How to Pick the Best Portable PA

How to Pick the Best Portable PA

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Gigs, bars and clubs all call for sound reinforcement, likely supplied by you. The days of schlepping massive, heavy sound systems to your live events are over. Breakthroughs in amplifier and driver technologies have led to the rise of compact, portable sound systems. There are tons of options out there and it can be tricky figuring out which systems best meet your needs. We will walk you through your options below so that you find what is right for you.

The Basics

Personal portable PAs cover a wide range of small to mid-sized music concerts and events. They can be self-contained, single-speaker systems or full-scale PS professional systems designed for large venues and events. Smaller, self- contained personal PAs are ideal for use in cafés, street performances, small speaking engagements and fitness classes. Larger personal systems, which can include stage monitors and extra speakers, are often used in bars, houses of worship and mobile DJ rigs.  

All-in-One vs. Customized 

All-in-one portable PAs are designed with plug-and-play simplicity in mind. They can be set up in minutes, even by someone with no audio experience. Advanced systems offer sophisticated features such as EQ and feedback management, system-tuning and network control.  

Powered Systems

Portable PAs are available in powered (or "active") and unpowered versions. Powered versions require external amps, provide perfectly matched components, are much easier to set up and can be easily assembled and taken down. 

Is it Loud Enough?

As audience and venue size increase, the amount of power necessary for effective sound reinforcement increases. Large rooms with high ceilings require more power than smaller spaces with lower ceiling. Will you be using your PA system indoors or outdoors? Sound is reverberant indoors and dissipates quickly outdoors, so you'll need more power and output to play outside than you would for an equivalent indoor show.

It's not easy to place hard numbers on power requirements, but desired volume level plays a big role. 

Knowing the Specifics

Let's look at a couple of key components of PAs:

Dynamic range: the difference in a signal typically measured in decibels between the loudest and softest level.

Frequency response: The frequency spectrum generated at the output of the P.A. system. The human hearing range is 20Hz–20kHz, ideally full range speaker interactions across the bulk of this range, although subwoofers that are more efficient at reproducing the longer waveforms of low-frequency ranges can be supplemented on the low end.

Continuous power management: This indicates in watts the power level that a speaker can handle for a long time.

Peak power handling: The maximum amount of power that a loudspeaker can handle in brief, instantaneous bursts. (Although it can be impressive, a better indicator of the real performance is the continuous management of electricity.)

Sensitivity: measures the extent to which a speaker converts amplifying power to acoustic energy—i.e. how loud a speaker plays at a given level of electricity. Sensitivity is measured by 1 watt per 1 metre in decibels, reduced to a decibel rate.


Most portable PA systems have at least two audio input channels, which covers the majority of public speaking and singer/songwriter scenarios. PAs with bluetooth streaming capability allow you to increase flexibility to stream  background music and other recorded program material from mobile devices. Larger systems can accommodate up to 12 inputs and can be supplemented with standalone mixers. You should also consider adding a remotely controlled, superfaceless blender Soundcraft Ui Series that transitions easily from the studio to the stage, in order to achieve even more functionality from your PA.

Long Haul 

Purchasing a PA system is an opportunity to invest in your performing career, so consider how your system will be able to grow with your needs as you weigh your options. From adding stage monitors and secondary pipes to increasing the capabilities with an independent mixer, you can expand your system in many ways. Look for I/Os that can be used to connect extra speakers, media players and recorders.

Bottom line 

You've probably realized that we haven't discussed costs yet. The truth is that you can buy a simple portable PA system for a few hundred dollars or spend thousands of dollars on a fully loaded monster system. Setting a budget obviously restricts your choices, but through the considerations outlined here, you end up with a clear idea of which systems best suit your needs – be it control, adaptability, or sheer output. Then it's all about honing your skills, dialing in your signature sound, and putting on an unforgettable performance!

Interested in learning how OnSite Media can help you with your technology rollouts and national/global expansion plans? Contact us today at 435-214-0801, ext. 1 or via email at