portable sound system

Do You Actually Need A Portable Sound System?

Figuring out which portable sound system you need is super difficult. There are so many. And each of them has different features, prices, and purposes.

That’s why I’m writing this guide — to help figure out the best PA sound system for your needs.

We’ll share our picks for the best portable sound systems, including:

  1. Behringer Europort MPA 40BT Pro
  2. Fender Passport Conference PA System
  3. Hisonic HS120B Portable PA System
  4. ION Audio Tailgater iPA77
  5. LyxPro SPA-8 Portable PA System
  6. Pyle Pro 800W Portable PA Loudspeaker
  7. Mackie FreePlay Live
  8. Yamaha STAGEPAS 600I Portable PA System

Before we dive into the details, let’s start with the basics. Every PA system has three aspects:

  • Input transducer (this would be the microphones or lines coming from an instrument)
  • Amplifiers (this would be the preamps in the console and the power amps in the speakers)
  • Output transducer (this would be the speakers or the headphones)

In this post, we’ll cover the questions you’ll need to ask that will help you figure out what type of system you need…or if you need a sound system at all.

How Often Will You Be Playing?

The first question to ask yourself is how often you’ll be playing out. Answering this question could save you a ton of money.

Think about it. If you play shows every weekend, you’ll for sure need to own a PA system that will last you a long time. If this is you, you should invest a decent amount of money in a high-quality system ASAP.

But if you only play concerts every once in a while, it may be better to look at local companies that rent equipment. You’ll have to break out a calculator and figure out the cost-benefit ratio of renting verse buying.

And if you’re a touring artist, depending on the type of venues you’re playing and how big of a crowd you can draw, the venues will most likely provide sound for you.

It all comes down to what direction you want to go with your music. What kind of musician do you want to be?

Do you thrive onstage? Then you’ll definitely want a PA system.

Would you rather write songs and produce tracks? Then it would be a better idea to invest in new recording equipment or paying Studio Musicians. And if that’s the case, the rest of this guide may not be for you (at least right now).

But for you performers, keep reading.

How Many Inputs Do You Need?

The next thing to look at is how many inputs you’ll need. This part doesn’t take long.

If you’re a solo act, think about how many instruments you’ll be playing, whether or not you’ll be singing, and if you want to have any guitar or looping pedals.

These are all inputs, so keep that in mind when you’re browsing PA systems.

Where Will You Be Playing?

Okay, now we’re going to dive into some more technical aspects of choosing a sound system.

First, let’s talk about the size of the venue. Obviously, smaller venues require a smaller PA system and bigger venues require a more powerful sound system. A lot of online stores will allow you to filter products by audience size, which is nice, and brick-and-mortar stores have representatives who can help you.

But there’s more to it than that. Let’s get into the nitty-gritty.

Think about it. If you play shows every weekend, you’ll for sure need to own a PA system that will last you a long time. If this is you, you should invest a decent amount of money in a high-quality system ASAP. But if you only play concerts every once in a while, it may be better to look at local companies that rent equipment. You’ll have to break out a calculator and figure out the cost-benefit ratio of renting verse buying.

How Far Away Is the Back of the Room?

The first thing to consider when purchasing a PA system is how far the speakers are from the back of the room. Because you want to make sure people in the back can hear you clearly but you don’t want to explode the eardrums of front-row fans.

Here are some very rough guesstimates of how far away you should try to position your speakers from the back of the room:

  • Coffee shop, bar, brewery, restaurant: about 15-30 feet
  • Auditorium, small-ish outdoor festival, club: 30-100 feet (if it’s an outdoor event, measure from the farthest boundary of the event)
  • Arena, large outdoor festival, concert hall (sound system will most likely be provided by venue/event): 100 plus feet

So when you’re setting up your system and doing a soundcheck, make sure you test the sound by standing at the back of the venue or at the farthest edge of the outdoor event. If you’re a solo artist, maybe bring a friend or significant other to talk into the mic and gently play your instrument while you stand in the back and listen.

What Should the Volume Be?

Figuring out the volume is sort of a guessing game because there are so many factors — the type of music, the venue size, the number of people in attendance, the context (are you playing background music or are you the main event?).

You’ll also have to consider the noise ordinances of the area, especially if it’s an outdoor event.

So it’s kind of a thing you have to play by ear (pardon the pun).

How Many Watts Do You Need?

So when it comes to buying a portable sound system, how do you determine which one you need? Well, looking at how many watts the system has will really help you out.

Here’s a general guide to picking the right PA system based on the venue and number of watts:

  • Coffee shop, bar, brewery, restaurant: about 250 W
  • Auditorium, small to medium outdoor festival, club: between 250-3,000 W (depending on the size of the event/venue)
  • Arena, large outdoor festival, concert hall: between 4000-15,000 W

Tips for Setting Up a PA System

After you find the right PA system for your needs, all you have to do is put it together and get it set up. You should practice setting up the system before your gig (just at your house or in your studio). That way, when you get to the show, you’re not figuring it all out on the fly.

Here’s a basic rundown of how you should set up the sound system:

  • Connect your instrument(s) and microphone(s) to the stage box (aka the snake)
  • One signal goes to the front of house while an identical signal threads to the monitors
  • Signals go through the console and sent via the outputs
  • The outputs are routed to the power amps
  • The power amps connect to the respective speakers

Now you should be ready to go.

Additionally, you’ll probably get instructions with the PA system you buy, so that should have more details specific to the system.

After you find the right PA system for your needs, all you have to do is put it together and get it set up. You should practice setting up the system before your gig (just at your house or in your studio). That way, when you get to the show, you’re not figuring it all out on the fly.

The Best Portable Sound Systems

Now let’s give you some more concrete direction. Here are the best portable PA systems currently on the market along with the venues they’re best suited for.

1. Behringer Europort MPA 40BT Pro

Watts: 500 W
Venue type: Auditorium, small to medium outdoor festival, club
Highlights: 100 effects, Bluetooth streaming, 5-band EQ,
Cost: $500

2. Fender Passport Conference PA System

Watts: 175 W
Venue type: busking, house concert, small coffee shop
Highlights: 5-channel mixer, 2-band EQ, 20 dB pad, lightweight
Cost: $400

3. Hisonic HS120B Portable PA System

Watts: 40 W
Venue type: busking, house concert, small coffee shop
Highlights: lightweight, sound controls (tone, volume, echo), battery powered
Cost: $100

4. ION Audio Tailgater iPA77

Watts: 50 W
Venue type: busking, house concert, small coffee shop
Highlights: lightweight, USB port for charging devices, pairs with NFC or Bluetooth up to 100 feet away
Cost: $120

5. LyxPro SPA-8 Portable PA System

Watts: 100 W
Venue type: busking, house concert, small coffee shop
Highlights: 8-inch subwoofer for extra bass, Bluetooth enabled, USB port for charging devices, plenty of inputs (XLR, RCA), built-in EQ
Cost: $100

6. Pyle Pro 800W Portable PA Loudspeaker

Watts: 800 W
Venue type: pretty much any venue, including auditoriums, small to medium outdoor festivals, and clubs
Highlights: battery powered, a dock for playing music from your Apple device, wireless microphones, lightweight
Cost: $250

7. Mackie FreePlay Live

Watts: 150 W
Venue type: busking, house concert, small coffee shop
Highlights: reverb, battery-powered, lightweight, integrates with custom app, Bluetooth connectivity, push-button 3-band EQ (“music” and “live” settings)
Cost: $350

8. Yamaha STAGEPAS 600I Portable PA System

Watts: 680 W
Venue type: pretty much any venue, including auditoriums, small to medium outdoor festivals, and clubs
Highlights: 10-channel mixer, USB port for charging your device, lightweight
Cost: $900

Performers Need a PA System

If you’re looking to become a regular performer, you can’t always rely on the venue to provide sound.

Coffee shops don’t typically provide sound. House concerts may require a small system. You’ll probably want one for busking.

Whether you’re a solo artist or a rock band (and especially if you’re a Singer), a PA system is a crucial tool in your story of success.

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