Tony Andrews is not happy. The co-founder of Turbosound, designer of both the Floodlight and Flashlight systems and one of the industry's acknowledged 'golden ears', paces the room of Funktion One's workshop overlooking a glorious sweep of the Surrey Hills and is into his stride even before I can get my tape machine out of the bag.
What has Mr. Andrews so animated is Line Array - or, to be precise, the hegemony it has exerted on the audio industry since L'Acoustics' Christian Heil brought to fruition his take on Olsen's 1940 work showing the theoretical advantages of Line Array designs over point source clusters.
It's not that Mr. Andrews' Funktion One business isn't doing well - the walls are covered with pictures of recent installations and when he and wife, Ann, and son in law David Bruml get out the photo book, it's soon apparent that Funktion One is doing very nicely, thank you - particularly in the Japanese and Far Eastern markets, in the dance world and even in fixed installations, including a pair of Chicago railway stations, last November.
What is upsetting Tony Andrews isn't about money. It's about watching an industry to which he has devoted his working life go off at what he believes to be a distinct tangent.
After a brain-numbing (though supernaturally un-ear-damaging) audition of a Funktion One Resolution system (so *that's* why they call it a kick drum!), we retire to Tony and Ann Andrews' version of 'living above the shop' - an open-plan living area/recording studio that is every audio guy's dream (and probably every wife's nightmare). It's here that the story unfolds. A story, Mr. Andrews believes to be a collective loss of plot of monumental proportions.
Tony Andrews' objection is not, it needs to be established at the outset, to Line Array per se. As he says: 'I don't object to Line Array as a method - as a way of doing things, but I have a very strong objection to the almost childlike simplicity the business is showing about it. It's as if people were saying "Right, we've got a solution - let's paint everything pink - and if we paint everything pink, its all going to be perfect". It is as absurd as that. It's the Emperor's New Clothes'.
In the course of the next hour or so, Mr. Andrews and David Bruml systematically remove brick after brick in the edifice of advantages claimed for Line Array - so many bricks that it's hard to know which ones to report. But, as they began with the "one-rig-fits-all" argument and moved on to dispute claims about transportability and ease of rigging, so shall I.
'The fact that there are now three sizes of line arrays in most companies' portfolios tells you all you need to know about their lack of scalability and the fact that one box won't really work on it's own - you need a lot of them,' Mr. Andrews begins.
'Beyond that, you've got all the reinforcing arguments people use - like it's quicker to rig. This is simply not true. We can put a Wembley cluster up in 15 or 20 minutes. People say it's lighter. Again, that's not true, either and it is easily provable. So why are people saying these things when it's so simply demonstrated that they aren't true?
'When you see that many contradictions - where the received wisdom is so completely contrary to the actuality, you have to conclude that there's some sort of mass psychosis going on and that it has now got to the point where people are making up shit to justify their version of reality.
'This is really what I object to - seeing all my fellow sound industry people acting like the mental lemmings that 20 or 30 years ago, we were all trying to avoid becoming.'
He is even sceptical about Line Array's greatest claim to superiority - its much-vaunted ability to throw project to the back of an arena
'Yes, Line Arrays will travel - but we have recently been working on new technology of our own and have put an install into a North American football stadium in Wisconsin, where they have no roof, the classic oval shape with just one position for a sound system - above the scoreboard at one end - and they wanted to do the entire stadium from his one position. The throw involved is over 800 feet and the situation was so challenging that we decided to take a leap to our new technology to see if it would work. When they commissioned the system they measured 128dBA at 750ft - at which point they went and had all their instrumentation recalibrated - but it was right. Now that is an absolute fact - it isn't what we are saying, it's what some other people went out and measured. So that's throw dealt with.
'People talk about efficiency, we get 111dB for a Watt, so as a single unit we're more efficient than a whole collection in a Line Array and I base my statement on the fact that best direct radiators could be 99dB for a Watt at 1 metre. With maximum coupling, you might get another six dB, which is 105. But we have a device which is 111dB at one Watt one metre. Why would I want to smear-up my sound with a collaboration of drivers when I can do that?
So why does Tony Andrews think so many in the industry have come to regard Line Array as the only way to go?
'People need golden calves. What I do remember back in the early '90s was that with point source clusters, if you walked round the system with pink noise running, you would get that "shushing" sound which, it's true, is not that desirable - though I have to say you don't see many punters actually doing that at gigs. When VDOSC appeared, and I know that Christian (Heil) had been working on it for 10 or 15 years previously, it did have this very smooth sound - there's a good chunk in the middle where the dispersion could be classed as very even. All of a sudden this was grasped on as being the most important thing in the world, then I think there something that went down with MTV in America and it all started from there.
'People were looking for something else at that time. There were emulations of Flashlight around, none of them were that good, and suddenly there was this new thing and it seemed to satisfy a need.'
Both he and David Bruml believe that there was another, vital, element in the game - that making Line Arrays isn't hard and that this suited most manufacturers. In essence, their argument is that designing systems like Funktion One's Resolution is a slow, painstaking business with much of the effort going into minute design changes of drivers and horns until you get it exactly right. Testimony to this is abundant in the Funktion One test room, which is strewn with the carcasses of dismembered drivers, each having been tested, fiddled with, tested again, modified and then still rejected in favour of something else. Mr. Andrews designs his own drivers - and every one is designed for a specific application.
'You have to be really into the drivers and I don't even find it easy after thirty years - it's very mysterious and very hard. But when all you're doing is stringing up a line of seven or eight inch speakers, that's not hard - everybody has got those in the back cupboard - all you need is a bit of woodwork.
'Christian's is basically the HF in a stripe down the middle. Either side of it you've got the mid, which happens to be four seven and a half inch speakers, which is exactly the division of a 15 inch, which you put on the outside, so you go from small wavelengths to large wavelengths progressively towards the edge of the box. Any low frequencies beyond the edge of the box will start to curl round the back, hence, recently , we've started to see speakers squirting out the back of line arrays, to cancel-out that. As an approach that's complete anathema to me because you're using weight, size and energy to correct or cancel something. Surely it's better to get the piece properly directed in the first place?
'It's the same as my dislike of so-called "system processing". Fundamentally it's cheating. Say, for example, you're using it to correct a deficiency like a suck-out. Usually that's a result of an argument between one part of a system and another, resulting in a null. If you put more energy into that null, all you get is a bigger argument. And you're using-up headroom... some of these processors have got like 9dB cut and boost - huge and completely out of control. Why are they needed? It's because people aren't doing the job properly in the first place.
'What the human ear seems to want to hear is a flat phase line and, as it turns out, when we check our systems, that is what we seem to have. It's the result - in fact it's only really possible - when you have an obsessive mania about getting the drivers right. What you want to give people is something that's completely flat and utterly responsive at all frequencies. If you can make the speakers right, then you don't need all that stuff in the middle - it's about signal path integrity.'
For those who would argue that the maths proves him wrong (try Googling Line Array if you want a quick lesson in how much physics you don't understand), Tony Andrews believes much of the learned papers published proceed from a false premise - that we are measuring the right things.
'It's only recently that measurement systems have begun to get anywhere near the way the ear behaves. The human ear really responds to first arrivals and if it didn't we wouldn't have survived the sabre tooth tiger. Because Line Arrays get their increased efficiency from collaboration, it's important that all the speakers see each other, which means that there are quite large chunks of the frequency band where, at any given distance, what you're hearing are loads of different speakers and they're not all exactly the same distance from you - they can't be. So you've got these micro-delayed arrivals, which the ear will register just as they eye will a picture that's out of focus. As a matter of survival, we've evolved to have very acute hearing and I believe people are aware of these things. Now that's something you can measure and when you do, what you find is a series of peaks like a palisade fence. Even though it is compressed into a millisecond, I'm absolutely convinced people can hear it.
'The maths is complicated and to a large extent I don't use it, because what I realised a long time ago was that no matter how good your maths is, unless it incorporates all the factors that are involved in the listening experience then it's inevitably going to be off the mark and, as such, could be worse than if you just do it till it sounds right - and I suppose I've spent an awful lot of time learning what sounds right.
'Having said that, it doesn't mean you ignore the mathematics. What this is about is frequency response, terminal SPL, sensitivity, but with a lot of other parameters, and it's there that it can start to get weird. Everyone knows you can have two boxes with identical figures and yet which sound totally different and the reason is that it's incredibly fine-grained and we simply don't have all the parameters mapped-out. If we did, then yes, we could use maths entirely on its own and probably get a very nice result. The mistake we are making is to believe what we are measuring everything that is going on. It's not that anybody is wrong - it's that the picture isn't sufficiently large yet.'
The dominance of Line Array has made a marked impression on Funktion One's business - effectively forcing it into new markets, notably the dance scene, as Tony Andrews admits.
'Since about the late 1990s Line Array mania has become a brick wall. We did make some forays into the live market - notably with Jamiroquai - but it didn't seem to make much difference to the rest of the industry, even though the sound was pretty good. But the dance people weren't caught-up in all this fashion business - they directly relate to the way it sounds, what it does to them. So we put it in front of them, they loved it and they bought it. In fact if you look at the dance market, you'll find that Line Array has had a very small impact in it and I believe it's because of what I think is a very wishy-washy sort of a sound, not at all what people in the dance market want to hear.
'Back to the Emperor's New Clothes syndrome, there are people out there in live sound who have told us they would love to buy Resolution but they daren't because the industry has become so entrenched. People ring up and they want a Line Array - they don't care *what* Line Array, which tells you all you need to know.
'What we have, as an alternative, is a box that will work on its own at venues from 3-400 to 30,000. It weighs 49 kilos, it rigs faster than anything else, yet it's being totally ignored. That's why I call it Line Array mania and that's why I'm talking to the dance people.'
He is, understandably, cynical about the type of sound people who have brought about this situation.
'It's like Linus and his blanket. A guy who isn't really sure what he's doing, so surrounds himself with Cape Canaveral so that no f*****r will come near him, because he looks really good surrounded by that Christmas tree of lights. You get enough of that going on and nobody's going to call anybody out in case they get called themselves.
'Fortunately, not everyone. There are some really good engineers out there, but there's an awful lot of people who were mates of the band, have never been any good at it, but have been there so long that they're still doing it and they can even win prizes for it.
'Individual madness is quite rare,' he grimaces, 'But communal madness is all too common'.
It would be facile to dismiss Tony Andrews's arguments as simple bitterness at a loss of business. He has more than replaced what he might have lost from other areas. And clearly what animus he has is directed at what he believes to be acoustic wrong-headedness, aided and abetted by clever marketing. Is he simply standing his ground while progress washes around him? Maybe. But scientific disciplines have suffered collective delusions in the past. Witness the medical profession's dogged refusal to believe gastric ulcers were caused by bacteria rather than 'stress'. Even the most expert of experts can get it wrong. And that is what Mr. Andrews thinks has happened in professional audio.