysis” while those performing on stage play at their loudest level, and the console does the work for you. It’s almost taking away the learning of one of the most important fundamentals, gain structure, but when you don’t have the time to properly train the new guy, this is your saving grace.
The second tool that Line 6 snuck onboard is an FFT analyzer on the EQ screen. I never read user manuals the first time out with a piece of equipment, because it ruins all the fun of finding these things out. Also, if I really need to read a user manual to operate an entry-level or “user friendly” piece of gear, then I cannot safely let my equipment out of my sight on a wedding rental or small trio coffeehouse gig. Nor would I trust it in the hands of the volunteer at the church service. Line 6 has made this digital mixer a very user-friendly and intuitive piece of equipment for all levels of experience. The M20d overall is a very nice board and has a nice warm tone and a very accurate and pleasing response when operating.
In the Field
I had three gigs that spotlighted the ability of L3 speakers. The first was a simple corporate setup with the two L3t speakers and a wireless handheld. With the 2-channel mixer built into the L3t and the option of running the L6 Link between them, I was surprised at the L3t’s clarity with common speech and music playback right out of the box. No extreme changes were needed, except rolling off a little low-end, because the L3t has a very impressive full-range response. When I took out the full StageSource system with two L3t and two L3s subs, my eyes were opened to this compact, high output system. The tops being a dual-10 will only go so far, but if you’re doing a rock show, use four of them. The only downside is the 1-inch-exit compression driver/horn’s placement is in the middle of the L3t, when you want to get them up in the air. If you ground-stack, the horn is shooting to the upper-mid chest area, and the high-end will be chopping from the crows walking around in front of them. So I’d recommend purchasing the optional 24-inch pole mount to get some distance in the air and between the L3s and L3t.
That said, it’s a nice sounding rig. It was easy to EQ. The clipping circuitry is transparent and only allows you to go so loud, but when in the appropriately sized environment for this system, you get top clarity and precision with ultimate crispness from the L3t’s. And the L3s will take everything you can throw at them, present a very “punchy” and dynamic low-end that sounds much larger than you’d expect with a dual-12 sub.
The claims were “innovative live sound solutions” and “world’s first smart mixing system.” My verdict is that in the right applications, here’s a compact, easy to use system that delivers the goods. Way to go, Line 6!