Over the past decade, I’ve used and/or reviewed a wide range of portable P.A. systems in live music performance applications. To date, one of the most impressive and unique systems I’ve discovered is Cerwin-Vega’s Active Series—a truly overbuilt, road-worthy, and superior-sounding rig. As a matter of fact, it remains a personal benchmark of what to expect from a truly pro-grade portable P.A.
So, when I received Cerwin-Vega’s new P-Series components for review (two 1,500W P1500X full-range loudspeakers and two 2,000W P1800SX subwoofers), I had high expectations, and subsequently tested them in a wide range of applications, ranging from one-man/one-speaker singer/songwriter sets to full configurations (dual P1500X/dual P1800SX) for large-hall dance-band and DJ events. In each scenario, the P-Series delivered a solid, if not surprising performance while offering improved I/O features that are now becoming the norm in the high-performance, “1,000W-plus” portable P.A. Category.
Features Housed in a 53-pound high-grade, thick walled polypropylene cabinet, the P1500X ($699 street) is an active, two-way, full-range enclosure featuring lightweight/high-output Class D amplification (providing 1,500W peak/500W continuous power) providing 134dB SPL maximum. It includes a 15-inch low-frequency driver, 1 3/4-inch diaphragm high-frequency driver, and comprehensive I/O—dual Neutrik XLR/TRS combo input channels (mic/line switchable), each with discrete XLR throughputs, a third dual quarter-inch TS input channel, and a mono XLR mix output. Further, a voltage-passing, three-pin terminal connector plug allows main volume level to be remotely controlled via signal wires and an external device (device not included).
The P1500X’s four on/off switches engage Enhanced EQ (designed for DJ/playback only apps where an attenuated midrange is desired); C-V’s lauded Vega Bass Boost (adding sculpted low frequency gain); high-pass filter (HPF) attenuating below 80Hz (engaged for stage monitor use or pairing with a subwoofer); and a helpful “limiter engaged” light behind the cabinet’s thicker-than-average 18-gauge perforated steel grille. The P1500X measures 27.5” x 17” x 18.5” in size.
The 77-pound P1800SX ($999 street) is similarly equipped and built. It boasts an appropriately bigger Class D amp (rated 2,000W peak/650W continuous power); 18mm-thick reinforced wood cabinet; and 18-inch low-frequency driver for a maximum of 136dB SPL. I/O includes dual Neutrik XLR/TRS combo-equipped input channels, each with discrete XLR throughputs, and a XLR “link” output (the sum of the P1800SX’s inputs, conceived to connect to an additional subwoofer). The sub also offers the aforementioned 3-pin terminal connector for remote volume control, Vega Bass Boost, and a front-panel limiting indicator. Additionally, polarity reverse and HPF Thru and LPF Sub switches are provided; the latter engages two filters—a lowpass to attenuate frequencies for the sub itself (above 80Hz) and a highpass to attenuate (below 80Hz) via both throughput channels 1 and 2. The P1800SX measures 24.25” x 20” x 24.5” in size.
Both the P1500X and P1800SX are designed for flexible use. On its side, the P1500X is an ideal floor wedge with a 45-degree angle toward the artist; pole-mounted, the cabinet provides two mounting angles, level and 7.5 degrees downward. An auxiliary mounting pole (CVPOLE-1A) is available from Cerwin-Vega for main/sub speaker mounting; I recommend that buyers spend the extra $39 (street) per pole, especially if they expect to use one or two P1800SX subs with a mono or stereo P1500X system. For installed applications, the P1500X offers M10/25mm threaded suspension points: two on the cabinet’s top handle and two vertically-arranged, rear-panel “pull back” points.
In Use A mark of a solid modern portable P.A. system lies in its flexibility. As any regularly gigging performing musician, DJ/KJ, or live sound provider has experienced, sound reinforcement needs are often unrealized until we find ourselves onsite to size up the space we need to fill. Though we don’t want to unnecessarily carry around extra weight and size, we don’t want to arrive with a potentially underpowered rig, either. Personally speaking, the worst gigs I’ve ever played seem to include an undersized, underpowered P.A. in an oversized untreated room (or outdoor setting).
In use, this P1500X/P1800SX rig did not disappoint. The full-range cabinet’s built-in three-channel mixer was ideal for small environment, one- to two-person “acoustic” performances; except for one instance (where two vocal mics and a DI acoustic guitar input required an external mixer), the P1500X served as our only P.A. component, placed on its side as a floor monitor and angled for both the performer and bar patrons. Even with the HPF engaged and levels pushed near maximum SPL, both vocal and acoustic guitar low frequencies were full and rich—notably more so than with other standard P.A. cabinet options I’ve regularly used—while high-frequency details were precise and pleasing to the ear.
Next, I rolled out a mono P1500X/P1800SX rig with CVPOLE-1A pole mount to DJ a wedding party featuring pre-recorded music only. Did this system convince the revelers to dance? You bet it did! The wedding had club-quality sound, and the largely 20-something crowd sweated on the dance floor for two hours to prove it. For this reason, I’d recommend any bar or small club owner to check out a P1500X/P1800SX system, mono or stereo based on budget, before investing in any portable P.A. with the goal of getting their customers moving on the dance floor.
Finally, a full stereo P1500X/P1800SX system (dual tops and dual subs) delivered what the father of the bride deemed “concert sound!” for his daughter’s outdoor wedding and reception featuring a full retro R&B band with pre-recorded modern dance music between sets. This is where Cerwin-Vega’s R&D efforts become clear; the P-Series with Vega Bass Boost is basically “instant club sound.” However, I must note that the band (myself included) still preferred using the system without Bass Boost during live performance; engaged, Bass Boost sunk vocals and lead instrument melodies too far back in the frequency mix for our tastes. No big deal, though—we simply switched in Vega Bass for music DJing between band sets and back off for our performances.
The P-Series ships with a well-written user’s manual. For less confident and/or experienced users, its six application examples provide users with most common signal flow scenarios—a good starting point for most every gig.
Summary Comparing Cerwin-Vega’s Active Series and the new P-Series components isn’t exactly apples to apples; if I could only have one pair of portable powered P.A. speakers, I’d still choose the CVA-28 (at $599 street) for its overall sound and build quality (featuring painted wood cabinets and a construction resembling high end touring/line array systems).
However, the Active Series is far less flexible that C-V’s new cost-conscious P-Series; the singer/songwriter setup described earlier wouldn’t be possible with just a CVA-28. For potential portable P.A. buyers with a truly wide range of gigs, I’d recommend an initial purchase of a mono P1500X/P1800SX rig, which could essentially cover most any gig where the band (or DJ, or KJ, or combination thereof) is expected to provide its own sound reinforcement. From there, a stereo P1500X/P1800SX system is only bigger, better, more flexible, and more than ready for the 2013 outdoor live-gigging season.
Strother Bullins is an active gigging musician, self-recordist, and the Editor of Pro Audio Review (prosoundnetwork.com).
STRENGTHS: Solid construction. Flexible for a variety of gigs. Advanced I/O.
LIMITATIONS: Bass Boost sunk vocals and lead instrument melodies too far back in the mix for our tastes.
P1500X: $699 street; P1800SX: $999 street