TruthSquad: Do You Use Bose Speakers?

by Jennifer Reitmeyer on February 16, 2011

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In the first installment of our TruthSquad series, we wanted to tackle a common question we get asked, “Do you use Bose® speakers?”  We don’t, although Bose does make some outstanding PA speakers – which we’ll explain later in this post. 

We get asked this question frequently because a handful of DJs in this area convince engaged couples that the Bose L1 System is the best option for their wedding, and that their wedding won’t be as good without these speakers.  It’s an amazingly powerful marketing message – ingenious, even – the general public is familiar with the Bose brand name as being high-quality, and aren’t familiar at all with most brands of professional PA speaker systems.  Unfortunately, though, it’s simply not true.  In fact, even Bose doesn’t recommend the L1 System for DJing weddings – on their website!  In this article, we’ll explain why most professional DJs use traditional PA speakers for weddings, and give you everything you need to know about DJ speakers before you walk into your next meeting with a wedding DJ.

A little straight talk…

Before we get into technical jargon and diagrams, though, I’d like to make a very simple but powerful point.  Any DJ who claims that their equipment makes them better than any other DJ is lying.  That’s a little harsh, sure, but it’s true – here’s why:  Any professional DJ worth their salt uses high-quality, professional-grade equipment. 

Unless you are looking for wedding DJs on craigslist, the phone book, or in your local dive bar (or are simply searching for the cheapest DJ you can possibly find) chances are anyone you are considering uses great equipment.  There is a big difference between “home audio” speakers and “professional audio” speakers, but the differences between different professional audio speakers aren’t big at all.  Professional DJs choose their speakers based on a number of relatively small tradeoffs – raw power (SPL) vs. clarity (distortion), weight vs. power – and a whole host of features like built-in amplifiers and mixers.  These aren’t differences in order of magnitude; they’re fairly small differences among an entire class of excellent speakers.  I hate analogies (especially car analogies), but it’s like saying that a Ferrari is better than a Lamborghini.  Says who?  It’s the kind of “geek-speak” DJs love to get into in the parking lot after ADJA meetings, but it’s not appropriate (or honest) to make a claim like that to people who have no background in pro audio. 

Reasons to love the Bose L1 System…

Let’s just cut to the chase – these speakers look really cool.  They may be the coolest looking speakers ever made.  They sound great, too – they’re very clear, sound output is spread evenly across the entire coverage area, and the coverage area is nearly a 180-degree angle.  Wedding planners love them because they aren’t as eye-catching as traditional PA speakers, and photographers love them because they aren’t as obvious in pictures.  So, yeah, they look great.

There have been other cool-looking speakers in the past – the flat-panel Pioneer S-FL1 immediately comes to mind.  I remember when those came out; DJs were talking about screen-printing their company logos on the surface (eek!) or making them look like paintings and hanging them on the wall.  But, just because something looks cool doesn’t mean it’s the right tool for a given job, and that’s certainly the case here. 

A closer look at the Bose L1…

So, we’ve established that the L1 System looks cool and sounds great.  What’s the problem with using them to DJ wedding receptions?  There are two big reasons, and they’re pretty easy to understand.  Let’s use some visual aids…

Bose L1 Active AreaBose-L1-Speakers-cutaway

This is a brand-new Bose L1 Model II speaker with the ToneMatch module and one B1 Bass Unit at my local Guitar Center.  It looks cool!  It’s thin, it’s kind of shiny, and it breaks down into little pieces you can put in bags so it’s easy to carry.  The marked area in the picture shows the part that actually has the speakers – there are 24 tiny (2.25”) speakers in the top part of the tower (only 6 speakers for the L1 Compact system) and that’s where the sound comes out. 

Look what happens if I stand in front of the speaker

This is me standing in front of the brand-new Bose L1 Model II speaker.  I’m a little over 6 feet tall, probably 6’1” with my sneakers on.  Do you detect a problem?  Here’s a different angle:

Most of the sound hits my body and head

Sound comes out, and is immediately absorbed or deflected by my body.  Since the L1 is only 84 inches tall when fully assembled, only a small amount of the speaker (9-12 inches) is still able to project sound over my head.  That amounts to roughly 6 of the 24 speakers in the column.  Now, imagine an entire dance floor full of people and these speakers next to it.  What do you think happens?  How does it sound for the people in the second row back, or at the center of the dance floor? 

That’s the biggest problem with using these speakers to DJ weddings.  Do they look great?  Yes.  Do they sound great?  Yes.  Are they the right tool for the job?  Not exactly.  There’s another problem, too.

Music, music everywhere!

The other amazing feature of the Bose L1 System (besides stunning good looks) is the extremely wide coverage angle.  Most PA speakers project sound at an angle somewhere between 55 and 70 degrees – the L1 gives a nearly 180-degree coverage angle.  In layman’s terms, it means that you can be standing almost directly on the side of the speaker and still hear it perfectly fine.

Coverage pattern for the Bose L1 at a typical wedding

That’s great if you’re a live musician on a stage (which is what the L1 system was built for) because the speaker itself doubles as a monitor, so you can hear yourself play.  Sound is projected evenly across the entire coverage area, so even the people on the sides of the stage can hear the music.  (Coverage area is shown in purple)

Grandma isn't happy right now.

It’s not so great for grandma sitting at her table while you and your friends are dancing.  Instead of being able to sit at her seat and chat with your aunts and uncles, she gets blasted louder than the folks at the center of the dance floor and leaves early.  Poor grandma…

Why we use traditional PA speakers…

What’s the reason we choose to use traditional PA speakers on stands, you ask?  By putting the speakers on stands above the crowd, everyone on the dance floor gets a full, rich experience no matter where they are standing:

Traditional PA speaker - sound is projected over the crowd!

Amazing!  I can hear, and so can everyone else.  It’s a miracle!  Here’s the other reason:

Dance floor sounds great, and grandma is happy!

Because the coverage angle of our speakers is 65 degrees (and not 180 degrees), they can be pointed at the crowd during dinner (enabling us to play softer) and then focused on the dance floor during dance time.  This enables a DJ using traditional PA speakers to give a great, full sound to the people dancing, but leave grandma relatively unscathed.  It really works, I get comments at almost every wedding that the music wasn’t too loud – even for the guests who chose to sit and talk. 

Wait, Bose doesn’t even recommend them for weddings?

Yeah, I didn’t think you’d forget.  The craziest part of the whole “L1 for weddings” discussion is that Bose doesn’t even recommend them for weddings.  If you use the “Select Your System” tool on Bose’s website and pick “DJ Events (eg. weddings…)” and choose any combination of the other options, it never recommends the L1 System.  It recommends the 402 System or the 802 System, as it should – they are excellent traditional PA speakers that go on stands above the crowd.  To Bose’s credit, they have given proper advice to DJs looking to purchase their speakers, even though it probably means they will make less money by selling a pair of 802’s. 

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not hating on the L1 System – it’s an incredible piece of technology and an audio engineering marvel.  If I were a guitarist, I would totally get one.  However, it’s my opinion that the L1 isn’t the right choice for wedding receptions, and apparently Bose agrees.  The issue is whether or not it’s worth sacrificing proper sound reinforcement for the sake of aesthetics, and whether it’s right to make a technical claim to people who have no idea whether they’re being told the truth or not. 

Truth served.

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