7/04 - Jens Moller -
PA Systems; Evaluating your needs
You suddenly find yourself in the position of buying a PA system. So you go looking
around for ideas. You discover that there are too many choices and its not obvious
what will and what won't work. Time to make a list.
This list is to help you quantify what you need. Many people simply tell me that they need
a PA, and ask what they should buy - looking at this list should give you an idea of how many
possible variations there can be (I've only scratched the surface). Fill it out and take it with
you shopping (even if your shopping is entirely online).
Before you buy anything
What are you needs? Seriously think about them - Use this as a check list. Check off as many
as apply in each section. Add your own points that I may have missed.
- [ ] Talking only (public announcements)
- [ ] Talking and singers only
- [ ] Talking and low level background music only
- [ ] Talking and Karaoke
- [ ] Talking and Live Bands
[ ] Will only support vocals thru PA (least cost)
[ ] Will allow some Bass instruments in PA (more cost)
[ ] Will run any/all instruments thru PA (highest cost)
- [ ] Needs to be able to hook a radio/CD player into it
- [ ] Part of a multi-media system
- [ ] Many remote sources of input, centralized PA system.
Where the PA will be used
- [ ] Enclosed small room (15 to 50 people)
- [ ] Enclosed medium room (51 to 200 people)
- [ ] Enclosed large room (201 to 1000 people)
- [ ] In more than one room (small office, restaurant, etc).
- [ ] In many rooms (large business, school, store, etc).
- [ ] Indoor Stadium (1001 or more people)
- [ ] Outdoors small (audience no more than 50 feet away)
- [ ] Outdoors medium (audience no more than 100 feet away)
- [ ] Outdoors large (audience no more than 300 feet away)
- [ ] Outdoors stadium (audience no more than 1000 feet away)
Expected use location information
- [ ] House of worship
- [ ] Club (bars, lounges, casino, etc)
- [ ] Business (mostly used for background music and announcements)
- [ ] Theater
- [ ] Auditorium
- [ ] Homes (in rooms)
- [ ] Recreation centers
- [ ] Outdoors only
- [ ] Mix of large indoor/outdoor locations
- [ ] Permanent (speakers permanently attached to/in walls or ceiling)
[ ] Many small speakers scattered as needed
[ ] Mix of small speakers at some locations and large speakers at others
[ ] Large Speakers at mostly one location
- [ ] Needs to be waterproof
- [ ] Needs to be mobile
[ ] Must fit in my car
[ ] Must fit in a van with other equipment
[ ] Will be packed in a travel vehicle
[ ] Will be located at a single location, but moved as needed
Power Usage - what is available to plug the PA into?
- [ ] Under 10 amps total (can use home AC wiring)
- [ ] 10 to 20 amps total (may need special AC wiring)
- [ ] Over 20 amps total (needs its own circuit)
- [ ] Need to share power with other appliances on same line (Toasters, Ovens, Hot-Plates, etc.)
- [ ] Need to share power with other Musicians gear and Band Lighting system
People operating the PA
- [ ] No operator, levels set only as needed
- [ ] Single operator, doing other things as needed
- [ ] Sound Crew, always will have at least one person dedicated
Placement of PA
- [ ] Permanent - never moves
- [ ] Generally in the same place, but moved as needed
- [ ] Traveling system
- [ ] Ceiling/Wall mounted speakers, separate area for amplifiers/mixers
- [ ] All on a stage
- [ ] Speakers on stage, separate area for amplifiers/mixer
- [ ] Random locations as needed (mobile)
- [ ] Will you need a Snake?
- [ ] How many for normal use (Low Impedance suggested)
- [ ] How many maximum
- [ ] How many wireless units
- [ ] How many specialty transducers (for instruments)
- [ ] Speaker stands
- [ ] Table for PA mixer/gear
- [ ] Extension cords (100 ft or longer)
- [ ] Feedback eliminator
- [ ] Compressors (for Microphone inputs)
- [ ] Equalizers
- [ ] Power backup (UPS units for Synth gear)
- [ ] Surge Suppressor
- [ ] Sitting only
- [ ] Mix of Sitting and Standing (includes Dancing)
- [ ] Standing only
- [ ] Expecting only to hear a speaker
- [ ] Expecting to listen and occasionally sing along
- [ ] Expecting live music/band
- [ ] Expecting Karaoke
- [ ] Expecting a very loud show
- [ ] Pair (2) of 2 way full range
- [ ] Pair (2) of 3 way full range
- [ ] 2 of more full range PA cabinets per side (2 sides)
- [ ] Midrange Horns (bi-amped, or cross-overs)
- [ ] Separate low frequency cabinets (not Sub-woofers)
- [ ] Sub-woofers (requires high wattage amp)
- [ ] One or more speakers mounted in each room
[ ] How many rooms
[ ] How many rooms need own Volume control?
Depending on your answers, Systems range from small, easy to set up portable units to large complex
component systems. There are very many options, and lots of solutions for all of them.
Be realistic and compare what others that are doing similar things are using. Don't buy a huge system only
to find that it is too big to take the types of places you need the system for. Many outdoor functions have
a PA system provided for them - take advantage of that when you can.
There is a lot of good quality gear available, with a lot of great deals on used gear. I'm a
great proponent of working with what you have, and making choices that allow you to expand
as the need arises. Check your local Music shop - they will be able to show you what is currently available in
new gear - ask them what people are using locally. Ebay (http://www.ebay.com) is often a good source
of things, once you nail down your needs.
A system for a Church will be different than a system for live dance music, or a DJ,
or a Bingo event, or a convention room, or an acoustic guitar player/singer who works weddings/clubs.
Hopefully, this checklist will help you quantify what you need. The next step is to look at your budget
and see what you can find as a good match. You may have to pare down your needs until you can afford
some items, or wait until you really need them. Its better to buy the best quality you can than go for quantity.
Note: If you buy a really powerful amplifier (more than 1000 watts), you may find
that it 'pops circuit breakers' when used at almost all locations - if you are using low SPL speakers (see:
Speaker SPL - How much power do you need?) you are wasting your money on Power
Amplifiers when you should be trying to get more efficient speakers - there really is a huge difference.
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