View Full Version : Small versatile PA systems

June 21st, 2010, 08:37 PM
not sure where the best place is for this topic, MODS please reposition as necessary.

I started hosting an open mic here in Chicago in May. First event we had 12 performers and perhaps 50 guests. Next one we had 18 performers and 70 guests. I invite a featured performer for each event, to do a 1/2 hour set in the middle, and the rest is open to rookies, folks who otherwise wouldn't quite feel they were up to an open mic. The response has been huge.

Anyway, we've pulled off the first two with borrowed gear, and that just won't fly. Several of the faithful have offered to pony up and we're gonna buy ourselves a PA.

So the question is, what criteria would you suggest for choosing? Fender has some very appealing self contained units. Is that the way to go? Are there brands that you feel are a safe bet or a sure miss?

Any help would really be appreciated, I've only got a couple of weeks to pull the trigger and this is not my area of expertise.

A couple parameters...certainly there is the solo acoustic performer, with and without a pickup on his guitar. We've got a couple -58's and a couple -57's for vocal and those without pickups respectively.

we also have groups of 3 or four, and are planning to start having a cocktail kit, allowing for power trio's etc. In that case, given the size of the room, the drums and amps will more than fare for themselves, the PA will simply handle vocals.

Also, any recommendation on simple reliable DI boxes is also welcome.

:beer: :beer:

June 21st, 2010, 08:54 PM
Check out your local music stores, they usually have someone on staff who can help narrow down the choices for you.

My suggestion would be to go with a powered mixer that is able to connect both Front of House speakers AND monitors (your participants will thank you). I would also opt for a mixer with some on-board digital effects (at least a little reverb is nice). Size and power will depend on the number of inputs you think you need and the size of the room. If playing with a drummer, you will probably need a bit more oomph than the smaller portable systems IMO. Lots of choices out there at various price points. Mackie, Yamaha, Peavey...

Get some speaker stands for the front of house speakers to get the sound over crowd level and reaching the folks in the back.

I've been using Behringer DI's for a few years with no real issues, though "purists" will tell you they are junk, tone-sucking etc. :whatever: Hey, they're affordable and they work. If your budget allows, go with Radial... they make excellent DI's.

June 21st, 2010, 09:20 PM
If you want a one stop solution have a look at the Yamaha Stagepas (?sp) systems. The bigger one would fill your needs, I think. The disadvantage here is lack of "expandibility" as it were.

If you want to go "component" I've used Tapco, Mackie and JBL powered speakers. Even the Tapco Thump is fine for most listeners. The joy of powered cabs is that you only need to buy mic cables for everything. You will need a pair of sturdy stands.

Use a pair of powered cabs with a small but powerful desk with built in fx. Beware modern desks as they skimp on mic inputs. Make sure the desk you buy has enough, they are the one to use. Avoid running long line level cables to the desk. Get a traditional table top mixing desk rather than a rack style job. They are tough but usually cramped and hard to use in a dark corner. Get a desk lamp with a nice tight beam pattern too.

If your room allows it you can avoid the need for floor monitors with a bit of careful speaker positioning. Get one speaker slightly behind and above the performers and they will hear themselves perfectly. I've used this arrangement a lot due to lack of gear or setup time and even had rock bands tell me the vocal sound was great on stage (as it should be, they're hearing part of the FOH mix). Buy monitors later as funds allow, more powered cabinets will do nicely. Some prima donnas will complain about the lack of wedges but, hey they're only doing a couple of numbers at an open mic. If they want super gear they can get a booking at the Albert Hall :)

As Trev says, Behringer DIs work just as well as more expensive ones. In fact, they're the only Behringer product I'd recommend.

You seem to be covered for mics but I'll just say that three or four vocal mics will go a long way. Unless you have super bat ears it's still hard to beat a vanilla SM58 for most things and they are cheaper than ever in real terms.

June 21st, 2010, 10:59 PM
For a simple system for open mics I'd suggest:

Powered PA head Peavey XR600B or the Mackie PPM 608 or PPM 1008. The Mackies can do both the mains and monitors. They also have digital effects built in. Behringer also has a similar PA head.

2-15" with horn top boxes
and if your budget allows
2- 12" monitors

Get some speaker stands and 4 speaker cables and you are ready to rock.

The PPM608 will cost around $600
Mains speakers cost around $400-$600 for a pair

For a good system expect to dump at least $1000
on a budget you can get started, if you are a crafty and diligent shopper for about half that price. You won't have any bells and whistles though.

June 22nd, 2010, 05:30 AM
great feedback! thanks!

The yamaha stagepas500 is appealing.

The mackie & pyle boards with powered speakers (also Pyle) seem to have lept to the front, or should I say top, of the list.

Another dude had suggested I don't do smaller than 12" bins. seems a common thought, knocking the Fender kits out of the ring.

Keep it coming folks. All info fully digested.

June 22nd, 2010, 08:56 AM
My band bought one of these (http://pro-audio.musiciansfriend.com/product/B-52-Matrix1000-V2-700W-Active-3Piece-Speaker-System?sku=606060) for small shows and it's turned out to be an outstanding value. We actually started using it for most all of our bar gigs.

June 23rd, 2010, 11:39 PM
A muscian I talked to between sets last summer showed me his new PA that he was proud of. It was a Carvin powered PA with lots of power and it only weighs about ten pounds or so. It has all the controls on the front. He plugged his tele straight into the guitar input and his wife plugged her big time keyboard into it, as well as their microphones and his mic'd foot operated drum rig that he played while he played the tele. Super muscians. They played everything from "Hey Mr. Tamborine Man", to Patsy Cline, and they sounded awsesome.

He had to massive Electrovoice vintage cabinets with massive horns and big speakers. He hand made the enclosures and they looked like they weighed at least a hundred pounds each, but they put out perfectly clear sound.

Peavey is supposed to have a new PA out that is powerful and very affordable, but possibly not under one thousand. Peavey, of course, is noted for excellent PA's. I remember the old days, the sixties, when the big six foot tall thin tower type Peavey PA's first came out. They enabled the bands to run a lot of mic's and things like the keyboard straight to the PA that had been sharing other amps. Big improvement in the sound, to say the least.

I think you are on the right track. Get your own PA and you won't have to rely on any house system where ever you go. You will have good, clean, clear sounding stuff with no blown out speakers and such and no house guy messing up your sound.

June 25th, 2010, 10:02 PM
I sold my trusty old Peavey powered mixer last year and bought a Yamaha 512SC. I found it used at the local mom and pop shop where they always treat me really well and they gave me a great price on it. It sounds great and is super portable. It can power FOH mains and monitors as well. Yamaha also makes a 312 and a 212 model if I'm not mistaken
I have some big old but perfect Peavey SP-5 cabinets that house a 15" and a horn. They're big and beefy and sound great, but they weigh in at 66 lbs. each. So I grabbed some lightweight Behringer cabs on-line to use up a credit I had. I had never heard them before ordering them but they sound surprisingly good and only weigh 24 lbs. each. You can buy a pair of them for $300.



June 26th, 2010, 09:18 PM
I just got a catalogue from Musician's Friend today. They show a Behringer PA,
PMP2000/B212XL Package. 800watt 9 channel mixer, 24 effects, 2 12" 2 way cabs, speaker cables 2 mics with cables - $649

June 27th, 2010, 06:12 AM
As a basic consideration, figure out how many channels you think you need and double it.

You can never have too many channels or too many sends.

June 27th, 2010, 07:47 AM
Thanks all for the input. Yep, I NEED 6, so I'm planning 12. I guess I was on the right train of thought there!

As for Behringer, the most consistent feedback I've gotten is to AVOID there PA equipment, which is everywhere. I appreciate a recommendation, except that it only confuses the issue more!

Hope to pull the trigger next weekend, take advantage of Independence day sales. I just don't know enough about this type of gear to take a chance on used, I don't know what to look for. I think going new, I'll at least have a warranty, and so much of the new stuff is very user friendly

June 27th, 2010, 08:39 AM
Peavey has been building road worthy equipment for decades. Mostly powered mixers for small and medium size bands. Their stuff is not high end but it always gets the job done and lasts forever.

Carvin is another name that's been around forever and they make decent live equipment as well. Very well built and sounds decent at an affordable cost.

TASCAM, while not known for live sound re-inforcement made many affordable recording consoles that can double for live sound. Pretty darn cheap right now too as most are recording digitally and the market is flooded with analog consoles. The builds are a little lighter as they were not made for gigging, but if it's not going to see any road use, these consoles might be your best value. They are unpowered though, so you'll need an amp.

A suggestion would be what I currently use, the M-1516. A sixteen channel desk, three sends for monitor mixes as well as several other outs. Cheap too, but you'll still need an amp. Typically anywhere from $50 to $150 on e-Bay. Make sure it comes with the power supply.

I would avoid Berhinger for live sound. No matter how cheap it is, you get what you pay for. And with them, that's not much.

I don't know what you want to drop on a live sound desk, but for new, Yamaha and Mackie both make affordable live sound desks. So does Soundcraft.

June 27th, 2010, 09:02 AM
Yep, Yamaha and Mackie are the two lead candidates right now. There are some decent Yamaha "packages" out there. With the Mackie, I'll have to piece together my own rig, but I really like the looks of this (http://www.guitarcenter.com/item/expandedimage.aspx?t=4&img=Mackie/572903.jpg)

June 27th, 2010, 09:24 AM
Not enough channels. That's not a true 12 channel board. Half the inputs are stereo and leaves you with only six balanced mic inputs.

June 27th, 2010, 02:28 PM
Not enough channels. That's not a true 12 channel board. Half the inputs are stereo and leaves you with only six balanced mic inputs.

A common problem with moden desks. Mackie used to do an expander for some of their desks to add the missing mic inputs.

June 27th, 2010, 02:33 PM
A lot of marketing hype calling them that.

Yamaha calls theirs a 24 channel 14 buss. It doesn't even have eight. They count all the sends, the stereo buss, and anything else they can think of into their "14 busses". It's a frikin' four buss board. :thwap

June 27th, 2010, 08:15 PM
A lot of marketing hype calling them that.

Yamaha calls theirs a 24 channel 14 buss. It doesn't even have eight. They count all the sends, the stereo buss, and anything else they can think of into their "14 busses". It's a frikin' four buss board. :thwap

Now see, here's the problem. I barely even understand what the hell your talking about.

So they call a send a channel, which is a misnomer. That I get. Marketing, bending the facts.

WTF is a send?

I think of it this way...each input needs a channel. Inputs are from mics and DI's, or I suppose AMps probably have some method of sending there signal other than from the speaker through a mic. Still, one noise maker = one input.

Now you say that Mackie board is only a 6 channel, with the other 3 being stereo, allowing them to be counted, by the marketing dept. as 6.

Can you break this down a bit for the layman? OR send me to a link that does it well to save you the trouble?

Thanks again for taking the time.

June 28th, 2010, 07:43 AM
You got it right regarding the channel count.

A send parallels the signal from the channel strip to an effects loop and is returned on the 'send return' jack. It splits the signal in other words. One is the dry signal running through the channel strip, the other through the effects send and return. You can use the send knobs on the channel strip to 'send' the original signal and vary the amount of effect used on each channel. The more sends you have on a channel strip the more effects you can wire to the board without a patchbay. These sends can also be used as a monitor output to stage monitors for musicians, or a headphone mix in the studio. On lower end boards there are not usually enough of these to use as effects sends and headphone monitors at the same time unless you're a solo musician or are recording one or two people at a time.

I was also speaking of the way Yamaha makes up their buss count. A buss is usually an out that you can assign any channel signal to, to get it out of the board as opposed to a direct out (right out of the channel strip bypassing the EQ and sends). A send is what you can use for monitor mixes or effects routing for the monitor mix and for mixdown out of the stereo buss.

A four buss board has four individual groups going out on their own outputs. You can assign any or all channels on the desk to any of these busses.

The same with an eight buss board or a twelve buss board.

Busses also allow you to combine channels into groups. An example would be the drum mix spread out over five channels. These could all be sent to one buss output. Same with a group of backup singers on three separate channels. They could also be routed to another individual buss.

Yamaha, on the other hand, counts the regular four busses on their lower end boards, any effect sends, and any monitor sends, and the stereo buss (used for mixdown, or the main FOH output) as a 'buss'.

Shading marketing at best for the unwary and uninitiated.

June 30th, 2010, 01:06 PM
Hi Tio Kimo,

I use one of the Fender Passport PA's (self-contained system) and it works great for small venues. If you're only needing to put a few vocal mics and acoustic instruments through it, then it's perfect. If you need more flexibility than that, with live monitors, etc. then it may not be the best choice.

It works really well for coffee-house types of venues where you need something simple, easy to setup, easy to transport in the trunk of your car, etc. I especially like the way that the speakers, mixer, and power amp all fit together in a case that's about the size of a guitar amp.


June 30th, 2010, 01:40 PM
Behri d/i are good, yep, avoid the mixers.

I like Peavey a lot. Yamaha, Mackie, both good.

IMO separate amp and mixer are always much better, easy to upgrade, easy to repair and or replace parts of. You can always sell a good pa amp used, nobody wants an integrated unit used. Powered monitors are excellent, why not foh cabs as well. All in one solutions always skimp on some aspects and when it has a problem the whole pa is useless. On very small sets like I think this is you dont probably need separate monitor mixes, just get a board with 5-6 auxes and run monitors off those.

Vox only use/small system, get three 100w or so active monitors, a 400w or so poweramp and two fullrange 2-way speakers with stands. Mixer with 12,16 ch. and plenty of auxes., some basic verb unit. One condenser u can hang up high for acoustic instruments and ambience and 57 and 58 shures

Just my two cents having owned four and operated dozens of small pa systems.