PA System Buying Guide (Primer Version)
A PA system, also known as a sound reinforcement system, is an electronic amplification system used to get sound from the performer(s) to the audience. The "PA" stands for "public address." A PA is made up of many components and one can vary greatly from the next.
How To Buy A PA System: A Primer The first step in electronically amplifying your sound is to convert the acoustic sound into electronic signals, most likely with microphones. For more info, see our Microphone Primer.
The electronic signals need to be processed and mixed together before they can be amplified. In a live music PA, you will most likely be using an analog mixer. Powered mixers typically operate identically to analog mixers, adding external amplification. Digital mixers have some built-in effects, but it can still be a good idea to have some additional outboard processing gear. You should consider the benefits of effects like compression, limiting, reverb, and delay, although they're not essential in all situations. You will also want an equalizer to control feedback and balance out your sound.
After tweaking, the electronic signals need to be made louder by adding more power. For this, you need either a separate power amp, a powered mixer, or powered speakers. Which one you choose is basically a question of portability versus control. Many sound engineers prefer the added control of a separate power amp, but a powered mixer or powered speakers may be more affordable, portable, and manageable.
The sound is now ready for the audience. To deliver it, you need speakers. A small PA system will probably just have full-range speakers, which include a woofer, a tweeter, and possibly a midrange driver in one enclosure. Bigger PA systems usually include stage monitors, subwoofers, and a crossover that splits the signal among separate woofers, tweeters, and midrange speakers.
You will also need all the miscellaneous essentials for your PA system like cables, snakes, speaker stands, mic stands, cases, and cable testers.
If this is your first time buying a PA system, consider one of our all-in-one packages. A lot of problems can arise from mismatched components. Our prepackaged PA system components are carefully matched and are extremely budget-friendly. We carry great brands like Yamaha, Fender, Behringer, JBL, Peavey, Nady, Mackie, and Kustom at the best prices you'll find anywhere—guaranteed.