Since I know I’m not the only one gigging with a Beat Buddy, and since the PA I just bought is being discoed by Fender and blown out by Musicians Friend, I thought I’d share my initial experiences with my three-piece duo and the Fender Expo (a.k.a., LD systems Maui 11) mini-array system…
[B]LONG POST ALERT! LONG POST ALERT!
[/B]This post is a review of the Fender Expo/LD Systems Maui 11 speaker system. Thought I’d mention that early, so you don’t read the whole thing accidentally, and then find yourself at the end asking, “But where is the kitten-riding-a-Roomba meme?”
You are warned.
So I bought some new kit for The Where’s Waldo Trio, a pair of Fender Expos (a rebranded LD Systems Maui 11). They are a compact line array, not unlike the Bose L1 systems, and they looked like a good, compact solution for our good, compact acoustic duo. Simple setup, small footprint, and no more monitors required (yay!)
Last night, Waldo had our first rehearsal with them, and we spent a fair bit of the evening tuning and getting them right. Having spent a couple of hours on the weekend dialing in my vocal, my acoustic, and the Waldo, my BeatBuddy pedal, I figured I was in the clear.
Boy, was I wrong.
Turns out, adding a second vocal and a bass (Squier Bass VI) to the mix immediately pushed the buttons on the three-band limiter built into the unit – which, because I didn’t get that the limiting was coming from the speaker, sent me scrambling to figure out where the heck I had so much compression turned on.
It wasn’t until I stood next to the Expo watching the unit working that I realized I was hitting the limiter (the little red light was coming on with every snare hit). What was interesting was the way the limiter was kicking in: Not the entire mix, just the high mids, where the crack of the snare and the punch of the acoustic guitar lives, and that was allowing the subs and the tweeter to overrun the entire mix. It gave me a pulsing, wickedly scooped tone overall.
And not in a good way.
And that’s how I learned that the multiband limiting apparently works really well on these units.
It was also at that point that I realized how loud we were.
A couple of people I know who own Bose and other compact line array systems have told me that if it seems loud to you standing right in front of them, you are too friggin’ loud. These don’t need to be crazy-loud like traditional boxes, because they throw further, and do so much more evenly.
Well, standing in front of it, it was LOUD. So we were TOO FRIGGIN’ LOUD. Time to make some adjustments - both to the system and to my mindset.
So I turned it all down just a bit to eliminate the limiter light. Then I recalibrated the mix, resetting and rebalancing gain stages across the channels, shared busses, and output buss. I ruthlessly reduced hot signals where others seemed weak in comparison, and thus built up available headroom.
I cleaned up and simplified my signal chains, and finally, knowing the three band limiter was working well in the unit (and also because I have zero control over it), I decided I needed to get out of its way and let it do its thing. So I substantially backed off the four-band compressor I have inserted into the main mix, to the point where most of what it was picking up and managing was that narrow area where vocals, acoustic guitar, and snare all meet, effectively taming the entire mix and giving the Expos something clean, balanced, and well-behaved to work with.
By then, I think it’s fair to say, my ears were quite tired, so I saved the mix to the board, and we rehearsed for an hour, making the odd level tweak here and there, but by and large just playing and enjoying what we were hearing.
A QUICK ASIDE: I’ve used the Bose sticks, so I’ll say a few words by way of comparison:
These absolutely blow the L1 Compact into the weeds. Louder, cleaner, fuller, and currently half the price.
Compared to the mid-level L1S, it’s a bit more of a tossup. I THINK these are louder, and I know they have a SLIGHTLY more detailed top end. And they offer up a much more solid bottom vs. the B1 subs, but they don’t quite keep up with the B2 subs. The Expo wins for me on price and sheer size (vs the B2 sub combo)
[*]They don’t stack up well against the L1 Model 2, as the big Bose is just way too many drivers and way too much power to make that a reasonable comparison, especially if you have the B2 sub.
Next, I’ll have to decide if I’m using full-on feedback exterminators or just my little DBX Go-Rack as insurance against feedback. We heard a couple of little squeaks, and I can’t help but think they could turn into big squawks when we run the system behind the mics (rather than off to the side as we did last night).
Overall – and with the caveat that I want to hear them again with fresh ears – I am quite impressed with what they do. They absolutely do NOT sound huge like the tops/subs setup that I use for the rock band, but they do sound very, very good. And I can stop schlepping monitors around for my little duo.
My verdict – subject to appeal: If you’re looking for that fat arena-rock sound, these ain’t that. But if you’re looking for clean, detailed sound reproduction, I highly recommend them. And since Fender appears to be discontinuing them, and since the only place that seems to be able to get them (Musicians Friend) is also blowing them out at $US500/unit, you may want to grab one, and soon.
This is a really, really nice piece of gear.