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Live Sound: Electronic Versus Physical: An Analysis Of Shaping Array Directivity - Pro Sound Web
Electronic Versus Physical: An Analysis Of Shaping Array Directivity
Electronic modification of an array’s directivity is not always a substitute for good old mechanical arranging or aiming. Here's a look at the differences
January 26, 2012, by Joe Brusi Modifying the directivity characteristics of loudspeaker arrays through electronic delay has become increasingly popular. Whereas 20 years ago the only option was expensive dedicated digital delay units, and a few years later the original BSS Omnidrive was a luxury, the advent of inexpensive digital processing has changed the game. The design of complex arrays using a relatively high number of processing channels, as required to electronically modify the directionality of an array, is now affordable and widely implemented. However, virtual (electronic) modification of an array’s directivity is not always a substitute for good old mechanical arranging or aiming, as the two methods have widely differing radiation characteristics off-axis (i.e., to the back and sides). Let’s look at the differences in the two approaches, how they differ across a number of array types, and suggest applications where each of them should be used with subwoofers. Arrival Times The reason why physically moving a loudspeaker backward is different from delaying it electronically may not be intuitively obvious, but is easily shown graphically. Figure 1a shows two loudspeakers (“A” and “B”) located left and right at equal distance from both a listener positioned in front and another listener positioned behind. Leaving aside subtleties such as the location of the time origin of the loudspeakers, since it does not influence the basic concept being discussed here, sound from loudspeakers A and B will arrive at the same time to both listeners.
Figure 1: Loudspeakers equidistant to listeners (1a); loudspeaker B moved back (1b); and loudspeaker B electronically delayed (1c).
If we move back loudspeaker B (Figure 1b), then loudspeaker A is closer to the front listener, so sound reaches that listener earlier. Behind the loudspeakers, of course, the opposite occurs.
If we return the loudspeakers back to their original positions, and then apply electronic delay to loudspeaker B (shown in Figure 1c as a diverted path length to the listeners), we see that the output of loudspeaker A arrives earlier than B in both cases (in front and behind). Thus, it is graphically clear that physically moving enclosure B produces a significantly different result
125 and 160 Hz (2b). (Some may recognize the CADP2 graphics. because with plane mappings it’s often difficult to understand the behavior at distances other than those close to the system being modeled. correctly emphasizing that the use of their products yields better coverage than a single. vertical polars for array w ith digital delay steering at 80. In Figure 4a (mechanical). Figure 4: Room mapping of mechanically tilted array (4a) and an electronically steered array (4b). 90 degrees to the sides) are pointing straight. the sources are delayed so that the main radiation is (electronically) steered 30 degrees down (by applying increasingly larger delay times from top to bottom). this time using loudspeaker data with realistic nonperfect omnidirectionality. while it is probably somewhat unrealistic of typical subwoofer bandwidth.. that represent the direction in which the main lobe is pointing. while Figure 2b shows polar plots for the third octave bands between 80 and 160 Hz (the main lobe gets narrower as frequency increases). I often prefer to display results via polar plots. Pointing Lobes To provide another example illustrating the differences between mechanical tilting and delay steering. Focus On The Effect Let’s now look at the implications within the context of a vertical array of loudspeakers. The balloon looks a bit like a fat cone. the lines follow the shape of a disk. The 125 Hz octave band was used for the room predictions. Also note that I’ll use mostly omnidirectional sources instead of “real-world” sources (with a certain degree of attenuation at the back. www. The resulting pressure maps have been plotted onto the walls as well as the floor. and we’ve also drawn lines. down-tilted conventional enclosure. the lines form a cone and sound is mostly focused on the floor. In Figure 4b (electronic).Pro Sound Web to electronically delaying it. In Figure 3a and 3b. Figure 3: 3D balloon for array w ith delay steering at 100 Hz (3a). we modeled one of each in a room. the narrower coverage is helpful to exaggerate the effect for clarity. Figure 2: 3D balloon for mechanically tilted array at 100 Hz (2a). What a beautifully elegant piece of software that was! RIP. while left and right (i. In Figure 2a and 2b. and the back part points up 30 degrees.3/13/13 Live Sound: Electronic Versus Physical: An Analysis Of Shaping Array Directivity . 100. which means that some of the lines are pointing to the walls. we can guess that an electronic arc (where input signal is increasingly delayed as one goes from the center to the edges of the array) will display identical front and rear radiation for omnidirectional sources. It can also be seen that the covered area is roughly rectangular for the mechanical case and rounder for the electronic one. 125 and 160 Hz (3b). not perfectly omnidirectional) to focus on the effect that the arrangement is causing on the directional response of a single loudspeaker. not just in front of it.com/article/print/shaping_array_directivity 2/5 .. Figure 2a shows a three-dimensional directivity balloon resembling some sort of “flying saucer” at an angle. vertical polars for mechanically tilted array at 80. i.e. showing that the 30-degree downward angle is taking place all around the array. 100. we have physically tilted a 12-element array that is 23 feet (7 meters) long downward by 30 degrees.e. The front part of the radiation points down 30 degrees. both at 125 Hz.prosoundweb. and the mapping indeed shows that significant SPL is being radiated towards the walls. and predict the coverage of a column of omnidirectional sources. This behavior is emphasized by manufacturers of electronically controlled (“digitally steerable”) column loudspeakers. as if the array had not been tilted at all. at different horizontal angles.) Exploring Arcs From the explanation earlier in this article.
the extent of this will be reduced through the use of cardioid subs.prosoundweb.3/13/13 Live Sound: Electronic Versus Physical: An Analysis Of Shaping Array Directivity .e. particularly at center stage. in order to digitally down-aim low-frequency (LF) radiation. mid field (5b). However. meaning one amplifier channel can power two boxes if needed. however. we can use an even number of elements. Also. This is because circular arc sources arrive simultaneously at the circle’s center. In general. where LF system response is audibly louder. Invariably. and it requires less space in front of the stage. the back radiation lobe will point to the stage. the buildup of sound pressure at the back can be observed. This was calculated at a distance of 98 feet (30 meters) from the center of the array. means that corresponding rear radiation will also be aimed downward. Given today’s prices. Case Study B: Opening up left-right subwoofers. This translates approximately to the same level back and front for a typical real-life subwoofer (with a certain degree of directionality). interference creates the notorious power alley. Figure 5c shows the far-field results. And unlike array steering. when left and right subwoofers are used. presenting potential noise problems with nearby housing. if the array is mechanically tilted. Additionally. bass coverage is not uniform since interference patterns change with frequency. as shown in Figure 6b. As we get farther from the array though (Figure 5b).com/article/print/shaping_array_directivity 3/5 . in the near field. Figure 6: Side view of stage show ing the difference betw een mechanically aimed arrays (6a) and electronically steered arrays (6b). be it off-the-shelf cardioid models or array elements made up of a cardioid arrangement). When flying a subwoofer array. where each element requires a different delay time. Mathematically. Unlike the physical arc.at close distances. the electronic version shows the same levels back and front both up close and far away from the array.Pro Sound Web A physical arc. Figure 5: Horizontal polars for six-element physical arc in the near field (5a). the rear radiation lobe will point upward (Figure 6a) and minimize trouble.” Accordingly. 5b and 5c present polars for a physical arc of eight subwoofers spanning 120 degrees with a radius of 10 feet (3 meters). One way to minimize left-right interference is to aim subwoofer arrays away from each other in order to reduce overlap. an electronic arc is preferred because it does not suffer from pressure build-up behind the array. and far field (5c). Doing this. i. Case Study A: Flown array of subwoofers on an open-air concert. an extra DSP unit dedicated to subs does not seem too much of a luxury. made up of equidistant enclosures that would “virtually” follow the same arc as the physical arc above. physical arc best practices should avoid any arc that displays an inconvenient center. so that pairs can share the same delay. rear levels will be higher. the rear pattern is narrower at the back. the polars become symmetrical. Yet it might be tempting to go with a “clean” hang and implement electronic steering. also provides symmetrical front and rear behavior – but . Figure 7: Top view of stage show ing the difference betw een mechanically aimed arrays (7a) and electronically steered arrays (7b). in the far field. the array’s “virtual origin. Figure 5a. a piece of string can be used to mark a circular arc on the floor as physical reference for measuring “virtual” distances for pairs of subs. increasing LF spill (again. If we aim the array physically (Figure 7a). calculating required delay times for a straight line array of equally spaced boxes may be complicated. www. In the near field (Figure 5a). with the same levels being radiated to the back and front. with the array being an average of around 6 dB less sensitive at the front for theoretical omnidirectional sources (though this number changes widely with frequency as seen on the plots).
except for the fact that we are dealing with horizontal. José (Joe) Brusi is an independent electroacoustical consultant. the array loses the ability to control directivity. coverage. a flow n 360-degree This two-column arrangement with electronic steering array. which requires a tighter element density. Vertical polars for a sixelement array w ith delay steering (10b) and w ith mechanical aiming (10c) at 80. if electronic steering is used (Figure 7b). a mechanically tilted array of subs (Figure 10c) with the same spacing only shows misbehavior at 250 Hz. This is even more so for an electronically steered array.3/13/13 Live Sound: Electronic Versus Physical: An Analysis Of Shaping Array Directivity . And it might seem a bit counterintuitive. If that spacing is exceeded. Case Study C: 360-degree subwoofer array. so it’s no surprise. with real non-perfectly omnidirectional sources. we use a “face-to-face” deployment. an arrangement that also minimizes obstructions to the expansion of the wavefront. And thanks to Joan La Roda for www. but a physically phase-aligned pair can also be achieved if the correct spacing is used between the two.Pro Sound Web However. would send slightly less SPL to the sides (in our case. would generate the directivity balloon seen in Figure 3a (except that the sides would be slightly squashed). Figure 10a shows a three-dimensional representation of the directivity balloon of an electronically steered array with excessive spacing (4. Figure 10b presents 80 to 250 Hz one-third octave polars for the same array where the three highest frequencies have gone haywire across the top part of the curve. which means that different venues would require different lengths to suit their geometry. A significant top lobe can be seen that will surely create reverberation issues at that frequency in an indoor venue. given the uniform downward profile.5 feet). 160. angle-wise. for circular venues such as a bullfighting ring or a Mexican Palenque. From the point of view of level consistency. 100. Certain arena applications might call for 360-degree horizontal subwoofer coverage. a longer array generates a narrower radiation pattern. which would be desirable on a rectangular arena to compensate for the difference in distance to the closest and farthest tiers. not vertical. This is actually the same as Case Study A. In contrast. Achieving this with mechanical aiming is just plain impossible. but it can be accomplished through the electronic realm. to achieve the same level at both back and front.prosoundweb. with higher frequencies showing lobes at the wrong angles and eventually losing directivity control. the arrangement in Figure 8. On the other hand.com/article/print/shaping_array_directivity 4/5 . around 3 dB less for a real single 18-inch front-loaded subwoofer). To avoid flying too much weight. this configuration would be ideally suited. as well as some degree of downward firing toward the seating. The suggested design makes use of a somewhat unusual configuration. which corresponds to a wavelength that correlates roughly to the spacing between sources. 150 and 250 Hz. Watch That Space As we know from line array “laws” there is a maximum spacing between sources for any given frequency. Figure 9: Horizontal and vertical polars of 360-degree array at 100 Hz. 125. Figure 10: 3D balloon for 6 element array w ith delay steering at 160 Hz (10a). with the horizontal and vertical polars that can be seen in Figure 9. Since real subwoofers are not entirely omnidirectional (a typical 18-inch subwoofer box may show 4 to 6 dB less at the back relative to the front). we could alternate every other element in the array as seen in Figure 8. the back lobe will point away from the stage. Figure 8: 3D view of As with any low-frequency array.
Pro Sound Web the field phase measurements of the alternate face-to-face subwoofer configuration.com/article/print/shaping_array_directivity 5/5 .prosoundweb.3/13/13 Live Sound: Electronic Versus Physical: An Analysis Of Shaping Array Directivity .prosoundweb.com/article/shaping_array_directivity www. Return to article Electronic Versus Physical: An Analysis Of Shaping Array Directivity http://www.
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