How To Choose a Powered Megaphone or Bullhorn
What Are They?
Megaphones, also known as bullhorns, are instantly recognizable because of their distinctive conical or bell shape.
For literally thousands of years sound, and particularly the human voice, has been projected by megaphones. This is due to the natural acoustic properties of a parabaloid. The shape concentrates and focuses sound waves to make them travel further than they normally would but only in a relatively narrow arc.
The same acoustic principle (in reverse) applies to the ear trumpet, which was perfected in the 18th and 19th centuries to gather sound for the hearing impaired.
What is relatively new is the powered megaphone or bullhorn.
While the shape has largely remained the same, today’s powered megaphones use a microphone, amplifier and loudspeaker to help get your message through to large crowds.
By the way, for those who wonder if there is a difference between megaphones and bullhorns, in modern parlance these terms are virtually indistinguishable. That’s why, for the remainder of this post, we’ll just use the term megaphone to refer to both.
In the past, megaphones were associated with non-powered devices and bullhorns with powered megaphones. For example, the term megaphone is still used today to describe the paper and plastic cones that cheer leaders use.
Why Do People Use Them?
Megaphones are an effective means to amplify the human voice. They are highly portable and what they lack in fidelity is more than made up by their ease of use.
Megaphones are frequently used to control or direct large groups, both indoors and outdoors. For these purposes, their portability, compact size and low weight are ideal.
Powered megaphones are used everywhere from sporting events to construction sites. Their design, and the rugged plastics and metals which are used in their construction, make most megaphones extremely durable, which is why they’re also often used by police and fire departments.
And let’s not forget price! Compared to PA systems of similar wattage, megaphones are almost always more affordable because they are not made to replicate and amplify the high and low end frequencies.
What Options Exist?
Here are nine important things to consider when shopping for a megaphone:
1. Wattage: Wattage determines how powerful your megaphone is going to be.
As a rule of thumb the more watts you have, the more power you’ll have at your disposal. Most powered megaphones run from 5 watts up to 50 watts. This may not sound like much compared to PA systems which often deliver hundreds of watts of power, but, because of their design, even megaphones with low wattage can be heard hundreds of feet away.
2. Shape: All megaphones and bullhorns have a similar shape but the actual contours vary.
Megaphones with narrower horns compensate for lower wattage by concentrating sound waves more sharply to increase effective range. Megaphones with wider, bell-shaped horns let the sound travel over a wider, less narrowly focused area.The shape of the bell effects the focal point of different wavelengths of sound and that in turn effects the megaphone’s effective range. Shape plus wattage will give you a good idea of your megaphone’s range.
3. Alarms: For situations when you need to get the crowd’s attention quickly, an alarm is not only more noticeable than your voice alone, but also louder with a greater effective range.
Different megaphones have different alarm sounds — when we talk about megaphones coming with bells and whistles, we mean it literally! Many megaphones have sirens, and high pitched whistle alarms are also very popular.
4. Recording Devices: A different but related feature are built-in recorders.
Some megaphones come with recorders that let you record and loop a short message to play back and repeat. When giving the same instruction over and over this automated feature can be a great help to the busy official.
4. Battery Operation: Because they’re designed for outdoor use and maximum portability, virtually every megaphone or bullhorn runs on batteries.
But how many batteries does the megaphone use? Does it use alkaline, rechargeable or both? And most importantly, how long before the batteries run out of power?
A megaphone that seems like a bargain may cost you in the long run if it uses large, expensive batteries and goes through them quickly. Conversely, a more expensive megaphone may turn out to be a good deal if it sips from your batteries’ power instead of gulping. Battery life can depend on how powerful your megaphone is, so be sure to take that into account as well.
5. Weight and Size: Megaphones and bullhorns are designed for portability, which means they’re also designed to weigh as little as possible and be easy to carry.
Most megaphones weigh less than 10 pounds. Weight and power are not necessarily related — lightweight megaphones can also be quite powerful. Check a megaphone’s weight to make sure you’ll be comfortable carrying it wherever you need it.
6. Shoulder Straps: Anything that helps portability can be a plus when you are using these eminently portable devices.
Most megaphones and bullhorns come with wrist straps, which help prevent your megaphone from being knocked out of your hand. Many megaphones also come with shoulder straps, which makes transporting them a lot easier.
A few sound devices also mimic the portability of megaphones without the characteristic bell shaped horn. Some even attach to the belt of the user. These are more in nature of small PA systems and not, strictly speaking, megaphones.
7. Detachable microphones: Megaphones and bullhorns may separate the microphone from the horn for greater flexibility of use.
Detachable microphones, usually fixed to the horn by a coiled cord, allow you to amplify your voice without having to hold the megaphone in front of your face. It’s always preferable to be able to see more of what’s going on, but it’s especially important in crowd control situations. Detachable mics also let you look in one direction and broadcast your voice in another direction.
These detachable mics can be mounted on the user’s shoulder or held in the hand.
8. Appearance: Bright colors and even clear megaphones exist.
Megaphones or bullhorns with a distinctive look or bright colors can be helpful in getting the crowd’s attention before you’ve even turned them on. Also, some horns are made of clear plastic so the user can look at the crowd in front of them.
9. Price: The more you pay for a megaphone or bullhorn, the more you should get in the way of wattage and the extra features mentioned above. However, don’t simply assume that more expensive is better, or that cheaper is worse.
Determine your megaphone needs before you buy, and then shop based on those needs.
If you are still not sure, for even more megaphone-related information, give us a call at 1-800-263-0112