Introducing L-Acoustics K2
Rumours have arisen of a new L-Acoustics system – K2. Now the manufacturer is ready to exclusively confirm that K2 is real...
For more than two decades, L-Acoustics V-Dosc has been a mainstay of touring riders and installations worldwide, but whispers have recently begun to circulate that a replacement is coming– K2. Those rumours, the manufacturer can now reveal, are true.
‘The rumour is confirmed,’ declares director of marketing Stéphane Ecalle. ‘Three European companies are already partnering in our K2 pilot phase: SSE (UK), Black Box Music (Germany) and Concept Even (France). They have been deploying K2 in the field, either as a main system or as a complement to K1. The pilot phase will be ending in November, with a significant amount of field experience. K2 has received outstanding comments from engineers and owners.’
Nor will the market have to wait long for K2’s arrival. ‘A production phase will ramp-up this December to address selected markets and the worldwide launch of K2 will follow around Pro Light & Sound 2014,’ Mr Ecalle says.
That launch is set to be a defining moment in the evolution of the L-Acoustics product range, introducing a potentially market-leading new system. But it will also mark a fond farewell to an old industry favourite.
‘K2 is positioned in a similar application range as V-Dosc, typically for productions with audiences of up to 20,000,’ confirms Florent Bernard, director of application/touring. ‘K2 delivers exactly the same max SPL and the same bandwidth as V-Dosc and it is therefore logical that K2 will be replacing V-Dosc, which will take a well-deserved retirement after 22 years! We will, of course, continue providing aftersales service to our V-Dosc customers for the coming years. Now, from a genetic standpoint, K2 has more of a K1 DNA transplant into a 12-inch format enclosure… but with increased operational flexibility.’
The line between K1 and K2 will be clearly drawn. ‘Since its introduction in 2008, the K1/K1-SB package has been optimised for very large-scale productions, the 20,000+ audience size,’ explains Mr Bernard. Mr Ecalle continues: ‘From a business standpoint, there is a very high financial commitment required for a sound company to service this particular market with one or multiple K1 systems: the standard K1 stadium kit comprises more than a hundred K enclosures, plus SB28 subwoofers, racks and accessories. Considering the seven-figure investment at stake, the K1 market is selective.
‘But beside the “small world” of “big K1”, there is a wider group of top companies and venues which operate in a demanding market with audiences up to 20,000. They have the same needs as K1 owners; they are exposed to demanding productions with top technical requirements. In order to respond to this clientele, sound companies have to choose a rider-friendly system. PA investments need to be secured with high stock rotation and high resale value.’
‘From an application standpoint, these clients seek the K1 sonic signature,’ agrees Mr Bernard. ‘Moreover, the package needs to be adapted in size, rationalised for transport and with an extremely flexible deployment. This is where K2 comes into play.’
Not surprisingly, the development of K2 has involved a rigorous design process. ‘Our application and R&D team began by writing down the K2 specifications,’ says Mr Bernard. ‘First, the acoustic performance had to be absolutely in line with K1 with a max SPL positioned 3dB below its sibling and a bandwidth equivalent to K1. This determined the 12-inch format and the choice of drivers, which are of the same league as K1.
‘Secondly, the vertical coverage had to be stretched to accommodate shorter throws and audiences with high tiers or balconies. The good news is that a 12-inch trapezoidal format authorises twice the K1 maximum splay angle for a value of 10-degrees versus 5-degrees.’
Mr Ecalle picks up the story: ‘Next, we wanted to offer a lightweight system for medium-sized events or installations. The system needs to fit the rigging limitations in certain buildings. Also, for productions where temporary structures are deployed, the sound companies have to minimise their dimensioning and therefore prefer aluminium and/or foldable systems against steel. With lighter, simpler and more compact structures, the service provider achieves the competitive edge in terms of transportation, logistics and associated labour costs.’
‘Another feature we were looking for was adjustable horizontal directivity,’ says Mr Bernard. ‘With accurate control of the horizontal directivity, the sound designer can focus the acoustic energy onto the audience. In indoor situations, the sound is not projected onto reflective surfaces and this contributes to a maximisation of the direct field/reverberant field and improves the sensation of proximity. In outdoor situations, the noise exposure of sensitive neighbourhoods is drastically reduced, as experienced during the pilot phase in the UK when SSE deployed their K1/K2 system in Hyde Park – a notoriously difficult site for sound control. The measurements taken on-site confirmed that we were perfectly in line with noise regulations.
‘This is accomplished in the vertical plane by WST line sources. Horizontally, though, no manufacturer offers a line source system capable of efficiently steering acoustic energy in the horizontal plane on demand. With K2, you get four directivity settings in one box: 70-degrees and 110-degrees symmetrical; 90-degrees asymmetrical left or right. Today we have reached a new level of directivity control in the horizontal plane. With K2, this control is effective down to 300Hz, with the very smooth coverage pattern that people have come to love on our most recent systems. This sounds like a bold statement, but it suffices to listen to the system to realise that this is a reality.
‘Finally, the K2 package had to offer full mechanical compatibility with the existing K1 and K1-SB elements. It must be noted that the control of directivity at low frequencies is the current challenge for manufacturers. The association of K1-SB and K1 in different configurations has provided some solutions in controlling low frequencies. These principles will equally apply to K2 and K1-SB, with the same benefits.’
Nor is the K1-SB the only LF option. ‘The above mentioned configurations can be associated with our universal SB28 subwoofer to extend the bandwidth even further,’ explains Mr Bernard. ‘The SB28 can also be deployed solely with K2 in more conventional setups.
‘K2 owners will need this K1-SB compatibility feature, to extend the K2 operating bandwidth or increase the LF throw with the combo K2/K1-SB. The rigging compatibility between the two systems also means that K1 owners can combine the two systems, using K1 as a main system for long throw L/R applications, and K2 either as down-fill to K1 or side-fill, or delay.’
‘You can either consider K2 as a standalone system associated with K1-SB or SB28, or a complement to K1,’ agrees Mr Ecalle. ‘Both systems run on the existing LA-RAK platform, so from a Rental Network standpoint, their compatibility represents an interesting cross rental opportunity for both K1 and K2 owners, with a very limited number of enclosure references in stock.’
As with any major R&D project, the creation of K2 was not without its challenges. ‘We faced several challenges but the enclosure “weight loss” programme is undoubtedly the most spectacular,’ reveals Mr Bernard. ‘We had to take a brand new R&D and industrial approach. When it comes to trimming the enclosures weight, the question of cabinet rigidity is central. Among the different varieties of Baltic Birch Plywood, the high grade type we use remains the number one choice for this size of enclosure. Its high fibre density is both solid and… heavy! If you reduce thickness, the panels are lighter, vibrate and radiate omni-directionally like a vent. That’s not so good for directivity control and coherency and not acceptable for a premium system.’
There were, he explains, two answers: ‘Using computer analysis, we mapped the panel areas where the birch plywood matter brings little stiffness contribution to the panel, then we milled the K2 panels in an intricate pattern that yields the maximum stiffness/weight ratio. As for the side panels, the solution was to replace Baltic birch for a lighter and stiffer material: aluminium. The trick is that the K2 aluminium side panels play a triple role – they reinforce the mechanical rigidity, act inside as a progressive vent for laminar airflow, and outside support the suspension hardware. It should also be noted that all suspension hardware elements were optimised to obtain the best resistance/weight ratio.’
‘It took several years of research on materials and industrial process,’ says Mr Ecalle. ‘The results speak for themselves: K2 weighs 56kg – that’s almost 50 per cent of V-Dosc’s 108kg, for the same max SPL and bandwidth and with no compromise on structural and acoustic performance.’
As with K1 before it, L-Acoustics has applied careful thought to its distribution strategy for K2. ‘It addresses a wider customer base than K1, but K2 is definitely a premium system,’ explains Mr Ecalle. ‘Our long-term strategy will not be altered. We created the Certified Provider Network three years ago, with Certified Integrators or Rental Agents, and distributors. K2 is aimed at both the fixed installation and rental markets.
‘Since we are relying on the regional presence and the expertise of our certified representatives, the distribution strategy of K2 will be simply based on two channels for our domestic markets where L-Acoustics is the distributor: Certified Providers/integrators for the fixed installation market and Certified Providers/rentals for the Rental Network. For the markets where we are not directly present, we will rely on our distributors.’
He continues: ‘Our Network indicates that the market potential for K2 is 300 companies worldwide but the answer of purchasing or not is on the customer side, not ours. Choosing a large PA system like K2 has a tremendous commercial impact. The rider friendliness is the bottom line for return on investment, and the system resale value down the road is the icing on the cake from an investor standpoint.
‘Our philosophy has always been to exchange openly with our customers and evaluate their technical requirements. This analysis leads to a template system configuration that will match most of their needs and offer enough flexibility to cover their other jobs. The bottom line for the client is to optimise and protect their investment with a minimum level of risk.
‘Five years ago, we created a Rental Network Charter that illustrates this philosophy. We believe that rental systems must have a minimum size to efficiently serve a market. You cannot underinvest, nor can you overinvest. The adoption of the universal system standard (signal distribution with LA-RAK and LA8 amplified controllers) is the guarantee that the system will always deliver the L-Acoustics brand signature, in a predictable manner.’
Education is also priority. ‘A K2 owner is positioned as a top company and we cannot think of delivering a system without proper training on prediction tools, electronics and system,’ Mr Ecalle declares. ‘Everyone agrees that education is critical.’
Ultimately, he concludes: ‘If K2 is the right system for a company, its techs and its clients, then they should get it! But they will have the last word on this, not us.’ At Pro Light & Sound 2014, those conversations will begin.