Foreground audio at Universal Studios Hollywood

Universal Studios Hollywood is a movie studio/theme park located in the heart of Los Angeles, California. While the park uses a mix of manufacturers for its foreground audio, their manufacturer of choice is Bose Professional.

For mid-and-high frequency reproduction, the park likes to use the Bose FreeSpace DS 100SE and the Bose Panaray MA12EX column array.

Foreground audio at Universal Studios HollywoodA single Bose FreeSpace DS 100SE.

Foreground audio at Universal Studios HollywoodTwo Bose Panaray MA12EX column speaker units mounted together.

For low frequency reproduction, Universal likes to deploy the single 12″ MB12 and its dual 12″ variant, the MB24.

Foreground audio at Universal Studios HollywoodTwo Bose MB12 WR subwoofers arranged in an end fire array.

Both the FreeSpace and the Panaray models have that signature mid-heavy Bose sound. Indeed, neither the FreeSpace nor the Panaray use compression drivers or tweeters in their design, choosing instead to deploy an array of 2.25″ drivers. The FreeSpace uses a module with two 2.25″ drivers (deemed “Twiddlers,” which I assume is a combination of tweeter and mid-frequency driver) pointed at opposite end for a horizontal coverage of 180° (the module can be rotated to accommodate for horizontal or vertical use). Meanwhile, each Panaray module deploys 12 2.25″ full-range drivers arrayed for 160° coverage in a single line. Most deployments of the MA12EX at Universal use two, three, or even four modules stacked on top of each other to provide sufficient vertical coverage.

For low frequency support, Universal likes to use the MB12 WR and the MB24 WR. While it’s common to see either subwoofer used in a singular, omnidirectional manner, Universal also commonly deploys end fire arrays to steer the sound to the listener and away from noise-sensitive areas. The low profile of the MB12 makes it an especially common choice when low-frequency control is desired.

To complicate matters a bit further, some zones in the park deploy the FreeSpace DS 100SE in either low-impedance or constant-voltage mode. Areas requiring higher impact music will deploy the FreeSpace in low-impedance mode, while lighter impact areas will take advantage of the model’s integrated transformer. All Panaray and MB12/24 models, in contrast, are used in low-impedance configurations.

While much can be said about the sound quality of Bose (and especially the aforementioned products), they are loud for their size, and they seem to be durable. Subjectively speaking, the FreeSpace DS 100SE and the MB12/24 both sound unremarkable, while the MA12EX seems incredibly ill-suited for any sort of music reproduction. Anything above 13 kHz appears to be missing or smeared, and the column’s mid-frequency reproduction sounds muddy to this listener’s ears.

On top of that, these columns are deployed at guest level, producing hot spots of noise as guests pass by multiple columns. Not only does this configuration produce uneven coverage, but their necessary ground-deployment also makes them vulnerable to abuse by guests. In fact, it’s not uncommon to see various MA12EX grilles mangled or dented as a result of guest activity. The MA12EX seems suited for announcements and announcements alone, and it’s perplexing to me as to why Universal or Bose would recommend its use for music reproduction, let alone deploy it in such fashion across the park where music is key to a great experience. I’ve heard MA12EXs used at airports for announcements, and in that role, they excel. For music applications, they sound dreadful.

All in all, Universal is a Bose Professional-heavy park, and depending on your perspective, that’s either a good or terrible thing.

Specification list:

  • Bose FreeSpace DS 100SE
  • Bose Panaray MA12EX
  • Bose MB12 WR
  • Bose MB24 WR

If you have a correction or wish to comment, please contact me.