Before we look at the pros and cons of each option, we think it’ll be useful for you to understand exactly what a PA system is and what it can do. Even if you’re already familiar with PA systems, in this next section you may learn some extra information that’ll help you to understand their full capabilities. After all, we want you to be as clued up as possible!
What is a PA system?
A PA system is an essential bit of kit for filling a room or a venue with live sound. It is a set of high-wattage speakers that amplifies the sound of a voice or an entire ensemble. Standing for ‘public address’, they project clear audio at high levels to audiences in medium and large spaces. From pubs all the way up to stadiums, PA systems are just about everywhere!
PA systems are available from a multitude of brands and come in all shapes and sizes. From portable PA systems to all-encompassing multi-speaker and subwoofer PA system packages, there’s a great amount of choice. Most conventional setups feature two speakers, to form a ‘stereo field’. This creates an immersive sound, giving you the ability to pan instruments left, right or centre.
A live mixer is used to control the panning positions, volumes and EQ settings of instruments or sound sources that are run through a PA system. Featuring anywhere between 4 – 32 channels, live mixers will boast mic and ¼” jack inputs for microphones or line-level instruments. Whether you’re looking to mic up a drum kit or plug in an electro-acoustic guitar, a live mixer enables you to run almost anything through a set of PA speakers. It is the heart of a PA system!
Most modern systems will feature active PA speakers. However, if you come across a system with passive PA speakers, then it will require a separate power amplifier in order to work. Don’t be too concerned about this though, as most contemporary PA system speakers are active. This means that they have their own built-in amplifiers, and don’t need a separate PA system amplifier.
Why Do I Need a PA System?
Now that you know what a public address system is, it may be clearer to understand why you might need one. However, in this segment we’re going to explain the scenarios where a PA system is necessary. Whether you’re in a band or you’re a business owner, they have many useful applications.
Although they’re used for a lot of things, PA systems are most synonymous with live musical performances. Artists have relied on PA systems for decades, in order to project the sound of their instruments at gigs. However, not all venues have their own house PAs. For example, most pubs are unlikely to have systems, and some rehearsal spaces don’t either. Therefore, if you’re in a small band and you want to become self-sufficient, it’s important to own or hire a PA system that can be used almost anywhere!
Outside of a band context, event organisers also depend heavily on PA systems. For example, a wedding, party or function will at some point feature a speech or need music. With well over 100 guests likely, that sound will need to be audible to everybody. And much like the band scenario, there’s no guarantee that your venue will have its own PA system. Whether your event is hosted at a hotel or a hall, hiring or owning a PA system will enable you to amplify any sound required to make it a success.
It’s now quite evident that PA systems are vital for all kinds of events. However, in which of those scenarios is it best to invest in your own system, or hire one?
Why Should I Buy a PA System?
Complete PA systems are expensive, and we understand that they’re a large investment for anybody. If you’re reluctant to purchase one, or you’re simply on the fence, there are a few reasons as to why buying your own PA system could save you money and stress in the long run.
The main thing to consider is how often you would use a PA system. The market is quite diverse and you can spend several thousands of pounds on an exemplary setup. However, the average price of a good PA system is probably around £1,200.
Looking on multiple PA hire sites, for a system that is powerful enough to provide audio for 100 people, you’re looking at roughly £100 a day. From that, the cost of hiring a PA system 12 times would cost about the same as purchasing one outright. That makes you think, doesn’t it?
PA Systems for Bands
Let’s return to the band scenario. If you’re in a fairly popular group with a loyal and large following, then investing in a PA system may not be necessary. You’ll probably get booked for large venues that already have sophisticated house PA systems anyway!
However, if you’re in a smaller covers band for example, you might be more used to playing at either pubs or clubs. While some may have their own PA rigs, you can’t always predict whether they’ll be good or not. You could get lucky with some places that have a new and modern system, or be faced with others that own old and tired PAs that have seen far better days.
Therefore, owning a system that you’re familiar with can be fundamental if you’re in a band. This is because you’ll know what to expect every time you plug into it. Although you’ll have to EQ things differently for every space that you play in, there will be a better level of consistency.
If you rehearse using the same PA system too, your live performances will probably improve as well. This is because, again, you’ll be more familiar with your sound. And after a number of gigs, the PA system would have paid for itself!
PA Systems for Singers & Songwriters
Like we mentioned in the previous section, some places that you might perform at will not have a PA system. However, if you’re a singer-songwriter prepared to play at venues that you know have their own PA systems, it would be tempting to just turn up with your acoustic guitar as it’s less to transport.
But for the same reason as a band, trusting a venue’s PA could be problematic. You could sound amazing one night through a great PA system, and sound terrible at the next gig because of a bad setup. So if you’re really particular about your sound, investing in a portable PA system would be wise.
A portable PA system is a scaled-down PA with smaller 8” or 10” speakers. These can project enough volume for a small or medium-sized space. However, with a less cumbersome design, you can quite easily get a more compact system in your car.
If you want a super-small portable PA system that still delivers a big sound, the Bose S1 is a great option. As a single battery-powered speaker with a built-in 3-channel mixer and Bluetooth connectivity, this is the perfect companion for any busking musician! Check out this video from Andertons TV, featuring Danish Pete and Meg: