JBL VRX900 Series Line Array

JBL VRX900 Series Line Array

August 15, in Hi-Fi Systems Reviews

Road-proven VerTec Series components help propel this small, affordable Constant Curvature Line Array range.
Whether introducing new self-powered or passive components, JBL refuses to rest on its loudspeaker laurels while continually expanding the company’s product line to fulfill yet another pro audio niche. I recently had the opportunity to put the new VRX Series Line Array through a gauntlet of sound jobs and it came out the other side with naught a blemish.

JBL VRX900 review

Features

The VRX Series was birthed from VerTec line array series technology and is ideal for smaller venues or portable sound systems where space, weight and aesthetics are important. Although JBL slimmed down the footprint of the VRX series, the company did not scrimp on its quality.

The entire VRX series consists of five models. High and mid-range are handled by one of two models: the VRX928LA 8-inch line array or VRX932LA 12-inch line array. Each is equipped with JBL’s Differential Drive woofer, which boasts high power capacity and light weight (each VRX928LA and VRX932LA enclosure is 28 lbs and 48 lbs, respectively). The cabinets are designed with a Constant Curvature waveguide when used in an array; they form a continuous arc for maximum coverage.

Up to six speakers can be flown for a single array, or two speakers can mount on a dual-angle pole socket threaded directly into the accompanying subwoofer. Rigging the speakers together is accomplished with a built-in hinged bar and quick release pins to easily lock the speakers with one another; no additional hardware is needed. The optional JBL VRX-AF array frame is available to rig the speakers for permanent installation.

The rears of the speakers have switchable modes for either Bi-amped or Passive applications. In Bi-amped mode, the speakers handle the mid/high crossover at a fixed 2 kHz for the VRX928LA and 1.2 kHz for the VRX932LA. In passive mode, each JBL is equipped with an Array Configuration Selector to determine the amount of amplitude shaping for the high end. Each speaker can be externally switched to +3 dB for long throw, 0 dB for medium throw and -3 dB for a short throw. These settings can make high frequencies more evenly distributed when using multiple speakers in an array.

Two subwoofers are available for the VRX line: the 18-inch VRX918S and 15-inch VRX915S weighing 81 lbs and 58 lbs, respectively. Both models house a Differential Drive woofer and are designed to reduce distortion through adequate porting. Each has a 20mm threaded socket in the top for secure pole mounting when using the system in a satellite configuration. VRX Series subs are equipped with rigging hardware and can be hung independently or with a corresponding line array; the VRX918S is designed to hang the VRX932LA, and the VRX915S hangs the VRX928LA. Optional accessories include a caster kit, padded covers and array mounting hardware.

JBL did not forget the need of good sound for onstage musicians, as the series offers the VRX915M two-way stage monitor. The monitors are equipped with a 15-inch Differential Drive woofer and four-inch diameter compression driver. These can be either bi-amped or run in full-range mode. It is clear that sight lines and aesthetics were carefully considered, as the monitors are just less than 15 inches high. Daisy chaining the monitors is easy, too, as each side of the monitor has a Neutrik Speakon NL-4 connector.

JBL VRX900 In Use

I was sent four VRX928LA enclosures and four VRS915S subwoofers with satellite mounting poles (this tested system can be expected to run from $9,300 to nearly $13,000 for the larger line). Upon unpacking the speakers I was immediately impressed with their light weight and obvious quality … not to mention that the sleekly designed speakers just looked cool. With each use, bystanders freely commented on their beauty.

JBL vrs915s subwoofer

My first venture with the VRX Series was to a weeklong camp where music was a main focal point. I decided to use the speakers for our mobile system, which consisted of a Mackie 24/4 analog live mixer, Crown XLS 402 and XLS 602 amplifiers, as well as a dbx DriveRack for system management.

The setup was about as quick as I could have wanted. The hardware for locking the speakers together couldn’t have been easier; the same went for mounting the threaded pole into the sub. Within minutes, the speakers were ready for audio.

One temporary stumbling block was that all VRX Series components ship with Neutrik Speakon NL-4 connections only; that required the cabling for our system to be modified, as we had 1/4-inch to Speakon cables. I was a bit disappointed that the VRX Series did not use the combo connector until I realized that there is good reason for the design. When running the system in bi-amped mode, two poles of the Speakon are used for the high-frequency driver and two poles are used for the mid, so a 1/4-inch connector would surely confuse the issue due to the inherent limitation of only two connection points.

Since I did not have the amplification available to run the speakers in bi-amped mode, I went with a passive setup. Having two different mounting angles was great. The speakers and subs were on stage about eight feet above the ground, so I was able to easily use the angled option. The satellite speaker pole is adjustable by predetermined notches, assuring the speakers are set at the exact same height on both sides of the stage.

Once setup was complete and all wires were run, I realized I did not have the mic for the dbx DriveRack to shoot the room for a starting point. Thus it was time to manually set the system with songs fed from my handy iPod. With no EQ, I realized that I had slightly overestimated the system and should have brought all four subs, but since two was all I had it would have to do. However, in all fairness, this was my fault since the system was in an outside shelter and I was probably a little overzealous in my expectation of the subs.

The VRX’s highs and mids clearly needed some reduction, as the system was too bright, so I reduced 3 kHz and 6.5 kHz each a few dB with additional dips from 8 kHz and up. Once I looked at the frequency plot of the array it confirmed what my ears had told me: there was a frequency increase starting at around 1.5 kHz. I spent some time adjusting amp levels and tuning the system, with the final result very pleasing to my ear. I found it best to manually set the crossover to 100 Hz with a Butterworth filter set at 18dB/Octave; that in itself made the low end stand out considerably.

Once the band was set up, the system was ready to go. Low frequency audio rounded out nicely in the subs and I was very pleased with the acoustic-driven music; everything sounded natural and present. The vocals and acoustic guitar subtly cut through the rest of the band — drums, keys and bass.

To help reach the rear of the outside shelter (a 50×50-foot space was in use) it took some testing with the settings to find the right blend. I ended up with the top speaker on the long throw setting of +3 dB and the lower speakers at -3 dB. The spread of the stage from left speaker to right speaker was about 25 feet, which really complimented the stereo imaging provided by the speakers. The only modification I would have preferred was a rotation of the left speakers 180 degrees so that the HF horn was on the outside of the array and would match the right side. The speakers are designed to be oriented only one way on the pole (though when/if these speakers are hung this will not be an issue.)

After days of rocking out, the camp ended and all were pleased with the sound … but I couldn’t help wanting to put the system to the test in an indoor setting. The golden opportunity came a few days later at a 75-seat venue with live music and speaking; it had a small stage and a coffeehouse feel. I went with the same amp setup and still wanted a bit more from the low end, so I broke out the additional two subwoofers that were sent with the system.

This configuration was absolutely the ticket for the system to really shine. I had the dbx mic available on this round, so I shot the room with the DriveRack. Having it all in a smaller, enclosed environment lended a hand so that I had plenty of rumble to lay a good foundation for the high mids. After manually tweaking to taste by adjusting the high mids, I settled on the same crossover frequency and filter for the lows that I did at the outdoor setup. I especially appreciated the small footprint that the speakers required, as the stage was not very large and sight lines were important for viewing a projection screen.

Summary

The more I used the VRX Series loudspeakers, the more I appreciated their ease of setup, durability and most importantly, their superb sound. In a small-to-medium size venue where space is an issue, these would be a great fit. The VRX take up a small footprint, are very easy to rig with the built-in hardware, and sonically handled spoken word and a full band, while sounding very natural. From my experience with the subwoofers, running one per array speaker was where the system really hit the sweet spot. I would not hesitate to recommend considering this line for permitting budgets.

Applications
Live and install audio; small-to-medium clubs, theaters, houses-of-worship; select outdoor environments

Key Features
JBL’s Constant Curvature technology for maximum coverage, small footprint, Bi-amped or Passive applications, well-designed hardware and mounting features

Price
$1,649 (VRX928LA). $2,469 (VRX932LA), $1,439 (VRX918S), $1,339 (VRX915S), $1,399 (VRX915M)

Contact
JBL Professional | 818-894-8850 | www.jblpro.com

PRODUCT POINTS

Plus

  • Superb sound
  • Ease of setup
  • Durable
  • VerTec technology pedigree
  • Attractive

Minus

  • None noted

Score
The VRX900 Series is a great fit for any small to medium-sized venue where high-quality sound reinforcement is a must and space is an issue.

By Dan Wothke.

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