QSC CP Series Powered Speakers: Review

QSC is probably best known among performers for their various K Series speakers, with the most popular being the K.2 line. However, there was always a gap in their product lineup—powered speakers that could get musicians, presenters, DJs, and others started in the world of live performance at a reasonable price.

The question then became how does a company fill that gap, and QSC’s CP (Compact Powered) series loudspeakers is their answer. When asked if I wanted to review them, I politely declined at first because I wanted to be able to test them under real-world conditions and besides, I just wasn’t that interested in another set of small powered speakers. But the company followed up, and said they could meet me at InDo Nashville, a co-working space whose lower floor doubles as a venue for after-hours and weekends. Having been to parties there before, I knew this venue had the size and acoustics for which these speakers were intended—and I thought the company’s confidence meant maybe these weren’t me-too products. So I went to check them out…and am glad I did.

CP8 speaker
Figure 1: The CP8 houses an 8″ woofer and high-frequency compression driver

First impression: they’re small and truly compact, particularly the CP8 8″ model (Fig. 1; $399 street). There’s also the CP12 12″ model ($499 street), but no 10″. After listening to both, I feel a 10″ would be redundant anyway. As expected, these are two-way systems with a Class D power amp (rated at 1,000W peak, so expect a couple hundred watts of continuous power). I’ve always been a fan of Class D amps, because they run cool and deliver serious power without a lot of weight.

Ins and Outs

The electronics and controls are identical for the CP8 and CP12 (Fig. 2). The rear panel has three inputs: Line XLR, mic/line XLR, and 1/8″ stereo aux for consumer gear, backing tracks, etc. A post-gain Mix Out allows for daisy-chaining. To tailor either unit for various applications, there’s a Contour control with six positions: Default with Sub, Dance, Dance with Sub, Floor Monitor, and Speech.

Figure 2. The CP Series offers convenient preset DSP contours for common sound applications.

You’ll find two gain controls, one for the line and aux inputs, and one for the mic/line input. A clever touch is that in the Speech position, the line and aux inputs are set to their defaults, while optimizing the mic input for speech. So you can be playing music while in speech mode, and then when it’s time to make an announcement, go over to the mic without messing with the music and have the mic sound good. Smart.

The Contour setting for using the CP speakers as floor monitors was highly effective. Testing it out with a mic in front was pretty much feedback-free, unless you got out of control with the volume levels and position. As is common these days, the speaker cabinet accommodates sitting at an angle for the correct floor monitor orientation.

Got Subs?

QSC recommends their KS112 when adding a sub. It’s compact and relatively lightweight (around 60 lbs.), and also, the CP Series is designed to pair with it. With a sub, the system that would make the most sense for stereo would be two CP8 speakers and one KS112; if you can’t use a sub, then two CP12 speakers would be a better choice due to the somewhat greater bass extension inherent in a 12″ speaker. The Contour control simplifies matters by eliminating references to crossover frequencies and such—no more Fear of Subs! If you’re using the KS112, just choose the Contour setting that specifies using a sub.

Testing, Testing 

One of my first tests for a powered speaker is listening to myself or someone else playing guitar (yes, guitar—not a typo). I’m into processors like the Line 6 Helix to get “my sound,” and then using a flat response, full range (FRFR) system to amplify it. I ditched guitar amps for keyboard amps several decades ago, then ditched keyboard amps for compact, “personal” PAs when they became commonplace. I have to say the CP8 is a really good FRFR amp. It’s small, powerful, clean, can fill a decent-sized venue, and has the transient response needed for convincing guitar sounds. The CP12 is equally good, but for guitar I’m not sure you really need the extra bass extension (however it would be appropriate with keyboards and bass). To my ears, for guitar the CP8 gives a “tight” sound that I prefer—and doesn’t step on the bass.

For program material, the sound for both speakers is balanced correctly: they avoid “mud” in the lows, “screech” in the highs, and have a well-defined midrange that’s neither forward or receding. The CP12’s 12″ driver gives a somewhat “fuller” sound than the CP8 (interestingly, with a K.2-type voicing). However, the CP8 projects well and when paired with the KS112 sub, delivers a rig that’s ideal for DJ and party applications.

QSC and Craig A 2
Craig Anderton taking the QSC CP Series for a test drive at InDo, Nashville.

Either set of monitors can fill smaller venues (100 – 200 people) easily, as well as bigger venues with low ambient noise (e.g., houses of worship). Large venues will work too, depending on how loud the people are, and the expectations for sound levels. If the audience wants hardcore DJ sound levels that drown everything out, you probably need something bigger. But if people want to carry on a conversation, when cranked up these speakers will at the very least mean they’ll need to shout.

“Mini-K”? Not Really…

I was a little taken aback that these aren’t “lite” versions of the K Series speakers, given that QSC has cachet with that line—the CP Series has its own identity, rather than being “baby K Series” speakers. Actually, for smaller venues, presentations, lounges, cruise ships, houses of worship, and rehearsal rooms, the CP series is a better choice if you don’t need the extra power, size, weight, or for that matter, cost of the higher-performing K.2 series.

Those for whom this is their first PA needn’t feel like they compromised. The CP Series is designed to fulfill a specific function, and both models do what they’re intended to do—and then some. Overall, these are impressive speakers. They provide an entry into the world of QSC products at a highly attractive price point, but more importantly, with performance that belies their small size and weight. I’m glad I overcame my skepticism, and took the trip into Nashville to hear these. I predict they will do very well.

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