When it comes to playing live, technique and your instrument or voice make up just part of your sound. The microphone greatly affects its quality, but the PA system determines if others can actually hear you - and even if they want to listen in the first place.
What is a PA System?
"PA" means public address and references the device's purpose of projecting your sound to have others hear you, whether you're talking, singing or playing an instrument. You'll need this function anywhere and everywhere you play, from large stadiums and concert halls to coffeehouses. In fact, as a professional, independent musician, you may even need to buy the gear yourself, as venues don't always offer equipment.
The sound system available generally consists of microphones, a mixer or two for altering sound quality, amplifiers and speakers. For the audience, the arrangement includes a front-of-house speaker to project the sound, and for the performer, a monitor directs your sound toward the stage.
PA systems come in multiple sizes: a single or mini speaker that functions both as a front-of-house speaker and as a monitor. Medium-sized PA systems involve separate, usually stand-mounted speakers, and a separate set of monitors. Full- or large-scale PA systems take this to the next level with a multi-speaker setup and several monitors, each with a different purpose.
Generally, the loudness and quality of a PA system are measured in watts or power. Yet, wattage doesn't always correlate with volume and sound clarity. Anyone shopping around, in turn, needs to pay attention to the Sound Pressure Level (SPL) and the coverage angle. In short, a PA system with lower wattage but a higher SPL may deliver the sound you want, while coverage angle should be tailored to your specific audience.
Types of PA Systems
Considering all the variables we've listed above, PA systems include multiple types:
- Powered or Active PA Systems: Whichever name you want to use, these PA systems include an integrated power amplifier and require a battery or similar power source to operate. Further included in the setup are a crossover and speaker, both built into the cabinet. In general, an active PA system reduces the amount of gear you'll need to bring along to and set up at a gig, but they're not ideal for projecting in a large venue like a concert hall or auditorium. Rather, you'll want to consider this PA system for performing in cafes and smaller venues or for DJing.
- Passive PA Systems: Passive PA systems separate the amplifier and crossover from the speaker. The arrangement allows your setup to handle more power and reduces potential overheating and maintenance. As a note, wattage listed on a passive PA system indicates how much power the equipment can handle, rather than the amount of loudness it can deliver.
- All-in-One or Portable PA System: Geared more toward solo performers, all-on-one systems incorporate a mixer, signal processing, speakers and effects into a single cabinet. These PA systems tend to be ideal for solo performers strictly playing in small venues who need a portable system that can fit in their car to take to a gig.
Find PA Systems at Alamo Music Center
Whatever your performance needs, Alamo Music Center has a PA sound system suiting your setup, venue and audience. Browse today and get no-interest, 48-month financing, plus an extended warranty, on your purchase.