How to Choose the Right PA System

The PA system transfers your sound to the audience and is at the heart of every live performance. But how do you choose the right one? How do you know how much power you need? What is a mixer? And what are the different types of system??

Choosing the right PA system can be a minefield. People often end up paying above the odds for a system they don't need, or equipment they don't want.

So we’ve put together some information to help you understand the basics about how to choose the right PA system for your needs.

What Are The Different Types of PA System?

Pre-packaged systems include all the equipment you need to start performing, just plug in the different elements and you have a fully capable system ready in a matter of minutes.

Modular PA systems are more suited towards solo acts or duos in venues where there is no built-in PA. Modular systems typically contain a power amp, mixer and a speaker array. They are usually designed in a single column structure that is easy to break down for transportation.

Compact systems are very convenient and generally contain all of the equipment you need in one speaker-sized space. Just be aware that they’re designed for smaller venues where a lot of volume is not required.

What Are PA Power Amplifiers?

The power amp boosts the low-level signals coming from the mixer and sends them through the speakers. Knowing how much power you’ll need is one of the most important considerations when deciding on your power amp system.

Most folk music requires around 60 watts, a pop/soft-rock group up to 750 watts and rock band’s a minimum of 1,500. As a general rule, you should aim for an amp with twice the wattage of your speaker’s power handling.

What Is A Live Sound Mixer?

Mixers balance and process the signals coming from the mic’s and instruments ready to be amplified through the speakers and monitors. They vary in size from 4 channels upwards and come in three varieties based on their internal structure.

Analogue mixers adjust the volume and tone of audio input signals, with most of the control knobs and faders arranged on the top panel. With fewer buttons and functions than their digital cousins, they are suited to non-technical persons.

Digital mixers adjust the volume and tone of audio signals via digital processing technology. This enables a wide range of tone control that would be impossible with an analogue mixer.

Digital mixers require more experience to set up compared with an analogue mixer but offer much greater functionality.

Powered Mixers are analogue mixers with built-in power amplifiers, allowing the mixer to be directly connected to the speakers, making them simple and convenient to operate.

What Speakers Should I Choose?

It may sound obvious, but speakers are critical for the quality of your sound and often overlooked. Be sure that you’re using the right size speakers for the venue and type of music you’re playing.

As a rough guide, smaller gigs and conferences will require between 350 - 500 watts, while bands and mobile DJ’s will require up to 1,000.

As is often the case with speakers you need to consider whether portability or performance is the key requirement for your needs.

What's The Best Microphone?

Microphones range in price from a few quid to hundreds. If you’re not used to using a microphone try a few out before deciding which one feels most comfortable to you.

There are two main types of mic - dynamic and condenser.

Dynamic microphones are generally more suited to on-stage use as they are more durable and reliable, such as the classic Shure SM58.

Condenser microphones are generally used for recording and are designed to capture more of the subtleties and textures within the music. In the right environment, they can be perfect for live sound.

Are Cables Important?

Although as often overlooked element of any PA setup, cables are essential to ensure that your sound is transmitted cleanly to the speaker.

Generally, a PA system will require balanced XLR microphone cables and ¼” stereo cables for live sound as well as unbalanced ¼” connectors for instrument cables.

With speaker cables, the larger the size of the conductor the better the ability to carry the higher current to the speakers.

To see examples of complete PA systems suitable for smaller events of up to 300 people please look at our range of pa systems for hire.