Invention of ToneMatch® Technology
The 2nd generation prototypes consisted a line array of a two Bose MA12 speakers (with a total of 24 mid/high drivers, crossed over at 180 Hz), a single Bose MB4 bass speaker (the equivalent of two B1 bass modules), amps to drive them all and a Bose Panaray controller, set up for biamp and using a standard MA12 voicing curve. When you played a good-sounding commercial CD over this system through a flat input, it sounded “normal”. A great-sounding CD sounded great, and so on.
Each system was driven by an individual 4-channel mini-mixer placed at each musician’s play position. This way, each musician could regulate their own tone and sound level and adjust it according to the other instruments they heard (through the other L1’s) onstage.
Keyboards sounded great. Direct-to-tape devices like the Roland VG88 sounded great too.
But the singing voices were off in terms of sounding like real voices. Shure SM58’s were used and later several other mics were used to see which ones worked best with our system.
It soon became apparent that none of these really sounded like the person singing, which is basically what was wanted: natural voice tone.
From Cliff's work in commissioning big arena sound systems and teaching about how to listen diagnostically, he knew how to make any good microphone sound close to a studio condenser microphone with some judiciously-applied EQ. So he bought some Symetrix 1/3-octave equalizers and patched them into the vocal channels of the mixers and started “tuning”.
It didn’t take long before he got really excellent results, including getting rid of a “wet towel over the windscreen” sound (or “chesty” low-midrange exaggeration) and a “rock PA” low end exaggeration.
The different mics we tried needed different EQ to make the voice coming from the speakers sound like the singer. This was a revelation. Tony and Goodsy of the proto-Linemen both had acoustic guitars with pickups in them. They didn’t sound like the real thing either, but some simple EQ tuning solved that problem too.
Eventually we had a whole collection of equalizers onstage for the tests at Village Hall. Expensive, but it worked great. No one was willing to give up the customized EQs.
Putting it Into the L1 Classic
When it came time to develop the first product, what is now known as the L1 Classic there was a big decision to be made about the basic architecture of the electronics. Would they be “analog” or “digital”. By that time, a whole collection of different voicing presets were needed for all these different microphones and acoustic guitars and basses with pickups, and a whole raft of other things. Cliff insisted these be put in the product. It was not an option to just have “tone controls”. The system had to be made to work right by identifying the instrument being used and making its amplified tone right.
And so, it came to pass that 99 presets were made available for popular music-making devices. Good tone, easily obtained, became one of the truly valuable qualities of the L1 systems.
Working with Instrument / Microphone Makers
At first, presets were done by Cliff, each preset representing his subjective opinion of how this or that instrument or micophone should sound. The instrument maker wasn’t consulted about this.
This began to bother Cliff. Take the Taylor acoustics for example. Taylor takes huge time and energy to make their instruments sound amazing and beautiful. Then someone buys the thing and all bets are off what they’ll plug it into and what the tone will be when they play it. It could be an old guitar amp, a 5.1 surround system in a Hollywood studio, some monster PA system or anything in between. The only sure in Cliff's mind was that it wouldn’t sound like what the creators of the instrument had in mind.
The creators of these instruments might really never have had any strong impression of what the instrument should sound like amplified.
The L1 is different. It delivers nearly the same tone everywhere. It bothered Cliff that he was the only one making decisions about tone. So he decided to talk to the guys from Taylor on the phone and ask them “wouldn’t you like to have some input on how your instrument sounds when it’s amplified using an L1?” It really had never been done before. Instruments and amps had always been developed independent of each other. Now here was a chance to “glue” the instrument and the L1 together with a voicing system that, when it’s all put together, delivers an amplified sound that the instrument’s creators think it should sound like. Tone-matching.
The guys from Taylor (Brian Swerdfeger and David Hosler) and Cliff agreed to get together and make some presets. As creators of these beautiful instruments, they and not Bose should be the ones that determine the tone of this complete instrument. And that’s really what this is. What's been created, by gluing their guitar to the L1 with the (tone-matching) voicing curve, is a completely independent, free-standing closed-loop musical instrument that sounds like the guitar itself, only louder. Or, in this case, as loud as you really could want. When this work was done, everyone was happy. More important, Taylor customers started to write in and say the same. This was the right thing to do.
The Bose L1 team was ecstatic over the implications of this program and started to draft a more formal framework for it and to work with other companies with their microphones and instruments. The program grw and a name was invented: ToneMatch.
You can watch video interviews with some of the folks at these other companies: ToneMatch® Interviews