Mention Bluetooth in DJ circles, and hackles are immediately raised. Without even testing the technology for themselves, an enabled unit is often dismissed as (insert expletive here) and essentially has no place in the DJ realm.
That was said about CDs, DVS, controllers, and computers too. But here we are in a scene that is a meting pot of all of the above. So naturally I’m intrigued by the possibilities of wireless technology, if only because of the hate it gets, and because I’m a contrary bastard who fights for the plucky underdog.
So when Mackie offered me the new Thumps to test, I asked for the 15BST Bluetooth ones to see if the technology does indeed have a place in the DJ world. Let’s plough on and see if it does.
Normally, professional PA reviews start off with specs and performance, leaving looks and build quality to the end. But DJs care about this stuff more than they’d like to admit, and especially more than road crews do, so this is where I’ll start.
PAs are ten a penny. Wondering around a pro sound trade show amply demonstrates how visually they all merge into a mass of black monoliths. So unless you’re Void, standing out in a very crowded market is going to be difficult. I googled “PA speaker” and got this:
Exactly. So looks wise, they’re clean and sharp but not really a primary consideration for purchase. The sharpness may prove to be an issue over time as those edges will get seriously knocked around, and sharp edges combined with rough treatment means looking less than new in quick time. But given the tough polypropylene body, I suspect that they’ll still give sterling service for a long time.
One thing that struck me was the weight, of lack thereof. Coming in at 16Kg each, the 15BST is a considerably more manageable than some I’ve had to lug around the Worxlab. I think it’s actually representative of others in this space, but I found them easy to manhandle on my own. Just remember to bend at the knees people.
On a related note, the 15BSTs are incredibly versatile when it comes to placement. They’re covered in handles for easy luggability, and can be used in all manner of positions, including angled on their sides for use as floor monitors. They can even be hung from rigging if that’s your thing.
So unassuming looks, sharp aesthetics, and most probably surviving taking a beating in the hands of DJs throwing these into small cars. We’re off to a good start.
Given the wealth of speakers and PAs I’ve played with, and have installed in various places in the Worxlab, the 15BSTs are definitely screaming pure PA at me. This is not about pandering to bedrooms, studios, or workspaces — there’s a pair of combo (XLR/jack) inputs and a single XLR output and that’s your lot.
That said, there’s a full five pages of the manual dedicated to different pro setups with subs, including a full club system too. It’s easy to hook just about anything up to the 15BSTs, and to each other too. I particularly like the daisy chaining so that you can run multiple speakers to each other.
So while some users may look at the back and not see things like RCAs, you have to remember that you’re playing with the grown ups toys here. And there’s a lot of power and flexibility built-in to the 15BSTs from these few connections.
One thing I’ve become accustomed to on the back of speakers is a selection of knobs. The 15BST however eschews such things and instead adopts a small LCD screen with a rotary controller, and with it a depth of control that I’ve not experienced in other speakers.
A review is not the place to cover off each and every feature of a product — that’s what the manual is for. But I’ll go into the control panel a little so you can get some idea of what can be achieved.
The panel is broken up into small modes:
This gives you control over the levels for the channels, Bluetooth (we’re getting to that) and master.
It also gives you control over EQ. That’s right — EQ, and for each channel and master too. I found this to be incredibly useful depending on the music I was playing. I could continue using the EQ on the mixer in the same way that I was used to and let the 15BST do the tweaking for the environment. That’s incredibly useful.
More professional users will probably prefer to run a small desk between sound source and PA and have many bands of EQ available across a number of sources.. But from a DJ perspective i.e. buying a pair of 15BSTs to hook up to a mixer, the EQ and channel options are excellent.
The 15BST has a number of handy present modes for you to choose from. These essentially are EQ presets that lets you set the 15BSTs for the application at hand. For example — the music preset is full spectrum, whereas speech pulls down the low end and pushes the mids and highs. There’s also some handy presets that take into account using a sub too. Obviously you can still tweak the EQs as you see fit, but it’s a good start.
For those that care about the detail of the modes, check out this page from the manual. It’s got graphs and everything,
Bluetooth is also useful here because you can pair the speakers, so that settings are shared. Ah… so you thought it was just to play music with latency and heaped hate on them accordingly? This syncing of settings makes the addition of Bluetooth worthwhile on its own.
This is where things get interesting. As previously mentioned, you can pair the speakers to each other, a feature that allows shared settings. In testing, this isn’t all settings — EQs are per speaker, but if the speakers are linked you can control the master level and modes for both from one speaker.
And of course, you can connect Bluetooth audio devices to the 15BSTs. I tried my iPhone, MacBook Pro, and Surface Book Pro and had no real issues. Yes of course there is latency with all remote operations — using algoriddim’s djay Pro on my iPhone 7 worked just fine, allowing me to do simple headphone free mixes without issues. Fast movements (rapid EQing and scratching for example) showed the expected latency, but it’s likely that DJs using such techniques will be aware of latency and will hardwire anyway.
It was however nice to watch videos on my Mac and have the audio coming out of a pair of 15″ speakers. And if you use something with delay compensation (VLC in my case), there will be no audio syncing problems at all.
There are a few other screens, such as the ability to lock the settings, but in all honesty, they’re all better handled in…
The joy of Bluetooth is that you can connect your 15BSTs wirelessly to your smartphone and play music. But at the same time, you can run the Thump app (iOS and Android) that allows you to change all the settings that you do in the small LCD screen on the back of the speakers. I found this incredibly useful to be able to tweak settings from in front of both speakers, rather than having to tweak each one from the back, return, tweak again and repeat.
One good thing about Bluetooth use is that the 15BSTs can also be treated as a stereo pair or as zoned speakers at the press of an on-screen button. Zoning means that a stereo single is summed to mono and sent to each speaker.
Stability wise, the Bluetooth connection didn’t drop once. I paired the app with the speakers, and it connected and stayed connected every time I used it.
One thing to note about Bluetooth — being a peer to peer connection, you can’t use the app if another Bluetooth connection is being used. So you cannot for example stream from a laptop and expect to use the app. But you can play music and use the app from the same connected device. I’m doing it right now in fact.
One thing I’d like to see changed is a way to adjust the on-screen sensitivity of the sliders. When changing the master level from across the room, it was all too easy to go from pleasant to ear-bleeding. The yelps from the tourists in the street passing beneath the Worxlab window with subsequent apologies from me is a testament to that.
So we’ve covered off everything else, but now it’s the turn of sound. As ever, I preface this with the usual stuff about the human variable playing a huge part of the opinion of sound. I’ll also state yet again that I couldn’t care less about numbers. I plug in, switch on, and let my ears decide. OK?
Again, if you absolutely must have the numbers, check out page 25 of the manual.
My experience of PAs and dance music has always shown that they’re usually in need of a sub. The bass has usually proved to be a little thin on the ground, and low volume performance has proved iffy. Generally speaking, that’s PAs for you — they’re designed to throw out a heap of noise, which in turn needs to be supplemented by a sub. Mackie has thought of that, and has the complementary 18S, but I don’t have that to test.
But I’m quite happy with that as it allows me to focus on what the 15BST can do on its own. Having mentioned the issues of lack of bass and low volume with other speakers and PAs, I’m very pleased to report that the 15BSTs have no such issues.
For completeness, we tried an Alto sub, but as a mismatched 15″, the performance wasn’t that different, which is perhaps a testament to the bass ability of the 15BSTs.
I set these up in the Worxlab, a place set in the middle of a beautiful tourist spot, and as mentioned above not especially welcoming of loud thumping chooonz. Just plugging in without any tweaking yielded a pretty flat response, and one that for me and my ears needed a little help. But when I adjusted the channel EQs on the 15BSTs, the sound came alive, good enough in fact for listening at low levels in the main office, and even better when filling two rooms.
The clarity from the 15BSTs is amazing. At low levels everything is apparent, including the bass. Tracks with heavy sub bass performed better than expected. The lingering bass notes of Bauhaus’s “Bela Lugosi’s Dead” translated well, and the resonant bass drums and sub bass in D-Malice’s “Gabrielle (Refix)” rumbled nicely through the Worxlab at low volumes too. Perhaps even a little too rumbly. No sub needed for this track, and others too.
And when turned up of course, this excellent clarity continued when turned up loud. Being as thorough as I am, I prewarned the neighbours that I was about to unleash holy hell in Haworth for a few minutes. The 15BST delivers 1300w of audio power — 300 high and 1000 low, which probably explains the low-end grunt and clarity at the same time. So that’s 2300 watts of Thump ready to create havoc.
And thus audio pandemonium ensued, and 600 square feet burst at the seams with music, and the whole building shook. As you crank up the volume, the bass falls back a little, but it didn’t distort, and still sounded as good as at low volumes, if not better. As a DJ, I’d still suggest getting a sub, as there’s nothing quite like feeling the bass, but for a lot of users, the 15BSTs will probably suffice.
Bluetooth audio notoriously gets a bad reputation. But everything I pushed through from my devices sounded excellent. I like for like compared Spotify — HQ streaming running through a laptop connected via USB through a Rane Seventy Two with streaming iPhone yielded the same excellent quality and no noticeable difference.
Upshot —my neighbours have a new-found respect for my ability to create hell on earth.
Summing up, the 15BSTs sound amazing. These aren’t just average PA speaker knocking out a loud noise — they’ve been thought about, and the audio performs brilliantly at low and high volumes. And having the adjustability for channels, EQs, and different built-in modes, you can pretty much tweak the sound to suit your application.
As I stated at the beginning, my main curiosity with the 15BSTs was around Bluetooth, and if it can be used effectively for DJs. I think that as a technology, it has been put to good use with these speakers. The ability to link a pair and share settings is great, and being able to control them from an app is better still. And pushing audio out through them does work, albeit with latency.
I know it’s just a speaker. But as the review as progressed, I have found myself becoming deeply impressed with the 15BSTs. I had got them in out of idle curiosity to see how a PA would work with Bluetooth, but ended up loving every moment with them.
It’s worth pointing out that there’s a 12BST too. Looking at the charts, it’s sonically different, and probably won’t deliver quite same grunt as the 15BST, and will almost certainly need a sub from the start for most DJ’s needs. But at £339 vs £399, you’ll save £120 if that’s powerful enough..
But at a shade under £800 for a pair, the 15BSTs absolutely deliver on all fronts.