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RCF Art 322a - Goes Where No Plastic Has Gone Before

Look around the hire and production companies in Australia and you will find just about every quality-brand timber speaker box available on planet Earth. Some brands are more popular than others but if you were fossicking through their inventories looking for plastic boxes, you will find one branded box as used by more production companies than all the other brands combined. That box is the RCF 300a. This is despite the fact that RCF was virtually off the market for at least a year. Some of the rental stocks of RCF ART series boxes are over six years in tuff war zone of continuous rental, and still banging away long after any other box would be consigned to the Trading Post.

The experts agree

The 300a was always going to be a hard act to follow, even for RCF, but they did have a few unique resources – not available to the other speaker system assemblers – to draw upon. RCF is the only western, powered speaker system brand that makes its own loudspeaker drivers. The whole process of design and assembly is contained within their European assembly plant. The company’s long history (dating back to 1949), of design and innovation has given RCF research and engineering experience stretching back to the early days of loudspeaker design. During this period, RCF was also a leading microphone manufacturer, building a number of studio microphones used by everybody from Elvis to orchestral recorders.

The Elvis microphone from RCF
The Elvis microphone from RCF

In addition to this, RCF also has an exceptional track record in amplifier design. Way back in the mid sixties, RCF built the first 300 watt solid state amplifier, a ‘monster’ by the standards of available technology at that time.

When the RCF 300a powered box was released in the late 90’s, the compact Class-H amplification system had the best power to weight, sonic fidelity and reliable discrete bi-polar design of any system made to that time. Even seven years later, no system in its class has bettered it. This opinion has been supported by numerous blind tests and ‘shoot outs’ in the audio media.

So to eclipse the 300a for another seven year run, a clean sheet of paper was needed for a completely new product, not just a makeover. The new box would have to be lighter in weight, more output, more versatility, and still be price competitive within its class. Starting with the speaker technology, the new generation of RCF Precision series lightweight neodymium drivers would get the weight off, but there is more to it than just making the drivers lighter. A new phase plug design removes the ‘bark’ associated with 2” drivers to give the range-sizzling response with minimum power input requirement. The heightened sensitivity of these drivers means massive output with only a few watts of input, reducing the need for big heavy amplifiers.

New drivers allow massive output on a few watts of input
New drivers allow massive output on a few watts of input

Speaking of ‘some don’t like it hot’, voice coils are another potential problem area with almost all drivers. Burnt coils are caused by the DC component of clipped (distorted) signal, or just heat build-up due to high power over a long gig. The new RCF drivers have an innovative system of voice coil manufacture that, under most circumstances, will say goodbye to burnt coils. This gives an extra safety net of protection because even with the best power limiting, a very clipped or distorted input signal will still be amplified to a high level and will eventually translate to high temperatures within the speaker components.

The coil winding machine at the RCF factory in Italy
The coil winding machine at the RCF factory in Italy

Another puzzle for manufacturers of powered boxes is how to integrate all the electronics of amplification, signal processing, input management, power supply and thermal regulation into a lightweight package that is not an unworkable mass of compromises. A lightweight powered box is of no use if the thermals, after ten minutes of hard use, run out of power at low frequencies, auto EQ’s itself to sound thin and horrible when run at anything above shop demo level, or at the other end of the scale, is too heavy for a one person lift. We also need to bear in mind that the electronics are being shaken around in the same chamber as the speakers, so anything fragile will be potentially unreliable.

The extensive experience RCF has in amplifier design was applied along with a new approach to this challenge. The result was a combination of microprocessor control and extended dynamic range analogue amplifier circuitry matched to the new generation drivers. It is lighter than the old model, has more power than the old model, and the intelligent limiting makes up for lack of intelligence of some of the users.

Jammed into the electronics package is the capability of infrared remote control for volume, mute, and EQ adjustment. Pretty handy if you have a pile of delay boxes flown in the roof somewhere and you want to turn one or a group of them down a little. Rigging and flying the 322a is easier too, especially with handles on three sides if you have to cart one up a ladder.

It will be interesting to see where this new powered box system ends up. Many have said that it will eventually take over as the new standard in compact powered rental and mid sized production applications. That is, if the current users of Art 300a can part with their old boxes?

In an upcoming edition of Filter we will get some feedback from some new Art 322a users, to see if they hack it on the gig – the boxes, not the users. In the mean time, take a look at the Art 322a in more detail by clicking here.

RCF Art 322a
RCF Art 322a

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