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A line array is a loudspeaker system that is made up of a number of usually identical loudspeaker elements mounted in a line and fed in phase, to create a near-line source of sound. The distance between adjacent drivers is close enough that they constructively interfere with each other to send sound waves farther than traditional horn-loaded loudspeakers, and with a more evenly distributed sound output pattern.
Line arrays can be oriented in any direction, but their primary use in public address is in vertical arrays which provide a very narrow vertical output pattern useful for focusing sound at audiences without wasting output energy on ceilings or empty air above the audience. A vertical line array displays a normally wide horizontal pattern useful for supplying sound to the majority of a concert audience. Horizontal line arrays, by contrast, have a very narrow horizontal output pattern and a tall vertical pattern. A row of subwoofers along the front edge of a concert stage can behave as a horizontal line array unless the signal supplied to them is adjusted (delayed, polarized, equalized) to shape the pattern otherwise. Loudspeakers can be designed to be arrayed horizontally without behaving as a horizontal line source.
Modern line arrays use separate drivers for high-, mid- and low-frequency passbands. For the line source to work, the drivers in each passband need to be in a line. Therefore, each enclosure must be designed to rig together closely to form columns composed of high-, mid- and low-frequency speaker drivers. Increasing the number of drivers in each enclosure increases the frequency range and maximum sound pressure level, while adding additional boxes to the array will also lower the frequency in which the array achieves a directional dispersion pattern.
The large format line array has become the standard for large concert venues and outdoor festivals, where such systems can be flown (rigged, suspended) from a structural beam, ground support tower or off a tall A-frame truss tower.Since the enclosures rig together and hang from a single point, they are more convenient to assemble and cable than other methods of arraying loudspeakers. The lower portion of the line array is generally curved backward to increase dispersion at the bottom of the array and allow sound to reach more audience members. Typically, cabinets used in line arrays are trapezoidal, connected by specialized rigging hardware.
Line Array theory is based on pure geometry and the thought experiment of the "free field" where sound is free to propagate free of environmental factors such as room reflections or temperature refraction.
A line source is a hypothetical one-dimensional source of sound, as opposed to the dimensionless point source. As a line source propagates sound equally in all directions in the free field, the sound propagates in the shape of a cylinder rather than a sphere. Since the surface area of the curved surface of a cylinder = 2π r h, where r is the radius and h is the height, every doubling of the radius results in a doubling of the surface area, thus the sound pressure halves with each doubling of distance from the line source. Since p1 = 1 and p2 = 4 for every distance doubled, this results in a sound pressure loss of approximately 3 dB.