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Presonus StudioLive 18SAI/312AI/328AI Review

Not just another speaker on a stick.

Presonus StudioLive 18SAI/312AI/328AI Review

Sep 9, 2014 9:48 PM, Reviewer: John McJunkin

Not just another speaker on a stick.

In some ways, the term “speaker-on- a-stick” has become a bit of a pejorative—used, sometimes unfairly, to express disdain for prosumer or consumer-level gear that is not deemed worthy for critical applications. Numerous manufacturers offer such speakers, but some offer higher-end products featuring bleeding-edge technology that helps deliver exceptional results. Advances in drivers, amps, enclosures, and DSP have driven major progress in the quality. One recent innovation is networking, granting realtime metrics and control of various parameters at FOH. PreSonus StudioLive loudspeakers offer a great combination of these high-end solutions.

When I unboxed the evaluation speakers I received from PreSonus, I found that the enclosures were sturdy. The terms “sturdy” and “lightweight” rarely meet up in the description of speaker cabinets, but the additional heft is a necessity for truly professional-grade roadworthiness and quality reproduction. The 15mm Baltic birch construction of these speakers adds to the weight, but the trade-off is clearly worthwhile, and PreSonus offers the D18s dolly to help move the subs. All of the enclosures feature perforated, powder-coated steel grilles, rubber feet, and a coating of black Chemline polyurethane. There are no flying points on the subs for obvious safety reasons, but the other models offer 12 M-10 points each, and the 312AI and 328AI (but not the larger 315AI) feature a dual-angle 35mm pole-mount threaded socket.

The sub’s driver is an 18in. diameter ferrite magnet unit with a 4in. voice coil. The 312AI speakers feature a 12in. LF ferrite driver, an 8in. CoActual MF driver, and 1.75in. compression HF driver in a coaxial configuration. The 328AI puts that same 8in. coaxial MF/HF unit between two 8in. LF drivers. Dave Gunness of Fulcrum Acoustic co-developed the proprietary CoActual system with PreSonus. It combines physical driver design with DSP (specifically, FIR and temporal filtering) to achieve excellent fidelity and coherent, controlled dispersion.

The three full-range speakers all feature identical I/O connections and physical controls. The principal inputs are an XLR mic jack and combo XLR/TRS balanced 1/4in. jack. Each has its own input gain knob, with a range appropriate to each (Off to +48dB for the mic and -24dB to 0dB for line). An XLR output facilitates daisy-chaining of multiple speakers, and above it, a level knob controls overall output of the speaker. There is an Ethernet jack for networking via Cat-5 cabling and a USB A socket to connect a network adapter for Wi-Fi operation. LEDs on the panel indicate input levels and DSP, network, and thermal protection function.

Small pushbuttons advance through DSP presets, insert a 100Hz HPF, and to set up network operations. The 18sAI’s panel is similar, with two combo XLR/TRS balanced 1/4in. jacks for stereo inputs, which can be summed to mono for a 2.1 satellite configuration. A level knob determines speaker output, and an Ethernet jack and USB A socket are present as well. LEDs show input level and thermal protection function, along with DSP and time alignment selection, polarity, network operations, and mono summing status. Small pushbuttons advance through DSP modes and time alignment options, toggle polarity, and to set up network connectivity.

I am not aware of any other major manufacturer with portable, self-powered speakers like these that can be monitored and controlled via Ethernet or Wi-Fi. PreSonus’ free SL Room Control application, available for Mac OS X, Windows, and iPad, grants just that capacity. Ethernet system setup appropriate for more permanent installations, is quite easy. Wi-Fi setup, proper for less permanent applications, is a bit more involved but still easy. The app allows preset creation, detailing which specific speakers are being used and where they are located. Speakers are also grouped together this way, facilitating control over FOH as distinct from monitors, and so on. I like the GUI’s portrayal of the speakers as they are physically placed. Input level is displayed, showing clipping and when the limiter engages. Temperature and excursion limit warnings are both displayed, as well.

The level of speaker groups can be raised or lowered in 1dB increments, and 31-band graphic EQ can be stored as presets and applied to each group. Each individual speaker can be controlled with additional detail.

I listened to a wide selection of prerecorded music, live instruments, spoken word, and AV-type audio on the speakers in a handful of environments, ranging from boardroom-size to a gymnasium. I evaluated both speaker-on-a-stick configurations with the 328AI and 312AI full-range boxes, and I also spent time with both pairs sans subwoofers. I put both full-range speakers in floor-wedge orientations and spent time listening that way.

Overall, what I discovered is a frequency response that is quite flat, even when integrating the subwoofer. The range published by PreSonus is honest, with lows extending way down into the lowest musically consequential frequencies. These are the tightest sounding subs I’ve heard in this price range. The excursion of the cone is well-controlled—no floppy, flabby, out-of-control bass here. The low mids are important to me, usually part of my mixing scheme to impart overall warmth, and these speakers did not disappoint. The mids are clean and clear, not nasal or honky. With compression drivers of the variety employed here, I’m always leery of harsh high end, but these are bright without being brash. The dispersion is under control, dropping off quite abruptly as one moves outside the pattern. I don’t hear any weird phasiness moving around within the pattern, owing to the design and DSP deployed in the coaxial system.

The overall result of PreSonus’ sturdy construction, smart driver design, and custom DSP development is what I would describe as the best-sounding speaker-on-a-stick system I’ve ever heard. To be fair, the pricing of this series is noticeably higher than that of the popular offerings of the retail supergiants, but so is the quality. A few manufacturers have made the eyebrow-raising claim that they’ve sorted out how to accomplish the fidelity of studio monitors in public address loudspeakers, and I think most professionals remain duly skeptical when they hear this. But in recent years, I have started hearing speakers that come impressively close to this goal, and the PreSonus StudioLive AI series speakers are among them. When you consider this, along with the substantial network control, monitoring capability, and retail prices that won’t break the bank, one can conclude that these speakers represent a truly excellent value for a considerable range of applications. I strongly recommend taking a look.

John McJunkin is the principal of Avalon Podcasting in Chandler, Ariz., and he produces and co-hosts a top-rated morning radio talk show in Phoenix. He has consulted in the development of studios and installations and provides high-quality podcast and voice-production services.

Product Summary

Company: PreSonus |

Product: StudioLive 18sAI/312AI/328AI

Pros: Excellent fidelity, solid network-based control and monitoring, reasonable price

Cons: Not lightweight; quick setup is a two-man job

Applications: Public address and sound reinforcement for a wide range of venue sizes

Price (street): $1,299.95 (StudioLive 18sAI subwoofer); $1,599.95 (StudioLive 315AI three-way speaker); $1,399.95 (StudioLive 312AI three-way speaker); $1,499.95 (StudioLive 328AI three-way speaker)


StudioLive 18sAI Subwoofer

• Configuration: Powered subwoofer, ported

• Frequency Response (-10dB): 29Hz – 141Hz

• Frequency Response (-6dB): 32Hz – 110Hz

• Maximum Peak SPL: 135dB

• LF Power: 2x500W bridged

• LF Transducer: 18in. Ferrite

StudioLive SL312AI 3-Way PA Loudspeaker

• Configuration: Three-way, tri-amplified system

• Frequency Response (-10dB): 50Hz – 23kHz

• Frequency Response (-6dB): 56Hz – 22kHz

• Nominal Coverage (-6dB): 90º x 60º

• Maximum Peak SPL: 131dB

• Crossover Frequency: LF (overlapped) 100Hz-1kHz; HF 1.8kHz

• Directivity Index (DI): 10dB, >500Hz

• Directivity Factor (Q): 10.0, >500Hz

• LF Power: 2x500W bridged

• MF Power: 500W | HF Power: 500W

• HPF: 100Hz 4th order Linkwitz-Riley

• LF Transducer: 1in.x12in. Ferrite | MF Transducer: 8in. CoActual | HF Transducer: 1.75in. compression driver

StudioLive SL328AI 3-Way CoActual Loudspeaker

• Configuration: 3-way, quad-amplified system

• Frequency Response (-10dB): 54Hz – 23kHz

• Frequency Response (-6dB): 59Hz – 22kHz

• Nominal Coverage (-6dB): 90º x 60º

• Maximum Peak SPL: 133dB

• Crossover Frequency: 1.7kHz

• Directivity Index (DI): 10dB, >460Hz

• Directivity Factor (Q): 10.0, >460Hz

• LF Power: 2x500W | MF Power: 500W | HF Power: 500W

• HPF: 100Hz 4th order Linkwitz-Riley

• LF Transducer: 2in.x8in. Ferrite

• MF Transducer: 8in. CoActual

• HF Transducer: 1.75in. compression driver

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