PreSonus StudioLive AI-series Active Integration Loudspeakers

by George Petersen
in Tech Preview

PreSonus StudioLive AI-series Active Integration LoudspeakersYou heard it here first: At this month’s NAMM show, PreSonus is unveiling the results of one of the largest R&D projects in the company’s 18-year history. It’s called Active Integration, and this technology is incorporated into the newest generation StudioLive 32.4.2AI 32-channel mixer (spotlighted on page 23) and PreSonus’ new advanced StudioLive AI-series live sound speakers. But rather than a another “me-too” speaker-on-stick design, the new AI series grabs the industry by the horns and teaches it a few new tricks along the way.

The line consists of three 3-way top cabinets and a subwoofer. The StudioLive 328AI has two 8-inch woofers flanking an 8-inch coaxial driver with a 1.75-inch titanium compression driver. That same coaxial is used for MF/HF reproduction in the 312AI (with a 12-inch LF section) and the 315AI with its 15-inch woofer. Each top model has onboard Class-D amplification for a combined 2,000 watts of power; the companion 18sAI 18-inch subwoofer has 1,000 watts.

Something Very Different

Very cool so far, but what really sets these apart from the crowd is what’s under the hood and the team behind the technology. We spoke to PreSonus founder/chief strategy officer Jim Odom and he offered this preview. “This project came about as early as 2008-2009, when we started doing research on different speaker system configurations, working with Dave Gunness. We were interested in coaxial products, because they gave us the response we were looking for. Dave has done some stunning work using DSP with coaxial designs at Fulcrum Acoustics. David is a stunning speaker designer, and I’ve been blown away with how much I’ve learned from him.”

And DSP proved the key to what became the AI Series. “These new DSP-driven speaker systems have as much onboard DSP core as our new 32-channel mixer,” Odom explains. “Using all that processing power, David has meticulously tuned all the reflections from the coaxial horn and other drivers using these giant FIR [Finite Impulse Response] filters. It’s a Linux core inside a loudspeaker running 2,000 watts of Scandinavian-made power modules [4 x 500W] in different configurations. It also has the ability to set up its own ad-hoc network with other speakers and an iPad in the room. Essentially, the DSP can function as its own drive rack-style processor, communicating with all the other speakers in the system and helping you analyze different issues and talk to each speaker individually or as a system.”

The key to Active Integration technology is how it combines wireless and wired networking/communications with the powerful DSP to create a unified working environment. All StudioLive AI series loudspeakers include a USB Wi-Fi module to connect to SL Room Control, the company’s Mac OS X/Windows/iPad system-configuration application. Available parameters/control functions include 31-band graphic and 8-band parametric equalizers, muting, soloing and level control, in addition to performance monitoring (over-temperature, click detection and over-excursion).

A network-setup wizard helps quickly connect each speaker to a wireless network and an included Ethernet port on each speaker can be replaced with future options such as an AVB or Audinate Dante option card. PreSonus is also a founding member of the OCA (Open Control Architecture) Alliance, so the new Active Integration products could interface and network with products from other manufacturers.

Odom is definitely enthusiastic about the possibilities of AI. “The concept of Active Integration comes from all the onboard DSP communicating with mixers and iPads. And now that all these products can talk and communicate together with each other, it’s creating a software/hardware control integration into a single system. SMAART can run in real-time through the mixer, although you may want to run it on a computer if you want to do things like transfer function analysis. For years, we’ve been moving toward building this ecosystem of products that are pretty advanced, but at the same time, a church boy could set them all up and be stepped through setting up a system properly.”

Power, and More Power

There’s plenty of punch from the built-in amplification, but there’s another side of power as well. One impressive aspect about StudioLive AI is the serious amount of DSP horsepower in each enclosure, which allows the real-time application of 1,024-point FIR  — a feat that would have been impossible (·or very slow) just a few years ago. Inside each speaker, a custom Linux operating system runs on a platform based on a 470 MHz Texas Instrument OMAP multicore processor, with plenty of onboard RAM. By running the high-end, high-definition Burr Brown converters at 96kHz, the group delay is in the blazingly fast 700-microsecond range.

Implementation and flexibility was also a priority. “We really wanted to build a product that people could experiment with, if they want to,” says Odom. “The speakers have a full USB 2.0 port, so there are all kinds of possibilities there, and as a host in this environment, you could plug in a USB thumb drive and actually load in an entirely new speaker tuning, if you wanted. If you’re a tweaker, there are 31-band graphic EQs and parametrics onboard, and using the speaker control software for iPad and other things, you can play with the EQ and delays on each speaker individually or over an entire system. Being able to time-align individual speakers was something a lot of people we spoke to had requested and you can move a speaker in very fine detail, even a half-inch back and forth — or 100 feet — and it’s all built-in.”

This versatility opened creative possibilities as well. “Some of the Fraunhofer guys were here, and they were excited about what we were doing,” Odom says. “They’re working on a system that puts hundreds of boxes in a room and then has a signal follow the artist around the stage. It’s all done with delays and level changes, so it pulls your ear to a certain location in the speaker system. Ours can update delay changes up to 100 times per second over a Wi-Fi system, so you could actually have it follow somebody around a stage — or even a room.”

Obviously, not everyone is going to jump in that deep, but the concept of the AI Series hold true, with a system that — according to Odom, “can be as simple or as complicated as you want it to be, even if you don’t know what you’re doing. For example, there’s even an MP3 setting on the back, with a voicing that makes your MP3’s sound better. Gunness has always been unhappy with the sound of MP3s, so you can apply a curve he designed that really help them out and make them sound better.”

Playing Favorites

With many systems, the high-end entries in the series get the most attention, but the small 328AI proved to be a favorite among the entire development team. The speaker can double as a punch 2,000-watt stage wedge (with an onboard “monitor” (highpass filter) setting for floor use, but like the 312AI  and 315AI, also has a pole mount for vertical FOH applications.

More and Less...

With the onboard computation built both into the speakers and new 32-channel StudioLive 32.4.2AI mixer, system control/networking is available without having to bring a laptop to the gig — one less thing to carry. The new mixers also support both Dante and Thunderbolt, as well as FireWire 800.

Specs & Stuff

What it has

Each full-range system has a Combo XLR/TRS line input and an XLR microphone input with an XMAX Class-A mic preamp and 12V phantom power. The full-range speakers have M10 fly points and all enclosures sport lightweight plywood construction. Additionally, the full range models have built-in low-cut filters for easy combining with the 18sAI powered 18-inch subwoofer, and the sub has onboard alignment delay and phase correction controls, as well as a bass management crossover.

Options

Options for the AI-series speakers will include a mountable Sub Dolly for easily transporting the 18sAI sub and a pull-tested Sub Pole to mount a full-range system atop the 18sAI. An M10 Kit, which contains four M10 eyebolts, allows flying any full-range model in a permanent installation. Protective covers for all models are also planned.

Studio Live Street Prices

312AI: $1,399.95

328AI: $1,499.95

315AI: $1,599.95

18s subwoofer: $1,299.95