Earlier this year, I visited Bose HQ to experience the company’s entrée into what I consider pro-grade portable PA (PPA) territory—their new F1 Flexible Array Loudspeaker System. While Bose’s L1 is a monumental, super-useful product, it was—as I understand it—the result, first and foremost, of efforts to produce a pure-sounding, user-friendly acoustic instrument amplification system; the concept essentially was that a performer within an ensemble may often need their own individual PA. The L1 fulfills that need quite well and much more, of course; it truly shines in small ensemble applications.The F1 is a completely different beast. It’s a simple, yet very real line array for PPA applications: a front-of-house sound reinforcement rig covering a range of audience sizes and types with proprietary Bose FLEX array technology, as easy to position and carry as any typical “black box” PPA gear. Over the past two months, I’ve had an F1 rig (two full-range cabinets and two accompanying subwoofers) to use in various live sound applications and am sold on its quality and impressive sound via its unique design, build quality and components.
At first glance, the self-powered 1000W Bose F1 Model 812 Flexible Array Loudspeaker looks much like other similarly sized PPA gear. It measures 26.1” x 13.1” x 14.6” (H x W x D) and weighs 44.5 lbs.; its accompanying self-powered sub, the 1000W F1 Subwoofer, measures 27” x 16.1” x 17.6” (H x W x D) and weighs 57 lbs. Both are easy to carry with built-in ergonomic-friendly handles and are notably scratch and impact-resistant thanks to an obviously proprietary blend of polypropylene ingredients. I simply love the enclosures, as they are unique, rigidly hard, tough and road-worthy yet lightweight compared with similarly strong multiple-ply wooden cabinetry of competing products.
The Model 812’s main appeal, however, lies in its simple-to-use Flexible Array technology, a first for the PPA market. Users can shape coverage patterns by manually moving its top and bottom array; in total, the Model 812 features a vertical line of eight small mid/high frequency drivers plus a 12-inch woofer. The Model 812 has four coverage patterns—Straight (top and bottom array “out”), J pattern (top out, bottom in), Reverse J (top in, bottom out), and C pattern (top and bottom in); not only does each setting aim drivers differently, “each position is held in place by magnets that trigger internal sensors that adjust EQ according to array shape,” explains the Model 812 manual.
Per application, each Flexible Array pattern serves specific settings. The Straight pattern is for performances where the audience is standing, with heads approximately at the same height as the loudspeaker—for example, typical bar/bar band settings. The Reverse J delivers sounds to audiences in raked seating that starts at loudspeaker height and extends above the top of the loudspeaker—or typical theater or concert hall environments. The J pattern is ideal when the loudspeaker and band are on a raised stage and audiences are seated and/or standing on the floor below—such as typical club/music venue environments. And finally, the C pattern is for raked seating when the first row is on the floor with the speaker—for example, most auditorium presentations and performances. In all, the Model 812 allows for the most customizable and flexible live sound coverage I’ve ever personally experienced in portable PA form.
The Model 812 offers two input channels, each with respective Volume knob and Signal/Clip light; its I/O is well chosen for PPA. For Input 1, there is a combo XLR/quarter-inch input accepting TRS balanced or TS unbalanced cables, switchable mic or line level; Input 2 offers a quarter-inch TRS/TS input and two RCA connectors, internally summed to mono. A third section on the rear input panel, labeled System, offers two switches: one is a Front LED selector for power and limit lights; the other switches the Model 812 between Full Range and With Sub settings (engaging an high-pass filter at 100 Hz).
The F1 Subwoofer provides dual inputs and an accompanying line output per channel, thus allowing one or two F1 Subwoofers to be used in conjunction with the full range “top” speakers. Like the Model 812, the F1 Subwoofer also provides switchable Power and Limit front LEDs plus an overall Volume knob, Polarity reversal switch and Line Output EQ switch, the latter offering Thru (no filtering) and HPF (passing input via a high-pass filter at 100 Hz, affecting Line Output signals only).
Together, Model 812 and F1 Subwoofer system conjoin with the sub’s unique built-in speaker stand, creating a sturdier-than-pole-cup, very attractive full-range/subwoofer tower. The stand is enclosed within the back of the F1 Subwoofer; users simply pull the stand from the back of the sub and insert it into stand slots on the top of the sub. The Model 812 fits snugly and securely atop the stand. That said, if a live subwoofer isn’t needed, or if F1 Series users only have one sub—a reasonable setup I used within the span of this review—a standard pole cup is also included on the bottom of the Model 812. Notably, the pole cup on the Model 812 is probably the best I’ve found in PPA; it tapers from a wide opening to the snug 35 mm diameter, reducing common misplacements and “fidgeting for the hole” situations that we PPA users have become so accustomed to.
In use, the Model 812 and F1 Subwoofer sound incredibly full, balanced and powerful. Similar to a tour-grade line array, the system is notably even in its coverage throughout a variety of venue types, as I experienced in my own use and earlier this year, at Bose’s own large venue F1 demonstration at Patriot Place, Mass., where a stage-front Model 812/F1 Subwoofer rig, just like the one I’ve reviewed here, replaced the house world-class line array.
From a musical presentation/keynote address in a large gymnasium (Reverse J pattern), to extensive house-of-worship, auditorium and rock club use (J, Reverse J and Straight patterns), to rehearsals and an outdoor acoustic music performance (Straight pattern), each array adjustment really worked as touted in Bose promotional materials, proving the F1 Series’ mettle as a “real” affordable line array for portable use. In the larger, more reverberant venues, I regularly used both F1 subs, but often ran with just one sub (plus a speaker stand) for convenience, space and weight needs; the Model 812 is in no way dependent on the F1 as it is a truly full-range speaker with plenty of power—right at the now-industry standard of 1000 W for a pro-grade PPA enclosure.
Both the Model 812 and F1 Subwoofer are street priced just under US$1,200 each—a very attractive price point considering flexibility, build quality and time proven Bose pedigree. If nearly US$5k for a complete system is cost prohibitive, Bose has made it easy to employ the Model 812 tops with powered subwoofers of any brand (as I doubt the F1 will be many user’s first PA), getting F1 users up and running while the F1 Subwoofer (one or two) can be added at a future date; while conducting my review, I did use the Model 812 with another manufacturer’s powered subwoofer with predictably good results, too. That said, Model 812 and F1 sub are made for one another and are complimentarily voiced; and aesthetically, a Model 812/F1 “tower” doesn’t really look like portable PA, making it an elegant choice for budget-conscious live music venues, modern houses-of-worship, and other environments where looks truly matter, yet coverage, quality and portability do, too.
With the F1 Series, Bose provides our market with a portable PA that even the most discriminating audio engineer can love with the basic functionalities previously found only within line array systems costing far more (and those certainly don’t fit in the trunk of a typical SUV). As word spreads about the F1 through the communities of discriminating musicians and journeyman audio engineers, I expect to see a lot of F1 Series rigs employed in all sorts of places.