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Methods of Mechanical and Digital Steering for

Touring Line-Array Systems in Live Events


Ben Roots
Department of Music and Sound Recording
University of Surrey

Abstract
Line array technology isnt new but is considered the best speaker choice for large audiences and
venues. With modern developments in the field, it is easy to see the attraction. Modern digital
steering has developed into a system that can manipulate the sound field by modelling the audience
listening area on a computer. Therefore a computational model that delivers the desired calculations
at a suitable resolution that allows for implementation of the correct FIR and IIR filters for steering.
All software is readily produced by manufacturers such that they can aid the use of their products.

1. Introduction

2. A Line Array System

When choosing a touring loudspeaker system,


consideration must be given to a number of factors: the
transportation available, audience size, venue size and
shape, genre of music and budget. The venue size and
shape is more often than not the most difficult obstacle to
overcome, this is where digitally steering arrays is now
becoming common practice. Touring line array systems
often need to deliver high SPL to a large audience area,
typically 30m to 70m [Thompson, 2009]. The sound
designer will often calculate the best splay angles using,
usually, manufacturer produced software. In an ideal
world the sound designer would have an infinite amount
of boxes at his disposal so that the listening area is
spectrally balanced. However, due to the above reasons
there are often insufficient numbers of cabinets therefore
meaning that the shape of the array is usually dictated by
the need for coverage of the listening area over a flat
spectral balance.
With the implementation of digital steering modern
touring arrays are now put under rigorous demands:
1. Minimise the output over the non-audience
areas.
2. Maximise the output over the audience.
3. Control the output level of the array as a function
of distance from the array.
4. Control the spectral balance of the array as a
function of distance from the array
5. Extend or reduce the coverage of the audience
area.
6. Attenuate defined regions within the audience
area.
[Thompson, 2009]
This paper will look into the methods used to model
and steer modern touring line arrays such that the shape
of the array is used along side DSP to deliver a system
that can be digitally steered for any audience area in any
venue.

The principle for line array systems came from column


speakers made from closely spaced drivers placed in a
line. Colum speakers were preferred in the 1960s for
cutting through the room reverberation [Klipper and
Steele 1963] and therefore improving the intelligibility of
speech in highly reverberant acoustics.
Point source systems of the time were often composed
of separate low, mid and high frequency loudspeaker
enclosures. The bass bins or low frequency drivers,
were set up next to each other to increase low frequency
coupling and the mid and high drivers were stacked
vertically on top [Webb and Baird 2003]. These therefore
create rather complex sound fields where interference that
changes with frequency at the listener position [Urban et
al. 2003] occurring. This was either accepted as the
unfortunate bi-product of such arrays or most often went
unnoticed.
The idea of column and point source loudspeakers
were combined, so the high, mid and low frequency
drivers were combined into a single enclosure, with
multiple enclosures then coupled together to form a flat,
continuous isophasic source where the whole array acts as
a single source. A line array system therefore exhibits a
cylindrical waveform in the near field, however spherical
in the far field [Urban et al. 2003], i.e. acts like a point
source loudspeaker in the far field. The distance until the
border between the near and far field can be calculated
using:
! =

3
1
! 1
2
3

Equation 1 - ! is the distance between the array and the near/far field
border, F is the frequency (kHz) and H is the height of the array (m).

A common estimate is also achieved by saying the


distance to the far field is three times the longest element
of the array [Smith, 1997].

The first commercially available line array was


designed and manufactured by LAcoustic - V-DOSC due
to the patented DOSC wave-guide, which shall be
discussed in a following chapter.

of doing this would be by using a larger quantity of


drivers that could be spaced closer together. However,
this is not viable for a touring line array system due to the
high SPL nature.

2.1. Wave Sculpture Technology


For an array to be classed as a continuous line source
Urban et al. state that the following criteria are met:
The sum of the radiating areas of the drivers is
greater than 80% of the array frame.
The distance between the centres of drivers is less
than /2 of the highest operational bandwidth.
However it is obviously incredibly difficult to fulfil
the first argument due to construction needs and
(compression) driver choice.

3. Array Shapes
There are three main array shapes.
1. Flat line source
2. Constant-curve line source
3. Variable-curve line source
The scientifically ideal line source is a flat vertical
line, however this is usually impractical as there is a need
to aim the array at the audience area, which usually starts
10m in front of the bottom of the array. Therefore
different shape types have been created to resolve this
problem where the array is typically flown above the
front of the stage.

3.1. Flat Line Source


This type of array occurs when there is a 0 splay angle
between adjacent cabinets. The directivity function is
given by:
Figure 1 - Two HF drivers, although physically as close to each other
as possible, demonstrates none flat non-isophasic wavefront achieved.
[Urban et al. 2001].

Figure 1 demonstrates a curvature of the waveform(s).


For an array to be considered a flat line source, the
isophasic wavefront should have a curvature of less than
5mm for a frequency of 16kHz, therefore /4.
This was achieved using a DOSC waveguide, seen in
Figure 2, in LAcoustics first line array the V-DOSC.
For frequencies within the bandwidth 1.3kHz and 16kHz,
it was found that there was less than 4mm of curvature
and also 80% ARF criteria were met, thus making the VDOSC a viable line source array. [Urban et al., 2001].

!"#$ =

!
!

!!"#$%&'
!!
!

Equation 2 - L is the length of the line source, A(x) is the amplitude


function k is the wave number, is the phase function [Ureda,
2001].

This is the starting point to the models

3.2. Constant-Curve Line Source


This type of array occurs when there is a constant splay
angle employed along the array, such that the array forms
a segment of a circle. These arrays create a wider polar
pattern in comparison to a straight line source, where the
HF polar pattern corresponds to the angle of the arc. The
directivity function is given by:
!"#$%& =

!
!

!!"!!(!)
!!
!

Equation 3 - is the angle of the array, ! () is the distance function


[Ureda, 2001].
Figure 2 - The centre portion of a DOSC waveguide [Urban et al.,
2001].

The waveguide forces the sound waves emitted from


the compression driver at neck of the horn to have the
same path length no matter what path it takes through the
guide, therefore all sound that reaches the rectangular
output of the horn have taken the same amount of time to
reach that point and are therefore in phase, thus meaning
there is a flat isophasic wavefront being emitted.
Waveguides, although expensive to develop, are the
cheapest method of mechanically changing the shape of
the wave front for a given driver. The other possible way

In general, arc sources are preferred to straight line


sources in most situations, due their greater vertical
dispersion. The HF patters also corresponds to the angle
of the arc produced by the array.

3.3. Variable-Curve Line Source


There are two types of these. First we shall consider the
spiral array which is similar to the continuous curve
array, however the angle of the curve increases with
distance along the array. This creates an asymmetric
pattern in the vertical plane. The directivity function is
given by:

!"#$%&

1
=
+1

!!"!!

!,!

!!!

Equation 4 - ! , is the directivity function of an arithmetic spiral


array, m is the length divided by a quarter of the highest wavelength
[Ureda, 2001].

This is the type of curve most seen in practice, to get a


really even coverage of the audience area, especially
when the throw distance isnt incredibly too great or the
number of cells in an array is low.
The second type of variable curve line source is the J
array known for the shape it forms. It is a mixture of the
top segment being a flat line source and the bottom being
a curve. The curve is used to provide relative coverage in
the near field whilst maintaining a good long distance
throw. The fact that these two types of line source are
combined in this array means that there is also an
asymmetric polar pattern in the vertical plane. The
directivity function is given by:
! =

! + ! !

!
!

!!"!!

!!
!
!

+ !

!!"[!! !!!! !

Equation 5 - ! and ! are the amplitudes per unit length of the line
and curve sections respectively [Ureda 2001],

As can be seen from Equation 5, Figure 3 confirms


that the J array is a combination of both the line source
and the constant curve source. There is the main lobe of a
line source array at 0 and an interference effect
transposed onto the curved source from the line source
between 270 and 350. In other words, the line section
creates the very directive and the curve at the bottom of
the array broadens the response.

Figure 3 - The polar patterns at 1kHz of a 2m long array, with a curve


of 60 [Ureda, 2001].

Because of this long throw and near field coverage


afforded up the J array, a J array can be easily steered
mechanically by the dimensions of the array.

3.4. Line Source Simulation


There are several different methods for modelling the
behaviour of line source arrays. Firstly there is the
elementary model that employs the Hugens principle
[Gloukhov, 2003] in the vertical domain. This method
considers
individual
contributions
from
all
omnidirectional drivers forming a single coherent
wavefront [Feistel et al. 2008]. This method is obviously
more computationally complex due to each cell
characteristics being calculated individually to create the
final wavefront. However,
The second method is called the Rayleigh-integral
method which where computes each individual radiating
component is calculated separately. This method is
therefore also very computationally demanding.
Therefore the entire array cant be calculated using this
method [Gunness and Hoy, 2000].
The final method is the Complex Directivity Point
Source (CDPS) model. CDPS uses phase data obtained
by measurement or radiation modelling of the cell [Feistel
et al., 2008]. Like the above methods, CDPS looks at the
array as a whole based on the complex far field data,
typically calculating the frequency response and vertical
polar data [Feistel et al., 2008]. Unlike the previous
examples, the CDPS can also be used in a threedimensional capacity as Feistel states. However this is at
the forfeit of a lower resolution.

4. Numerically Optimizing Arrays


By using a model of the acoustic, mechanical and
electrical data of the loudspeaker, a model can be created
for a given line array in a particular venue given the
correct data is supplied. The whole model should be
broken down into sub-processes due to complexity and
usability [Thompson et al., 2011]. These breakdowns
divide the process up for the end user, making the whole
process and enjoyable one. For a model the following
data is required:
1. Venue data This is defining the type of venue,
e.g. a theatre, an arena (with or without raked
seating), a TV studio or a large open plan field.
The main data required by the software is the
dimensions, whether there are any walls or
pillars.
2. Coverage area Inputting the audience area
data. In most software, for example d&b
Audiotechniks ArrayCalc, the user just inputs
the dimensions of the area. This information also
includes listener height, i.e. whether they are
sitting or standing. However, Martin Audios
Display2 software has the option of entering
not only audience areas, but also avoid and
hard avoid areas. This is particularly useful as
the aim is to steer the array into the audience and

not wasting energy in non-audience areas. Hard


avoid areas should not be overused as this will
degrade the status in the software. Thompson et
al. therefore suggest that only areas such as the
stage should be a hard avoid area.
3. Mechanical optimization Calculating the splay
angles between adjacent boxes. Some software
allows for automatic calculation of splay angles
for a given audience area, along with manual
changes by the designer. This can be found in
d&bs ArrayCalc. Other software such as
LAcoustics Soundvision3 still relies on the
user to manually enter and configure the splay
angles.
4. EQ optimization This is where the digital
steering of arrays occurs. Using variable length
FIR filters and multiple layers of comprehensive
IIR filters calculated using the supplied software.
Due to the nature of the filters employed in EQ
optimization there is additional latency added.
d&b claim this is 5.9ms in their system across
their whole line array range.
[Thompson et al. 2011]
It must be noted that not all software uses venue
dimension information and may solely require data about
audience area(s).
Adding latency to the system isnt the only trade-off
introduced. If a flat SPL response across the audience
area was desired and achievable by the array, this would
be at the cost of reduced throw [Thompson 2006]. This
therefore means that to gain spectral control you loose
SPL over the audience area. This therefore means that the
opposite is true.

using the band zoning technique, or by using the Auto


Splay feature. With this feature, the program searches the
known data for the venue, and suggests an array shape,
splay angles, pick point(s) on the fly frame. This pick
point is where the rigging steels attach to the fly frame
and ultimately a large impact on where the array
vertically points. However, the Auto Splay cannot
recommend a height for the array, so this is still a manual
user input. Figure 5 shows the array post Auto Splay.
Sub array data is also inputted. Although sub arrays
are not within the scope of this paper, it has been included
for completion of the calculations.

5.3. Array Processing


Figure 7 shows the Array Processing window. This
allows the user to edit the processing of the array in a
very closed manner. Not only does it make it very simple
for the end user to create the desired product, it also
covers the manufacturers reputation in the event that the
user doesnt know what they are doing.
Maximum Glory was selected in this example. The
results can be seen in Figure 9. In comparison to sole
mechanical steering shown in Figure 8 it can be seen that
the addition of Array Processing improves the spectral
delivery of the system. The effect can especially be seen
in the 5kHz plot, with Array Processing there is a wider
and longer throw distance achieved, sufficiently filling
80% of the venue as opposed to 40%.
The modern computer has no major issues with the
computation demands of modelling software available
from the manufacturer.

5.4. Conclusion

5. Example using ArrayCalc


In this section, d&bs ArrayCalc software is used to
demonstrate the process a sound designer/system
engineer takes to set up a modern day line array. The
example is based in an arena environment with 2-tier
raked seating, assuming the audience is seated. The
touring line array chosen is d&bs flagship model, Jseries. The following sub-sections are the broken down
steps necessary to optimize the array to the venue.

5.1. Enter venue data


Figure 4 shows the venue plot. As mentioned in section 4,
for ArrayCalc, the user enters data on the audience are
only, and doesnt input any information on walls and
other reflective surfaces. This data includes the angle of
the incline of the area along with the height of the listener
(i.e. whether they are standing or sitting).

5.2. Enter and manipulate array data


This is the longest part of the process, also made simpler
by d&b. This section is where the type of array is
selected. This can be achieved either by entering in the
splay angles manually, such that the directivity of each
box is equally spaced throughout the three audience areas,

It can be concluded, that digital steering increases the


results of loudspeaker line arrays. Computational
methods are used such that the system engineer on site
can calculate and process the array in around 10 minutes,
as time is precious.
It should also be noted that ArrayCalc is not the most
powerful tool for digital steering processing. For
example, Display2 manipulates each individual driver
within a cell whereas d&b amps only modify each class
of driver in a cell (i.e. LF/MF and HF). There is also no
option for avoiding certain areas of a venue, however,
temporal balance can be manipulated to the users
preference. As can be seen from Figures 8 and 9 the
software doesnt compute any data outside of the
specified audience areas, therefore saving computational
power.

6. Conclusions
The shape of the array is chosen on an application basis,
depending on the height of the array and distance of
audience area. There are many different methods of
modelling a system, each with their own benefits and
drawbacks. An array is digitally steered using FIR and

IIR filters in the DSP of the amp channel or the cross over
circuitry of an active array.
In the software the control the user has is powerful yet
limiting at the same time. This is to aid the end user
whilst also protecting the reputation of the manufacturer,
as simple data input and control makes the system less
liable to misuse.

7. References
Feistel, Stefan, Thompson, Ambrose and Ahnert,
Wolfgang, 2008: Methods and limitations of line source
simulation, Audio Engineering Society Convention 125.
Gloukhov, Arkady, 2003: A Method of Loudspeaker
Directivity Prediction Based on Huygens-Fresnel
Principle, Audio Engineering Society Convention 115.
Gunness, David W. and Hoy, William R., 2000:
Improved Loudspeaker Array Modeling-Part 2, Audio
Engineering Society Convention 109.
Klipper, David L. and Steele, Douglas W., 1963:
Constant Directional Characteristics from a Line Source
Array, Journal of the Audio Engineering Society, 11, 3, ,
pp.198202.

Smith, David L., 1997: Discrete-element line arraysTheir modeling and optimization, Journal of the Audio
Engineering Society, 45, 11, , pp.949964.
Thompson, Ambrose, 2006: Real World Line Array
Optimisaion, Real World Line Array Optimisation.
Thompson, Ambrose, 2009: Improved methods for
controlling
touring
loudspeaker
arrays,
Audio
Engineering Society Convention 127.
Thompson, Ambrose, Baird, Jason and Webb, Bill, 2011:
Numerically optimized touring loudspeaker arrayspractical applications, Audio Engineering Society
Convention 131.
Urban, Marcel, Heil, Christian and Bauman, Paul, 2001:
Wavefront Sculpture Technology, Wavefront Sculpture
Tecnology.
Urban, Marcel, Heil, Christian and Bauman, Paul, 2003:
Wavefront sculpture technology, Journal of the Audio
Engineering Society, 51, 10, , pp.912932.
Ureda, Mark S., 2001: J and Spiral Line Arrays,
Audio Engineering Society Convention 111.
Webb, Bill and Baird, Jason, 2003: Advances in line
array technology for live sound, Audio Engineering
Society Conference: UK 18th Conference: Live Sound.

9. Appendix 1 Screenshots of the ArrayCalc process

Figure 4 - The venue plotter screen. Entering all the relevant data for audience areas within a venue. Note that only the audience listening areas are
inputted. This screen contains the input section on the left hand side and a real time graphical top and side view to the right. An area can be edited by
manipulating the shape in the graphical representation for user ease if required.

Figure 5 - The array plotter. This section allows the user to plot the array in the venue and creates the shape of the array. The left window is setting the
shape of the array, by setting the splay angles. The middle window shows the shape of the array. Top right window shows the position of the array in the
venue and the horizontal coverage, below is the graphical representation of the cell aiming. The bottom is SPL over distance with area representation. This
is the array after using the Auto Splay feature. The program choses the best array shape and splay angles for the given venue. Note that the top two boxes
are considered a line source still, however after this, the array becomes a variable curve array. This would therefore be a classed as a spiral array.

Figure 6 This is the sub array plotter. The theory of sub arrays is not under the scope for this paper, however this step is included for completion. Similar
to the main array, the positions are entered by the user (with several user-friendly features) on the left hand side of the screen. The top right window
contains the SPL mapping for a given frequency whilst below that is the polar function of the array at assignable frequencies.

Figure 7 - Array processing window. This is where information on temperature and humidity can be entered for an individual listening area. There is also a
sliding scale to choose between whether you want to deliver high SPL at a loss of flat spectral coverage, known as Power. However, if a high spectral
coverage is required, this can be achieved by selecting Glory at a sacrifice of SPL across the audience areas.

Figure 8 The polar response of the system in the venue at a frequency of A) 500Hz , B) 1kHz , Live) 5kHz , C) 12.5kHz.

Figure 9 The polar response of the system in the venue after Array Processing is applied at a frequency of A) 500Hz , B) 1kHz , Live) 5kHz , C) 12.5kHz.