7 things to consider when deciding if a “mini” PA system will suit your needs.
The least expensive of the PA systems – PA systems with 30 Watts of power or less – provide a wide range of highly functional solutions to the problems of sound reinforcement.
Because they are relatively easy to manufacture, this segment of the market is not only highly competitive, but also quite diverse.
For example equipment ranging from a 2 Watt waistband amplifier with a headband microphone to a 30 Watt sound system featuring speaker stands and a handheld mic are considered Mini PA systems.
Like all PA systems, the Mini PA includes an amplifier, a speaker and a microphone. Mini PA systems are highly portable and though less powerful than full size PA systems also come in feature rich models.
The following discussion should help you decide if a Mini PA system is the right choice for you.
1. How portable do you need your PA system to be?
Mini PA systems are highly portable almost by definition. But even so, some PA systems are more portable than others!
A Mini PA can weigh as little as a few ounces (the 2 Watt Califone VoiceSaver PA weighs only 8 ounces). A few of the smaller mini PA systems can be clipped to a belt for maximum convenience (see the Sidekick for an example). Other mini PA systems can be carried in your hand or on a shoulder strap.
Mini PA systems are ideal for use in a small group where the presenter needs to take the PA with him or her (e.g. a tour guide moving through exhibits) or is moving between different locations in a larger venue (e.g. small classrooms in a school).
The trick is to buy a PA system that has best trade-off of weight to power. That leads us to the next consideration.
2. Will you be using your PA System in small inside venues or in larger venues?
How much power you need depends on the size of the venue that needs sound reinforcement.
A mini PA system with 5 Watts of power, for example, may be ideal for a small classroom, but for a meeting room seating 50 to 75 people you will want at least 20 Watts of power.
Where you’re using your PA also makes a difference. If you’re using it outdoors, where sound waves won’t be bouncing off walls and there’s more ambient noise, you’ll need a lot more power to be heard.
When in doubt, it’s better to opt for too much power rather than too little; having to crank your PA volume up to maximum in order to be heard drains battery power more quickly, and increases the likelihood of distortion.
For larger venues (more than 75 persons) you will want to consider PA systems in the small, midsize or large categories.
3. Will you be using the PA System only for speeches or for presentations with music?
The underlying question here is the sound quality you want because music requires greater fidelity than speech. But because sound quality increases with the power of PA system (among other factors) we are back to issues affecting the requirement for power.
If you do not need to reproduce music then for many purposes a mini PA is all you need. But below 20 Watts you simply do not get enough power for decent reproduction of music – even in a relatively small venue of 10-20 people.
A Mini PA system may be sufficient in the 20 Watt to 30 Watt range for reproducing a music CD as background to a speech. But note that sound reinforcement for live music usually starts with much higher Wattage – hundreds of Watts rather than tens of Watts.
4. Will you be using your PA in locations with limited access to electric outlets?
If you’re using a mini PA exclusively indoors – in a classroom for instance – you may be happy with a system that relies exclusively on an AC adapter.
But if you’re going to use the PA outdoors or on-the-go you need to consider getting a PA with on-board power sources including rechargeable batteries.
If you are thinking you will need batteries, you will need to consider how long a charge will last when the PA is in continuous use and/or how long it takes to recharge the battery.
5. What kind of microphone should you use with your mini PA? Wired or wireless, hands-free or handheld?
This question here goes back to portability.
Wireless microphone systems, and hands free microphone systems in particular, allow greater freedom of motion for a speaker.
Given that mini PA systems are best suited to speakers who need portability it makes sense to look for a mini PA system that can accommodate a wireless microphone. What’s more among wireless microphones the speaker may need to keep both hands free for demonstrating a product or a classroom science experiment. In this case you would want not just a wireless microphone but a handsfree microphone like a lavaliere or headband mic rather than a wireless handheld mic.
The smaller mini PA systems solve this problem fairly easily; since they are mounted on a belt they come with handsfree (if not wireless) mics.
The larger PA systems often include or allow optional upgrades to wireless mics of different types.
One other consideration in choosing a microphone system is interference. The high end Williams Sound mini PA system (16 selectable channels) and Listen Technology Soundfield mini PA system (57 selectable channels) use ADA compliant bandwidth for their wireless mics which are restricted by the FCC and less subject to interference.
6. What other features do you need with your PA System?
In general, higher powered mid-range and large PA systems come with numerous built-in features for facilitating added functionality like CD players and expandable optional speakers.
Surprisingly, however, you can get some of these same built-in features with mini PA systems.
For example, some mini PAs have built-in cassette or CD players, while others have extra inputs to accommodate audio from external sources.
If music is an integral part of your presentations, you should consider a mini PA with features such as bass and treble control or a built-in subwoofer. These may add some weight to the speaker, but it’s worth it if sound quality is of importance.
A caveat, however, mini PA systems are best at providing solid performance for small venues when portability is at a premium.
Do not try to use a PA system with at most 30 Watts of power as a substitute for more sophisticated sound reinforcement functions that require more power!
7. What’s your budget for a PA system?
One of the main attractions of a mini PA system is its price.
Mini PA systems are an affordable way to provide sound reinforcement for smaller venues or speakers on-the-go.
Of course, as you add more features, you’re adding to the price tag.
For instance, do you require a wireless microphone or will a cheaper wired microphone suffice?
Do you need rechargeable batteries or will you settle for disposable alkaline batteries?
Do you need a built-in cassette or CD player?
Figure out which options you can’t live without and which ones you can sacrifice for the sake of saving money, to get the system that does what you want at a good price.
Now that you know what to look for in a mini PA system, have a look at our selection of mini PA systems, as well as our PA accessories.
Still have questions? Expert advice from the AudioLink staff is just a phone call (1-212-766-0248) or an email away!