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Review: Bose L1 Compact

Could this portable PA system be your perfect companion for small gigs?

Item: Bose L1 Compact

Price: $899 (US), £674 (UK)

Mic Rating: 4/5

At A Glance: The Bose L1 Compact is the smallest system in Bose’s L1 series of PA systems. It uses line array speaker technology to enable the system fill a small venue (typically up to around 100 people), yet remain lightweight and portable. The speaker arrangement of also helps to minimize the possibility of feedback – meaning you that you can often stand in front of the speaker column without any problems. The L1 Compact can be set up at 3 different heights, depending on your setup requirements, and features a simple 2 channel mixer (1 mic input + 1 guitar/line input) built into the stand; so you may not need anything else other than your mic and instruments to be ready for your gig.

High Notes: The system is very light – making it a great option for people who struggle carry around heavy gear. It has plenty of volume for small gigs and, with vocals, the sound produced is clear and well defined. The wide dispersion pattern from the speakers allows you to both fill the room you are in and allow you to hear yourself perform – meaning you may not require any additional monitoring. The line array technology used in the design of the L1 compact means that the volume of the speaker doesn’t drop off as much as a typical speaker when you move further from it. This means that you do not need to make the volume of the system that high at the front of the room in order to still be heard at the back. The system uses Bose’s “Tone Match” feature to optimise the sound for the instrument connected into it. By default Channel 1 is optimized for vocals, and Channel 2 is optimized for acoustic guitar. Channel 2 can also accept up to three inputs at once via its various connections; so you can connect an MP3 player for example to play background music in your breaks.


Off Pitch: There are no EQ controls on instrument input and there is no phantom power on the mic channel for using live condenser mics with the system. Also, Bose decided not to include a master volume control on the device (just a volume for each channel); so you can’t simply turn up and down your system once you have found the balance you want. When compared to the larger systems in the L1 range, the Compact is a bit lacking in bass frequencies – so it is probably not idea for DJ sets or for use with bass instruments.

VoiceCouncil Reviewer Says: There are many more powerful, versatile and equally great sounding PA options available for the money if size and weight are not a major concern. That said, the L1 Compact is great at doing what it is designed to do and it is hard not to be impressed by the portability and simplicity of the setup. For singer/guitarists performing in small venues, the L1 compact should easily be able to get you the sound you want. If you are performing with a band, however, you will probably need to look at a larger system to be able to be heard. The “ToneMatch” feature works well for its intended sources; however there is no way to turn it off on your mic channel – which is annoying if you are using a separate vocal processing unit, and there is no on-board reverb on either channel. Overall, the L1 compact is a great system if it fulfills all of your requirements; however if you need something a bit more versatile or louder, you will need to look elsewhere.

Manufacturer’s Website: Bose

Other Reviews: PREMIERGuitar | Keyboard Magazine | audio fanzine | Amazon | Sweetwater

Chris Kennedy is the principal product reviewer for voicecouncil.com. Chris is a musician in the United Kingdom – you can see more about his work at www.chriskennedymusic.co.uk You can also see more articles by Chris here.

  • Jim

    I actually have two Compacts which I bought when they came out. They are very versatile, but you have to understand that they need a good strong input to be used to their potential. I usually use either a small mixer or run everything through my VoiceLive2. The VL2 is great with the Bose. I also use it with my Nova System when I’m playing guitar in a band. Killer sound, as the Nova sounds best running through a full-range system. BTW, I do not work for TC, I just love their products!

    When I’m playing guitar and singing with a track on my phone or tablet, doing a house-party anniversary reception, one is enough. It has a unique ability to fill a multi-room space with great sound. It is designed for the many smaller gigs we as singers perform in – coffee houses, eateries, house parties, pool parties, receptions, etc. The Compact is a no-brainer if you sing anything but metal, hard rock, etc. Bring it in, set it up and go. Whether you already have a larger PA that someone lugs in for whatever reason, there is a simple, great-sounding 1/4″ out you can run to the PA for more girth. In doing so, you now have your own incredible personal monitor that you can run as loud as you want, without any other competing instruments coming at you and without begging your sound man for more of “you”. Think about it: the keys, the guitar, the bass are all going direct to the PA for mix purposes, but also running their own amps onstage. Why, as a singer, should you not do the same? I mean, the guitarist doesn’t beg for more volume, he or she just turns their amp up.

    I agree that the mic channel, with no phantom power and no option to just run another line-in was a bad move on the part of Bose. I never use the guitar Tone Match and don’t even use the mic channel 98% of the time. It doesn’t matter, though, because simply using the external mixer solves all those problems. Any decent quality mixer will do (pre-amping the input into the Bose really supercharges it). You need to have control over your volumes and effects right at your fingertips. But, remember. this thing was only designed for one mic, one guitar or keyboard, and maybe a backing track input. But, it sounds so good that owners have strived from the beginning to make it do more than it was designed for.

    I sang a concert-style gig with a full jazz band in a medium-sized space with a Mackie PA and subs for the house. I put the two Compacts up, one each side, 40 feet apart, just for the vocal and with no line-out to the FOH. Used an AKG C1000s, as the vocal stand was stationary. The house sound man said let’s hear it and we did a big tune. He said, “That sounded great, let’s keep it the way it is and I’ll mix the band around the vocal.” Cool. The trumpet players commented on how great it was to be able to really hear the vocal for a change.

    The Compact is certainly not designed for high-output bass. It only has 8″ woofers, but can be surprisingly full in the low-end, especially if you put it in a corner or against a wall. With the design of the Compact, it’s easy to do that. When necessary, I augment the Compacts with either my JBL Eon18s or my TC BG-250 15″ bass amp (you CAN use a bass amp for low-end extension without killing it; just be careful with the input gain). I have very successfully played and DJ’d big parking lot sized gigs with plenty of volume using this setup.

    I haver considered other brands (QSC, Fishman, etc) but the clarity and unique 179-degree dispersion of the Bose Compacts always wins out. And yes, the weight is definitely a deciding factor. Bose is banking on the fact that many of us bring way more PA than we need for the majority of our gigs and we’re breaking our backs in the process. I never get tired of people coming up and saying, “That’s it? (pointing at the Bose). That’s where all this sound is coming from?”

  • Dan Skweir

    Awesome and VERY helpful review! Thank you.

    I searched for this because I had already bought one L1 Compact at 15% off, so that was good already. However I have not had a chance to bring it out to use that much and was going to return it without having the broad range of use you have described.

    I think it is safe to say that I will be keeping this one and won;’t have any “buyer’s remorse” (which I hate).