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I need a system for doing small parties, should I use horn loaded or reflex

If you were only going to use the system for small parties, or if the system was only used in smallish venues then I would go for some front loaded reflex boxes. If most of your work is doing larger venues and you need the system to throw a long way or have insane SPL's, then I would go for horns. If you were to build a horn loaded system you could use two 18” scoops per side and one 2 x 12” horn with a 2“ compression driver on top, or better still you could make some of the 186 horns on this site. I would use two 186 horns per 2 x 12” mid top or MT 102 (plan on this site). I would not recommend 15” drivers in mid horns as you don’t really get enough upper mid out of them and so there use is only for low mid/ upper bass, which if you are going to use horns for bass will be covering the upper bass anyway. The only problem with horns is that one, they are big and are heavy to carry around and so the transportation costs are higher, and two, unless you have the audience a long way from them, they can sound a bit strange. Because the sound is forced through small openings you can hear the compression going on when close to them. So I would not use them for very small venues where the audience is right next to the stacks.

This brings us to front loaded vented boxes. You could use two 2 x 18” reflex boxes per side and have two 2 x 12” and 1” compression driver on a horn in reflex cabs or ideally two 2 x 15” and 2” compression drivers on a horn in reflex cabs per side with the 2 x 18” reflex bass cabs underneath. This arrangement would not be as loud as the horn system descried above, but it would sound a lot better when used in small venues. You would also get a lot more low bass from the reflex bass cabs unless you used around 6 or more bass horns per stack.

So, it’s up to you. If the system were for the parties and small venues then I would go for the reflex option every time. Not only would it sound nicer close up to it, it would also be easier to build and transport. If most of the work you are doing is in larger venues and you need the system to throw along way or be able to go very loud then I would go for the horn system, but I would still think about the reflex system for this too, but just have more of it. And that’s another point, if you get lots more work you can always build more reflex boxes as you need them. With the horn loaded system if you need to make a small system from it, then that will be hard to do. I would also try to build your own cabinets and then use some good drivers, ready made cabinets that are good cost a lot of money and what you could pay for two new readymade cabinets would be enough to build about 6 of your own cabs. If you need a 2 x 18” reflex bass cab try the G Sub design on this site.

As to amps, use the best you can get. I would not buy cheap new amps, as for the same money you could get some really good amps second hand. Look out for Chevin research, Crest, Crown and the bigger QSC amps. Amps really do make a huge difference, for me they are the system, using small underpowered crap amps will make the system sound like that. Also use the best compressors, graphics and crossovers you can afford. Again buy good second hand stuff, names to look out for when buying outboard are BSS, Ashley, XTA, Klark Teknik, Drawmer, Symetrix, LA Audio, Rane and the more expensive DBX stuff. If you ever see any equipment by Summit Audio, Focusrite, Amek, Fairchild, AMS, EAR, SSL, Prism/Maselec, Neve (especially a VR60 with flying faders, that could replace my V3 very nicely thank you), Urei (1176 please), Eventide, Lexicon (224 or 480L with larc), TC (2290) or anything else you might think I would like going cheap, then don’t buy it, just phone me up and I will add it to my collection and save you from having to use the horrible stuff. If you really have no option then use Behringer, but this is a last resort. You could be lucky and get a unit that works for years, or it might only work for 6 weeks, that is if it even works straight out of the box. Some of the Behringer units don’t sound too bad, the problem is that you just can’t rely on them. Not so bad news if it’s you and your mates at a small party, real bad news if you’re doing a Whitney Houston gig and here vocals disappear.

The bottom line is that when you one day become a touring company that is out every night doing massive venues, that is the time to be looking at horn loaded systems. That is unless you are like me and are a horn nutter, I even have to have horns on my Hi Fi and would love horn loaded headphones if they were made. There's just something about a horn I love, most are big, impractical and take days to build. But, if your a nutter....

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