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PA Systems & Digital Recorders for Live Music

Portable PA System by Samson & Digital Recorder by Zoom or Tascam

AnSamson XPL300 and XPL200 Portable PA Loudspeaker Packagedy R. asks:

I'm a musician and would like some info on PA Systems and compatible digital recorders for live shows.

I play guitar and sing, and I often play with another musician who does the same. I figure we need a minimum of 4 channels - one for each guitar and each mic.

As far as the PA is concerned, portability is a huge plus for me, but not at the expense of solid sound quality. Also I'm moving to a bigger venue so the system has to be powerful enough for an audience of 100-200 people and able to work for some small outdoor shows as well.

AudioMan Suggests a musician friendly PA System and Digital Recorder:

Andy, it’s great that you’re planning to move to bigger venues with your music. Before long, I hope you’re asking me about good PA systems for Madison Square Garden! But we’ll take your budding career one step at a time….

Let’s start with a PA system. I would recommend a mid-sized PA with powered speakers, which have an amplifier built in. It means one less component to drag around to gigs, and it makes it easier to set up as well. You’ll also need four channels and a mixer, so you can get both vocal mics and both guitars sounding perfect. And I’m not sure what kind of outdoor venues you’re going to be playing, but being able to run your amp on battery power is an option that comes in very handy.

You may be asking yourself at this point, does AudioMan have a PA for me with all these features, that’s affordable to boot? Of course I do! Andy, I’d like you to meet the Samson XPL300 and XPL200 portable PA loudspeaker package which is available with an optional rechargeable battery.

This Samson system is really two separate systems in one: use the XPL300 by itself for solo gigs in smaller rooms; or pair it with the XPL200 when you need more power for larger rooms and outdoor venues.

The XPL300 has a built-in 4 channel powered mixer, as well as 24-bit digital effects processing, so you can add just the right amount of echo or reverb as you see fit. Its class D power amplifier has the advantage of drawing very little current, which means it won’t overheat and uses very little power – ideal for times when you want to use the optional rechargeable battery. As for the sound, let’s just say it’s superb, with tight bass response as well as a powerful high end.

When combined with the XPL200, this PA will give you 400 Watts of big stereo sound, more than enough for the venues you plan to play. RCA inputs let you connect a CD player or other external audio source, and it’s even got a built-in iPod dock if you want to play music before or after you take the stage, or if you want to play along with pre-recorded tracks. Because the amp isn’t a separate component, the PA system is surprisingly compact, lightweight, and easy to transport. Setup and take-down are a breeze, too.

As for digital recorders, you’ve got a lot of choices. Digital recording devices are getting smaller and more sophisticated, seemingly by the day. But I would caution against simply going for the fanciest one out there. If you’re going to use it for recording live shows, you should get a digital recorder that not only meets your needs, but also is simple to use.

Zoom H4 portable digital recorderWith that in mind, I’d recommend the Zoom H4 portable digital recorder. The H4 is mind-blowing – it easily fits in a jacket pocket, but it’s versatile enough to record both live shows and multitrack demos in stunning sound quality. It’s got two built-in studio-quality condenser mics for true stereo recording, as well as two combination XLR-1/4-inch input jacks with phantom power for those times when you want to create multitrack recordings or record your shows direct from the PA system. You can record and mix on four separate audio tracks in CD quality sound to make pro-audio recordings that will drive your fans wild!

The H4 can record in the MP3 format up to 320 kbps, or you can record in lossless, CD-quality WAV sound. It uses SD cards; a 512MB card is included but it can accommodate cards up to 16GB, which gives you a full 24 hours of storage space for WAV files or literally hundreds of hours in MP3 quality. You can even use the H4 as a USB interface so you can record tracks directly to your computer. For the size and the price, it doesn’t get much better than this.

Tascam DP02CF 8 Track Digital PortastudioIf you think you want to get fancier, the next step up in the digital recorder game is the Tascam DP02CF 8 Track Digital Portastudio. It’s like a portable, lightweight version of a real desktop studio, with dedicated controls on each tracks for fading, EQ and more. It’s easy to plug both into a PA system for “soundboard” recording, and it connects to a computer for downloading and CD burning just as easily. It records in uncompressed 44.1k/16-bit CD quality sound to a 1GB flashcard for several hours of storage space. And if you need more storage, it’s also available with a 40GB internal hard drive as well as an internal CD burner to create master discs on the go.

With equipment this killer, all you need to do is get the fans to show up! Maybe you’ll put your old pal AudioMan on the guest list for all the advice? Speaking of which, if you’re still unsure of what to get, or just want to see some more options, check out our selection of recorders and mid-size PA systems.