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NAMM 2003

Winter NAMM 2003  


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Winter NAMM 2003

Power Speakers Make a Powerful Showing
By Jonathan Novick

Are powered speakers better than passive ones? This debate will probably rage on as long as the CD versus vinyl debate. The one thing that is certain is that powered cabinets are here to stay. The 2003 NAMM Exhibition was all the proof I needed. They were everywhere, in all types of cabinets, with all types of amplifiers and at price points across the board. The popular speaker vendors were present in full force but I’ll just be focusing on the newer market entrants that made an impression on me.

I.S.P. Technologies out of Clarkston, MI ( signature model, the Tripower Reference, impressed me like no other pro-sound speaker ever has before. Its three patent pending D-CAT amplifiers provide 1100 watts RMS output to 2-12” woofers, a 4” titanium mid-horn and a 1.75” polyester HF-horn to produce a room filling 134dB peak SPL. Polyester drivers are common in hi-end home systems and produce soothing highs devoid of the harshness typical of titanium drivers. The overall result is a sound that rivaled many audiophile speakers. Their demo featured a 5.1 channel surround sound configuration using their more portable but just as pleasing Triwedge and Tripower 900 3-way models for the center and surround speakers respectively. The demo sounded so sweet, I didn’t want to leave the booth. If it weren’t for the Wife Acceptance Factor, this would be my choice for the ideal home theater system, especially if entertaining a few hundred of my closest friends.

Mach (, a subsidiary of Martin Professional, introduced their innovative new M-Flex speaker line. These molded cabinet enclosures feature a built-in digital signal processor to control crossover points, driver alignment, equalization and limiting. They also use switch-mode amplifiers that need no heat sinks. The ultra-compact M-Flex 12 featured a 12” woofer with a co-axially mounted 1” compression driver. This approach reduces the overall height of the unit to a mere 20” and keeps the weight down to 33 lbs. A novel mounting system and active line drivers allow you to arrange these speakers into clusters and arrays as big as desired. They also feature front- and rear-mounted clip indicator LEDs. This lets you monitor signal status while facing either the back or front of the speakers. The line is rounded out by the M-Flex 15 featuring 4dB higher output and the M-Flex 15” sub that weighs in at a mere 40 lbs. Expect all these units to retail just under $1000.


DB Technologies (, a trademark of the Acoustic Engineering Bureau of Bologna, Italy had an impressive display of 22 different powered cabinets. The line starts with the 35-watt Live series L-80 featuring 2-5” drivers in a small molded cabinet to the 800-watt tri-amplified Stage Opera 82.15 featuring 2-15” drivers, a 6.5” mid and a 1” horn in a wood enclosure. Most DJs will probably be interested in the 2-way Opera Lyric Active series, which have very clean and attractive molded cabinets and are available in 5 configurations with 12” or 15” drivers and amplification ranging from 180-550 watts. They also have a 400 watt 15” and 600 watt 18” sub to round out the line. DB Technologies may be a new name in the US but they have been around for 25 years in Europe. However, don’t expect to find them at your local Guitar Center. They will be selling through smaller retailers that cater mostly to the corporate rental market.

There were many other models on display from a host of Asian manufacturers that you have probably never heard of. Most featured copycat looks to the more familiar brands with matching specs to boot (at least on paper). A few vendors differentiated their models with convenient built-in wireless microphone systems and more flexible EQ and mixer options. These were generally lower powered models aimed at the public address market but they should be fine for a wedding ceremony system. Expect most of these units to have attractive price points once the vendors line up their US distributors and OEM relationships.

The new crop of powered speakers was truly exciting to see (and hear). NAMM demonstrated that the market is expanding quickly at both the high-end and the low-end. The only downside to this diversity is the added time it will take you to find that perfect choice. If only all our problems were so difficult.



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