Whether you are a full performing band, a solo busker on the street, or a singer, looking for the best portable public address (PA) system can be a daunting challenge, especially in 2020. At Consordini, we’re here to help make things easier for you. In this article, you’ll find reviews of the best PA system options and a complete guide on how to go about identifying and narrowing down the options that will work for you, and finally purchasing a portable public address system. Keep reading for more!
Here are the best portable PA systems 2020:
- Yamaha STAGEPAS 600BT
- Gemini ES-210MXBLU-ST
- Yescom 12″ Portable Active PA System
- Fender Passport Event Series 2
- Bose L1 Compact
- Fender Passport Venue Series 2
- Bose S1 Pro
- JBL EON208P
- MUSYSIC M-Port PA2K
- Roland CUBE Street EX
1. Yamaha STAGEPAS 600BT
The best overall option for a portable PA system
If you want a prepackaged PA system that’s portable and powerful enough for performing at a smaller venue, and don’t mind potentially burning a hole in your wallet, Yamaha has a great portable PA system. The STAGEPAS 600BT is a complete PA system that features 2 lightweight speakers and a mixer that fits into the back of one of the speakers for easy storage when in transport. It also comes with a pair of speaker cables and a power cord.
The mixer for the STAGEPAS 600BT is a 10-channel powered mixer, so you don’t need to buy a separate power amp; the mixer’s amp has enough power to power the speakers. With this mixer, you have enough channels for a small band with a couple vocalists, guitars, and maybe a small drum set.
The amps in the mixer here are highly efficient, and the whole system has a newly improved high-performance DSP to deliver very high-quality audio in a little package. The mixer also boasts connectivity to iOS devices, so you can charge your device while simultaneously playing audio from it.
In addition to all this, you also get some high-quality, professional SPX reverbs that are built into the mixer. The reverb type and time can be controlled with just one knob, and the reverb can be applied to the first 4 channels. An equalizer is also featured for all mixer channels; it’s a simple 3-knob EQ and there’s also a master EQ knob that you can switch between modes ideal for speech, music, and situations where boosted bass is needed. Also featured is a feedback suppressor button. When this button is pressed, any feedback will be cancelled out of the mix.
The speakers in this package have been redesigned to cover a bigger audience. The STAGEPAS 600BT is extremely easy to set up and the layout of the mixer makes it easy to navigate.
|Image credit: Yamaha Check Sweetwater||
The STAGEPAS 600BT from Yamaha is easily the best overall portable PA system. It definitely has one of the best portable powered mixers. The STAGEPAS 600BT is best for a small band or a group of singers.
2. Gemini ES-210MXBLU-ST
The best budget option under $500
The Gemini ES-210MXBLU-ST is another one of the best portable PA systems for live music and also happens to be a great budget PA system. The Gemini ES-210MXBLU-ST is a prepackaged portable PA system with all the necessary components you will need for a small (probably solo sized) gig. All the components are fairly lightweight, so you should have no difficulties with transporting the PA system.
The Gemini ES-210MXBLU-ST features an 8-channel powered mixer with integrated USB and Bluetooth capabilities, an SD interface, and even some storage. In the Gemini ES package, you get two 10-inch speakers that deliver up to 600 watts of power. These are some of the nicest passive portable address speakers I’ve seen in a small PA system package as cheap as this one. On the mixer there are individual controls for bass, treble, effects, and volume for 4 microphone or line inputs.
The simple layout of the mixer makes it easy to maneuver and operate. An integrated MP3 player allows you to play music from a phone or computer into the mixer, and there is also a button to employ 15 volts of phantom power for microphones that need it.
Additionally, along with all these features, the Gemini ES package also comes with two speaker stands, a microphone, 2 instrument cables, an XLR cable, and a power cable. Included in the package is a hard plastic storage case for these cables and microphone for safe keeping. The speaker stands can hold up to 200 lbs of weight, so if you wanted to use a different set of speakers with the stands, you could. With all this, it’s incredibly easy to get setup and be performing within minutes.
Overall, the design of this PA system is about the same quality as many others, with hard plastic and metal, making it durable but not too heavy to transport.
|Image credit: Gemini Check Amazon||
The Gemini ES-210MXBLU-ST is the perfect compact PA system for small bands or a few performers who have shows at smaller to mid sized venues. For the best value, definitely get the ES because it’s one of the best portable PA systems with a mic. I highly recommend this one.
3. Yescom 12″ Portable Active PA System
The best portable PA system under $200
Now, typically it is pretty difficult to find a good portable PA system for $200 or less, but as traveling is so popular and portability is such a big need for most musicians and performers today, more budget PA systems are becoming available. This leads us to the Yescom 12″ Portable Active PA Speaker.
As its name states, it is a portable, active-powered PA system. This prepackaged PA system includes one speaker with a mixer built into the back of it. Unfortunately this mixer does not come separate, but considering this is a very small system, it wouldn’t make sense for the mixer to not be built in. The mixer has 2 mic inputs and 1 input for a guitar or other instrument. You will need instrument cables or connectors as this mixer does not use XLR connections.
The mixer features knobs for bass, treble, volume, mic volume, guitar volume, mic treble, mic bass, and there is also a knob for an echo effect. The mixer has Bluetooth and USB capabilities and a built-in MP3 player and FM radio, so you can connect your devices to it with ease if you want to play music that way. The speaker is 12 inches in size and has 250 watts of power, which is about enough power for a small performance at a coffee shop. The whole unit is powered by a battery that you can recharge when it gets low.
An awesome feature of this package is that it comes with a wireless mic. No cables are needed, but if you want to use an additional mic you will need cables. A remote is also included to control the MP3 player. The Yescom 12″ PA system is super portable, with a built-in handle and durable wheels for easy transport.
|Image credit: Yescom Check Yescom||
With the two mic inputs and one guitar input, the Yescom 12″ PA system is meant for solo or duo performers, so I would highly recommend this system to those performers. The Yescom 12-inch system is also probably the best PA system for karaoke, as it is extremely lightweight and portable, features a built-in MP3 player and FM radio, and comes with a wireless microphone.
4. Fender Passport Event Series 2
The best portable PA speaker system under $1000
Fender is an incredibly well-known brand that has specialized in guitars and other instruments for years. While Fender sells musical instruments and musical instrument accessories, they also sell some top-rated sound gear such as the Passport Event Series 2.
The Passport Event Series 2 is special in that it is designed into a suitcase shaped package that opens up to display the mixer and speakers. Fender’s Passport series was the first series to ever have these ultra portable suitcase type PA systems. Upon opening the suitcase, it opens up to two 8-inch speakers and a 7-channel mixer. The speakers and mixer are separate from each other, so you can set them up to your liking.
Focusing on the mixer for a second, it has 7 channels, and for each channel there is a volume control, bass and treble controls, and a reverb control. For each channel you also have buttons for selecting the proper impedance if you want to switch between using an instrument and a vocalist. The first 4 channels let you use either an XLR or instrument cable, and the last 3 channels are limited to instrument cables.
Also featured on this mixer is a monitoring section, where you can plug in headphones to monitor a certain mix, or you can connect the mixer to a mono output or a sub output if you want to connect the mixer to a subwoofer for extended bass frequencies. An awesome feature about this mixer is that it is Bluetooth-compatible.
As for the speakers, they are low frequency speakers that produce 375 watts of power, making the Fender Passport Event Series 2 the perfect PA system for small gigs at parties, coffee shops, or small clubs. They provide a clear sound and are considered full range portable public address speakers. The overall design of this PA system makes it sleek and clean cut, while remaining durable and lightweight.
|Image credit: Fender Check Sweetwater||
The Fender Passport Event Series 2 is a fantastic prepackaged portable PA system that is extremely high-end for a portable performance solution. It is a suitable system for performers who play in small to small mid-sized venues. If you want top quality in a smaller package, this is the one to get.
5. Bose L1 Compact
A compact PA system solution
Being one of the most well-known brands on this list, Bose is a household name. Over the years their speakers and other products have just improved, and now they offer a portable PA system that looks unique and sounds great.
The design of the L1 Compact is exactly what the name suggests: compact. The mixer is integrated with the base of the speaker, so it’s not as flexible as other portable PA systems, but it’s extremely easy to transport. The mixer features 2 channels, one for a microphone and one for a line input. The microphone channel has controls for volume, treble, and bass. It uses an XLR connection. For the line/instrument input channel, there’s a volume knob, an RCA stereo input, and a 1/8-inch stereo input.
Bose uses special ToneMatch technology to automatically optimize Channel 1 for vocals and Channel 2 for acoustic guitar, but you can use the channels how you wish and the audio will still sound great. The neat thing about this system is that you can also record the audio from it out of the 1/4-inch balanced line output with an AUX cable. If you want to connect additional speakers to the PA system, there is a stereo RCA output.
The L1 Compact features a stealthy power amp that is hidden in the stand to keep your gear looking sleek while providing ample power. The speaker of the L1 Compact is very unique. It is a thin collapsible speaker that expands upright vertically, which looks cool and saves space. You can use the speaker in two configurations, collapsed and upright, depending on what your performance situation calls for. The speaker here has six drivers positioned throughout the speaker cabinet to allow an even flow of audio to the audience no matter where the speaker is placed in relation to the crowd.
|Image credit: Bose Check Sweetwater||
The Bose L1 Compact is a really nice top-end PA system with tons of portability and functionality. It is a great solution for solo performers who play an instrument as an accompaniment. This system would also be great for karaoke because of its ease of use and built-in mixer.
6. Fender Passport Venue Series 2
Perfect for mid to large-sized venues
Fender’s Passport PA system series has a few different models varying in size and power capability. For a portable PA system, it’s often difficult to find one that has enough power for one to perform at a mid or large-sized venue. With the Fender Passport Venue Series 2, your problems are solved.
The Passport Venue Series 2 was made specifically for mid to large-sized venues, as it packs 600 watts of power. Similar to the Yamaha STAGEPAS 600BT, the Passport Venue Series 2 has a 10-channel mixer and full range speakers. The Venue Series 2’s mixer features volume control, treble and bass controls, and a reverb control for every channel, and you can switch between the option of using a microphone or a line input to match the proper level of impedance on the first 6 channels.
For the first 4 channels, an XLR and line connector combination is present with a button for phantom power if you’re using a mic that needs it. Channels 5 and 6 have line inputs, and the paired channels (7, 8 and 9, 10) both have left/mono and right line inputs as well as stereo inputs for if you want to use audio from another device. A headphone out and mono out are available in the monitoring section of the mixer, and a sub output for connecting a subwoofer is also provided. Another great feature of this mixer is Bluetooth capability.
As for the speakers, they are 10 inches and provide crystal clear audio with nice low end. The overall hard plastic design of the Venue 2 makes it extremely durable, and the mixer and speakers come together in a suitcase form for easy storage and transportation. This is absolutely one of the nicest portable PA systems on the market.
|Image credit: Fender Check Sweetwater||
The Fender Passport Venue Series 2 is an incredible portable PA system that produces great audio. It’s powerful enough for a coffee house or small club, and I’d recommend it for small bands due to its flexibility and abundance of inputs.
7. Bose S1 Pro
The best battery-powered all-in-one PA system
Bose seems to be a big contender when it comes to public address systems. I personally find that surprising, considering they’ve marketed personal listening products like headphones and in home speakers but never anything like PA systems. The portable PA system highlighted here is the Bose S1 Pro.
The S1 Pro is a battery-powered PA system that is housed in a square chassis that makes it extremely easy to transport and store. The battery used here is a built-in lithium-ion battery, which means it is rechargeable. The design of the S1 Pro is small, sturdy, and lightweight. This PA system only weighs 15 lbs, and houses a 30-watt amplifier, 2 preamps, and multiple speakers within the cabinet.
The drivers in the S1 Pro are three 2.25-inch high-frequency drivers, and one 6-inch low-frequency driver, and they all work together to provide the classic Bose sound you know and love. The mixer features 3 channels. The first two channels have an XLR and line input combo connector, a volume control, a reverb control, and bass and treble controls. You can switch between impedance that matches either vocals or guitar on these two channels.
The third channel is dedicated to a stereo auxiliary input, and this is where you pair your devices with the S1 Pro’s Bluetooth technology, so you can play music from laptops, phones, and more with this tiny powerhouse. ToneMatch technology is built into the channels to optimize them for certain instruments, and it makes the S1 Pro sound amazing.
As for the design of the S1 Pro, it’s a combination of a square and a trapezoid; you can set it upright or in another position due to the fanned out angles. The PA system is very portable and very durable. It looks great and packs plenty of power for performances in small cafe type venues or parties.
|Image credit: Bose Check Sweetwater||
The Bose S1 Pro is a very compact PA system perfect for parties or coffee shop performances. It packs a punch and is very simple to set up and operate. I recommend the S1 Pro to solo artists who perform in small, cozy venues. The S1 Pro is easy to travel with, so you’ll have tons of fun traveling with it.
8. JBL EON208P
Another reasonable small to mid-sized choice
JBL mainly makes Bluetooth speakers, headphones, studio monitors, and things of that nature. When I found out JBL had a PA system, I knew it had to go on this list. The EON208P is similar to the Fender Passport Event Series 2 PA system on this list in that it comes together in a suitcase type form for storage and transport. The EON208P features a detachable active-powered mixer and two speakers.
Taking a look at the mixer, it features 8 channels with plenty of handy controls. For the first 4 channels, there are combination XLR and line input connections, and with a button you can choose whether you’re using a vocal mic or an instrument to match the impedance. Featured are controls for treble and bass, volume, and reverb. You also have the option to employ phantom power depending on your needs.
Channels 5/6 and 7/8 are part of a line in (left and right sides) and RCA stereo input, and only feature volume control. A section to send the mix to a monitor speaker is featured, as well as an output for headphones and one for a subwoofer. Bluetooth is also a feature included here that I personally think is essential to any good PA system. The mixer is overall very easy to navigate and has a clean interface, it’s very powerful and gives you plenty of control over your audio.
As for the speakers, they are 8 inches in size and produce 300 watts of power, which is plenty for a small to mid-sized venue. A small band should be able to play fine with this PA system. The sound of the speakers is clear, clean, and quite accurate. As a whole, the design of the EON208P is very sturdy and rugged. It will definitely stand up to hard knocks and bumps on the road.
|Image credit: JBL Check Sweetwater||
The JBL EON208P portable PA system is yet another good PA system option for the money. While it’s more of a middle of the road price for a compact PA system, the high-quality sound more than makes up for it. Small bands and solo performers alike will enjoy the sound clarity and ease of use when performing with this PA system.
9. MUSYSIC M-Port PA2K
An extremely powerful PA system for the money
While MUSYSIC is not a well-known manufacturer by any means, they have some crazy powerful portable PA systems at quite a fair price for all the power you get.
The M-Port PA2K from MUSYSIC is an insanely powerful portable PA system. It is a fully battery-powered PA system that comes together in a suitcase form for storage and travel. This means that the mixer and speakers are separate from each other, giving you much more control than you would have with a mixer built into a speaker.
The mixer here is a 5-channel mixer with a Class D amplifier. The mixer, speakers, and amp are all powered by a rechargeable battery that is housed in the mixer. The battery lasts for around 4 to 5 hours on a full charge, but this depends on how much power you’re using. The 5 mixer channels have controls for a 3-band EQ (high, mid, and low), an effects knob, pan, and volume. The first 3 inputs are XLR and line combo connectors, and the last 2 are either mono inputs or a stereo RCA input, your choice. The mixer also features Bluetooth capability and an MP3 player with a recording function.
The speakers in this package produce a whopping 2,000 watts of power. That’s enough to perform at a mid to large-sized venue, so this system is going to be extremely ideal for small rock or metal bands, or even just a couple performers who are quite popular.
On top of all this, two UHF wireless microphones are included, as well as a UHF wireless headset with a receiver. This makes the M-Port PA2K perfect for parties and karaoke, but it’s also flexible enough and gives enough sound control for you to use it at professional gigs.
|Image credit: MUSYSIC Check Amazon||
The MUSYSIC M-Port PA2K is by far one of the best powerful PA systems. With it being so cheap but having so much power, you’d be foolish to pass this one up if you need something for a mid to large-sized gig. I recommend this system for performers that play loud music genres or play at bigger show venues.
10. Roland CUBE Street EX
The wildcard of portable PA systems
Roland is a very well-known manufacturer of musical instruments (especially keyboards) and music gear in general. You will be pleased to find out that they have an all-in-one, portable PA system option that is pretty affordable.
The Roland CUBE Street EX is actually a battery-powered stereo guitar amplifier, but I put it on this list because of its double use. While the CUBE Street EX is a guitar amp, it also has inputs for microphones and other line connections at the back of the unit. The CUBE Street EX is an all-in-one system that looks a lot like a floor monitor speaker.
At the back of the amp are the inputs and outputs. Here you will find a headphone output, auxiliary input, right and left mono lines out (with a stereo link), and footswitch line inputs for a mic/guitar or mic/instrument.
On the top side of the amp, you have your mixer separated into different sections. For the mic/instrument section, you have a 3-band equalizer, a reverb knob, and an input (XLR or line) with an impedance switch and volume control. In the next section for mic/guitar, you find more effects that are suitable for a guitar, as well as another EQ and an input. Mono line inputs are situated in another couple sections.
A cool thing about this system is that it has a switch to control the power output; you can choose between eco, normal, and max modes. The speaker in the Street EX uses 50 watts of power, and the unit is powered by a rechargeable battery. Its overall design is incredibly rugged while remaining compact and lightweight, making it easy to carry with one hand. While the CUBE Street EX isn’t a genuine PA system, its features and functions are nearly as good as an expensive PA system.
|Image credit: Roland Check Sweetwater||
The Roland CUBE Street EX is an amazing, compact guitar amp that doubles as a very portable PA system. The CUBE Street EX is one PA system I’d definitely recommend for solo performers who play an instrument (especially guitar) and sing. Small venues like parties and cafes will be the perfect place to perform with the Street EX.
How to choose the best portable public address (PA) system?
Public address systems, or PA systems, are what you may think of when you see someone set up on a street corner with speakers and a guitar and mic. However, PA systems can get really complex. They can be used anywhere, from on the street, to at a festival, or even a giant arena. Portable audio systems, however, are usually much smaller to make it easy to transport.
What is a portable PA system?
A portable PA system is a public address system that is used to address an audience. It can be transported from place to place and is usually made up of several components.
What does a PA system do?
PA systems can vary based on the components used, but they all perform the same basic functions. These functions are:
- Converting acoustic sound to electronic signals through microphones or other inputs.
- Mixing these electronic signals using a mixing board/soundboard and effects modules.
- Amplifying the electronic signals using an amplifier.
- Delivering sound through the speakers.
- Monitoring the performance through the speakers or another monitoring device like in ear monitors.
Typically, PA systems have different features, capabilities, and designs, but they all will perform these basic functions (potentially in different ways). The PA system you end up choosing will be based on your needs.
Prepackaged and modular portable PA systems
Many times you can find prepackaged portable PA systems online or in stores. These prepackaged systems usually combine various components into one package that costs less than buying all the components separately would.
Depending on the size of the system you need, these prepackaged systems will vary in flexibility and control. There are many different sizes, everything from all in one systems for ultra portability, to complex PA system packages with many different components for tons of control.
You can absolutely buy separate components if you want to customize your PA system to be more modular and use different brands of gear. With a portable system, it’s a bit harder to find components that will give you high-quality audio while still remaining portable, but there are some options.
Regardless of what you end up choosing, you will need to make sure you have all or some of the following components in your PA system. Remember this is also based on your needs:
- Microphones: for picking up audio from voices or instruments.
- Instrument cables: for connecting instruments to the mixing board.
- Balanced XLR cables: for connecting microphones to the mixing board.
- TRS (stereo) 1/4-inch cables: for connecting speakers to the mixing board or amplifier.
- Unbalanced 1/4-inch connectors or Speakon locking connectors: for connecting instrument cables to the mixing board.
- A mixer/soundboard: to properly process and mix the audio before it goes out to the speakers.
- Effects processing modules: for further processing of audio to manage the overall style and sound for creative or practical purposes.
- A power amplifier: to boost the audio signal after it comes out of the mixer but before it goes to the speakers.
- Equalizers: to help prevent feedback from resonant or conflicting frequencies between vocals and instruments.
- Speakers: for the delivery of audio to the audience.
- Monitor speakers: to monitor your own voice or instruments as opposed to the whole mix.
Figuring out what your PA system needs are
In order to figure out what you need out of a PA system, you can use these questions to help you get a base idea so you can start looking for options.
- How many people will be performing with this PA system? Will they be playing instruments? Will they be singing?
- Do I care more about having effortless portability or extreme control over the sound?
- Do I care about having compression, reverb, delay, or other effects on the audio? Do I need any effects modules to get these effects or does my mixer have them built in?
- Do I care about EQ issues that could cause feedback?
- How much sound do I want to be putting out? How much sound am I legally allowed to put out?
- Where will I be performing? On the street? In a coffee shop? At the park?
- How big of an audience should I prepare to play in front of?
- How big of a mixer do I need?
- Do I want a digital mixer or an analog mixer?
- Do I need a powered or unpowered mixer?
- Will I need an additional amp to power any of the gear?
- How many speakers will I need and how powerful do they need to be?
- Do I want monitor speakers, in ear monitors, or headphones to monitor an auxiliary mix?
- What is my budget?
From here, you can use the answers to these questions to make a list of what you need in a portable public address system.
Important factors to remember: price
A typical portable public address system can cost anywhere from $90 to $2,000 or $3,000 depending on how fancy you want to get with it. For places like sports arenas, large churches, and other similar places that need powerful audio components, PA systems can easily cost $20,000 and sometimes even higher.
Prepackaged portable PA systems are usually a lot cheaper, so keep in mind that if you want to create your own PA system from the ground up and choose all the components, you’ll potentially be spending quite a bit more money. This all depends on the components you choose though, so in some cases it can be more cost effective to purchase all the components separately if you are wanting to purchase only budget options.
Microphones are essential for you to perform. Typically, for live performances, you’ll want dynamic microphones for vocals and instruments. Condenser microphones are not suitable for live performances; dynamic mics properly pick up the instruments and vocals while avoiding picking up much background noise. Shure makes some great dynamic microphones that have stood the test of time against plenty of performers.
Cables and other miscellaneous equipment
Ensuring that you have high-quality cables is essential for making sure your performance goes well and all the gear works properly. Be sure to include all cables for instruments, microphones, effects modules, and any other gear (MIDI controllers or keyboards, a laptop, etc) you may be bringing to your gigs.
Typically you’ll want balanced XLRs, unbalanced connectors for instrument cables, and TRS stereo cables. Balanced cables eliminate interference and noise from things like lights and other electronic sources. Typically a cable with silver plated connectors will work fine, but for the best quality you should choose ones that have gold plated connectors as they last the longest.
Don’t forget to purchase things like microphone and instrument stands, speaker stands and brackets, and bags or cases to safely transport or store your PA system when it’s not being used.
Depending on your needs, you’ll either be picking an analog mixer or a digital mixer to set the proper volume levels for the instruments and vocals, as well as to add any creative effects. Digital mixers are great for controlling feedback, and some allow you to apply built in effects to the different channels.
Analog mixers are usually a lot easier to use and are much cheaper than digital mixers, therefore they are quite popular as well. Unfortunately, you will not get the built-in effects that you get from digital mixers, so if you get an analog mixer you’ll need analog effects modules.
If you end up getting powered speakers, you’ll also need a powered mixer, and the same goes for unpowered speakers, you’ll need an unpowered mixer. Unpowered mixers need a separate amp for power. Powered mixers have built-in amplification. They’re usually easier to transport, they’re less expensive than unpowered mixers, and easier to set up. However, they offer less power than a standalone amp. Powered mixers also offer less control over your sound.
Brands like Mackie, Yamaha, and Behringer have some really great analog and digital mixers.
Effects modules come in all shapes and sizes but there are probably a few that you will almost definitely want for your PA system setup if you want high quality audio and few problems with feedback or other interferences.
You can use effects modules with both digital and analog mixers, but depending on whether your effects modules are digital or analog, you may be limited in your mixer and effects modules combinations. Make sure you choose effects modules that will work properly with the mixer you choose.
The following effects modules are a good idea to keep on hand for your PA system:
- For keeping a level volume without having to ride the faders on your mixer, you should get a compression effects module.
- For stylistic and creative effects on instruments and vocals, you may want a reverb or delay effects module.
- A de-esser effects module may be helpful for taming hissing and popping sounds from plosives (P, T, and S sounds, etc) when singing or speaking.
- An equalizer effects module for carving space for all the elements in the mix as well as preventing feedback. There are multiple types of equalizers, so we’ll discuss more about that shortly.
- A pitch or vocal effects module is great for adding creativity with different vocal stylings.
Let’s focus on equalizer modules for a bit. Usually the built-in equalizer circuits in your mixer will give your audio a good sound, and in digital mixers you might have a built-in EQ that is more advanced, but if you want even more control over your sound and the prevention of feedback, you should absolutely 100% get a standalone EQ effects module. EQ effects modules are quite popular, so there are many different manufacturers that sell them.
There are a few different types of equalizers that you might want for your public address system:
- Parametric EQ,
- Semi-parametric EQ,
- Graphic EQ.
Most mixers have a built in EQ area that controls 3 EQ bands: low, mid, and high.
Parametric EQs are the most flexible EQ, but also a bit difficult to learn if you don’t have a trained ear or access to an analyzer or graph of the EQ as it’s detecting and processing your audio. Parametric EQs allow you to select specific areas within the channel’s frequency and boost or decrease them. The wideness of the EQ band can be changed at varying amounts to solve different problems or even for creative purposes.
Semi-parametric EQs work just like parametric EQs do, but the size of the frequency bands are not changeable, instead they are previously set by the manufacturer. They are less flexible than parametric EQs for that reason, but can still help your sound quite a bit if you need the audio to sound a bit cleaner.
Graphic EQs are much more flexible than simple 2 or 3 band EQs, and you see them mainly in analog modules, but once in a while you’ll find them as a built in effect in digital mixers that have many different effects you can apply. A graphic EQ gives you so much control over the bands of your mix. It separates your mix into 30 different band faders that you can adjust to fine tune your sound.
I personally would use a graphic EQ on the master channel of the mixer to craft a final sculpted sound before your audio goes to the speakers. Usually a graphic EQ is used most commonly in enclosed spaces, but it can be used to help prevent feedback over speakers regardless of where your equipment is set up at, indoor or outdoor.
Power amplifiers are what provide power to the speakers after the audio comes out of the mixer. They boost low level audio signals coming from the mixer before sending them to the speakers for the audience so that the audio can be properly heard. With PA systems, a big question people have is about how much power they will need for their system.
The amount of power produced by an amp is measured in watts. To determine the amount of watts you will need to properly power your gear and provide the audience with a pleasurable listening experience, you must consider a few different factors.
- Location of your performance: Is it indoor or outdoor? If you’re in an enclosed venue, consider the room size and room acoustics. Be sure to take also into account that the audience will absorb some sound from the stage and speakers.
- Speaker efficiency: How much sound do your speakers produce per watt of power? How much power does it take to handle peaks when there isn’t much headroom?
- Desired level of volume: How loud do you want or need to be?
To get an idea of how much power you may need, let’s consider an example. For a small rock band (lots of high-powered amps and cabinets, likely a high volume) in a medium-sized enclosed venue, around a minimum of 1,500 watts of power would be needed. The smaller your band is and the less equipment you need, the less power you will need. Remember though that this is all dependent on your music, too. Songs with more dynamics may take more power.
After the sound has passed from the source to the microphone, then to the mixer, effects modules and other sound processing gear, and power amp, it’s time for it to come out of the speakers. When sound waves go into a microphone, they’re converted into energy that then gets converted back into sound waves. The speakers are powered by the voltage from the power amps, and the cones in the speakers move back and forth using that energy to convert the audio signal back into sound waves before exiting the speakers and going out into the open air.
As far as speaker size goes, you should choose speakers that will be a suitable size for the majority of your performances. The venue size is what you should base it off of. Also take into consideration the amount of power. For a small gig, you may only need 300-500 watts of power for speakers. This all goes back to the same aforementioned concepts outlined in the ‘power amplifiers’ section.
Remember that for a portable PA system, you will likely want smaller speakers for easy transport. Unfortunately the trade-off here is that there is often less power in smaller speakers, so you won’t be able to get as loud of a volume out of them.
Depending on your performances, band size, venue, budget, and more, you may want to use multiple speakers. There are a few different types of speakers that I’m going to outline here.
- Tweeters: Tweeters convert audio signals to sound waves within the 2 KHz and 20 kHz frequency range.
- Mid-range: Mid-range speakers handle the mid range frequencies of the audio spectrum, from around 200 Hz to 3 kHz.
- Woofers: Woofers handle the low end frequency range, usually below 500 Hz.
- Subwoofers: Subwoofers convert audio signals from the absolute lowest frequency range, 300 Hz and below, usually to around 20 or 30 Hz, but sometimes even lower.
Most prepackaged portable PA systems have speakers that have both a tweeter and woofer in them. The other types are mainly used with stationary in house PA systems at places like churches or schools where it is wiser to come up with a custom PA system setup for the most amount of flexibility and control. Subwoofers are extremely heavy and large and therefore decrease portability by quite a bit.
Passive vs. active speakers
Passive (unpowered) speakers versus active (powered) speakers is a fairly easy decision to make depending on your power needs.
If you don’t want to purchase a separate power amp for your PA system, you can get active (powered) speakers because they have amplifiers built into them. By using powered speakers, you can also use an unpowered mixer which will save you some money. Powered speakers are much more ideal for musicians who want portability and perform mainly in small venues. They are easier to set up as well.
Unfortunately, active speakers are less flexible and you don’t have as much control over your public address system than you would if you had a separate power amp that wasn’t built into the speakers.
Monitor speakers and other monitoring solutions
Monitor speakers or a way to monitor your voice or instrument or an auxiliary mix while you are performing is something you may want in order to sound as good as you can. They can be useful for keeping in time with the BPM of the music or making sure you’re playing or singing the right notes.
Monitor speakers are similar to normal PA speakers in that they require power, and some are active-powered and some are passive-powered. Floor monitors are very effective at helping you monitor a specific mix, however they greatly reduce portability of your PA system setup and they also create a lot of stage noise which can lead to feedback and general loudness issues, thus potentially making your performance worse. Peavey makes some very nice floor monitor speakers.
In-ear monitors are a solution that is much more flexible and gives much more control to the performers. In-ear monitors are either a wired or wireless receiver that connects to your mixer and headphones or monitoring earbuds. The monitor signal is sent to the receiver and you can hear it while performing.
What gets sent to the in-ear monitors is determined by the front of house engineer or whoever is in control of the mixer, but there are many models of in-ear monitors that allow you to control the volume of individual instrument channels that get sent to your monitor mix.
In-ear monitors prevent excess stage or background noise from instruments and vocals and are usually customizable so that everyone performing can have their own individual monitoring mix for their individual needs. I recommend checking out brands like Shure.
After your choice
After purchasing your new portable PA system, be sure to set it up in an area where you can practice setting up, performing, and tearing down without much hassle. Videos on YouTube will come in handy here in case you get confused while setting things up. Be prepared for it to take up to a few hours the very first time you set things up, depending on the size of your system. Once you have everything down pat you will be able to set up and tear down much faster. With a smaller, more portable PA system, setup and teardown time is much shorter than the setup and teardown time of many large scale PA systems.
While the world of PA systems can get tricky, it doesn’t have to be, and the frustration and difficulty of selecting the proper setup is why many performers hesitate to purchase a public address system. The information provided here in this guide on how to choose the proper PA system for you and the portable PA system reviews of the models that are available for purchase in 2020 should be enough to get you started. Maybe you’ve found that one of the models reviewed here is the one you want, and if that’s the case, you’re definitely choosing some top-quality products for the money.
Don’t forget to refer back to the information here while looking for your next portable PA system. Be sure to check back with us at Consordini for more articles on the hottest and best music production gear on the market!