Stage performers such as musicians, cabaret artists, readers, and lecturers are usually confronted with a fundamental question before any live performance: Will the PA system provided on site meet the requirements? At the end of the day, the PA system is key to the success of a live event – even in the long run. Poor sound prevents the proverbial spark from striking during the performance, no matter how hard an artist tries on stage. Much more serious, however, is the fact that audiences usually blame poor live sound on the artists themselves, which means that inadequate PA systems can be a real career obstacle.
To minimise this risk, most performing artists rely on a so-called tech rider, a contract addendum that specifies the required features and performance data of the PA system and the lighting equipment. But in daily practice, even precise specifications in a tech rider do not protect artists from unpleasant surprises, and hardly any artist will cancel a show shortly before the venue opens because the PA system does not meet the agreed specifications.
That’s why the Dutch band Rapalje takes a completely different approach: The famous Celtic folk artists are usually using their own PA system, which is tailored exactly to their requirements and delivers excellent sound. Even at festivals, Rapalje like to set up their own system instead of the equipment available on site. This provides the musicians with the invaluable advantage of being able to fully focus on their performance because they can be be sure that the audience can hear exactly what is happening on stage.
However, there is a secret behind Rapalje’s excellent sound: The PA system does not consist of off-the-shelf components but is custom-built and optimally balanced in terms of acoustic behaviour. Undoubtedly, not every band can afford this luxury, because profound knowledge of acoustics and loudspeaker technology is required to design such a high-performance PA system. It’s precisely this knowledge that Maceál, one of the founding members of Rapalje, brings to the table. The multi-instrumentalist, not without reason called „Inspector Gadget“ by his band mates, is a born tinkerer with everything that has to do with music. In addition to harmonicas with completely new tunings and the gitouki, an instrument that adds a unique flavour to the Rapalje sound, Maceál developed the band’s proprietary headset microphones as well as the entire PA system, which he continues to optimise with great attention to detail. In his home province of Groningen and beyond, Maceál is a highly coveted expert in all matters of sound reinforcement technology. His company HornAudio, which has now been in existence for ten years, installs and rents out sound reinforcement systems of all sizes – all of them, of course, developed and manufactured in-house.
As for most artists and stagecraft suppliers, the onset of the Corona pandemic initially heralded difficult economic times for HornAudio and for Rapalje due to the almost complete collapse of the event business. But surrendering to fate has never been Maceál’s thing. Instead, he used the free time he suddenly had to push his loudspeaker developments in a completely different direction: He used the principles of PA technology and his experience to develop extremely compact systems that offer true high-end sound with minimal space requirements. HornAudio breaks completely new ground with these systems that consist of a class D amplifier, a very compact subwoofer, and surprisingly small satellite speakers called „Pixies“, whose main parts are 3D-printed, acoustically optimised housings and flat membrane speakers. During development, special attention was paid to the avoidance of partial oscillations as well as to the prevention of phase cancellations through sophisticated housing and the front grille design.
A feature taken directly from the PA sector – and an extraordinary property in the hi-fi segment – is the scalability of the HornAudio system. While array configurations that can be adapted to the respective power requirements and on-site conditions are common state of the art in professional sound reinforcement technology, similar flexibility isn’t common for hi-fi and high-end loudspeakers. Maceál has created this possibility with his new development: Just like the speakers of a full-blown PA system, the „Pixi“ satellites can be configured as an array, if more power and an extended coverage angle adapted to the spatial conditions of a room are required. Arrays with four or eight „Pixi“ satellites per side can be easily realised to meet the requirements of large living rooms, public spaces, or a restaurant, for instance. Thanks to the runtime-corrected design of the speakers, the audio image remains linear in such array setups. Dreaded phase cancellations are avoided, so the sound isn’t compromised regardless of the listener’s position.
For the aesthetic design of the loudspeaker fronts, Maceál chose speaker fabrics from Akustikstoff.com. Despite good visual opacity, these high-quality fabrics offer maximum sound transparency and don’t impair the excellent sound of the system. Moreover, the extensive range of available colours allows the speakers to be visually matched to almost any conceivable room design and to meet any customer requirement.
The sophisticated development is convincing all along the line: Even the smallest configuration, which consists of two weatherproof „Pixies“ measuring only 7 x 7 x 7 cm and a 28 x 28 x 16.4 cm subwoofer that also houses the amplifier, renders a surprisingly voluminous and detailed sound. Its almost linear frequency response from 38 all the way to 21,000 Hz and the excellent spatial imaging raise the bar for small speakers with big sound, which has so far been defined mainly by Sonos systems.
Array configurations of four or eight satellites per side plus a correspondingly powerful subwoofer further extended the frequency response, bring even more sound pressure and sound volume to the table, and provide outstandingly fine detail regardless of volume. In fact, such an array with its linear reproduction behaviour outshines many established studio monitors in a direct listening comparison. In terms of acoustics, it is on a par with high-end loudspeakers that change hands for five-figure sums per unit.
The wide range of connection options leaves nothing to be desired. The system can play back audio directly via Bluetooth, and it can be integrated into a multi-room system via WLAN. In addition, there’s an RJ45 socket for wired connection to a LAN, a 3.5 mm jack socket to connect analogue audio sources, and a USB interface to play back audio content directly from USB data carriers.
A first series of the smallest configuration has now been launched as a special „Rapalje Sound System„. It can be ordered from Rapalje’s online shop together with a USB stick containing the band’s complete repertoire. There is a choice of five different colours for the speaker fabric from Akustikstoff.com that covers the speaker front: Customers can either choose neutral black or one of the band’s four typical colours, which are green, red, blue, and brown.