Like any sound reinforcement system, a PA system — or Public Address system — has three components:
– A pickup device (such as a microphone) to convert sound waves into an electronic signal
– An amplifier to boost the weak signal produced by the pickup to a level that can power a speaker
– A loudspeaker to convert the electrical impulse from the amplifier back into sound waves
Manufacturers create PA systems by putting together components of comparable quality and price in one convenient configuration.
While this is useful and ensures the proper matching of components (amplifiers to speakers for example), such PA system packages can, at best, approximate user needs rather than fit exact specifications.
That said, there are so many different types of PA systems that most people can, with a little care, select a PA which is a pretty good fit for their needs.
The following 6 principles — what we at AudioLinks call the 6 “P’s” of PA selection — can take the guesswork out of getting the right PA system for your sound reinforcement needs.
1. Power requirements increase for larger audiences or noisy environments
Power is the chief consideration when choosing a PA system.
As the size of your event and audience increases, so do your power requirements. It is therefore useful to be able to shop for PA by their wattage and the power of their amplifier. AudioLinks allows you to sort through PA systems based on their wattage.
In addition to audience size, also consider the physical environment that your PA must serve.
If you’re using the PA system for sound reinforcement at outdoor events, for example, sound reflections (and therefore the perceived volume of the PA system) decrease — and the amount of wattage you need increases.
Similarly, an auditorium with high ceilings requires far more amplification than a small conference room.
When shopping for a PA system, overestimate your wattage needs. A PA system that’s slightly larger than what you need is more efficient (and sounds better) than a small system working at close to capacity.
2. The Purpose of your PA system drives its requirements
If you intend to amplify music, as well as speech, your PA system requires some additional capabilities.
Music amplification requires a system that covers a wider range of audio frequencies than speech. Make sure your PA system is able to reproduce sound in the high and low ranges as well as the middle range of the audio spectrum.
Music reproduction requires more wattage. Since music contains a wider frequency spectrum than speech, power needs for music can more than double.
Music sounds best in stereo. While a mono system may sound great in the relatively narrow range of speech, the complexity of music is better served by a natural sounding stereo.
More speakers will make your music sound better. Most PA systems designed for music feature individually tuned single speakers put together in a package to reproduce a full frequency range. A good loudspeaker features a woofer for low frequencies, a tweeter for high frequencies and a horn for mid-range frequencies.
While these considerations address the basic needs of prerecorded music (or one or two musicians), keep in mind that sound systems for musical productions can become quite large and complex and therefore quite costly. Manufacturers such as Fender currently offer portable stereo PA systems.
3. Prestige events need a sound system that is either unobtrusive (built-in) or visually pleasing
A prestigious event demands a different approach to a PA system.
For example, at a formal ceremony a PA system should look the part: a freestanding podium housing can add dignity to such occasions. Just add a built-in PA system to the housing and you have a complete system that both amplifies the speaker’s voice and graces the occasion.
Freestanding podiums with PA systems boast a wide range of styles to fit a variety of events.
Acrylic podiums, for example, can lend a high-tech sheen to conferences or other business events, while a speech by a government official or religious leader can be well-served by a traditional hardwood podium.
For lecturers using written notes, a laptop, a media player, or a projector, many podiums feature large reading tables and even fold-out shelves for storage.
Other podium accessories such as brass reading lamps serve to enhance the prestige of your presentations even as they add practical features for speakers.
4. The Portability of a PA system is a cost-saving (and back-saving) feature
When a PA system will be used in multiple venues, portability is a money-saving feature.
Handles, wheels and compact cases enhance PA system portability and become increasingly important in more powerful (heavier) PA systems.
Similarly, as the number of features in a PA system increases to accommodate more esoteric uses, portability suffers. Consider how often (and how far) you will move your PA before opting to buy a heavier option-laden system.
In many cases where a PA system must be portable, the presenters need to be mobile as well. In these situations, consider a PA system that supports a wireless microphone solution. If a speaker needs to also use his/her hands consider a wireless, hands-free microphone such as a lavaliere mic or a headband mic.
Also, if you will use your portable PA system outside or in places without AC power be sure to get a battery-powered PA system. You might even want to get a battery-powered PA system with a rechargeable battery. Battery life of sound reinforcement systems can vary from 8 to 200 hours, so carefully consider the length of your event when estimating your battery needs.
5. Consider the Potential for expanding your PA System in the future
Unless you’re looking for a PA system for a specific ongoing purpose, consider the purchase of a package that can grow with your needs.
An expandable PA that eliminates the need to buy a second or third system later on is often your most budget-friendly choice.
This is a good idea not only for sound production companies, but also for schools and houses of worship, which often need a sound reinforcement system that will fit a variety of applications.
There are many ways your PA system can be expanded. Some of these include adding microphones, companion speakers, speaker stands and additional cables. In essence, you want a PA system with multiple input and out jacks.
For example, an expandable system should have extra outputs for either active or passive speakers. You will also need a line output to attach portable digital recorders or other recording devices. Then too, for multimedia and other presentations involving music, it’s important to have a line input to plug in your iPod or other media player.
In general, a prepackaged system should include the essentials like cables, speaker stands and mic stands, but stock up on extras if you will be adding microphones or speakers to your PA system later.
Price moves in sync with the features and the power of your system.
Price also increases with enhanced sound quality and the advanced engineering of components to reduce weight without sacrificing fidelity.
AudioLinks technicians have identified higher end systems with top of the line components to help you recognize systems which give you a good return for your money.
It’s important to closely evaluate your exact needs before purchasing a feature you’re not likely to use. If you’re not sure, pick a system to which you can add features later if you find you can’t live without them.
Audiolinks Offers PA System Solutions
There are many PA systems available to the audio consumer. Manufacturers carefully assemble these systems to insure compatibility, comparable quality and utility for the final user.
Purchasing a prepackaged PA system is a great way to simplify the process of getting the ideal sound system for your event. If you’re ready to purchase a prepackaged system, check out AudioLinks’ great selection of PA systems to fit your needs and budget.