How to Choose an Effective PA System
Whether or not we realize it, PA - or "public address" - systems are a ubiquitous part of everyday life. Retail stores, bars, restaurants, art galleries, schools, gyms, houses of worship, airports - and, of course, music venues - rely on PA systems to deliver music, speech, and other audio. Some systems are small, even hidden; other PA systems are built like virtual walls of sound, intended to blast audio to millions. The Grateful Dead's 1974 "Wall of Sound" is an iconic example; the Dead's concert PA system included hundreds of speakers tethered together to produce over 25,000 watts of power. This was certainly a far cry from a 1920's-era Magnavox PA system - capable of only 10 watts. "PA system" is a nebulous term, and can include speakers, inputs, amps, preamps, mixing boards, etc. - whatever delivers live or recorded signals to an audience.
PA Speakers and Subwoofers
Speakers are the most prominent part of of every PA system. They take electrical signals from an amplifier, and convert them into room-filling sound. PA speakers demonstrate a huge range in power, size, and function. For example, the QSC K12 packs 1,000 watts of power, with a maximum SPL (sound pressure level) of 131dB - ideal for larger venues. The JBL Control 28 8" loudspeakers deliver 150 watts, and are better suited for classrooms, retail stores, or other small-to-medium spaces. On the other hand, the Behringer Eurolive is a 250-watt bi-amp, often used as an onstage monitor for live venues. Some people opt to supplement PA speakers with separate PA subwoofers - like the Peavey Dark Matter 118 Sub, for example. Subwoofers like the 118 enhance bass frequencies, and provide a rumbling, venue-shaking low end.
Portable PA Systems
Choosing the right portable PA system depends on how - and where - you plan to use it. Most of today's portable PAs combine live audio inputs, mixing, and speaker amplification into an "all-in-one" unit. If you're a singer-songwriter bouncing from one gig to the next, solo performance systems like the Yamaha StagePas 600i is perfect for your live audio needs.The StagePas 600i has four mic inputs, onboard mixing, and 680 watts of combo amplification, yet it weighs just 56 pounds. Worship leaders or public speakers might look into the MIPRO MA-7080 - a sleek way to bring 190 watts of crisp sound into any boardroom or other small venues. For a compact coffee-house setup, or small-scale public speaking, check out the Behringer Eurolive B207MP3.
If you want more radical portability, the Mackie FreePlay Portable PA runs on D-cell batteries (for up to 10 hours) - which means you can take it virtually anywhere. Perfect for outdoor events, concerts, and public address, the FreePlay boasts 300 watts, three inputs, and 16 onboard mixing effects. Portable Bluetooth speakers, like the Bose Soundlink III, remain the most portable PA systems - great for parties, meetings, or an afternoon by the pool. At only three pounds, the rugged Soundlink III is ultra-lightweight; and its Lithium-ion battery means it can run for 14 hours without external power. Bluetooth speakers connect instantly to laptops, smartphones, etc. - all without a mess of cords.
PA System Accessories
Of course, sophisticated PA systems include more than just speakers; Sweetwater carries a variety of wall mounts, speaker stands, carrying cases, and more. If you're looking to permanently elevate PA speakers throughout a ballroom, school auditorium, or venue, you might look into speaker wall mounts: Gator's GFW-SPK-WM100 mounts are a great example - each can support up to 100 lbs. Speaker stands offer a more portable way of elevating speakers; The On-Stage Stands All-aluminum speaker stands adjust to over six feet high, and their sturdy tripod bases help to support speakers of up to 120 pounds.
Carrying cases and bags provide a smart way to safely move gear - speakers, stands, etc. - from location to location. When it comes to speakers, most carrying cases are made for specific speaker models; for example, JBL EON612 speaker bags are custom-made to transport EON612 speakers. Padded interiors and reinforced carry handles make these bags a convenient, durable way to protect your JBL gear on the road. Whether you're looking to expand your PA system, or you're starting from scratch, Sweetwater carries a huge variety of products and brands for every setting. Call one of our Sales Engineers for advice, or browse our extensive online catalog today.