A Quick & Simple Guide to 11 Portable P.A. Systems

By Thomson, Art; Molenda, Michael | Guitar Player, August 2012 | Go to article overview

A Quick & Simple Guide to 11 Portable P.A. Systems


Thomson, Art, Molenda, Michael, Guitar Player


[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

ALTHOUGH MANY VENUES OFFER installed house-sound systems, a musician is never truly free until he or she can gig anywhere and anytime with a personal P.A. For solo artists and bands on the go, we looked at 11 new and recently released systems that are uber-portable--meaning they can fit into the back seat and/ or trunk of a sedan, and can be easily set up by one person.

The Features

WATTS. Power alone doesn't necessarily equate to volume, as efficient speakers can pump out a lot of level from lowwattage amplifiers. Happily, we round each system powerful enough to do its duty within the "Recommended Venues" slot we put it in.

MIXER CHANNELS. Here's the difference between systems that can handle just a solo or duo act (two to three channels), and systems that can power a small band (eight or more channels).

INPUTS. All of the systems include XLR inputs for professional-level mics, and 1/4" jacks for instruments, wireless receivers, and hobbyist-quality microphones. Added flexibility is offered on some systems with RCA and 1/8" inputs that can accommodate mp3 players and other playback devices.

PHANTOM POWER. If a system doesn't have phantom power, you won't be able to use condenser mics. This isn't a big deal, as there are tons of excellent dynamic mics to choose from, but some singers feel condensers are better matches for their vocal timbres. Likewise, singer/songwriters may prefer to mic their acoustic guitars with condensers.

SPEAKERS. Systems with low-frequency (LF) and high-frequency (HF) speakers typically offer more tonal separation, as well as better sonic dimension. Multi-speaker array systems can deliver wider dispersion of sound (depending upon how the individual speakers are positioned within the cabinet). Good single-driver speakers can serve up a focused and balanced sound output. EQ. Two-band EQ gives you control over preset high and low frequencies--which is nice--but if you like tweaking the raids on vocals and guitars, you'll be happier with 3-band EQ. A system that adds a 5- or 7-band EQ on the stereo master is good for fighting feedback and tailoring your sound to the performance environment.

ONBOARD EFFECTS. Signal processing is always handy to spice up your mix. It's not essential, however, as performance spaces will have their own "room tone," which can diminish the need for additional ambience/reverb.

EXTRAS. A list of some key "added value" features included with the system.

WEIGHT. You will be lugging these systems around, so make sure the weight is comfy as you assess load-in/load-out factors such as stairs, distance from car to venue, and lifting out of your car.

RECOMMENDED VENUES. This is our editorial assessment on where each system will perform optimally.

The Ratings

The editors chose four performance categories, and evaluated each system with "mic ratings," as follows: one mic = "Not Happening," two mics = "Adequate," three mics = "Real Good," four mics = "Excellent," and five mics = "Truly Kick Ass."

SOUND QUALITY. We plugged in vocal mics, acoustic and electric guitars, and pre-recorded stereo music tracks (via mp3 or CD player), and listened for clear and articulate mids, airy highs, and taut lows. We also checked for distortion, lack of headroom, muddy or indistinct playback, and dispersion of sound (how wide of a field of audible sound is pumped into the performance/listening environment).

PORTABILITY. Are the components easy to carry? Can one person do it all--load-in, set up, and load-out--without sweating all over his or her stage clothes?

FLEXIBILITY. We determined if a system could be easily deployed for mixed usage-solo artist and band sound reinforcement, DJ gigs, public address (speaking), music playback, and front-line monitors.

EASE OF USE. Is the system so butt-simple you can operate it without reading the manual? …

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