From school halls to colossal stadium tours, PA systems are everywhere. They come in all shapes and sizes, each designed to suit a different purpose. They’re produced by some of the biggest brands in the industry, including Peavey, QSC, Yamaha, Bose and many more. In this article, we’ll be exploring the different requirements for PA systems to help you find the one that’s right for you.
If you want to know what’s what in the world of PA systems, check out our Ultimate Guide. Everything you need to know about active & passive speakers, mixers, how to set up your PA system, and much more! Anyway, without further ado, let’s get started...
The Best PA Systems for:
The Best PA System for: Acoustic Guitar & Vocals
If you’re a singer-songwriter or an acoustic duo, you’ll want to retain an intimate sound while making sure you’re heard. As a solo performer or small ensemble, you won’t need anything particularly complex; just something that gets the job done well.
This means something that’s relatively compact and easy to set up (and pack into a car!). You also won’t need much in the way of inputs and outputs. As a solo performer, two inputs will do the trick, but anything up to around 8 channels will suffice. This gives you a bit of freedom to perform with others if the opportunity arises – open mic nights, jam sessions etc.
Simple digital effects may come in handy – a bit of reverb, delay and compression for both your guitar and your vocal sound. Your requirements will vary depending on where you’ll be performing (more on this later). But generally speaking, a simple mixer with 2 x active PA speakers will do the trick. Easy to use, plenty of projection and a broad enough sound without breaking the bank!
The Best PA System for: Vocalists
For the most part, see above. If anything, you’ll need even less in the way of inputs, outputs and effects. Many modern systems by brands like Bose and JBL are designed to provide excellent sound and easy set up with just a single speaker. Again, this means your system is relatively hassle-free, subtle and compact.
Further to this, a compact mixer will make a big difference. Having a small mixer set up on stage or nearby gives you full control over your sound while performing – without taking up too much space. Again, some basic effects and an accessible number of inputs and outputs will go a long way.
It’s also worth considering connectivity. Check for easy connection to external sound sources like tablets and smartphones. Many musicians connect their iPads and iPhones via auxiliary (aux) or even Bluetooth. This is an ideal feature if you're looking for a PA system for karaoke, as you can easily control backing tracks with minimal hassle.
The Best PA System for: Bands
This is where it steps up a notch. When does a band need their own PA system? While most (if not all) rehearsal spaces, studios and venues will have in-house systems, having your own gives you far more flexibility.
Rehearse in a public space for hire, a garage, an outhouse, a warehouse – because you have your own PA, you’ve got way more options. You’ll also need an adequate number of ins and outs to cover vocals, keyboards, acoustic guitars and any other instruments involved. While electric guitars, bass and drums will take care of themselves (for the most part), everybody needs to be heard.
With this in mind, you’ll need a little more in the way of power, projection and EQ. You’ll want to tweak the vocal sound so that it sits nicely in the mix and doesn’t feedback. You’ll want to make sure that the sparkle of an acoustic strum of the dynamics of a keyboard part are heard over the drum kit.
Again, a stereo setup (2 x active speakers) should make the cut, but they’ll need a power rating that’s high enough to compete with more musicians. This mixer also needs to pack more of a punch, with additional outputs for headphones and monitors if needed. All of this should be possible without buying a system that’s large or complex!
The Best PA System for: Small Venues
For venues, ease of set up and portability aren’t such an issue. Yes, you’ll want it to be easy to use, but you won’t be moving it around quite so much. It’ll either stay set up or it’ll be locked away when out of use.
Smaller spaces also don’t require too much in the way of power, as the sound doesn’t need to travel far to be heard. Clarity is key, however. Confined spaces can wreak havoc on acoustics and sound quality, so having decent speakers and a versatile mixer will be extremely useful.
Look for something with at least 8 channels; this should give you enough flexibility for anything from spoken word to a function or party band. In-depth but easy to use EQ and effects will also come in handy. Again, the setup can be kept fairly simple; a decent mixer and a couple of decent active speakers will do the trick - quality over quantity, so to speak. Check out some of our PA system bundles - these complete PA systems are great money saving options that have everything you need.
The Best PA System for: Medium Venues
Again, set up and portability aren’t going to be too much of an issue here. With medium-size venues and performance spaces, it’s even more likely that the PA system will remain in place and ready to go.
As the venue size increases, however, you will need to consider volume and projection. Clarity will always be a concern, so again, look for a mixer with enough features (inputs, outputs, effects etc.). But in order to facilitate more volume and even coverage, a subwoofer and monitor may be useful.
As your speaker requirements increase, so do your power requirements. Consider a set of passive speakers powered by a power amplifier. Connect these to a mixer with a subwoofer in the chain and you’ll notice a big boost in volume without losing any clarity. The subwoofer takes care of the rumbling low end allowing your main speakers to pump out sound at higher volume without distorting.
Having this additional flexibility will make your system suitable for a greater range of events. Parties, Church & worship, louder band performances, conferences – you’ll have what it takes. Spaces like Churches often have difficult acoustics, so having a mixer with decent EQing options will be extremely useful in terms of versatility. Shape your sound to suit the space that you're in!
The Best PA System for: Large Venues
Similar to above, but to another level. By large venues, we don’t necessarily mean Wembley Stadium, but we don’t mean the local Town Hall either.
At this point, you’ll want to be considering many more speakers. This means more power amps, subwoofers and monitors to match. Keep it tidy on stage with stageboxes, allowing you to connect numerous ins and outs with your desk without worrying about a sea of tangled cables on (or off) stage.
As mentioned with medium venues, combining passive speakers with power amps and subwoofers allows far higher volumes without sacrificing clarity. Many venues house their power amps in rack units on/close to the stage. This ensures that your setup is easily manageable. Finally, a more powerful mixer is required. This will not only allow numerous inputs, but it’ll give you great control over your multiple speakers.
You’ll also need to have control over the monitor mix for those on stage. A more powerful mixer allows you to carefully tweak who hears what, essential for live performance.
The Best PA System for: DJs
As mentioned with bands, many venues and spaces that you’ll DJ at will have a PA system. But having the flexibility of your own setup will go a long way.
If you have your own system, you’ll be prepped for any gig. Ideally, you’ll want something relatively easy to set up and easy to fit into a car. You’ll also want a relatively compact mixer (no need for too many inputs or outputs in this case) that’s easy to use and easy to set up next to your decks. This will give you full control during your performance – it’ll also need to be easy to see in the dark!
2 active speakers in stereo may do the trick in some cases, but generally speaking, you’ll want a little more volume and low-end. With this in mind, it might be worth looking into a small power amp with 2 passive speakers and subwoofer. This does mean more gear to take along with you, but it’ll provide a far superior sound that’ll be well suited to DJing. QSC and Bose both make small (and fairly affordable) power amps that are easy to cart around, great for mobile DJ setups.
The Best PA System for: Wedding DJs
Same as above, but seeing as you’re less likely to be playing clubs and student unions, volume won’t be such an issue. This means that the 2 x active speaker setup is more likely to do the trick for wedding ceremonies, receptions and parties.
Something else that’s worth considering is design. Weddings are obviously important occasions, with a great deal of planning going into how they look. Bose, LD Systems and Electro-Voice (among others) produce great PA systems that are slim and subtle. This makes them easy to set up in a wedding venue without interrupting the classy décor.
The Best PA System for: School Halls
Similar to PA systems for bands, you won’t need too much for a school hall. 2 active speakers with a simple mixer will absolutely suffice. Simple EQ controls will allow you to tweak the sound to suit the space (school halls often have high ceilings and hard walls, so a bit of tweaking will ensure minimal echo). One advantage of having a simple setup like this, as mentioned earlier, is ease of set up / pack down. When not in use (i.e. summer holidays), the system can be easily packed away. Many all-in-one PA system packages will fit the bill for a simple School or Church hall setup. Active speakers, an easy mixer, a wireless microphone (in some cases) – you’re all set.
The Best PA System for: Yoga Instructors
For yoga and dance instructors, volume won’t be too much of an issue – generally speaking. Dance studios and spaces for hire tend to be of a sensible size that won’t need much in the way of audio projection.
For yoga and dance classes, sound quality, portability and connectivity are key considerations. You’ll want the sound to be clear to maintain a calm, focused atmosphere, and to ensure that rhythms are easy to follow. Having a portable system allows easy transport and minimal hassle – brands like JBL, Laney, Yamaha & Bose make some of the best wireless PA systems for this sort of thing.
Finally, connectivity. You’ll want to easily connect your smartphone or tablet to your system. This could be wireless (Bluetooth) or wired (auxiliary) – but this is an essential feature to look out for! You won’t need much in the way of inputs or outputs at all – just something simple, effective and practical.
The Best PA System for: Public Speaking
This is largely dependant on the setting - see the above points on venue size. A single-speaker or 2 speaker active system will suffice for smaller venues, while medium to large venues will require a little more in the way of power to ensure that your voice is heard. For outdoor events, you'll want even directional coverage, so extra speakers may come in handy. Even an extra couple would suffice, allowing you to aim them outwards for maximum coverage.
Consider that you'll largely be amplifying voice though. You won't need to worry about dense mixes, clashing frequencies or too much in the way of EQing. As long as the sound is clear and can be tweaked if needed, you'll be fine. In a public speaking scenario, you usually won't need more than a handful of inputs (microphones), so a compact, affordable mixer will do the trick. Brands like Mackie and Soundcraft offer a great selection. Again, consider systems that come with microphones included; if you're working with a big stage or audience participation, wireless microphones may also be useful!
The Best PA System for: Busking
Again, portability is key here. Go for something compact, easy to set up, and with adequate connections. If you’re a singer-songwriter, there’s a chance you won’t need more than 4 channels.
Consider power too; while you may occasionally find power on the high street or outside train stations, don’t rely on it. Many manufacturers make great battery-powered speakers that are aimed squarely at the busking crowd. Many of these systems are affordable too, coming in at between the £200 and £400 mark compared to £800+ for many fully-fledged PA systems.
Well there you have it! Keep these points in mind when shopping for your PA system, and you’re bound to find the right one for you. If you have any questions about any of these suggestions, please don’t hesitate to contact us. In the meantime, you’ll find our full PA system selection here.
If you want to know more about PA Systems, like wattage, components, mixers and prices, check out our Ultimate Guide to PA Systems here – enjoy, folks!