JBL VRX Constant Curvature Systems

Paul Johnson

Freshman
Oct 27, 2012
55
2
8
In the UK, this system is rarely mentioned despite having been available for years. I bought and paid for a system which arrived just a week before lockdown killed the world.

Reviews on the net were a bit like the British food - Marmite. People either love it or hate it, never in the middle. In fact very few reviews at all, and non from the UK. JBL specs and advice was that for me they would fit really well into what I do. Mostly theatres that are wide and low. One venue I'm looking after for a season each year is 1400 seats on one level - seats go back nearly 40 rows. The stage is 12m wide, 12m deep and only 4m high to the masking. The roof of the auditorium at the stage is only 7m from floor to ceiling. Floor rigged normal systems had trouble covering the width bit also the depth. Delays were out of the question because they would be far too low at the mid point.We'd got quite used to front fills to sort the centre front rows, but we ended up with two ground stacked systems one pointing forward and the other angled across, but while loud at the back, it was lacking any definition.

The VRX seemed to fit the weird shape. I bought 8 tops and 4 subs. Built a new amp rack (as I bought passive versions) with Class D amps, and it arrived, got music played through it in the office and then put in the cases, where it sat for a year.

I've just taken it to the venue, rigged the fittings and a chain winch each side. Made the cabling to fit the venue and up it went. The PA in the venue before was based around cabs with 2 x 15" mid and HF drivers - Old LAs, plus 18" subs. We do theatre so think old rock and roll and big tribute bands - nothing mega heavy. The software JBL have showed the switch settings as we thought, we hung 3 under a sub, and the top was +3dB, the mid 0dB and the lower one on the -3dB setting and the difference was actually pretty stunning. Clarity from row 15 was so much better, and the HF at the back is actually perhaps a little excessive, a bit of gentle roll off up there was applied. The other pair of subs has the last pair of tops on them and are angled to cover the front rows. The VRX932 box is not actually very wide in the horn section - not as wide as I thought, to be honest but the hang each side was just tilted around slightly so as not to waste HF on the walls, and this seems to have given every seat decent coverage. We're very happy. I know these systems are old, but still current. Sourcing wise, I couldn't find anyone in the UK with them in stock, so they would all be special orders and no discounts, so I started looking abroad. I found a few US dealers with them in stock and some with substantial discounts. One pair had been on store demo for years, and had some scuffing on the tops where they'd been linked and unliked to show how it worked. Some US dealers just said no to a UK delivery, but two suppliers were willing to ship them by sea freight, and even with the huge shipping cost, they were still well below the retail price here. A bit of a risk, but I went for it. I did find a couple of subs here, and the other two came from Germany.

I just have to remember they are NOT line arrays and they are constant curvature arrays, but the fact seems to be they do the job really well. The YouTube stuff saying they're good all rounders seems accurate and the nay-sayers seem wrong. Hanging them up and playing well known tracks shows they are nice. I made a few recordings of desk output on the old system, and playing this into the new speakers reveals things I don't remember.

There is very little of any use on Youtube - an argument about good or bad, and loads from a southern PA company called Plebe -ironic as this is not a very nice term in the UK. Other than that the videos seem more disco based than PA.

The only bad thing was that flying brackets are over a grand each. I live in a port town, where we have lots of wind farm and oil/gas fabrication. JBL very handily have the drawings for the brackets on their site, so I took it to an oil rig welding firm - certificated welders and that kind of work. He looked at the drawing and asked the weight of the speakers it would suspend. I got the idea he was smirking. He made me a pair in a week and charged me £100. His views on a grand apiece are not printable.

It was a gamble - and an awful lot of money to sink into gear that realistically had no warranty whatsoever, or refund option - that doesn't work with foreign sourcing. Then, it lived in the cases for a year. I'm a happy chap - not really worried what the haters think. I've heard it and I like the sound. I also bought a couple of wind up HD stands which will hold a couple of the tops for other jobs, and bought a couple of sub stand adaptors to put a couple of them on a sub. The very expensive JBL one is air balanced, the Chinese one I bought from a UK supplier isn't. Same threads and sockets.
 
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Riley Casey

Sophomore
Jan 12, 2011
275
23
18
WDC in the USA
www.espsound.com
Not sure I've ever run into anyone who 'loved' VRX932s but they fill a market and inventory niche or so say my now ten year old stock of twenty two VRX. JBL charges $100 for the fabrication of each flybar and $900 for the liability attached to selling such an item to a class of users that are less self selecting in their rigging skills background than say Vertec buyers might be. Most shops that have skilled crews have done just what you did in obtaining fly frames.

One thing you will likely find handy as you use your VRX system is the option to adjust not only level as JBL suggests but also EQ of different boxes depending on their location in the array. A simple 4 x 8 DSP box like an Ashly 4.24 works well for this. In my experience this yields better results than using the back panel switches. No need for a high end DSP with all pass filter capacity. Bi-amping can put you further down that granular adjustment road but there is some diminishing returns to be found there as the internal crossovers remain in circuit when biamping. I've long wanted to try bypassing the internal crossovers entirely and connect the drivers directly to the amp outputs and make some tests but my curiosity has yet to overcome my lack of time ( aka laziness ).
 
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Paul Johnson

Freshman
Oct 27, 2012
55
2
8
Hmm. That's a good thought on the frames. The fabrication company offered me them free if they could use them for their apprentice training - but then, they wouldn't have the critical pieces of paper. They did however, make an extra set as the project was fairly simple, but a good training project. When I picked them up, he showed me them and I offered to buy those too. He wouldn't sell them to me, not for the quality of the welding , which was good - but for the fact they were 18mm too narrow. The apprentice misread the drawing - and the drawing showed the distance between the pin holes, NOT the distance to the end.

I like your idea of powering each box separately - I have enough spare amps to do this in stock, although they're not Class D, so an extra two amps will increase the weight considerably, but I can probably do it. Driving them from the Midas M32 would be quite easy too. I'll remember this, and have a go.

It does seem a kind of forgotten product, doesn't - and those that have it don't get excited. Maybe just not a wo factor product but a decent workhorse. I'm very late to the game but it does look like a problem solver for this venue.
 

Dave Pluke

Freshman
Aug 4, 2015
78
4
8
HP, NC USA
It does seem a kind of forgotten product, doesn't
I respectfully disagree, considering several manufacturers offer their version of the same cabinet.

I've used the VRX932s on Corporate (talking heads) gigs and they've been very well behaved. I've heard them sound pretty good in a House of Worship. But, more times that not, they've been painful - most likely due to pilot error. I'm told the latest tunings available for Crown amps make a big difference.

Dave
 

Peter van Gils

Freshman
Mar 3, 2013
127
16
18
Netherlands
www.plugingeluid.nl
My experience with the VRX932 is that they tend to start ‘screaming’ (distort) at higher volumes. But I have the same experience with other 12” designs with x-over frequency in the >1.2kHz range. More recent designs have x-over frequency <800 Hz and seem to behave better (e.g. tt22mk2, diy PM60/90, etc.).
 

Caleb Dueck

Junior
Jan 11, 2011
539
19
18
Montana
I don't exactly share your enthusiasm for VRX, or any constant curvature 'fake line array'. I still have yet to run across one, from any manufacturer, that models out better than a real line array or good trap boxes. For every application where they are 'passable' - I bet I can show you a better performing option.
 
I don't exactly share your enthusiasm for VRX, or any constant curvature 'fake line array'. I still have yet to run across one, from any manufacturer, that models out better than a real line array or good trap boxes. For every application where they are 'passable' - I bet I can show you a better performing option.
That almost certainly comes down to market positioning. From an engineering perspective, the constant-curvature boxes are no different from tight-packed narrow-dispersion trap boxes, or a set of line array boxes set to their widest splay.

The design goals for the constant-curvature systems are generally to achieve a degree of scalability, while remaining (relatively) low cost, compact, and lightweight. And the boxes in the market seem to meet these goals reasonably well.
 

Caleb Dueck

Junior
Jan 11, 2011
539
19
18
Montana
My issue with 'fake arrays' is that they look great - on paper. Each box supposedly has its own little zone to cover; tweak the boxes used to cover the zones for the project.

The reality is much more messy. Model the system in EASE Focus, EASE, etc - and it's not nice and neat. Nearly every time a trap box, point source, or true line array performs (models out) better for the application.

I'm a fan of using point source (or even trap boxes) in pairs, sometimes three or more. Those situations mostly work, depending on the pattern control of each box. A 12" or 15" front loaded driver and horn simply doesn't have the pattern control necessary to play nice with adjacent boxes, especially at all (most) frequencies.

Now that I live in EASE Focus, Danley Direct, EASE, and others more than in the past - there are more applications I find where trap box, point source, or true line array work well, and vertical arrays - just don't. I have yet to find a single project where a fake array provided a better solution than one of the above types. Cheaper maybe, a 'line array-ish look' maybe, but not better performing.
 
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Martin Primus

Freshman
Dec 4, 2012
10
0
1
Bennington, NE
My issue with 'fake arrays' is that they look great - on paper. Each box supposedly has its own little zone to cover; tweak the boxes used to cover the zones for the project.

The reality is much more messy. Model the system in EASE Focus, EASE, etc - and it's not nice and neat. Nearly every time a trap box, point source, or true line array performs (models out) better for the application.

I'm a fan of using point source (or even trap boxes) in pairs, sometimes three or more. Those situations mostly work, depending on the pattern control of each box. A 12" or 15" front loaded driver and horn simply doesn't have the pattern control necessary to play nice with adjacent boxes, especially at all (most) frequencies.

Now that I live in EASE Focus, Danley Direct, EASE, and others more than in the past - there are more applications I find where trap box, point source, or true line array work well, and vertical arrays - just don't. I have yet to find a single project where a fake array provided a better solution than one of the above types. Cheaper maybe, a 'line array-ish look' maybe, but not better performing.

All that being said (and I agree!), how often does the best performing option fit the budget and/or deployment options available for a given performance space? At the end of the day, "good enough" usually wins out in the middle of the market where a lot of customers for boxes like the VRX make their living. If the operator can make it work for most of their target shows, that wins 100% of time over having to invest in 3 or 4 rigs for deployment options only to leave all but one in the warehouse each week (not earning money).
 

Paul Johnson

Freshman
Oct 27, 2012
55
2
8
I probably should have expected the nay-saying, but the venue they're now in has been a real headache for so many visiting shows with their own systems. Low ceiling and therefore no alternative but to bend any flown array to maximum curvature thwarts may of them where tilt angles are limited. By the time you get to the speaker that covers the front seats, they're too low for people to walk under them. The sub and three box VRX each side gives 7 ft at the bottom. Coverage left to right is even and balanced from the 4th row and an extra pair tilted in from the floor restores coverage for the first few rows towards the centre. I could not be happier. They do the trick for this venue - and frankly the fact they're not working in true line mode doesn't seem to be a problem. We have had in the past some rather nice systems through, and they always under performed because of the lack of height.
 

Riley Casey

Sophomore
Jan 12, 2011
275
23
18
WDC in the USA
www.espsound.com
If it sounds good it is good but... a few observations based on your description. The array probably shouldn't cover the front row in any case. Thats the job of the front fills. Both in terms of acoustic balance as well as psychoacoustics the singer in front of you shouldn't be heard from over head. Any subs in the array are eating valuable vertical trim height and should be moved laterally or to the floor. Line arrays were designed to fill a particular application niche, large arenas for the most part as well as outdoor long throw spaces. Auditoriums might and might not be a suitable use but it depends so much on the space that its not an automatic fit. Use outside of that sort of application is often just wrong up to and including side fill monitors for DJs and large rock stages. The DJ thing in particular just cracks me up, looks good over sounds good but DJs ... shrug.
 
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Paul Johnson

Freshman
Oct 27, 2012
55
2
8
I understand your comment - but one of the positives is getting as much ground supported stuff out of the way. Angles work for the sub+3. The ground space is precious as 50% of the shows load in ground stacked PAs moving the house gear out of the way is more work than we need. There is no possibility of lateral movement as the roof panels are safely pierced and no more holes are possible. I could put in a stage edge row of RCF fills, but I'm happy with what we have. The previous system was based around EAW LA's and this does sound nicer.
 

James McMullen

New member
Jun 24, 2019
20
0
1
58
Wheeling, WV
I probably should have expected the nay-saying, but the venue they're now in has been a real headache for so many visiting shows with their own systems. Low ceiling and therefore no alternative but to bend any flown array to maximum curvature thwarts may of them where tilt angles are limited. By the time you get to the speaker that covers the front seats, they're too low for people to walk under them. The sub and three box VRX each side gives 7 ft at the bottom. Coverage left to right is even and balanced from the 4th row and an extra pair tilted in from the floor restores coverage for the first few rows towards the centre. I could not be happier. They do the trick for this venue - and frankly the fact they're not working in true line mode doesn't seem to be a problem. We have had in the past some rather nice systems through, and they always under performed because of the lack of height.
If it solves your issues and provides the needed coverage then all is good. Well done, Paul.
 

Paul Johnson

Freshman
Oct 27, 2012
55
2
8
First outing was a VERY hard to please person. Well known for slagging off PA systems, sound ops and all things audio. He spotted the boxes dangling. Demanded a mic, said about ten words - and said (for the first time ever) sounds nice. The show was also shot for video - going out in three weeks, and at the end, he took me out for a drink. First time since working for him in 1984.

The only thing is that the auditorium is nearly 40 rows of seats deep - and not high and while at the mix position it sounds nice, the volume drop off is quite large. We need to get used to what the level is like nearer the front. We really could do with some extra after about row 28 or so - but the height to the ceiling there is even less and there are no possible speaker mounting points - the ceiling panels are asbestos - and drilling and fixing to or through them is banned. I guess we have to live with this anomaly.
 

Riley Casey

Sophomore
Jan 12, 2011
275
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WDC in the USA
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.... We really could do with some extra after about row 28 or so - but the height to the ceiling there is even less and there are no possible speaker mounting points - the ceiling panels are asbestos - and drilling and fixing to or through them is banned. I guess we have to live with this anomaly.
Delay speakers are worth their weight in gold and don't need to weigh much of anything. Articulation is what is failing to get from front to back and articulation can be very effectively provided by a plastic horn and a neodymium driver suspended from a wire rope fixed to the left and right walls.
 
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Paul Johnson

Freshman
Oct 27, 2012
55
2
8
Totally agree, but we have a pair of 70's Shure vocal master columns that can't be removed, and annoying, reached to even connect them. We cannot make any new holes in the ceiling and the wall panels are also sealed asbestos - so each panel has a warning sticker and even if we could drill into them - they're 6mm, very fragile and not structural at all. We've had hellish times sourcing new emergency lights that will fit the small panels above the exits - new designs are the wrong shape, but eventually we did find some. They're not ideal, but the only ones we could get to fit. There's simply no suspension for delays, and ground mounting is not possible as the width is aisles or seats - no place for any form of floor mounting.