Looking to buy a PA? Look no further. This guide will help you figure out what you need, what you don’t need, and suggest a couple of options for your use case. First, let’s understand what a PA really is.
PA stands for public address, which back in the day meant addressing the public using a ‘public address’ system of mics, speakers, and other essential components. Nowadays, PA systems are everywhere from schools to live sound stages like music festivals.
Components of a PA system
The most obvious, and possibly most important part of the PA system is the speakers. Speakers come in different sizes and wattages which are indicative of the size of the speakers. While there are select compact speakers that disguise their power in their form, generally, the more powerful the speaker, the larger they are.
Speakers for indoor spaces that aren’t gig venues will be in the range of 200W to 1Kw. Buying the right speakers for your space is an aspect often overlooked. If you purchase under-powered speakers, the sound space will not resonate the performance aptly. On the contrary, if your speakers have too much power, they may be uncomfortable to listen to and waste electricity.
Speakers also come in Active and Passive formats. Simply put, it determines whether they need a separate amplifier or not. Active speakers have a built-in amplifier inside. Active speakers tend to be heavier and larger as they need to house the amplifier as well, but are more portable and require less cabling than the passive variety. They also tend to be more expensive but can be an excellent solution for those with little space.
Mixers take all of your sound inputs and route them to different places. Depending on your needs and what you hope to see performed in your space, you will need a mixer with varying features. Mixers are available in varying sizes - the bigger the mixer, the more inputs, outputs, faders, controls and options it’ll have. Mixers are mainly used to set up headphone mixers, monitor speakers for performers to hear themselves, apply effects to signals, and allow you to mix the sound signals, making it easy to blend multiple sound sources out of one speaker.
Mixers are generally rated on their inputs and outputs. This is crucial data to notice when considering a purchase. If you are creating a PA system for speeches or church addresses, you would need a much smaller amount of inputs and outputs than if you were creating a PA system for a jazz band.
Mixers can theoretically supply a little bit of power to passive speakers, but unless you are setting up a small scale performance, you’ll need extra amplification to power them.
Cables, Racks, Microphones
Cables are an integral part of a PA system. There are numerous things to consider when purchasing cables - supported by your mixer, length, capable energy pass-through and more. Creating a portable PA system is not easy, but the right gear and a viable checklist can smoothen the process significantly.
PA hardware is designed to be installed in a rack system. Units support a few common sizes which can be mounted and increase portability and better cable management. They also have spare space to store additional cables, microphones and other miscellaneous add-ons.
Microphones are integral to systems as you’d need them to get voice or instruments into the mixer. We’ve got another guide on which microphone is best for each job, but for speeches and mostly talking it’s best to be paired with a Condenser microphone. Most other platforms will best benefit from the durability and versatility of a Dynamic microphone.
One last, but still vital piece of the PA Puzzle is the hardware you attach your speakers to. If you are making a portable system, make sure it is as lightweight as possible, yet fully capable of mounting the speakers. Lightweight speakers may offer better portability at the cost of listening experience, but heavy speakers can bend the hardware they are placed on if not handled fittingly causing irreparable damage.
For portability, we really like the Yamaha Stagepas 400BT or the Behringer PPA500BT. It’s got plenty of power and works like a charm without durability concerns. It’s got a super simple mixer aimed at beginners to and retails for an affordable price.
For permanent indoor PA systems, it is usually better to buy individual modular pieces as required for the job and expand by adding more speakers and equipment with time. Set an appointment with the experts at MusicMajlis to find out how we can help you make this perilous purchase decision.
Any PA system that works outside will work inside. If you want to get a little bit of everything, look for outdoor PAs with higher ruggedness. Speakers themselves aren’t particularly fussy if they are a little wet, but anything more will prove to be a very costly affair.
For primarily outside setups, cover the speakers as much as possible or opt for bespoke solutions involving speakers that are shielded. These do, however, tend to sound mushy, so check your options before pulling the trigger.
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