Live Sound

The World’s Most Comprehensive Guide to Buying PA Speakers

If you are buying a PA system, then you need to consider rather you want a powered mixer with passive speakers or a passive mixer with powered speakers.

If you fall into the first category, then we highly recommend the Yamaha Stagepas 600i. If you want a powered mixer with passive speakers, then we highly recommend the Rockville RPG122K.

If you do not know, then keep reading as we will educate you. Before you hit the order button too fast, we have some other recommendations you may want to consider.

Why Trust Us

We have spent over 20 hours researching all the newest systems and some old ones too. We have talked to five leaders to get their feedback.

As the daughter of a man who ran major horse events in Iowa, I was taught the ins and outs of PA systems almost before I could walk because they always seemed to break down at the most inopportune moment when you could not find a facility supervisor anywhere.

Since that time, I have helped hook up and operate PA systems in many houses of worship. Never content to rest on my knowledge, we have assembled all the latest research saving you hours of research.

Top Pick: Yamaha Stagepas 600i

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This PA system is easy to set up allowing musicians and speakers to arrive at a venue and get on stage very quickly., 8-inch subwoofer does a great job of projecting sound in smaller venues.

Credit: Rockville

Top Pick: Rockville RPG122K

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This PA system offers many users the flexibility they need to get through a gig or other performance. The unidirectional polar pattern helps to limit feedback.

Before You Buy

Buying a public address (PA) system is a big decision. At their simplest they all have speakers, amplifiers and at least one mixer. The best system for your situation may not be the best system for another situation.

Understanding those components allows you to arrive at the best choice to meet your needs. As a general rule, manufacturers make three different types of PA systems. Keep in mind that each speaker is powered separately requiring more electricity.

You May Want a Powered Mixer with Passive Speakers

If you are building a system for a small ensemble group, to play background music or for vocal reinforcement, then consider the powered mixer with passive speakers.

The major disadvantage is that they have a very limited number of inputs making it difficult to expand the system. These systems work best for small to mid-sized spaces.

The advantage is that they usually come with speakers built in, so it is nearly impossible to blow a speaker out. These units are usually vertically orientated, so they take up less space.

They also offer plug-in-play usability in most cases eliminating the need to hook up extra equipment if you change venues often. A large advantage with these speakers is that the wattage is unlimited so that you can adjust them to meet your needs.

These speakers are lighter making them easier to move from one place to another. Passive speakers are generally maintenance free with the user having to replace the horn diaphragm occasionally.

The Alternative- Powered Speakers with Passive Mixers

If you would like to add to the system over time, then consider powered speakers with passive mixers. This choice tends to be more expensive than the first option. You are limited to the amount of wattage that the manufacturer allows.

While you increase the chance of blowing out a speaker slightly, the major advantage of these systems is the ability to change and add to them over time. Many people will start with a 16 channel mixer but may choose to upgrade later as their needs change.

It is easy to add power speakers to accommodate to add more volume. Powered speakers do not require power amplifiers which usually reduces the cost of the overall system.

That means there is less equipment to break down. Powered speakers will not burn out your mixer. Using this system means that you have the right amount of power to your speakers which will produce a cleaner sound.

The Big Venues Use a Passive Speakers, Passive Mixer, and Power Amplifier

Systems containing passive speakers, a passive mixer, and a power amplifier are the most professional systems. They are also the most complicated because they require running wire, They require a dedicated sound technician operating a powerful mixer to operate.

They have a stage-bay or a stage for microphones to plug into. These systems will not be dealt with in this article because most small users do not need these systems with their many different components.

Should You Buy Subwoofers

If you are trying to accurately produce low bass sounds, then consider using a subwoofer. Subwoofers generally focus on the 20 to 100-hertz range.

If this range were incorporated into a regular speaker, then upper ranges would be compromised. They can be either active or passive.

Don’t Get Tangled Understanding Cables and Connectors

PA systems have different types of connectors. speakON connectors are known for their extreme durability and reliability. They are a very popular choice with equipment that has a high wattage.

These are the cables used in many high-end venues because they lock securely in place. The problem is that not all equipment will handle them, so you must carry extra cable with you if you are playing in different venues.

Tip-Ring-Sleeve (TRS) plugs join two connectors and one ground plug inside one unit. They are commonly found at the end of wired headphones. These cables are balanced, so they are less prone to interference.

These cables do not lock in place. Although they are unlikely to come unplugged, it does happen on occasion.

XLR plugs are commonly used to send sound from the audio to speakers or to transmit balanced microphone and line-level signals to mixers. Like TRS cables, they are balanced, so interference should not be a problem.

These plugs lock in place, so they cannot come accidently unplugged. However, the whole system can end up on the floor making you wish that it had simply come unplugged.

A banana plug is often found at the back of PA systems joining binding posts and speaker wires.

Buying Enough Power

Before buying any PA system, consider the wattage carefully. You need a minimum of five watts for each person that will be in your intended audience. If you will be performing outside, then you need a minimum of 10 watts per person.

A Final Word on Speakers

Regardless of rather you choose active or passive speakers, consider their size. Larger speakers naturally move more air allowing everyone to hear better. Look for a wood case as they move air better.

Heavy speakers sound better, and they will not move around on their own. The driver membranes should be made out of a durable material with Kevlar or carbon fiber being preferred. The ohm must match your amplifier.

Many contain switches letting you decide which is a great option should you suddenly develop a problem and need to switch out parts on the fly.

The Competition

After hours of testing and research, here's the final competition.

InstrumentRatingCurrent Pricing
Yamaha Stagepas 600i
Easy to set up allowing musicians and speakers to arrive at a venue and get on stage very quickly$899.99
Fender Passport Event
Has international voltage, so hooking it up in a foreign land is never a problem$699.99
Peavy Audio Performer Pack
Rotary controls make it easy to adjust the level, tone and reverb on each channel along with the master section$386.10
Rockville RPG122K
Bluetooth compatible making it convenient to play music straight from most phones and enabled devices$238.92
Bose Two F1 Model 812 Flexible Array
Easy to configure for different settings$4,076.00
Electro-Voice ZLX-12P-US
Perfect system for many venues.

Our Recommendations

It is impossible to name the best PA system for every user. Therefore, we have chosen the best-powered mixer with passive speaker systems and the best-powered speaker with passive mixer. We have also included other systems that you will want to consider based on your individual needs.

Powered Mixer with Passive Speakers

These systems are perfect for small venues where the user is looking for an all-in-one system that they do not have to spend a lot of time worrying about.

Top Pick: Yamaha Stagepas 600i

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Our top choice is the Yamaha Stagepas 600i. This system is easy to set up allowing musicians and speakers to arrive at a venue and get on stage very quickly.

In fact, most users can hook up this Yamaha system in under a minute. This can be very important if you forget a last minute gig or get into a traffic jam on the way.

It can easily be carried by hand, as the complete package fits snuggly together. It weighs less than 60 pounds. The speaker backs come off allowing users to securely store cables in one while storing microphones and other necessities in the other.

A rolling case with a sturdy handle is also available letting you whiz into a venue looking like a true professional.

These speakers do a great job of moving air so that everyone can easily hear what is being played, sung or said. This system has an 8-inch subwoofer, so it does a great job in smaller venues although those looking for a loud rock band sound may want to consider other options.

When performers find that venues have not left enough room, the 10-channel mixer can be used while still attached to one speaker. The mixer also has a flat base allowing performers to position it on a tabletop. This mixer has a great layout making it easy to operate in darker environments.

The 600i has four mic/line channels plus three stereo line-only channels. One drawback to this PA system is that it has no pan controls, so all sound is fed to both speakers equally. Stereo/mono switches are located on all three stereo-only channels.

The mid-band frequency is set at 2.5 hertz allowing solos to sound very crisp. The anti-feedback system is extremely effective. This system allows users to hook up an iPod to it making a convenient solution if someone does not show up or if you really need a break.

Those who have tried a Yamaha Stagepas in the past find that this new system has a much less responsive giving them more ease of control. One knob provides easy access to SPX digital reverb. Once the knob is turned, then it is easy to apply special effects.

Yamaha has long been known for its outstanding reliability. There is no need to fret over power problems because this system comes with a built-in limiter.

While most users find that the supplied cables meet their needs great, they have standard adaptors making it easy to hook up additional cable if needed.

Runner Up: Fender Passport Event

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A close runner-up is the Fender Passport Event. This PA system measures just 32 inches by 15 inches by 25 inches when stored, so it easily fits into a trunk even if you drive a small compact car.

Budding musicians playing their first international gig find that it also easily checks in at airports. The system has international voltage, so hooking it up in a foreign land is never a problem.

Weighing in at just 43 pounds, it can even easily be transported on public transportation if a musician ends up broke. All cords store conveniently in the back of the mixer unit.

Experienced musicians will love the seven-channel mixer because it looks so natural. All channels have two-band EQ control and independent volume control so that the sound can be easily tweaked.

All channels have warning lights, so the sound technician can easily adjust them before a disaster happens. A headphone jack at the bottom of the control panel allows convenient connection of a monitor speaker or a powered subwoofer.

The 8-inch subwoofers and 1.2-inch horn-loaded tweeters allow this system to produce sound beautifully. The sound, however, on vocals is not quite as complex as with the Yamaha Stagepas 600i although its slightly smaller price tag makes it a great choice.

Peavy Audio Performer Pack

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Musicians who are interested in a reasonably priced complete package need to consider the Peavy Audio Perfomer Pack. The rotary controls make it easy to adjust the level, tone and reverb on each channel along with the master section.

This PA system also includes four microphones along with tape/CD input, a record output and a line out for external amplifiers. We found that feedback is almost non-existent because of the two PVi 100 dynamic cardioid microphones.

It also includes two PV10 loudspeakers with stands.

Powered Speakers with Passive Mixers

Those choosing to go with powered speakers and passive mixers will want to consider these recommendations. Often these items are purchased separately, but there are some packages that you may want to consider.

Top Pick: Rockville RPG122K

Credit: Rockville

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Small venue DJs and others will also want to consider the Rockville RPG122K Dual 12-inch Powered Speakers With Stands and Microphone. This system comes with two 12-inch speakers each having 500 watts of power.

So this system should easily reach 100 people in most indoor settings and 50 in most outside areas. DJs who are using a controller can simply patch this PA system into one of their existing RCA ports.

One speaker has a built-in amplifier. The other speaker runs off the first. The unidirectional polar pattern helps to limit feedback.

Included with this system are two stands that are a convenient way to hold the system during performances. They are fully adjustable, so users can adjust them to meet their needs.

This PA system offers many users the flexibility that they need to get through a gig or other performance. This system is Bluetooth compatible making it convenient to play music straight from most phones and enabled devices.

Since the speakers are hooked together, sound received through Bluetooth is heard through both speakers. It also can play MP3 files. The RPG122K also has a slot for SD cards.

The graphics equalizer is preset and works beautifully for most circumstances. This system includes an FM radio that can easily be tuned to your favorite station.

Crystal clear highs easily come from this system thanks to its 25milimeter Piezo crystal compression horns on the tweeters. The plastic polymer case is time-aligned with the drivers ensuring there is plenty of bass.

A LED light lets the operator know if distortion becomes an issue. Separate treble and bass controls make it easy to customize the sound.

This system from Rockville comes with a wired plastic microphone. The quality of this microphone is outstanding. It is ruggedly built to withstand the accidental bumps that it may encounter along the way. Some users find that the microphone cord is a little short.

This system has a very reasonable price tag for those looking for a bargain. The speakers each have a convenient carry handle. The system comes with all needed cable. Some users find the 10-foot power cord a little short, but that can be easily remedied with an extension cord.

Overall, this is our top pick based on price, ease of hooking, flexibility in use and overall quality.

Runner Up: Bose Two F1 Model 812 Flexible Array Loudspeakers with F1 Subwoofer

Credit: Bose

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A close second for a complete system with powered speakers with passive mixers is the Boise Two F1 Model 812. The reason that we like this system so much is that it is easy to configure for different settings.

It can be arranged in a straight, C, J or “Reverse-J pattern depending on rather the system is being used at floor level, with the audience seated in bleachers or on raked seats. Once the owner sets the configuration, then the system automatically adjusts the EQ so that everyone in the room can hear very plainly.

The eight drivers on the loudspeaker are mounted on a baffle. This system is very similar to the system used in larger venues except on a smaller scale. This system is easy to set up.

The addition of the subwoofer ensures that deep bass sounds are easily heard. The subwoofer attaches to the base of one of the loudspeakers, so it always stays in place. The 12-inch woofer has a very low crossover point.

This system weighs just under 45 pounds, so it can easily be transported. Some users, however, find the handles on the speakers in an awkward position.

Electro-Voice ZLX-12P-US 12″ Two-Way Powered Loudspeaker Kit with Cases, Stands, and Cables

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Those wanting to upgrade their current system will want to consider the Electro-Voice Zlx-12P-US PA system. This system comes with two loudspeakers.

This system would have placed higher except that it does not include a microphone. One of the reasons that this PA system made our list is its rugged construction including an almost indestructible case.

The speaker stands can easily be adjusted from 46 to 74 inches, so this is the perfect system for many venues. The grill on the speakers is made of 18 gauge wire so that it will stand up to most events. This system can also be used as a floor monitor.

Sources:
  • 3 Reasons Why Powered PA Speakers Knock Passive Speakers Out Of The Park. (n.d.). Retrieved January 28, 2017, from http://www.therealmusician.com/powered-pa-speakers.html
  • Beginner’s Guide To PA Systems. (n.d.). Retrieved January 28, 2017, from http://www.digitaldjtips.com/2013/04/beginners-guide-to-pa-systems-part-1-basics/
  • Hands-On Review: Fender Passport Event. (2015, March 14). Retrieved January 28, 2017, from http://thehub.musiciansfriend.com/live-sound-reviews/hands-on-review-fender-passport-event
  • Speaker Buying Guide. (n.d.). Retrieved January 28, 2017, from https://www.sweetwater.com/insync/pa-speaker-buying-guide/
  • Passive Mixer/Powered Speakers vs. Powered Mixer/Passive Speakers. (n.d.). Retrieved January 28, 2017, from https://www.talkbass.com/threads/passive-mixer-powered-speakers-vs-powered-mixer-passive-speakers.895907/
  • Two F1 Model 812 Flexible Array loudspeakers with F1 Subwoofer..(n.d). Retrieved January 29, 2017, from
    https://www.bose.com/en_us/products/speakers/portable_pa_speakers/F1-flexible-array-loudspeakers-with-single-subwoofer.html
  • What You Need to Know About Buying a PA System in 2016. (n.d.). Retrieved January 28, 2017, from http://www.adorama.com/alc/what-you-need-to-know-about-buying-a-pa-system-in-2016
  • White, P. (n.d.). Yamaha Stagepas 600i. Retrieved January 28, 2017, from http://www.soundonsound.com/reviews/yamaha-stagepas-600i

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