Array or Not to Array?

The industry of live sound installations continue to advance with new and refined technologies.  One area that has expanded is loudspeaker choices.  The use of line arrays go back quite aways, also known as column arrays.  Of course the form factor has evolved quite a bit.  Nowadays, the use of line arrays are common practice, and the question comes up from time to time as I visit clients:  are line arrays more hype?  Well, no, they are not.  They are actually a very efficient system design.  On the other hand you also have the choice of point source systems, which typically use multiple single cabinets to accomplish the coverage needed for a given space.  There are practical applications for both, and I am going to very briefly touch on this topic.
Line arrays in one fell swoop, or J arrays, cover an audience space with an amazing amount of throw, control, and high SPL, typically used in large venues. However, there are smaller form line arrays for smaller spaces, so what was once a narrow market is now commonplace.
In a line array, with a high number of adjacent loudspeakers more energy can be directed towards the audience. With each line array speaker’s output coverage being so narrow vertically, when stacked closely together with others, you are able to focus and aim much more efficiently. If you are powering a line array properly, you can even drive the top speakers to shoot and cover a balcony, while the rest of the array can cover the main floor.  Now with boxes that have varying horizontal coverage patterns available, it’s possible to cover a space very well with a line array system, completely!
Column arrays are another variation of a line array that provides a linear vertical coverage with little vertical bleed, and typically a wide horizontal coverage pattern.
A point source system then comes in handy if your room is shallow, oddly shaped, or don’t have the ceiling height needed to fly a tall line array. You are able to place speakers in specific locations to accomplish the needed coverage for the room.  Point source systems still have their place in the market and are still widely used.
In the end, each room has it’s own demands, and depending on how the space is intended to be used, will determine what style of loudspeaker system is installed, a line array or point source system.  With proper use of a modeling program a design-build firm can determine the best products for the application.