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This article was originally published in issue #48
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PreSonus has very obviously put a lot of thought and effort into the design of its Air series loudspeakers, and the results are very impressive.
Impressive audio performance from hybrid amplification setup
Easy to configure and operate
AIR12 integral selectable 7.5 degree forward tilt is a killer feature
AIR15s cardioid setup facility is a superb feature
6 year warranty
If you have the budget – none
Bob Thomas takes to the AIR... or does he?
PreSonus is probably far better known for its range of microphone pre-amplifiers, audio interfaces and digital mixers than it is for sound reinforcement products, but the company’s commitment to live sound reinforcement has seen them build up an impressive product roster in this area.
The AIR active loudspeaker series is the latest addition to PreSonus's live sound line-up and consists of three active loudspeakers and two active subwoofers. All AIR series loudspeakers are two-way, full-range, bi-amped, active enclosures with identical power ratings whose numbering (10,12,15) reflects the size of the bass driver – 12” in the case of the AIR12 being reviewed here. The AIR subs follow the same path, with the AIR15s under review carrying a 15” driver, whilst its AIR18s stablemate features an 18” unit.
The AIR12’s moulded enclosure is a hefty, well damped, multi-angle affair whose steel grille conceals a horn-loaded 1.35” high-frequency compression driver and a 12” low-frequency driver that features a chunky 2.5” voicecoil. Amplification comes courtesy of a “hybrid” combination of a 200W Class A/B amplifier for the treble and a 500W Class D amplifier for the bass. Together, this configuration delivers a frequency response of 51Hz-20kHz and is capable of producing 1,200W of peak dynamic power and a peak SPL of 123dB that in the real world, rather than blowing you into the middle of next week, simply means that fast bass and treble transients are not going to outpace the AIR12’s amplification so that you get excellent transient response and articulation from the system.
Using a Class A/B-Class D hybrid system gives you the best of both worlds – Class A/B’s ability to deliver a clear, highly-detailed midrange and treble and Class D’s ability to deliver high levels of bass power without the weight penalties inherent in high-power Class A/B. In their marketing, PreSonus give an explanation of this combination around the impulse response (IR) technology that is used as the basis for digitally tuning any loudspeaker system. IR involves managing phase coherence with digital Infinite Impulse Response (IIR) filters, along with symmetrical and asymmetrical crossover filters. To describe the Air series design, the engineering staff at PreSonus invented the term “Advanced Impulse Response” (AIR). The term represents the “airy” sound of the high-frequency components, as well as the simplified IR filters needed to voice the loudspeaker system – so now you know.
Audio input comes courtesy of a two-channel on-board mixer that features two combination XLR/TRS jack inputs with individual level controls and a TRS minijack that is summed with the mixer output. The resulting mono sum is used not only to drive the AIR12’s internal amplification, but also to feed a balanced mono output for connection to another AIR12 or to a subwoofer such as the AIR15s. Onboard DSP functionality – accessed via the usual screen/encoder – gives you access to various presets that configure the AIR12 for various applications, placements and positioning, and a simple two-band +/-10dB bass and treble EQ setup.
Exciting as all that electronic wizardry may be, for me the killer feature of the AIR12 is the built-in mechanism on its top-hat stand mount that lets you set a 7.5 degree forward tilt at the push of a catch. It may seem strange to get excited about such a simple mechanical feature, but its application out in the real world where raising a speaker high on a stand and introducing a forward tilt (by means of an add-on stand adaptor) can radically improve audience coverage and perceived sound quality.
The AIR15s subwoofer carries its 15”, 3” voicecoil driver, 600W of Class D amplification and its DSP in a texture-painted birch-ply enclosure that is not as heavy as many 15” subs of my acquaintance. Its frequency response of 35-160Hz and a maximum output of 1,200W dynamic peak and 126dB SPL again means that its transient response and articulation is going to be impressive. Inputs are on two XLR/TRS combination inputs which pass directly to two XLR Link outputs, so that if you are running with only one AIR15s sub, as a DJ might, you can connect a stereo signal from your mixer to it and pass that stereo signal on to two satellites, left and right. Internally, the two inputs are low-passed and summed to drive the AIR15’s power amplifier. Onboard DSP lets you pick the upper low-pass frequency limit, invert polarity and configure two AIR15s as a highly-directional cardioid pair, the latter being a facility not often seen outside of high-end line-array PA setups.
As you’ll see in the video, the DSP on both the AIR12 and AIR 15s is very simple and intuitive in operation. On the AIR12 you first choose a location – Stand, Bracket or Suspended – and then select an application from DJ (music playback), FOH (normal PA), Enhance (FOH with an enhanced low-end for more warmth and depth), Monitor (optimised for floor position) and Speech (enhanced intelligibility for speech). The onboard treble and bass EQ allows you to further refine the sound should that be necessary. All in all, the AIR12 comes across as a very impressive performer.
On the AIR15s, the DSP also selects location (Normal, Cardioid or End-Fire) and Mode (Normal or Mo(re)-Bass). In addition, you can reverse the sub’s polarity, choose its upper frequency (there are specific presets for the other AIR series loudspeakers) and add delay (in feet or meters) to compensate for any forward placement of the sub relative to its tops.
In use, these DSP facilities allow you to configure a complete AIR12/AIR15s FOH and monitor system very quickly and easily. As separate entities, although a pair of AIR12s might not deliver the ultimate grunt of an AIR12/15s combination in a big hall, they are no slouches in the bass and will perform more than adequately in that department in smaller venues across both DJ and band applications. The AIR15s again delivers a very impressive performance and I can see both it, and its 18” sibling, being widely used in their simple to configure cardioid mode where directional bass is required – which as far as I’m concerned is everywhere.