First things first – what exactly is a portable PA (public address) system, let alone a midsize PA system?
Sound systems encompass everything from a humble megaphone to the acres of Marshall stacks used at the biggest rock concerts. What all these sound systems have in common is that they use a microphone, amplifier and speaker to magnify sound to cover a greater distance and reach more people.
Midsize PA systems, as opposed to other portable PA systems, are designed for audiences of 75-350 people and has at least enough power to cover an indoor audience of that size — usually 50-150 watts of power.
The other defining characteristic of a midsize PA system is flexibility. In general, this distinguishes them from larger and smaller systems. Midsize portable PA systems range from bare-bones 50-watt monaural sound systems to sophisticated 150-watt rigs with built-in mixers and speakers that would do a rock band proud. They are used for both speech and music applications and can be found in small auditoriums, clubs, meeting halls or even outdoor events.
Depending on your needs, there’s a midsize portable PA system out there that’s right for you!
Here are 8 features to consider so you’ll get the ideal PA system for your venue (and budget):
There’s a big difference between 50 watts of power and 150 watts, so within the midsize range you should figure out how much power you’ll need.
There are two important factors to remember here – one is the rule-of-thumb which suggests one watt per person. That’s a pretty conservative estimate, but it ties in with the other rule – you can never have too much power. If you have limited wattage you’ll need to crank up the volume to reach the rear of your venue. This risks sound distortion, so when you’re estimating how much power you need, go with your higher guess.
Note: the advertised wattage of a PA system is often given as a measure of RMS (root mean square), meaning the average wattage delivered by the PA during use. The maximum wattage your PA can handle in short bursts without shorting out, or other damage occurring, can vary.
Just as “midsize PA” encompasses many different types of PA systems, “portable midsize PA” can also mean many different things.
Is it light enough to be carried by hand? Does it have rolling casters? Does it have a retractable handle? Think about how you’re planning to transport your PA, as well as how far and how often, before you buy so you’ll know how portable your PA needs to be.
Pound for pound the lighter, more portable PA systems cost more — so if you’re not going to move your system a lot, don’t pay for the most portable high-end system.
3. Indoor/Outdoor Use
If you’re going to use your PA system outdoors, you’ll need more power and more flexibility than for indoor use – not to mention the ability to run on batteries.
For outdoor use, you should go with higher wattage and, ideally, the ability to hook up a companion speaker or speakers to increase your PA’s range.
If you’ll be using it exclusively indoors, before you buy, it’s best to know the size room or rooms where you’ll be using your PA system, and how many people those rooms can hold.
In general, odd indoor configurations and outdoor venues require more power and/or companion speakers.
4. Wired vs. Wireless
Most PA systems come with a wired microphone and inputs to connect other mics and instruments using cables. Wired mics virtually guarantee clear, interference-free sound, but they also leave you tethered to the amp.
If you want the freedom to move around, you’ll need to go for a system that’s wireless-compatible. The drawback to wireless is that if multiple PAs are used too close together (in classrooms or offices, for instance), cross-channel interference can result.
Consider where you’re using your PA and for what purposes before opting for a wired or wireless system.
If you’re using a PA exclusively for speech – lectures in a large hall, council meetings, that sort of thing – you can opt for a system that’s much less complicated, and usually cheaper as a result.
If you’re looking for a PA for music or multimedia applications, you’ll be better off with more bells and whistles, such as stereo sound, a built-in mixer, multiple inputs, digital capability or effects like reverb.
More features means more money, but your bandmates and your audience will thank you!
6. Stereo vs. Mono
Again, this depends on what you’re using your PA for. If it’s primarily for speech, or if you’re a musician who only needs to mic your voice and guitar, you may be better off with a lighter (and usually cheaper) PA which uses a single speaker.
If you’re using it for more sophisticated musical or multimedia applications, it’s probably best to go for a system with stereo speakers. Better still is a stereo system with a built-in mixer, so you can get better sound while using multiple microphones, media players and/or instruments.
Regardless of how you plan to use your PA system, you’ll want to have the ability to upgrade and add on extras depending on your needs.
Midsize PA systems are usually able to accommodate component upgrades either as off-the-shelf built-in systems or add-ons. Such PA upgrades include: multi-media and music players; companion PA speakers and PA speaker stands; multiple mics, especially wireless mics and microphone stands; true AC/DC power and rechargeable battery power.
A PA system is only as good as its weakest component. Your amp and speakers may be top-of-the-line, but they’re not going to sound good if you use a lousy, bargain-basement microphone.
If you’re planning to buy your PA system as an all-inclusive package, take the time to look into each component to see how it rates. You may decide it’s advantageous to build your own system piece by piece instead.
Call us if you want to discuss some do-it-yourself options.
Now that we’ve addressed what to look for in your midsize PA system, take a look at our vast selection of portable PA systems!