This article was written by Michael Keel, a sound engineer at Spine Studios
Having a decent portable PA system can make or break your performance. That said, it’s important for budding musicians – both vocalists and instrumentalists – to understand that having the right portable PA system not only helps enhance a performance, but also does away with the need to totally rely on the sound equipment at the venue. Familiarity with the equipment is naturally a morale booster, and it enables musicians to handle any equipment failure with relative ease, more so if armed with adequate backup!
Choosing the Right Portable PA System
There are, however, several factors to be considered when wanting to pick the right portable PA system, including but not limited to:
The Venue, Size and Scale of the Event
Musical performances held at outdoor venues such as open air theatres, stadiums, or make-shift stages naturally demand more powerful PA systems. Those used in closed spaces and small functions may do with a different set of specifications. The chosen system must meet venue-specific requirements.
The number of input and output devices/channels supported also matter when choosing the right system. Support for multiple input and output channels will help improve the quality of the sound. Systems compatible with personal music devices and laptops may prove more useful in present times.
Power Requirements and Wireless Operations
Opting for PA systems with battery backup will help tide over sudden power outages, and wireless components can play a notable role in extending the reach of the sound across distances. It is convenient to mount speakers at different spots in the venue to ensure everyone enjoys the music, while vocalists may find it easy to use a wireless microphone. Battery life is an important factor to consider, as it must be able to power an entire performance, if need arises.
Mixers, Microphones, Speakers and Quality of Sound
Wired or wireless, with or without built-in amplifiers, power, active or passive – these are few aspects that go into evaluating the microphones and speakers in the PA system. Band performances may require audio mixers to influence the final output. Subs and woofers may be added to work on the bass effects.
It is but natural for soloists to move on to perform with bands, and vocalists progress from singing at the bars to giving stage performances. It’s important to note that investing in a portable PA system is only justified if the unit covers the entire gamut of usage, or at least a decent part of it. An overloaded compact PA system with multiple features, however, may lead to a single point failure which is quite difficult to overcome.
Here are seven best portable PA systems to choose from, not in any particular order though:
The EUROPORT EPA900 is an 8-channel, 900-watt, high-fidelity sound system, with a couple of 450-watt speakers and built-in amplifiers. Offering excellent features to control the quality of output, the first 4 channels feature an Invisible Mic Preamp (IMP) and a dial pad to adjust frequencies. Phantom Power, 100 preset 24-bit digital FX, stereo 1/8” minijack for MP3 players, couple of ¼” jacks for additional external audio sources, a 2-band equaliser to work on bass and treble, and a sub-out jack for subwoofer connectivity, make this system ideal to handle the performance and recording needs of small bands at large-scale events.
This compact, yet powerful 150-watt, 5-channel PPA system is most suited to small- to mid-sized events. Notable features include 7-band stereo graphic equaliser, a stereo FX-process with 100 special pre-set sound effects, a state-of-the-art FBQ feedback detection system that helps eliminate noise from the powerful BEHRINGER XM1800S MIC, and a set of compact speakers that house woofers and tweeters to enhance sound quality. Connectivity options on board this system are capable of extending support to balanced XLR microphones, electronic keyboards, electric guitars or even CD/MP3 players on specific channels, making EPA150 a good choice for small events.
The PCMX260MB has been designed for use in both the US and Europe and can operate in different power settings (110v-60hz, and 220v-50hz.) Support for RCA inputs, multiple speakers, XLR balanced and ¼” unbalanced MIC input with volume control, 200-watt output, support for MP3 files from SD cards and USB devices, and a neat LCD screen to view files are just a few features that make this system impressive. A wireless microphone, 2-way speakers with bass support, and a rechargeable battery with a 12-hour life make the PCMX260MB suitable for remote outdoor venues as well.
This lightweight, compact unit runs on a rechargeable, replaceable battery unit and is bundled with a 40-watt speaker, built-in wireless VHF MIC, one handheld microphone, a body-pack transmitter, headset MIC, one lavalier MIC, additional input jack for an external MIC, and an audio input jack to play music from personal music devices (iPod, MP3/CD/Cassette players). The couple of 9V batteries can be charged using the 12/DC adapter, which is part of the pack. This definitely is for personal use and for use in small groups, in both closed and open settings.
Passport 150 PRO is a lightweight unit offering impeccable sound quality. This PA system supports 4 input channels – two each for MIC/Line and stereo. The speaker system comprises one 5” woofer and a couple of 2.75” horn tweeters. This PA seems to fit small- to mid-scale events.
This cost-effective unit reportedly meets the PA system expectations at both indoor and outdoor venues. Notable HA60 features include a mixer with 4 channels of MIC/Line input, an additional input for personal music devices and computers, a direct line for recording, special digital effects, and a couple of full-range 10-inch 2-way speakers that sound equally well outdoors. This is a good choice for those looking to DJ, apart from karaoke.