Bose triggered a revolution in amplification in 2003 with the introduction of the L1 Personal Amplification System (PAS). Line arrays—speaker arrangements that provide more uniform coverage and wide, even dispersion—have been used in large concert settings for decades. The L1 brought the concept to small groups and individual performers, in a portable, cost-effective package.
A traditional sound system consists of (usually large) PA speakers in front of the performers to project the sound to the audience, monitors aimed back at the performers, and one or more mixers to control everything. Band members may also have stage amplifiers. In contrast, with Bose’s approach, each performer simply has an L1 positioned behind them. The promise is that the band hears the same thing as the audience. Sound is dispersed evenly throughout the room as well as the stage, allowing musicians to hear and mix themselves. Stage volume is lower, and sound reaches the back of the room without blasting those in the front row.
Acoustic performers especially embraced the original L1 due to its ability to fill a room while offering portability and simplicity. Bose has continued to refine the line, and in this review, we’ll look at the latest incarnation, the L1 Pro.
180 Degrees of Coverage
The L1 Pro is available in three models: the L1 Pro8 ($1,199), Pro16 ($1,799), and Pro32 ($2,698-$3,098). Each version has slightly different dispersion characteristics and frequency response, mostly based on the size of the subwoofer, but all three promise 180 degrees of coverage. I checked out the Pro16, which combines a 250-watt, 16-speaker column with a 1000-watt 10 x 18-inch sub.
The L1 Pro16 consists of two functional pieces, plus an optional extension. The subwoofer weighs 40 pounds—quite light as subs go—and its tall, narrow shape (13 x 16 x 24 inches) and well-designed handle make it fairly easy to carry with one hand. A solo guitarist could quite literally walk into a gig with the complete system and a guitar in one trip. The 4 x 3-inch, 3-1/2-foot line array comes with a carrying bag that also holds the extension, with additional room for cables. Setup consists of inserting the line array element into a connector on the top of the subwoofer and plugging in the power cord—remarkably fast and easy. Bose recommends using the 13-inch extension to raise the sound over the audience’s heads when playing on the floor. The extension is not needed with a raised stage.
The subwoofer houses a three-channel mixer with volume, bass, treble, and reverb controls on the back of the subwoofer. The first two channels offer 1/4-inch/XLR combination inputs and provide phantom power for condenser mics; the third channel offers a line input, and can also connect to a sound source via Bluetooth. The back of the sub also has a power switch, line out, and a connector for Bose’s ToneMatch line of mixers. For iOS or Android mobile devices, there’s also a free L1 Mix app that provides full remote control via BlueTooth.
With Covid restrictions, I was unable to use the L1 Pro16 on a gig, but I was able to check it out at home. The system produces a big sound—with more than enough bass and volume to fill a medium-size club—and sparkling highs. The even dispersion of sound was obvious even at home; the system seemed to fill the room equally whether I was directly in front of the speaker or entirely off to the side.
Music streamed through the L1 Pro16 sounded a bit hyped in the highs and lows, but that may be exactly what is needed in a busy venue. Connecting a guitar via my pedalboard, the Bose sounded excellent: clean, clear, and natural, with a warm bass and shimmering highs, but none of the harshness you sometimes get from traditional PA systems with horn tweeters. Playing guitar through the system was enjoyable, an important aspect that sometimes gets lost in the effort to be heard.
The self-contained controls facilitate the easy setup, but the location on the back of the subwoofer is not particularly convenient for the performer, and controlling the system via the L1 Mix app on a mobile device is a more attractive option. While the L1 offers only basic treble, bass, and reverb controls, the app adds a full selection of Bose’s ToneMatch presets that tailor the EQ for a variety of common guitars, pickups, and microphones. Four presets labeled voice, music, live, and flat also change the overall sound of the system. For those who want more control over EQ or more channels, Bose’s ToneMatch T4S ($599) or T8S ($899) mixers can be attached via the ToneMatch connector, or you could use any external mixer with the L1’s line inputs.
The L1 Pro16 is an impressive amplification solution that combines clear sound, plenty of power, and uniform dispersion and coverage characteristics, while being remarkably portable and simple to set up. The system should be especially attractive to solo performers, as well as acoustic duos or trios. With three choices of size and power, most performers should be able to find a model that suits their needs. bose.com
This article originally appeared in the July/August 2021 issue of Acoustic Guitar magazine.