Back in 2003, Bose changed the game for the singer-songwriters with the ultra portable “stick” design of their first Bose L1 speaker system. While ideal for many small and mid-size venues, some engineers and performers didn’t want to give up some of the features found in more traditional speaker systems designs. We test drove the new F1 Model 812 Flexible Array Loudspeaker with its low-frequency partner, the F1 subwoofer to see if Bose delivers on its claim that the F1 is a powerful, full-range sound system ideal for mid to large venues.
As the name implies, the F1 Model 812 Flexible Array Loudspeaker is a full-range speaker with a twist. The flex array is an adjustable array bank that can achieve four unique shapes (“Straight,” “C,” “J” or “Reverse J”) so you can choose the best possible vertical coverage pattern for your performance. This is the same strategy that professional sound companies use at concert venues to direct high-frequency sound where the seats (and people) are. For example, when we auditioned the F1 system, our audience was seated directly in front of us, so we selected a “Straight” array configuration. However, the adjustable array bank could easily be changed if the audience were to have been in bleacher seating going up from the stage. In that case, a “Reverse J” array shape will project some sound up to better cover the entire seating area. We found it easy to adjust the arrays on the 812 by, simply, pushing the top or bottom of the grill in–no tools required. Arrays are held in place by magnets that trigger internal sensors that set the EQ to be right for your situation.
If you are into the directional speaker array technology seen in many concert venues today, you’ll appreciate that Bose speaker designers provided a vertically oriented 8-driver mid/high line array, with each driver mounted on a custom 100° waveguide for wide, consistent coverage. Behind the array, a 12-inch low frequency driver provides solid performance.The 812s boast a bi-amplified design with two high-output, Class-D amplifiers to separately power the FLEX array and 12-inch LF driver. We found the system to be very easy to transport and set up. It provided plenty of power (with quite a bit of headroom) to cleanly cover an acoustically unfriendly room with several hundred in the audience.
On the rear panel, the 812 has two input channels with independent volume controls and clipping LED indicators. We connected on to our mixer to deliver a left and right stereo mix. Unlike other Bose systems, the F1 does not expect a Bose dedicated mixer and the system has no proprietary connectors. A Line Level/Mic switch is available on channel one and stereo RCA inputs add to the versatility of channel two. For additional coverage, an XLR output is available to daisy chain other 812s. Plus, if you prefer to provide your own power, the Model 812s also come in a passive version (without internal amplification).
For extending bass response, the Bose F1 Subwoofer design provides all the power of a much larger bass box into a compact design. The sub has two high-excursion 10-inch drivers, a polarity switch to adjust polarity of subwoofer, a line output EQ to set the subwoofer’s output to a high-pass filter or full range. We discovered early in our first test drive of the F1 system that, for its size, the sub offers extraordinary performance. As a result, we had to “back it down” more than once. Just as we noted with the 812s, there was plenty of headroom.
As a working musicians called upon to play venues of different sizes, we really appreciated the portability of the sub’s design along with easy set-up with the 812s. The system compares easily to other systems twice its size and with a good deal more weight. For extremely large or wide rooms, it would be simple to add additional 812s to increase coverage.
A unique feature of the FI system worth noting is the extension bracket integrated into the subwoofer. This bracket can be quickly removed from the subwoofer and locked into an upright position, allowing the F1 Model 812 loudspeaker to be safely mounted above the subwoofer. Use of the bracket eliminates the need for a conventional pole mount or tripod stand (the 812s do have a bottom hole for standard mounting, too). While at first glance this bracket looked a little light, it proved to be stable once the 812 was up and created a much smaller footprint than a typical tripod stand with no tripping hazard. The molded bracket even includes cable channels to neatly hide wires. Note, that you can’t adjust the height of the 812 stack using the bracket, but the flexible array design addresses this nicely.
The Bose F1 Model 812 loudspeaker and subwoofer are each rated at 1,000 watts and have convenient and provide well-designed handles. With molded composite enclosures, the stack weighs in at just 44 and 55 pounds, respectively and, unlike most systems with this power, we found the to be easily transportable in an SUV. You will be hard pressed to find a sound system this versatile, with this much power that sounds this good. Loudspeaker and sub create a small footprint, but can easily fill a big room. With the F1 system, Bose has done it again.
Street Price: $1199.