PRESONUS ULT12 & ULT18 POWERED SPEAKERS & SUB
Whether onstage or in front of it, PreSonus’ ULT range of speakers with pivotable waveguides will throw long and wide.
Review: Mark Woods
PreSonus has a reputation for making quirky problem-solvers and delivering them at a reasonable price. The StudioLive mixers and DCP-8 multi-dynamics processor drew my attention to the brand originally and a few years later I was impressed by the good ‘bang-for-the-buck’ Eris studio monitors reviewed in Issue 112. Released in 2013 along with the co-axial Spectre studio monitor and StudioLive-AI ranges these were PreSonus’s first speaker products. The following year’s acquisition of established speaker manufacturers WorxAudio led to a commercial live-sound division and its latest release is the brand-new PreSonus ULT range.
ULT stands for Ultra Long Throw, a range of serious speakers — not cheapies — PreSonus is casting deep into the already crowded and fiercely-competitive mid-level professional speaker market. No doubt reflecting WorxAudio’s practical background, the ULT range is neither quirky nor particularly innovative. The speakers are a traditional two-way full-range (plus sub) active design. They have some distinctive features, but in the main they compete on the execution of an established concept.
The first good sign is they’re made of wood. Eucalyptus plywood covered in a tough, textured and slightly sparkly Chemline polyurethane; they look very nice. At 24kg, the ULT12 speakers are also quite heavy with a solid, dead feel. Thankfully the handles are excellent, big and wide and smooth on all the edges. There’s only one side handle because the speakers are designed for use as floor monitors as well as front-of-house rendering one side of the cabinet too shallow for a handle. They do, however, have top handles and I reckon they’re essential for this type of portable speaker. They get thrown in cars, or the back of the ute packed with other gear, and often the only way to get them in or out is by using the top handle. The optional padded slip-on covers are convenient to use with open cut-outs to access both the side and the top handles. The perforated steel grille across the front of the cabinet will certainly protect the speakers but isn’t as strong as some. It bends in when you carry the speaker against your chest or legs and pops out again when you put the speaker down.
BIG BASS — The ULT18 sub is a beast at 43kg and nearly as big as four ULT12 speakers. It packs the required punch thanks to an 18-inch Kevlar woofer, with a four-inch voice coil that can travel 7mm before over-excursion occurs. Frequency response is quoted as 45Hz (-3dB) to 250Hz with a maximum of 135dB SPL. Power is 1000W RMS with DSP sorting out the internal details.
Under the grille of the ULT12, the speakers are arranged in the normal two-way manner with a 12-inch Ferrite LF transducer below the 1.75-inch HF compression driver. The distinctive feature is the Pivot X110 waveguide. It’s a bi-radial design and larger than most, with a quoted horizontal dispersion (-6dB) of 110 degrees while the vertical dispersion is considerably narrower at 50 degrees. This wide, focussed dispersion is achieved by the waveguide design and the effect is enhanced by the low 1.6kHz crossover point, placing more mids under the horn’s directional control. This dispersion pattern also gives the speaker its long-throw characteristic by concentrating the mid and high frequencies in the horizontal plane.
The horn also rotates, primarily so the speaker can be used on its side as a floor monitor but it could also work in tall, narrow spaces with the horn rotated and the speaker upright, or as a centre fill hung horizontally. You need to take the front grille off to rotate the horn but it’s only a five-minute job and it gives you a look at the amp/processing unit while you’re there. Not much to see really, none of these modern units look like much compared to the amps of old, but its two channels provide a generous maximum RMS power of 500W LF and 150W HF. On the way to the Class D amplifiers is 24-bit/96k DSP that provides a choice of three preset frequency response shapes and the usual thermal protections and limiting.
Selecting between preset frequency shapes, activating the HPF or selecting whether to have the front LED illuminated is achieved by pressing tiny little buttons along the bottom of the rear panel. Apart from needing acute eyesight to be able to read the labels they are effective visual indicators of the speaker’s current settings and help avoid unwittingly dialling up a pair of speakers to different settings.
The ULT12’s frequency response is quoted as going down to 55Hz at -3dB, but for real thick bottom end the ULT18 sub is recommended. Its range is quoted as 45Hz (-3dB) to 250Hz with a maximum of 135dB SPL. Power is 1000W RMS with DSP sorting out the internal details. Polarity inverse and mono switches can help control some of the outside world problems, like walls.
IN FULL SWING
Whether by happy coincidence or something deeper, the first time I used them was straight out of the box and onto the fairway of the local golf course for a black-tie fundraiser. If ever there was a show with long, wide throw in the sound brief, this was it. Playing across a fairway, they had guest speakers, dignitaries and a large swing band for entertainment. I used a PreSonus ULT12 with sub on either side of the band. I couldn’t bring myself to run the multicore across the fairway so I put the mixer and racks in a marquee backstage. It was an obvious gig for an iPad set-up but due to my stubborn insistence on analogue mixing for live shows, I walked around to listen to the PA then back again to make changes. It reminded me of the days when you’d pick up the PA from a hire company, and occasionally forget the multicore. I didn’t have to walk too far around the front with these speakers though, anywhere forward of the front line of the box and you could hear the horn clearly.
I checked them with a dynamic vocal mic first, on the FOH setting, and I liked them straight away. The voicing was linear, they had plenty of power and a good, solid overall sound. The ULT18 sub level needed to be matched to the ULT12 but apart from that they were happy to run flat in the great outdoors. Lots of condenser mics through powered boxes is always a good test of how stable a system is. You’re normally searching for every dB you can get before it feeds back, but sound-checking the band was easy and I had good level for the type of event. Pushing the system up to find the limits had it becoming unstable at very high and very low frequencies but that was the condenser mics rather than the PA.
“This wide, focussed dispersion is achieved by the waveguide design and the effect is enhanced by the low 1.6kHz crossover point, placing more mids under the horn’s directional control”
The horn really does have a wide throw and it was much appreciated in this setting. Each speaker was effectively covering about 150 degrees, saving me having to mount and splay two speakers with narrower coverage. There doesn’t seem to be a trade-off in quality or evenness either. Instinctively you would think the wider dispersion would diffuse some of the level so it wouldn’t throw as far, but the narrow 50-degree vertical shape concentrates the sound energy in the horizontal plane and I found they did throw the upper-mid and high frequencies a good distance — in this case it was over 50m to reach some of the audience, luckily it was a still night.
The system was next used as in-fills at the Theatre Royal Castlemaine for the first week of the recent Castlemaine State Festival and they worked well, easy to set up and again, no EQ required. During a pumping DJ set after one show I was impressed by how they were at handling a good dose of EDM. Switched to the DJ setting, with subs of course, and these would fill a small dance club.
For the second week of the festival, the ULT12 horns were turned 90 degrees and used as floor monitors. The potential compromises in using powered boxes as floor monitors are well known. They sit up too high with the connections showing, the bottom end can be a mess when they couple with the floor, and the horizontal coverage is usually too narrow, especially in speakers with non-rotatable horns. As a floor monitor the ULT12 is quite compact for a 12-inch design but what you can see looks a bit industrial, with the controls and connections exposed to the audience. The sound is the main priority though and I found these made very good wedges. Selecting the Monitor preset button cuts low frequencies in just the right place and the low end is tight and well-controlled. The throw of the horn works well on stage and it’s evenly spread across the width of the cabinet and beyond. Up loud the voicing stays commendably flat and they’re stable and clear enough for rock levels.
DUAL INPUT — Having two Combo XLR/1/4-inch inputs does away with the sudden-death mic/line switches commonly found on powered speakers. One input is line-only, the other has a PreSonus XMAX preamp and accepts mic and line-level inputs. Both have a rotary knob for volume and can be mixed together as required. Two outputs, one for the mix of the two channels and another for the line-only channel, provide configuration flexibility.
THE FULL WORX
The ULT range will enhance PreSonus’s mainstream credibility by providing strong competition in a traditional market. The range also includes the ULT10 and ULT15, with 10-inch and 15-inch woofers respectively. All three full-range boxes use the same X110 horn and all three can be used as FOH, floor monitors or flown using the on-board M10 rigging points. The sound quality is right up there with its direct competition and these are handy speakers with the wide, rotatable horn making them suitable for a broad range of applications and placements. They are simple enough to operate for hire use and the build quality combined with a six-year warranty inspires confidence that they will last. The wide coverage rivals that of the small array systems but the sound is more direct with more bite if things get loud.