Over the past couple of years, I’ve had the pleasure to use and evaluate much of our market’s new portable PA that falls in the full-range 1,000W/Class D category. In doing so, I’ve almost as a rule requested 12in models from participating manufacturers; I find they are the most flexible for gigging musicians and bands (as we generally don’t know exactly what is needed until arriving at the venue). Matched with a powered sub, a pair of 1,000W/Class D mains can most often cover any gig.
So, thanks to these high-power/lightweight products, the bar has been significantly raised on my personal benchmarks. I no longer worry so much about whether such speakers have enough power; I now search for models that provide the best overall fidelity, with unique, job-easing features and a build quality that most closely resembles touring-grade enclosures.
Having reviewed a previous 1,000W/Class D ZLX model from Electro-Voice, expectations were already high for the new ZLX-12P, an approximately 35lb powered two-way featuring a 12in woofer and 1.5in high-frequency titanium compression driver with a frequency response of 65Hz to 18kHz, delivering 126dB maximum SPL. In application, I found this ZLX to be the best yet – with super-simple DSP built-in, accessible from a rear panel push/rotary knob and LCD display, while comprehensive I/O and build quality closely resemble strengths within EV’s pro touring gear.
The ZLX-12P’s cabinet is built of one of the best balances of polypropylene, steel, and rubber I’ve seen in portable PA. Angles are bolstered by the inclusion of smart rubber feet. Carrying handles are well placed and ideally shaped from an ergonomic perspective. Plus, the overall design is unique; there’s really nothing in the design that says, ‘me, too’.
The unit’s I/O includes two Neutrik combo XLR/TRS inputs for mic/line input with adjacent rotary level adjustments; an XLR output, passing the ZLX-12P’s two-channel mix to monitors or a subwoofer, etc; and an aux in 0.125in TRS stereo input – its signal appears on Channel one, summed to mono. As such, the ZLX-12P is a great multipurpose powered speaker, too.
The rotary knob next to the ZLX-12P’s LCD screen acts as Master Volume and DSP control. Adjustable parameters include Mode with Live, Speech, and Club EQ presets; Location with Pole, Monitor, and Bracket EQ presets; Treble (-10dB to +10dB); Bass (-10dB to +10dB); Sub (a HPF with 80Hz, 100Hz, and 120Hz settings); among a few LCD screen contrast/brightness adjustments. I found both the Mode and Location settings to be very well chosen and employed all successfully (except Bracket, as I did not attempt an install application).
Finally, the obligatory pole-mount came with strip-resistant brass threads, another indication that EV truly understands gigging with portable PA. Too often, I see corners cut here, eventually resulting in stripped threads for what may be the most important (and overlooked) physical feature of portable speakers: the quality of built-in mounting hardware.
I swapped the ZLX-12P pair into my normal gig rig for a couple of weekend club dates, handling main monitor duties while paired with a smallish 600W powered subwoofer – a standard I’ve found works ideally with this particular venue and four-piece rock band. The PA handled a relatively low-input setup: vocals, guitars, kick, and snare/hi-hat mic. First impressions came quick: in soundcheck for the first date, the guitarist – unprompted while standing out front – commented how ‘full’ and ‘open’ the ZLX-12P pair sounded. I agreed.
A week later, I employed a single ZLX-12P on a very simple singer/songwriter coffeehouse gig, where vocalists used only the EV’s built-in mixer with a mic (the great feedback-resistant Electro-Voice PL80a supercardioid, my favourite affordable handheld dynamic) and a DI input. Placed horizontal and set to the Location: Monitor DSP preset, the ZLX-12P impressively served as both a monitor and a main with a full, small room-filling sound. One performer sang to pre-recorded material, thanks to the EV’s aux in feature (and the performer’s iPhone). In this application, the ZLX-12P’s feature set allowed it to be the only ‘live gear’ on the stage – clean, impressive, and efficient.
Electro-Voice further bolsters its reputation in the portable PA market with these extensions to the ZLX Series. For the money, it’s hard to beat.
Strother Bullins is the editor of Audio Media sister title Pro Audio Review.