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A PA (public address) system is an audio system for a crowd. It includes at least three parts:
Will you have more than one or two sound sources? If so, you’ll need a mixer to merge the connections and to create a pleasing blend of sounds. You may also need cables, speaker stands, mic stands, and other accessories.
To narrow down your choices, answer a few key questions.
Below we introduce you to the different types of PA systems and system components. And we provide a few basic tips on how to choose. To learn a lot more, please read our live sound buying guides. For expert help with your selections, please contact a Crutchfield advisor.
Pre-packaged PA systems are perfect for beginners.
Portable PA systems from brands like Yamaha, JBL, Samson, and Behringer typically include speakers, an amplifier, and a small mixer. The amp is usually built into the mixer or a speaker. A few systems come with a microphone. For the most part, however, you’ll have to provide your own sound sources, stands, and cables.
Crutchfield’s live sound bundles are systems made up of well-matched separate components. These systems often include cables and stands.
Want to build your system one piece at a time? Our experts will be glad to help you choose components that meet your needs and work well together.
Powered PA speakers, also known as “active” speakers, have amplifiers and signal processors built-in. They’re popular for portable systems because they save time and space. You won’t have to haul around or connect separate amps. For small gatherings, a single powered speaker may provide all of the volume and connections you need. Plug in a microphone and/or a music player, and you’re all set.
Non-powered PA speakers are perfect for permanently installed systems or larger touring rigs. They’re lighter than their powered counterparts, so it’s much easier to hang them from the ceiling or attach them to a wall. The only connections are the speaker wires. You won’t need an AC power source for each speaker location.
For more info, take a look at our PA speakers buying guide.
A mixer blends the audio signals coming from microphones, instruments, and other audio sources. It then sends a combined and polished output signal on to powered PA speakers or amplifiers.
Analog mixers are relatively simple, inexpensive, and easy to operate. Volume and tone adjustments are made with an array of knobs, buttons, and faders. Some models have effects like reverb and delay built-in.
Powered mixers are analog mixers that have built-in amps. A system with a powered mixer would typically use passive speakers as the main speakers. Powered speakers would be a good choice for the monitors. (Monitors are speakers that are aimed at the performers, so they can hear themselves better.)
Digital mixers convert the incoming audio signals to digital before the mixing takes place. Volume and tone adjustments are often made via a phone, tablet, or computer.
What are the big advantages of a digital mixer?
You’ll have the ability to easily mix from the audience.
You can save and recall your settings. That’s a big time-saver for bands that frequently return to familiar venues.
You get a much greater variety of built-in effects, along with the ability to apply multiple effects simultaneously. (And that’s without adding any outboard gear!)
Digital mixers are usually much smaller and lighter than comparable analog mixers.
To learn more about mixers, see our audio mixers buying guide.
On the input side, pro audio power amplifiers receive low-level audio signals from your mixing board. On the output side, they supply the power your passive speakers need to make loud sounds. Pro amps offer a variety of channel configurations, frequency filters, and connector types.
For an in-depth explanation of all the features and specs, read our pro amplifiers buying guide.
What are the best types of microphones for PA systems?
Simple, durable, and affordable dynamic mics are a good place to start. They can be handheld or stand-mounted. Some models have on/off switches.
Need to move around while you’re speaking or performing? Take a look at wireless microphones. They come in three popular form factors – handheld, headset, and clip-on.
Wireless mic systems include a transmitter (which can be built into the mic or clipped on to your belt) and a receiver that connects to your mixer or powered speaker. A word of caution – you have to make sure you choose the right frequency band for your area. Please contact a Crutchfield advisor for help with your selection.
No PA system is complete without a few essential accessories. Think about how you’ll transport and use your system. Make a list of all the cables, stands, and cases you’ll need.
Where you place the mixer and mics will dictate how long your cables need to be. Think about where you’ll need AC power connections? Do you have enough extension cords?
For more tips, read our guide on how to set up a PA system. Follow the links below to shop for accessories: