A new benchmark in portable PA systems
By Gino Robair
The HK Audio Elements modular PA system is available in various configurations.
Portable PA technology has been a lifesaver for mobile DJs and bands playing small venues. But like most audio products, you get what you pay for when it comes to sound quality.
HK Audio takes the high road with Elements, a modular sound-reinforcement system made of up to six parts that you can mix and match—a 600W power amp, a 600W powered subwoofer, a 250W passive subwoofer, a 150W passive line array of speakers, and a special speaker pole and base. While HK Audio’s power amps alone are more expensive than many low-end portable PAs, Elements offers excellent audio fidelity and is configurable for venues ranging in size from coffee bars to moderate-sized houses of worship.
Look Ma, No Cables The first thing you’ll notice with Elements is the lack of cables. The audio and electrical connections between amps and speakers are embedded within the poles using the company’s E-Connect technology: Simply stack the speakers onto the power amp and poles—each speaker array has a connector on the top and bottom of the unit—and you’re ready to go. You’ll still need to patch a cable from your mixer to each power amp and plug the amp’s IEC cables into the wall. However, E-Connect makes the Elements system easy to set up.
Each Class D power amp can deliver 600W at 4 ohms. The EA600 ($599) can drive four E435 Mid/High ($399) passive speaker arrays, two arrays and an E110 passive 10" subwoofer ($699), or a pair of the passive subs. The E110 Sub A ($1,099 street) active subwoofer has a 10" speaker and can power two E435s or a passive sub. Both power modules have a hole in top that accepts the EP1 pole ($99), while the powered sub also has an E-Connect hole on the side, so you can lay the sub horizontally.
Each power amp includes a 1/4"/XLRcombo input, a through-port for routing the input to additional power amps, a Speakon speaker output, a –10/+4 input sensitivity switch, and a built-in limiter with indicator light. Considering their output, the amps are lightweight—the EA600 weighs a mere 6.1 lbs. while the E110 Sub A is about 42 lbs. The remaining system part is the EF45 bass ($179), which can hold an EA600 power amp and several speaker arrays.
The review system included two E110 active subs and four E435s, allowing me to set up a dual mono or stereo configuration. Each E435 holds four 3.5" speakers and weighs 5.2 lbs. Its overall frequency range is 140Hz to 20kHz, with a 12dB/octave crossover at 140Hz. The powered sub has a frequency range of 45Hz to 150Hz.
Assembling the review system took five minutes. I placed the EP1 poles into each subwoofer, making sure each locking button was aligned, then I stacked the speakers on top, aligning each of their locking buttons. Next, I powered up the subs, plugged in my audio source, and I was in business.
The pole’s usable length is 34 to 60 inches once it’s inserted into the sub, allowing you place the arrays over the audience to reach the back of the room. With the pole fully extended, the final height stretched 9 feet from floor to the top of the second speaker array. You can swivel the speakers about 45 degrees in either direction without damaging the interior cables. The arrays are more directional than the Bose systems I’ve heard, but I prefer the narrow directionality, which resulted in less feedback at high volume.
The resulting PA tower is very stable and light enough to move if you need to adjust its position. The upright subwoofer is 11 inches wide, so the entire setup takes up much less space onstage than a system with tripods. And it looks more elegant because there’s less exposed cabling in the system.
The only issue I had with setup was getting the locking button on one of the subs to go into the hole of the pole. However, the audio and electrical connections were secure, and it didn’t affect the system’s performance.
Crankin’ Cabinets I used the review system to rehearse a rock band, as a PA for an acoustic group in a small club, and as sound reinforcement for an exercise class. Whether it was amplified acoustic guitars, vocal mics, or CD and MP3 playback, the sound was clear and well balanced, without the excessive midrange I’m used to hearing from inexpensive portable systems. Even with a considerably high input level from my mixer, the system sounded great. And for a street price just shy of $2,000 per channel, it had better!
The inputs accept balanced and unbalanced 1/4" cables, so if you don’t have a mixer, you can just plug your linelevel media player in directly. However, you’ll have more control over the sound using a mixer.
The E435 and E110 Sub A are easy to lift and carry, but the speaker arrays are somewhat vulnerable. To protect them when traveling, HK Audio offers soft cases that hold four of the units and one pole. Cases and covers are also available for the power amps.
Hit the Road As a modular system, Elements lets you create a PA that meets your exact needs, while allowing you to add modules as the size of your audience increases. And it’s a system worth considering if sound quality is as important to you as portability.
STRENGTHS: Powerful for its size. Lightweight. Excellent sound quality.
LIMITATIONS: Pole locks may require a bit of finessing to lock in place.
Components start at $399