First Research Prototype

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Creating the First Prototype

Cliff Henricksen built a number of prototypes of his portable line array concept with the help of acoustical engineer Joe, before he landed on one that he liked.

Here’s a photo with all the our line array prototypes taken years after the moment of invention.

The aluminum one is the very original speaker system for this project. It’s actually all put together from folded-up aluminum with PEM nuts for connecting the drivers to the enclosures, a hold-over from the original US Sound/Panaray LT lightweight designs. Drivers are stock ones right out of the Bose Wave Radio. This system went down to about 90Hz but was “fat” in comparison to the final L1 because of the low end requirement.

The white array to Cliff's right in the picture (stage left) is a white version of the MA12. This design made it into the Bose Pro product line years before the L1 was introduced. It gained fast acceptance as an installed speaker that was easy to design with. We actually used MA12’s in our 2nd generation L1 prototype system.

Right in front of Cliff is a wooden pre-proto that led to the MA12 and L1, when we knew it was best to have a bass system. Notice how much skinnier the line array became when it only had to go down to 200 Hz or so. To Joe’s left is the final L1 line array, the skinniest of all.

Cliff is leaning on the actual (dark grey) prototype that I took out to shows. It’s about 48” high and I used two sections held together with steel plates. I assembled it at the gig and brought a portable electric drill with to fasten everything together. I also had to bolt it down (with the drill) to a square wood base. This probably sound really Fred Flintstone but it was pretty easy.

Cliff and joe and protos.jpg

The first usable prototype Cliff landed on (the one Cliff is leaning on above) was 8’ tall and had a floor footprint of about 6” across and 7” deep. It broke apart in the middle using a pair of plates to hold the two sections together and didn’t have a bass system as it was designed to go down to about 90Hz. Cliff figured this would be fine for his own use as a keyboard and voice system.

The most intuitive choice he says he made was to use the little drivers from the Bose Wave Radio. Now this wasn’t what you’d call a rock and roll instinct. Radio speakers for amplified music? But he figured if that little 2-driver radio would play pretty loud with high fidelity sound for a living room full of people, then 32 of them in a line array with mutual coupling to help out the low end would probably be pretty impressive.

He got approval from the company and built a system. It also included a 400w/ch stereo amp, and equalizer and a crossover in a plastic rack-case. And there was a square base-stand for the line array. All this had to be assembled at the gig, sort of like an erector set, but he figured it was worth it.

When Cliff first played through it, in the “Monster Lab” at Bose, a large development space for our big sound systems, and got it eq’d right, he said he was stunned. He could definitely play his GEM RealPiano Pro2 and VK7 organ too loud, to his delight (thinking what guitar players would say when they heard it). But when he played a commercial CD through the the prototype, he said he was even more stunned. Walking around the room, he was amazed by the wideband coverage and the consistency of level at any distance from the thing.

He raced into Ken’s office and dragged him out, probably frothing at the mouth. Listening, they both then knew they were on the right track and the train was rolling.

Using the First Prototype on a Real Gig

Cliff was eager to use the first prototype outside the lab, on a real gig.

By the end of 1998, he sent this account of his first live music gig with the system to Ken (slight edits made for clarity):

This is to document my recent experience with the MUZO stack (2: 4' arrays) in a live music application. Joe and I put one together, with nice big guitar-amp handles, and I voiced it on Friday afternoon in the Monster Lab using a Rane parametric and Bose 1800 amp with 402 controller cards as a place to start. Mongo, The Lab Troll (Steve) was a big help with putting it together. We put it on a 20"x20" plywood base, which has to change, but it worked for the moment.
I get calls semi-regularly to play with a rotating band of musicians who are experienced enough to do a tight pro gig without rehearsals. Everyone is cool and plays well, and we all get better-than-average pay. I played with the same core of players last Saturday and two Saturdays ago, this week being a blast (biker Christmas benefit bash at Ashland Fish & Game).
Two weeks ago, I played the gig with my usual Acoustimass Pro at head-height on a stand. I set up far stage left. Next to me was the bass player, then the drummer (traditionally in the center) and on far stage right the guitarist playing a Fender Twin (typical guitar 2x12 amp). In front of the drummer was the singer and bandleader, with a stage monitor. I played at a level that gave me a good mix with what I heard of the rest of the band, although the guitar could have been louder for me. Bass sounded great to me, as did my keyboards. The bass player, being a bit closer to the AM Pro, complained about high levels from the keys and could not "fade" towards the backline because it was too loud from the keys, which I found out after the gig (ah, communication). The guitarist and the drummer thought the keys were too soft and the singer/bandleader thought the keys were "just right". Can't please everyone, eh?
Contrast this to the biker bash a few nights ago. Of course, as predicted, when I set the 8' stack up, it was like the monkeys around the monolith scene in "2001: A Space Oddyssey". The big base was cumbersome but my impression is that these will be very easy to cart around. Once we started playing, everything was forgotten. After the first set, everyone came over and commented how "awesome" my sound was, and "what was in that (magic) speaker?". There was another keyboard player there, who was really a veteran pro piano (as opposed to "keyboard") player. We quickly got into him playing piano rhythm and some very funky clav parts and I happily played organ. We had a blast all night with this, the ultimate church rhythm section format. He was totally knocked out with my sound and wanted to know where he could buy one. I passed it off as something I was just "fooling around with", but everyone was amazed. On this particular gig, we were spread out much more than the former. I was way-far stage right, the piano player was to my left, then the drummer and singer in the middle, then the bassist to the left of drums and finally the guitarist at far stage left. This was a much more severe spacing than the former gig. Nevertheless, everyone complimented me on my tone, independent of where they were on the bandstand. The drummer was especially vocal about how good my sound was and how clear he could hear it, especially compared to the former gig two weeks ago. I, of course, set my level so that it was clear for me, and I still got these comments from the guitarist who was way far on stage left. As a personal reaction, I was totally satisfied with the sound I got and it had plenty of output for a totally commanding level on solos. I got some genuine applause on some solos, so the audience could hear me clear and clean also.
Now, I don't exaggerate or inflate things, unless it's just having fun with words. That's certainly not what I am doing here. Read this again and let it sink in. Basically, the thing works. I don't mean that it makes sound. I mean, given its original intention (not UIOA, but allowing musicians to be heard playing together on the bandstand), it has fulfilled its promise. It is at least a new and order-of-magnitued improved format for electric musicians' backline systems. It is so much better than amps at the knees decapitating the audience or amps at ear level decapitating whoever is next to it. Next is a demo of some kind with a full band. We'll have a few at the Christmas party.
You can build a new business on this (and put it in the pro catalog also). Just thought you'd be interested, pardner.

One thing that's interesting to note is that at this time Bose was still thinking of this invention as basically a backline amp.

In other words, even though they had done a lot of earlier thinking about complete systems, this was not in our minds here.

Using the First Prototype With a Conventional PA & Monitor System

Here's another communication I got from Cliff where he describes what it was like to play in a group using a triple system and he brought his new 8' tall speaker to use with his keys. He would do these shows, go out and play, and report back to me in emails. Then we would discuss what happened and what to do next.

I got a call to play keys in the backup band for an "oldies concert", basically backing the groups (or people from the groups) that had big radio hits when I was a teenager. This on its own was amazing, especially the backstage hang. Everyone was totally friendly and it was a very congenial atmosphere, full of war stories and good musical vibes. It was the usual big-theater show with a big rock and roll PA on either side of the stage, rhythm section amps, drums and monitors along the backline and a compliment of mics and stage wedges out front for the parade of singing groups that would perform that evening. There was lots of room on stage.
Behind the bandstand was a tall, stage-width, 8-foot-high pipe-and-drape curtain of black scrim, used as a backdrop for the show. It was pretty much like speaker grille cloth, as I could easily see through it, standing backstage. So I decided to set my system up behind the scrim, right behind where I was set up. Nobody paid any attention to this, as everyone was tuning up and the sound guys were busy doing their thing. But my setup was (to me anyway) like magic. The system was totally hidden, invisible, and the sound was everywhere. I had tons of gain and it sounded great, so I felt like King Kong and was anxious to start playing. We ran through tunes for all the acts and the sound guys got a balance out front. Halfway through the sound check, the sound guys came up to the front of the stage, pointed at me and said I was “too loud”. Ever been singled out on stage, while everyone else stares at you? Not that great. And I thought the balance was perfect. “What’s this all about”, I thought. The conversation went something like this:
“Am I in the monitors?”
“Yeah, of course”
”Am I in the front system?”
”Of course…”
“Look; humor me. Take me out of the monitors and take me out of the mains. I know this sounds weird, but my system will cover everything.’ I told them to see what they ended up with as a mix by having my setup just naturally bleed into the open mics on the front line.
They looked around a bit, couldn’t tell what “system” I was talking about, but with “oh my goh-idd, not another sound dweeb” on their faces, the went to the mixer and did it, probably just to shut me up. But, now there were no keys in the monitors and no keys in the house system. We started to play again, to finish up the sound check. No problem, no pointing, just playing. “Must have worked”, I thought. Afterwards, they came up to me like wide-eyed “moonies” saying it sounded “great!!”.
By the time they adjusted the mix out front, there was "a touch" of keys in the house, probably because they could. The system pretty much covered the entire stage and the house. Everyone on the show complimented me on my sound and all said they could hear me well. My experience was totally satisfying too. I just love how my instruments breathe through the system.