No matter what era we’re in, live sound will always be such an exhilarating experience. From the smallest of coffee shops to the grandest of concert halls, there aren’t many moments we have the privilege to enjoy more than a live performance or sizzling live music. We get to make that magic happen more than ever in the modern age, with seemingly unlimited access to the right gear driven to elevate our sound. Parties? Check. Local gigs? Yep. Football tailgates? Touchdown. EDM festivals? Far-out, man. Worship? Bless up. Wherever sound may be an asset for an event of any kind, there is a speaker system out there for you. While they come in many shapes and sizes, catering to all audio-based environments, there is a fit for just about anyone and everyone.
PA speakers are different from studio reference monitors in the sense that they are designed to occupy different spaces. A typical pair of studio reference monitors is great when it comes time to mix your new radio anthem and master the final recording. When you’re ready to perform it at the next music festival, however, you need sturdiness and volume. Studio monitors simply won’t fill a venue with amplified sound, as they’re geared towards critical listening in a treated environment.
Welcome to a new chapter in the ever-expanding book of audio. This handy-dandy guide breaks down fundamental speaker systems based on their application, frequency range, portability and numerous other factors to set the grounds for your ideal unit. Let’s get to it, shall we?
Portable PA Systems
What a time to be alive. We can take our larger-than-life sounds on the road, for the utmost sonic sweetness wherever we choose there to be music. Portable PA systems are designed to do away with the extra gear and hassle that often comes with executing live sound in a setting away from home. In other words, portable PA systems have a tendency to be a one-stop-shop. Built in mixer, lightweight for transportation purposes, multiple mic inputs for instrumental variety and potential Bluetooth compatibility all tally up for a modern audio experience guaranteed to satisfy.
A hallmark of everything portable PA systems should stand for, the Samson Expedition Line demonstrates elite quality, versatility and dynamic excellence for a myriad of sound applications. Whether it’s a restaurant, house of worship, classroom or board meeting, the vast range of Expedition Portable PA Systems are guaranteed to deliver the audio goods. Standout features that make the Expedition Line a top choice include Bluetooth (to keep up with the demands of the ever-evolving music-streaming universe), the option to add on a wireless microphone system, and a special locking design that allows the whole system to be transported as a single unit.
The line starts with the ultra-compact Expedition XP300 which is ideal for smaller audiences of about 30 to 50 listeners. Upgrading to the larger Expedition XP800 gets you additional features such as monitor outputs for expanding your sound to additional speakers, more EQ options, and multiple stereo connection options. The systems 800 Watt power mixer allows you to reach audiences of up to 100 people. The Expedition XP1000 takes things up a notch with a robust 1,000-watt lightweight Class D amplifier for maximum power and projection. Despite an added emphasis on size here, it still packs up into a single portable unit weighing in at just over 50lbs. Not terribly heavy, considering the power on display from an audio perspective. The Expedition XP1000 can captivate an audience of up to 150 people. If you expect to play a lot of outdoor gigs with limited access to power, be sure to check out the rechargeable Expedition systems like the battery powered Expedition XP310W and Expedition XP312W.
Loudspeakers, by definition, convert electrical audio signals into sound, and live inside of a speaker enclosure. You’ll potentially see two component drivers covering the frequency spectrum on a typical loudspeaker: “tweeters” for high-range frequencies and “woofers” for your mid and low end. Some larger three-way speakers also offer a dedicated “Mid” range driver but will not be as portable. No matter how diverse and eclectic the PA speaker market becomes overtime, it’s essential to have a fundamental understanding of how all of this operates. No need to re-invent the wheel, right?
Whether it’s a radio, TV, laptop, your smart phone – they all have a loudspeaker to some extent. Obviously, the one you use on your iPhone to check out your friend’s Soundcloud playlist (how are you going to tell him his music is terrible?) is much different than what you’d see or hear at a concert hall or stadium. Size is important in creating this distinction. Enclosures are also worth a note, as well; a plastic enclosure offers more flexibility as far as portability and practicality are concerned, while a wooden enclosure tends to sound better but is much heavier and a bigger pain in the neck to transport.
Speaking of Speakers, we should quickly touch on the difference between the two major flavors, Passive Loudspeakers vs Powered Loudspeakers. Passive speakers require the use of a separate Power Amplifier to play sound whereas Powered Speakers have a built-in amplifier so they just need to be plugged in and you’re ready to go. These days, passive speakers are primarily used for fixed installations as they work best if you need to set up more that a few pairs of speakers in a single event space. If you are planning on bringing your own speakers, we highly recommend going with a powered speaker.
At Sam Ash we offer a vast selection of Loudspeaker is many different sizes. If you’re on a tight budget, the Samson RS Series is a great solution, offering 400 Watts of power in a sleek and rugged design. If you have a bit more flexibility in terms of budget, make sure you check out our top selling Electro Voice ZLX Bluetooth Speakers. This series from Electro-Voice demonstrates that classic EV tone with their signature-engineered components. With custom drivers going to work in a revolutionary cabinet design, the end result is a huge sound for the craziest of parties and rowdiest of party-attendees. Give credit to a 12” woofer in the ZLX12 and 15” woofer in the ZLX15, as they ensure gut-punch low-end. There is also a 1.5” high-frequency titanium compression driver in each, guaranteeing stellar highs to cut through any sonic space. Each model covers an entire landscape of frequency range, with the ZLX-12 clocking in with 55 Hz – 20 kHz and the ZLX-15 with 44 Hz – 20 kHz. With portability and mounting an absolute breeze, either of these units makes for a versatile loudspeaker catering to just about any atmosphere requiring amplified sound. We also love the LCD menu on the speaker’s back panel which offers ultra-simplified set up and presets for instant settings optimization depending on your application. Electro Voice also offers the ELX200 series which features wood enclosures and slightly more power.
While the subwoofer section below will go into greater detail with the QSC KS118 as it pertains to its luscious-low-end, it’s worth noting that the QSC K Series supplies users with formidable options in a powered PA cabinet context. With the K8.2, K10.2 and K12.2 lined up and ready to rock, there’s a little something for everyone salivating over superb live-sound. All will feature best in-class audio performance, courtesy of a 2000 Watt Class-D amplifier module and 8”, 10” or 12” LF Transducer respectively. Each variation of these QSC juggernauts comes with a library of presets for live sound purposes, including Stage Monitor, Dance Music, Musical Instrument Amplification, Hand-held Microphone and many more. You can even get fancy with various reverb, delay and EQ settings with each, and recall them later with storable Scenes. Considering the crossover between dance music and many DJ sets, this is a sweet option for those behind the turntables.
Akin to the main event you stay up late for on a pay-per-view, the Electro-Voice ETX Series is the cream-of-the-crop on this bill. While its price tags may cause hesitation, just know that you are paying for an absolute monster of a speaker, with a handful of options under all sonic umbrellas. The 10P, 12P, 15P and 35P are like the four horseman of the audio apocalypse, except instead of destruction and doom, there is hope and life. No other speakers on the market are built with this type of durability, with 18-mm, 13-ply birch plywood finished with signature EVCoat, virtually guaranteeing the sturdiness and muscle to withstand constant use. This is ridiculously valuable for those who are gigging frequently, or constantly taking their talents on the road. Digital Signal Processing offer users the chance to manipulate configurations, crossovers, voicings, limiters EQ and much more, in an effort to capitalize on an epic performance or mammoth-sized venue. With an LED screen to boot, and 134 dB peak SPL, the Electro-Voice ETX Series is simply on a different level versus its competition.
Powered Speaker with Subwoofer
Remember when your buddy used to drive you to Taco Bell in the ’98 Corolla, blasting Limp Bizkit with his “decked-out” sound system? As impressive as the bass in that rig was, it was dangerously close to busting your bowels with low-end. You can thank those memories to the subwoofer, which is a loudspeaker dedicated to the reproduction of low bass frequencies.
To keep up the demand for Hollywood-style sound in virtually any sonic setting, subwoofers are super useful for packing that booming, epic low-end in any mix. With so many genres fundamentally structured around 808 lines and powerful kick-drums, you can see why a subwoofer in a live setting would pack an extra punch for a rowdy crowd of fans. Most powered speakers simply can’t dig into those bass frequencies the way a subwoofer can, which makes them even more essential when you consider the importance of giving a crowd the widest frequency spectrum possible. Varying in size, subwoofers come with certain dimensions in an attempt to tackle any number of events with live music at the forefront. 12”, 15” and 18” are quite common, especially in today’s day and age.
DISCLAIMER: Before we jump into a saltwater pool of subwoofers here, let’s just tackle one quick nugget of thought: smaller-sized subs are not smaller in quality! Don’t be fooled by the misconception that a massive sub is going to be exactly what you need. I can promise that trying to squeeze an inappropriately-sized sub into a tight, noise-compromised or untreated space is going to tick off a lot of neighbors, landlords, law enforcement officers and elderly residents.
With that said, the Electro-Voice ELX200 12SP is efficient in size, but epic in sound. Weighing in at just over 40 pounds, it’s an ideal solution for sound reinforcement, DJ setups and any kind of fixed audio installation. A 12” excursion low frequency driver and built-in amplifier result in 1200 watts of power, enough to get the crowd grooving and have the venue owner shaking his head in approval. Two large ergonomic carry handles all but remove the hassle of transporting your gear; you won’t break a sweat! Built with portability and sneaky-good sound in mind, this sub proves it’s about the size of the fight in the dog, not the size of the dog in the fight. A more premium option would be the QSC KS212C, which offers dual 12” low frequency drivers and a special directional waveguide to keep “Bass in its place” A fancy way of saying that the frequencies will be focused solely on what’s in front of it.
Tough-as-nails and laying a sonic smackdown, the Mackie Thump18S delivers all the goods as far as low-end is concerned. 1200-Watts are all but guaranteed to rock your stage, dance floor or bar, with pristine quality intact. Stereo full-range outputs give users the opportunity to add extra subs, and precision 140HZ crossover technology works to cover the frequency spectrum in magical ways. This is a perfect subwoofer if you’re ready to take that next step into live-sound production, and with its user-friendly design, it doesn’t take much to get it rocking at your next show.
Think you can handle a little more junk-in-the-trunk with your live setup? The Electro Voice ELX200-18SP boasts some larger-than-life low-end, courtesy of Class-D power amplifiers with up to 1200-Watts of power. When that bass line kicks in or that 808 starts bumping, you’ll feel it in your chest as a DJ, audience member or bartender. This subwoofer comes with three preset applications – Music, Live & Club – catered to different situations you may find yourself in with this savory sub.
Not for the faint of heart or irritable of bowels. The QSC KS118 Active Subwoofer packs a superhero-style punch with a 3600-Watt Class-D Amplifier, Omni-directional or cardioid radiation modes, DEEP mode for bottom-of-the-sea bass frequency and a handsome rugged painted wood enclosure. This sturdy exterior all but guarantees durability and elegance, making it a perfect addition to prestigious clubs or music venues out there. Its 18” excursion direct radiating driver delivers high sound pressure levels and impressive sound reproduction, making it the ideal option for live entertainment and bands of all calibers. Vertical and horizontal deployment changes the game for crafting sound in a sonic space, giving users options to maximize whatever room it may be. Never before has low-end sounded this elite, putting this subwoofer at the top of our list.
Portable Line Array PA Systems
Discreet, robust and chic, portable column array PA systems have picked up a ton of steam the past couple of years. Because they’re so modern-looking and fit snug into a shopping list of locations, they’ve become quite popular for gigging musicians, casual listeners and audio aficionados looking to take full advantage of any sonic atmosphere. They may not look powerful, considering their lean frame and minimal space occupancy. But don’t be fooled; these systems are versatile and beau monde.
Perhaps the most intriguing component to line array PA systems is their flexibility on-the-go. With a degree of portability and an emphasis on being compact, these systems can be transported with ease for a myriad of settings and functions. Take note of their height and coverage, while you’re at it; line array PA systems tend to be ideal for horizontal and vertical coverage in any sonic space.
Conventional, sleek and ready-to-rock at your convenience, the Bose L1 Compact Portable PA System is an essential line array PA system when it comes to covering a wide sonic landscape without a massive or hard-to-use unit. DJs, presenters, musicians of all varieties – rejoice! Allow this unit to introduce and expose you to an entirely different new way of listening to, performing and projecting music and sound. A mixer, bass speaker and amplifier are all built-in, limiting the amount of gear you need to transport between gigs, parties, presentations and pre-games. Because of its impressively lightweight build and convenient size, traveling with the L1 Compact is a breeze. It’s a shame it doesn’t pay your gas money, though…
Another top option that also happens to be a bit more budget friendly would the Samson Resound VX8.1. Featuring a 12” Subwoofer connected to a stacked configuration of 8 x 3.5” speakers, the VX8.1 delivers intense clarity across the frequency spectrum. It also offers Bluetooth streaming, application presets and a top mounted 3 channel mixer for increased flexibility. Similar to Samson’s other Portable systems, the VX8.1 boasts interlocking components for streamlined setup, breakdown and transport.
For our premium solution, the Electro Voice Evolve 50 is not only a gift from the audio gods; it’s a beautiful microcosm of the way sound technology has “evolved” (sorry…) into a whole new experience over the years. Packing the room with professional audio with that elite-level polish has never been easier, or sounded better. Thanks to its dashingly-deep bass provided by a dedicated 12” all-wood subwoofer, the Evolve 50 satisfies our craving for luscious low-end across multiple genres and styles. The entire frequency spectrum is covered as well, courtesy of eight 3.5 neodymium compression drivers. The end result? A professional grade system at the top of its class in both audio quality and setup process. You’d be hard-pressed to find a line array PA system that offers this much versatility and character.
With all of these incredible and portable options, there has never been a better time to be a mobile DJ. The average speaker is over 50% lighter than it was 15 years ago and new options such as Column Array systems continue to improve the audience experience. While all of these options may be slightly intimidating, your Sam Ash expert will help you find a great solution. Visit us to demo this amazing equipment and don’t hesitate to call or send an email if your just not sure what to go with.