Ask any seasoned solo or small-ensemble musician about the most difficult or frustrating part of playing live, and the answer might surprise you. Because typically, it’s not stage fright, performance prep, or even sleazy venue managers. No, you’re more likely to hear concerns about sound quality and amplification. And singer-songwriters don’t always have the luxury of playing in a venue large or well-off enough to have a house PA. And even if you’re lucky enough to have one at your disposal, it’s likely something maintained (or not) by the part-time bartender. That’s why owning some sort of quality amplification system is pretty much a must—and a portable system you can control yourself while you’re performing is often ideal.
The Bose L1 1S with ToneMatch and B2 Bass Module offers a nice solution to this dilemma. This latest iteration in the L1 line, like its predecessors, uses 12 focused line-array speakers to deliver detailed sound in a totally portable, easy-to-assemble package. The line array units offer the ability to efficiently deliver a wider spectrum of sound over an expansive area using small, angled speakers. It sounds counter-intuitive, but the L1—and this new, more flexible 1S in particular—provides the power to reach larger audiences without too much extra cargo or hassle.
Breaking Down in Record Time
Apart from excellent, even sound quality, the main benefit of the Bose system is the portability. When broken down and packed in its padded bags, the 1S takes up about as much room as an average-sized suitcase and will fit in backseat or trunk of a small car. The bass module has a convenient handle, and the speaker base unit has retractable legs for easy carrying. All in all, it’s hard to imagine any kind of PA performing at this level in a smaller, more portable package.
From start to finish, it took me less than 10 minutes to assemble the Bose rig—and, other than requiring a standard Speakon cable for the B2 module, it comes ready to use right out of the box.
Even, Intricate Sounds
I checked out the 1S with a Breedlove Oregon acoustic-electric equipped with Fishman Ultra-Tone electronics. When you power up, you hear next to nothing (in terms of signal noise) when passing a clean signal through the ToneMatch module—it makes you wonder if the thing is even on and connected right. But, start playing, and the Bose pumps out crisp, pure tones. The low end from the 2x10 B2 module is fluid and warm, and the girthy sounds never overwhelm the trebles and mids coming from the tower speaker array. With the EQ flat and no effects applied, the unit has the familiar dimensional sound and superb, surprising projection of the L1 models I’ve gigged with in the past. At low volumes, it communicated intricate details of my guitar work, and at full volume it faithfully retained the Breedlove’s tone and color.
From there, I moved on to using the guitar with a Sennheiser e830 stage microphone. The ToneMatch system’s front panel makes it easy to use simple level controls to balance and mix up to four channel—three of which have XLR inputs. The same panel is home to gain controls, as well as the fx and mute switches for each channel. The ToneMatch module also has a wealth of options for tone customization, including 3-band EQ for each channel, compressor/gate, and an onboard tuner. The effects section contains a healthy set of reverbs, delays, and modulation. On top of all this, the ToneMatch console has many onboard presets tailored for guitar. Presets include a variety of options for leading guitar brands and models, as well as the ability to create your own.
Singer-songwriters looking for quality sound and maximum portability will find an impressive option in the latest iteration of the L1 series. With its easy transportability and the extensive feature set of the ToneMatch unit, the model 1S with B2 bass module is pretty much an all-in-one solution for portable gigging. When you add the ability to switch between effects sets and ToneMatch presets, the 1S delivers fantastic, detailed sound and remarkable projection that doesn’t require a soundman or extra manpower to set up. Everything is close and right at hand, which makes mid-performance adjustments easy and less likely to upset the flow of a performance.
The only downside is that all this convenience and killer sound comes at a price that may be prohibitive. At about $2,498 bucks, it’s probably out of reach for a lot of aspiring and struggling solo performers who could benefit the most from it. That said, if you’re a solo or small-ensemble member with a mind toward significantly improving your performance, this might be just as important a purchase as a great acoustic guitar.