Like buying any piece of technical audio or lighting equipment, selecting a PA system can seem like a daunting task.
More than anything, the sheer variety of reasons for which someone may call on a PA system – from school halls to concert venues, and everything in-between – often means that people don’t know what is best suited to their needs.
The best place to start is to think about a PA system as three simple parts:
• A pickup device (e.g. a microphone) that converts sound waves into an electronic signal
• An amplifier to boost that electronic signal to a level at which it can power a speaker
• Speakers which will convert the electronic signal back into sound waves.
PA systems are best created by defining their primary use and carefully selecting and matching these three parts to meet these requirements. Components are often paired into convenient packages, but because PA systems are required for such a variety of reasons it is often better to know a bit about your requirements before picking a system.
Some retailers offer design consultation services to help you make your selection.
Here Chris Tinning, Operations Director of pro audio and lighting retailer www.soundsavers.com offers his top five tips on picking a system:
1. You need more power for a larger audience or venue
Power is one of the most important considerations when picking a PA system. The power of your system should increase in proportion to the size of your venue and audience.
The power of a PA system can be measured by the total watts produced by the amplifier and speakers.
If you are using the system for an outdoor event it should be much louder than an equivalent PA for an indoor event. This is because there are fewer sound reflections outdoors and therefore the volume will seem to decrease for listeners. A similar effect will occur in any venue that has a tall ceiling.
Generally speaking, buy a PA that is slightly more powerful than required. It will sound better and be more efficient than a smaller system that is working harder to produce the same volume.
2. Music or speech?
If you want to play music through your PA system it requires a different set of attributes to one which is simply used for speech.
• Music requires more power. Music contains a wider frequency spectrum than speech and so the power, or wattage of your system, may need to more than double.
• Music requires a system that covers a wider range of audio frequencies than speech. Make sure the system you pick is able to reproduce sound in the high, low and middle ranges of the sound spectrum.
• Different music requires different sizes of speaker. As a general rule: the bigger the speaker, the wider the range of frequencies it will competently reproduce. So large bass bins such as 18" subs are good for dance music, whereas compact 10" enclosures may be ideal for acoustic music, and simple horns are often a great option for basic speech reinforcement.
• Music sounds better with more speakers. Most PA systems for music include individually tuned single speakers suited to different parts of the audio spectrum.
• Music is better in stereo. While a mono system may be okay for speech, music sounds better in stereo.
3. Think portable
If you plan to use your system across several different venues then portability is an important feature.
Handles, wheels and cases become increasingly important design elements of more powerful and often heavier PA systems.
Also, if you need a portable system that you want to move several times throughout a day, or use outside, then consider a battery-powered option. As always with battery powered electronics consider how long you will need the system to run continuously and whether its battery capacity meets your needs.
If a portable PA system is required it often means the presenter will need to be mobile as well. In this case the system may need to support a wireless microphone or headset, something which should be considered when selecting your PA.
5. Expanding your system
If your PA system is going to be used in the same way on an on-going basis then it is unlikely you will ever have to consider expanding or changing its components.
If however you think your needs may evolve with time then you may want to consider buying a package that can be altered or grown.
Buying a system now that can be altered in the future will save you money buying a second or third PA system if your selection doesn’t meet all your needs.
This is also an important consideration for those organisations or individuals who may need a scalable PA system, such as places of worship and schools.
PA systems can be expanded in a variety of ways. These include adding microphones, companion speakers, speaker stands, and additional cables. However, to make this possible the system will need multiple input and output jacks.
Most systems will include essentials such as speaker stands and cables, but if you are planning on utilising additional speakers or inputs (such as a CD/MP3 player or computer) remember to have the relevant accessories available.
Last, but by no means least is price.
As you would expect, the more money you have available the more features and power you can buy. Improved sound quality and lighter, better engineered equipment is also one of the benefits of a bigger budget.
That said you don’t have to spend a fortune to get the right system; it is incredible what you can now buy for the price.
Overall the most important thing to consider is what features you will need. There is no point in paying for additional features that you are unlikely to use now, but at the same time try to pick a system to which you can add to in the future.
Lancaster-based Soundsavers was founded in 2003 and has developed a reputation for supplying high-quality, low-cost professional audio and lighting equipment.
The company offers over 4000 products that include professional PA systems, audio equipment, lighting and SFX, DJ and karaoke equipment and musical instruments.
The company offers a free online design and consultation service, headed up by sound equipment expert Professor PA and lighting guru Dr Luminaire. They offer detailed designs, recommendations and quotations for any scale of project. Soundsavers’ Lancaster-based showroom also boasts a state-of-the-art demo room where customers can test drive systems before buying.
Soundsavers provides 7-day technical support, next day delivery on most items, a 14-day money back guarantee and will price-match any product within its catalogue.
98 St. Leonardsgate
Tips for choosing the right PA system from www.soundsavers.com
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