PA speaker buying advice

Buying Advice - PA Speaker Cabinets

(Please note: the following information is for guidance purposes, and you should always verify that a piece of gear is suited to your specific needs.)

Power, speaker size, active or passive, bass bins - it's all here

PA systems come in a huge range of sizes and purposes. Here we are looking at PA systems for bands, duos and solo artists performing in pubs, clubs, smaller music venues and function type events that include hotel function rooms, community halls, marquee tents etc. As with all these things, purpose is the key dictating factor in what is most suitable. Price is also going to be a major consideration for most people too, along with sound quality, build quality, weight, flexibility etc.

What power output should your PA system have?

In general, more watts equals more volume (but there is much more to this than meets the eye, or ear for that matter, click here for more explanation). If you need to have enough volume to raise vocals and/or acoustic instruments over a drumkit, you're probably looking at a minimum of 200 watts continuous power per side. If not, less power may be enough, ideally try some systems out to see what volume you need.

What size speakers should your PA cabinets have?

If you are just putting vocals and other sources that don't have heavy low frequency content i.e. acousic guitars & saxophones, then cabinets with 12" low-mid drivers and either a piezo horn or high-frequency (HF) compression driver would be most suitable. If you want to hear this clearly above a full band with drums then you'll want speakers starting at 200-300 watts power rating. If you want to put a bit of bass drum in the mix then cabinets with 15" low-mid drivers and at least a 1" HF compression driver of at least 300 watts output will allow you to add a bit of thump to the mix. If you want a big low-end thump then you need to add sub-bins to the system. These have specially designed bass drivers, usually 15" or 18" in size with power ratings of 500 watts or more, 700 watts is a common rating. You would use one or a pair these in conjunction with a pair of 12" loaded cabinets. Some sub-bins have built in crossovers to split the freqencies so that just the mids and highs go to the top speakers, or you may need to get a separate crossover unit, usually rack mountable.

Active or passive speaker cabs?

The next thing to decide is whether to use active (have a built in power amp) or passive (no built in power amp) speakers. Powered speakers have the advantage of making the system simpler: 2 cabs, 2 speaker leads and a mixer and you're ready to go (assuming you don't have a monitor), but it does mean heavier cabinets. With 15" cabs this can be 30Kg or more, something to consider if your have to carry them up and down stairs, get them in and out of small cars and have to lift them on to stands a lot. The other thing to bear in mind with the powered option is that if either the amp or the speaker driver goes wrong, you've lost the use of both. Our experience has shown that whilst powered speakers make things a little simpler, keeping speakers, power-amps and mixer as separate items offers the most system flexibilty, keeps the weight of each component down and minimises the impact of one piece of equipment malfunctioning.
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