Line arrays have been around for decades. Harry F. Olson published the book Acoustical Engineering in 1954, which included an extensive and influential explanation of line arrays. They have been gaining more and more popularity in recent years, and anyone who has ever heard or used one knows why. The theory behind the line array is very simple: The idea is to create a very smooth and even distribution of sound over long and wide distances with little discrepancy in SPL and EQ. Just about every speaker manufacturer currently makes a line array. Martin Audio's is the W8L Longbow large-scale, three-way line array enclosure. The name is cool. I mean, I am not just turning on my speakers; I am turning on a freakin' missile defense shield. Martin is widely respected for making good-sounding cabinets, and the W8L Longbow boasts some specs that set it apart from its competition.

What It Does

First things first: It gets loud. I am talking “brown sound loud.” The Longbow is a line array designed for stadiums and large outdoor venues. “The Longbow is all horn-loaded. That allows for the highest output of low frequency. It can produce 106dB at 1W at 1m at 35Hz,” explains Robert Hofkamp, director of North American Operations for Martin Audio. Even more impressive is the Longbow's high-frequency capabilities. “The biggest feature of the Longbow is its ability to throw high frequencies over long distances. It is truly a stadium speaker,” continues Hofkamp. The Longbow can produce high frequencies at 119dB at 1W at 1m.

The W8L Longbow is an evolution of the W8L. “Its improvement over its predecessor is that it has four 1" HF drivers. We did this to have an overall tonal balance right out of the gate. The other big feature is the pattern of the high frequency and its ability to sum up,” says Hofkamp. The W8L Longbow features a horn-loaded, 15" (380mm) low-frequency driver, twin 8" (200mm) mid-horn, and quad 1" (25mm) high-frequency horn in a single cabinet. It has a consistent 90° horizontal mid- and high-frequency pattern. Other improvements include a patent-pending technology that provides control over the curvature of the high-frequency vertical wavefront. Martin has created a quad-driver that, coupled with this technology, delivers significant advances in high-frequency device design. It boasts a high-frequency system with 10dB greater output capability. “It is all about where we choose our crossover points and the horn-loading. The benefits are the control and the projection abilities,” continues Hofkamp.

How It Came To Be

The Longbow's beginnings date back to 1988. Martin created the W8LC, a smaller and almost as loud (3dB quieter) unit. “The scalability of the mid-sized cabinet is good for the sound companies, but we saw a need for larger speakers. So we created the Longbow for the large arenas and stadiums,” says Hofkamp.

Speakers are not just about what comes out of them, but also what goes into them, and Martin has put plenty of thought into other aspects of the Longbow. It has a fast, integral rigging system with variable splay angles. When flown, it is compatible with the W8LS. When ground-stacked, it is compatible with WLX, WSX, and WS218X units.

The company has also created software to help predict how the Longbow will respond in a space. “It is one thing to create a good loudspeaker, but you also have to tell the client how it will respond,” says Hofkamp. The manufacturer spent several years and several hundreds of thousands of dollars to create its ViewPoint line array-aiming software, which is basically prediction software specifically written for Martin Audio line arrays. It allows users to model a space three-dimensionally. “You can drop several arrays and microphones in the space in 3D and see the coverage, both SPL and EQ,” adds Hofkamp.

What's Next

Lots of sheds and stadiums are in the Longbow's future. “I think it sets a new standard for the top dog of PA. It does raise the bar for the larger boxes and large-format shows,” says Hofkamp. The reaction seems to be that this box is doing exactly what it was designed to do and exactly what users want it to do.

What End-Users Have To Say

Smoother Smyth, engineer for Delicate Productions, notes that he has used the W8L Longbow on multiple events. “We basically use it where a regular line array falls short, such as sheds, where we are looking to cover the lawn areas at the back of the venue rather than use the wimpy house systems,” he says. Smyth adds that football stadiums are another example, and he used it in a stadium where the radio station and event promoter heard it and started to dismantle the audio delay towers. “They felt delays were not needed, although being a purist, I would have preferred installing the delay speakers.” Smyth explains that the horn-loading differentiates it from other arrays he has used. “As you walk back into the coverage, it remains very even from left to right and front to back,” he says. “Most arrays can sound good at the console, but walk off-axis, and things get ugly. Walk further back, and frequencies drop out. The even coverage is a result of the horn loading. Other line array systems tend to be copies of the ‘French design,’ and, in trying to avoid patent infringements, manufacturers came up with an inferior product. The Martin product comes from a completely different approach to the line array principle, and most engineers have no idea what is behind the cabinet speaker grille. This system is a piece of cake. We also hang the Martin W8LC underneath for in-fill — simple.”

Trevor Gilligan, sound engineer for the band Kasabian, is a huge fan of the Martin Audio Longbow, and both he and crew chief Al Woods were delighted with the consistency of the sound, particularly with the extra 3 or 4db it delivered to the back of the arena. “Martin Audio has the presets for the Longbow, which is more than a good starting point, resulting in a very good box indeed,” says Woods.

The touring crew for The Killers has also been impressed with the Longbow. James Gebhard, sound engineer for the band, says, “I am a huge fan of Martin Audio Line Arrays, having worked with the Ls and LCs with The Strokes.” Matt Harman-Trick, PA tech, adds, “It gets the HF to where you need it — right to the back of the room — and it means you don't have to tour with extra delay systems. The speed at which you can fly the Longbow is tremendous. It is extremely safe, and all the metalwork is integrated into the box, which makes it easier for the crews. This saves time, and it fits in the trucks better!”

And personally, I hope Martin Audio figures out a way to make the Longbow say, “Greetings Professor Falken” when you turn it on.

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Shannon Slaton is a sound designer and engineer living in New York and is currently mixing Jersey Boys, and Spring Awakening on Broadway. Other Broadway mixes include Man of La Mancha, Sweet Charity, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, and Bombay Dreams. He designed the current national tours of Hairspray, The Producers, The Full Monty, Contact, The Wedding Singer, and Kiss Me Kate.