Active PA speaker systems

During my high school time, I did a lot of work as a sound technician and lighting designer at all kinds of events, both as a volunteer at school and outside of school. Recently someone from the school told me that they were looking at buying a new portable speaker system, both to replace their old/broken/underpowered one and because they were paying more than a thousand euros in rental fees for additional speakers every year. They asked me if I could help them choose one. We quickly reached the conclusion that active speakers were the way to go because of their flexibility and because they would often be operated by people who didn’t know a lot about all the technical stuff.

We ended up narrowing it down to three candidates: the Yamaha DSR series, the JBL PRX600 series, and the QSC KW series. These are the top-of-the-line active systems the largest and most reputable speaker manufacturers have to offer, as of early 2012. The next step was to find a place where we could listen to all three and compare them. Thomann, the largest online shop for musical instruments and PA equipment in Europe, where we have been buying sound equipment for years, has a huge store and showroom in a small town in northern Bavaria. They ordered and set up all these speakers for us and let us listen to them for more than an hour. If the friendly sales guy ever grew tired of listening to our test songs like “He’s A Pirate” by Klaus Badelt or “Man in the Mirror” by Michael Jackson over and over again, he certainly didn’t show it.

We almost immediately ruled out the QSC: We had the QSC KW 153 three-way 15″ top coupled with a QSC KW 181 18″ subwoofer set up, but the mids and highs just sounded muddy.

Some other speakers we temporarily had in the test were some JBL Eon (by accident), which just sounded cheap compared to the others, and some RCF Art, which had crisp and powerful base, but not exactly outstanding highs.

Now we only had the JBL PRX 615 two-way 15″ top coupled with the JBL PRX618-XLF 18″ subwoofer and the Yamaha DSR 115 two-way 15″ top coupled with the Yamaha DSR 118W 18″ subwoofer left over. We tested and compared them for almost an hour: sometimes we tended towards the JBLs, other times we liked the Yamahas more.

The JBLs sounded very smooth (if you want to be mean, you could call them a tiny bit muddy) and their base stretched down to 30 Hz. On the other hand, the Yamahas had super-clear mids and highs and very precise and crisp base. After quite some discussion, we decided to go with the Yamahas. Another advantage was their significantly lower price and their more advanced DSP circuitry to protect the speakers.

They got delivered a few days ago and so far we’re really happy with them. They sound amazing: Perfect for the school’s numerous music performances. And they are powerful: Perfect for events like dances and parties.

If you’re looking for a set of high-quality portable speakers for a school, church, band or DJ, the Yamaha DSR series is most likely your best choice. They sound great, have lots of power and are well worth their money.

If you just use them for speech, a set of Yamaha DSR 112 would probably be a fine choice (I didn’t test the DSR 112, but assume they’re as good as the DSR 115 with a little less low-mids). If you’re using them for a band, go for a set of DSR 115, and if you have drums, base or anything else below 120 Hz, definitely get a pair of DSR 118W subwoofers along with them. Same goes for DJ and party use: a pair each of DSR 115 and DSR 118W should suffice to bring high-decibel, high-quality sound to a few hundred audience members.

If you have experiences with the Yamaha DSR (or the recently-released smaller DXR and DSW series), or have found other speakers in the same price range that sound better, please feel free to share them in the comments.

14 thoughts on “Active PA speaker systems

  1. Duke Kelly Springfield, Oregon UXA

    I found your results to be very informative and will use them in consideration purchasing my next system. I have heard the DSR122 and was impressed. I have decided to purchase a pair of DSR 115’s and 2 DSR 118 subs. I am also getting a pair of DSR 112’s to use as floor monitors or other applications as see fit. Thank You for your hours of testing. I have been doing live audio engineering and tech installations for 30 plus years . I appreciate others who do there homework and fight noise pollution.

  2. john

    Ahh, the yam tops are louder/harsher but the PRX sub goes lower and louder (XLF version) so the systems even out if you buy with subs, if not the yams could be a heavier but louder choice.

  3. Michael Kuron Post author

    I totally agree, the JBL PRX 618S XLF is impressive. For us though, the higher clarity of the Yamaha tops was what eventually decided it and their lower price was a bonus. For canned music, they’re absolutely comparable, but for live vocals, I prefer the Yamahas.
    The Yamaha subs are not as earth-shaking as the JBLs, but do their job quite nicely too. I am impressed how well the Yamaha tops perform on their own though, an important factor since we were shopping for a system to be used modularly.

  4. john

    I tried the Yams when they 1st came out 2 years ago and my 1st impression was these things are harsh! ouch and thought they would be better suited to rock bands.

    I suppose if you eq’d the yams enough you’d get a smoother sound than you get out of the box , also they are almost 6kg’s heavier than the JBL PRX612m’s so you get to lift more weight as a result unlike the PRX612m’s which you can carry both in each hand simultaneously.

    Also the JBL’s are more of an all rounder with the monitor switch, it’s a great feature which the yams don’t have, at the end of the day they really are in a different weight class especially the DSR115 it’s about 8 kg’s heavier and larger dimensions all round than the PRX615M.

    I look at the PRX speakers as a really good compromise between an easy load in/load out and it’s ability to play 90% of the venues for a standard backing track/Jazz act & smaller Band.

    There will be occasions where the Yams win out but on the other hand i just helped a friend buy 4 PRX612m’s (2 a side) and 2 PRX618-xlf’s and man forget about your Yams this setup is loud and means he can aim them out on angles getting much better coverage than just one speaker a side.

    The setup obviously cost more (about $1600 australian for 2 612m’s) but not much more as the Yam dsr115’s go for about $1350 here, these top boxes will have the same volume but better coverage and almost half the carry weight, don’t know about you guys but once you reach 49 you want to lighten the load as much as you can, on that point the JBL subs are also 5 kg’s lighter go 11hz lower and are more powerful than the Yams so it’s not a total win for yamaha.

  5. Ted

    The JBL Xlf is a slightly better bass unit, the DSR 112 is a slightly better mid high unit. That said, the DSR 118 is still a very good sub, especially for those who favour the bass reflex design and its even frequency response over many of the current band pass one note wonder boxes. The 612 is also a very good mid high unit and incredibly light.

    The DSR 112s can get harsh on their own, but coupled with a DSR 118, the system is sweet, clean, powerful and extremely well balanced and processed.

    For disco and DJ duty either system would be a good option, maybe the JBL would be king with XLFs output and depth, however for live use, and applications where vocals and instruments are prevalent I would take the DSR system every time.

    It’s not only cheaper, it runs cooler and has a better warranty.
    For my ears the DSR four box system has a very flat even response, much along the same lines as Martin Audios Blackline system.
    It’s not quite Martin Audio quality but its a damn fine effort from Yamaha and Nexo.

    The on board processing when ran as a four box system is quite superb on the DSRs, don’t use out board processing and let it sing on its own and enjoy!

  6. john

    Ted your points are valid but you’ve overlooked my points, that the Yamaha system is in a different weight class not every one wants to lug an extra 20kg’s around (2 dsr’s and 2 118 subs) especially if they’re older.

    If strictly comparing a Yam system with JBL system then the only difference is that the Yams will have that bitey 2 inch horn sound only appropriate for louder gigs not great at gigs played at lower levels in my opinion that makes the JBL more flexible (Jazz,DJ,small band) as they will suit more gigs across the board.

    i’ve met P.A. guys (i’m a Keyboard Player/Vocalist) who dislike 2 inch horns i suppose somewhere in the middle would be ideal like the new HK LINEAR 5 systems that have recently come out but again they don’t have great subs only dual 12’s and the subs are heavy for their size.

    On the other hand if a band is only ever playing loud gigs then yes the Yamaha DSR112’s will be better but the 118 subs will not be as pleasing or go as low and you have to use the Yam subs with a crossover unless you stay all Yam as the DSR118w’s don’t have a crossover the JBL’s do at 90hz.

    I’ve just heard the JBL 4 prx 612m system today at my friends as i’m helping him set it all up with a driverack he just got, it’s plenty loud he has his own full band and has said the system purrs hasn’t peaked it once yet and he’s playing corp events to 550+ people.

    I don’t know about the states but here in Australia the dsr112’s are about $200 more than the
    JBL PRX612’s so that becomes expensive when you’re buying 4 cabs, and as far as running cool
    i’ve run my 615’s at 4 hour gigs just before peek for most of night without subs at smaller venues the back heat sink gets warm but nothing to worry about.

    I think whatever Yamaha and JBL bring out next to replace these will be even better and no doubt one of them will get my money, i’m sure they will both address the design shortcomings of these 2 great systems.

  7. Ted

    I was just looking at the two systems with my experience and from my point of view. I am relatively young, have wheel boards, and a van with ramps etc so size weight is no issue for me. Also cost is no issue as I could afford both.
    I have come from a Martin Audio background and this influenced my decision on buying the DSR system.
    The response of the DSR system was far nearer to that of two Martin F12s over two S18s than the PRX system.

    I’m in the UK by the way.
    I paid £2,900 for the four box DSR system (118/112).
    By any standards that is some rig for less than £3k

    Weight wise the PRX like many JBL products before them can’t be beaten.
    I think the main point here is that these two systems are very equal in performance.
    It’s down to the individuals ear, and also the use that these systems will undertake.
    As you mentioned if weight is an issue then maybe the DSR 118s are just too much for some. The ferrite vs neo war on weight will always be won by the neo driver in the XLF.
    The fact the DSR 112 is all neo yet still weighs considerably more than the 612 is completly offset for me by the low mid punch and open mid range of the DSR box. Having said that if using a box as a stand alone I wouldn’t even look at a DSR 112. The best Mid high boxes are exactly that. Speakers that deliver mid and high frequencies.
    There isn’t such thing as one box that delivers the full frequency range with quality and performance, and to ask any 12inch speaker to deliver full range is absurd.

    I will say though that in my opinion the DSR 112 is a superior box than the JBL PRX 612.

    I agree that the horn on the Yamaha is harsh when used without subs on its own, it’s a one inch exit two inch voice coil unit, but with the DSR 118 underneath providing a processed input signal it is smooth quality from 120hz all the way up.
    It’s a different animal in this configuration.

    I’ve had plenty of fun rolling offensive high frequency EQ off many Electrovoive and Mackie active cabs but I can promise you I don’t when using my DSR system.

    For a modern dance music DJ I would defo go with PRX system solely down to the XLF being the engine of the system, and bass being the engine of dance music, but when I listen to all other types of music the DSR sounds better to my ear. It simply produces more genres of music better for me.

    Weight is always an issue, but listen to acoustic bass and acoustic piano through a flyaway light speaker, and its failure to absorb the resonance these instruments generate is not worth the saving in my opinion.

    Emile Sande is now using a Turbo sound system with one inch exit comp drivers and all paper unreinforced drivers in its woofers to produce her vocal and piano as the FOH tech desires.

    It’s horses for courses, always has been, always will be.
    The secret is getting the right horse for the right course, and that will always be done by the ear of a very skilled individual.

    I don’t understand why you would use a driverack on a prx system?
    All the processing for the 612 is in the XLF and is of high quality.
    The 90hz high pass is a Linkwitz Riley 48db/octave job done –)

  8. Ted

    I have to disagree with you John on several of your points.

    The flexibility of the DSR system for me is superior.

    I have used my four box DSR system in acoustic performances and with jazz music to superb effect, just as I have with loud rock bands.
    The opinion that the DSR system is just for loud gigs isn’t correct at all.

    At lower volumes and intimate acoustic gigs, the mid range clarity and open sound of the DSR is one of its trump cards.

    Using two PRX 612s a side at 90 degree dispersion each would be unwise.
    That is unless you are playing on a 5 metre wide stage in a 100 metre wide venue and 180 degree dispersion could be implimented.

    Most array units are of 60 degree or less in their horizontal dispersion for good reason.

    As for the HK Audio systems, I wouldn’t class them in the same league as the main players in the live audio market.

    They are ok at 3 box sub/sat systems, the smallest Lucas system (smart) and the largest Lucas system (alpha) are the pick of the bunch, but get into proper PA systems and their stuff is lacking in quality, with poor mid high clarity and projection, and an undefined cluttered bass response.
    They also have a poor size to output ratio in their larger scale systems, unlike the Lucas systems which excel in this area.

    Sorry it sounds like I’m having a go or being an argumentative dick head, but my points are all valid and I wouldn’t want prospective buyers getting the wrong idea of any on the equipment mentioned in Michaels blog.

    I do totally agree with you though that as a stand alone box the Yamaha DSR 112 is very harsh and aggressive in its high frequency content.
    I would never use one as a stand alone, or even with another manufacturers sub, but paired with the DSR 118 it sounds really nice.

    I know people use the 112 with the XLF crossed at 90hz 48db/octave to good results, but I would doubt if it sounded quite as nice as with the DSR 118.

  9. Michael Kuron Post author

    I don’t really recall anything I’d consider harshness on our DSR115s, so maybe this is where the DSR112 and DSR115 differ.
    John, I totally agree on the weight issue: the Yamahas are inappropriately heavy (I wonder why they didn’t use neodymium like everyone else).

    I think we all agree that both the JBL PRX and the Yamaha DSR are great PAs, two of the best you can get in the high-end portable range. Both certainly are great for almost anything and both certainly have shortcomings in one area and shine in another.

    My general advice to anyone is: before spending several thousand dollars or euros on a PA, do a listening comparison. Call your dealer (if you’re in southern Germany, Thomann is great) and have them set up both these systems next to each other and perhaps have them also set up their favorite rig for comparison. Bring a CD with the kind(s) of music you’ll be using it for and also check out how well they reinforce vocals. Also bring a pair of reference headphones.
    If you’ll be using the PA fixed indoors, you should also try your system of choice in your own location. The dealer might let you borrow it for a day for testing or some local rental company might have it.

  10. Ted

    The DSR 115 does indeed have a less aggressive high frequency response than the 112. Although the same horn and cross over (1.7khz) is implemented on both boxes, above 6khz the 115 tails off considerably more than the slightly lifted high end of the 112.
    Both curves can be downloaded from Yamahas web site.

    Like Jon found the weight of the DSR system an issue over the PRX, the weight of the DSR 115 over the DSR 112 was an issue for me, so I never considered it for demo. The 118 never gets off the floor, or my wheel board so I could live with that, but raising the 115 on a high stand was risking it for my back LOL!

    Also my primary application is for vocalists, and the 112 like many 12s does deliver a superb vocal with clarity, volume and long throw.

    I agree with you Michael that these two systems are probably the best two out there at the moment in the class.

    Why EV has never brought out a sub that matches the ZXA5 is a mystery to me. The SBA 760 and ELX 118 just don’t balance out as system at all.

    I know QSC KW and K are big in the USA, but like Michael, I found them lacking in clarity. Yamaha are superb at copying success, when they copied the success of Steinway pianos all those years ago they new what they were doing, and in copying the success of QSCs KW and K series with their DSR and DXR range, they have pulled another stroke of master marketing.

    The PRX weight to performance ratio is truly remarkable, and the dual voice coil driver technology coupled with crown amplification and DBX processing is a winning formula together with JBLs considerable box tuning expertise.

    The main reason any speaker manufacturer doesn’t use neo is cost.
    The Chinese have forced the cost of neo up considerably in recent times.
    It’s rise in price as a raw material as escalated considerably.

    Thomann is indeed a superb retailer, and a model many others should look at and admire.

    It’s also a fantastic idea to hire equipment for a whole day to evaluate its pros and cons, and also A – B testing.
    For anyone proficient in control and speaker tuning using tools such as DBX driverack or Behringer ultradrive it can be a great learning curve to see what can be achieved with all the tools a modern speaker controller has to offer.

    In my experience both the PRX and DSR systems have internal DSP that couldn’t be defeated or equalled with an external processor, and this is what I would expect from highly reputable names like JBL and YAMAHA and NEXO.
    Since Yamaha acquired Nexo, it’s no coincidence the quality of their DXR and DSR ranges have elevated the Yamaha name as a speaker manufacturer considerably.

    It’s never been so easy and affordable to acquire great sounding P A systems, and anyone road testing the DSR and PRX systems will quickly find that out.

  11. Ted

    I stand corrected on the DSR horn, it does have both a 2inch exit and a 2 inch voice coil. –)

  12. john

    Hi guys, been a while since i wrote something here, been pretty busy anyway just noticed that JBL have listed the brand new PRX 700 series going to be very interesting starting to look like an ios v android(samsung) battle should be great for us muso’s (aussie speak) and P.A. guys etc.

    Here is the link:

    They have juiced up specs compared to the older 600 series so i think we have some major competition for Yamaha here, lets see when the reviews start getting written,also for Ted the PRX series use neodymium woofer,magnet compression drivers, not sure if you knew that.

  13. john

    Hi all, since my last post i’ve decided to check out a few other brands, next tuesday i’ll be comparing my PRX615M to an FBT Promaxx 12/14a and a couple of DB models FLEXSYS F15 & possibly both the OPERA 715/915 had some very positive feedback on some of these so i’ll report back on how it goes.

    The JBL’s have served me well in the last 2 years but they just don’t have the midrange i’m after there are now better sounding boxes out there but i still don’t
    like the Yams so will give them a miss the DXR15 sounds ok up to a certain VOLUME level but these models i’m testing on tuesday should be better than both the yams and the jbl’s.

    I recently saw a youtube video of someone in the US who tested the old PRX to the new model and he said there isn’t a lot of difference and going by the specs
    it would seem true + it’s physically higher and heavier so they’re going in the wrong direction in my opinion and yes the ferrite drivers will make a speaker heavier and cheaper no doubt this is why they did this, i may try the 12″ version though as it seems to have better bottom end than the previous model.

    Having said that if one of these others i test next week sounds great i may go with one of them so i can quickly sell my old PRX boxes whilst they are still worth something before the new models are released.

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