How to put a PA system together

by Andrew Bishop

Chapter 5 - Putting Together A Small PA

When it comes to putting together a small PA system, it makes no difference whether you’re just about to start gigging or you’re a seasoned professional - the range of options that are available to you both are exactly the same and only your specific needs will differ. In this chapter we’re going to be looking at only PA loudspeakers and amplifiers – we’ll look at microphones and mixers further on down the line.

How Small is Small?

The definition of a small PA system is a bit tricky, but the definition that we’re going to use in this chapter is bounded by the size of venues in which the PA is going to be used – a small venue needs only a small PA. This means a small PA has to be powerful enough to produce the volume level required in the room and also has to be physically small and light enough to be easily transported to the venue (and up or down any stairs) and compact enough to fit into your car or van.

Fortunately for all of us, modern technology has produced very compact active loudspeakers with moulded cabinets, built-in amplifiers, multi-channel inputs and (in some models) a Bluetooth facility that allows us to stream audio from compatible computers, phones and mp3 players. These compact moulded cabinets are easy to handle (some even come with built-in wheels) and fit easily into almost any car or van.

Growing Your PA

When you’re buying your first PA, its well worth planning a PA system that can grow with you as your band or your show becomes more popular and starts playing in bigger venues. Present-day active loudspeakers - powered by digital amplifiers, DSP and digital crossovers – are optimised to ensure that, for example, the 8” woofer in our 300W RMS Orion 8 can reproduce frequencies down to 70Hz.

In a small club, restaurant or pub where you’ll probably only need to put vocals and acoustic guitars through the PA - (any keyboards, electric guitar, bass guitar or drums will be plenty loud enough in a small room - a pair of 8” Orions on stands (giving you 600W RMS total) would be more than enough to get you heard above even the noisiest patrons.

If you’re a DJ, or if you’re a band playing in larger venues where you need more bottom end to handle bass sounds, all you’d have to do is to add one or two Delta 1x12” active 500W RMS subs to your pair of 8” active Orions and you’ve got either a single sub 1100W RMS system or 1600W RMS with twin subs.

Incidentally, if you don’t need a heavy bass, but you’re working in bigger venues, you could upgrade your 8” Orions to 15” Orions to give you a bit more power and room coverage and repurpose the 8” versions as floor monitors.

Starting Bigger

Your current gigs may call for a bigger system, so you could follow the same trajectory, starting either with a pair 12” or 15” 400W RMS Orions and, if necessary, adding 600W Delta 1x15” or 1x18” active plywood subs to taste.

Going Large

Once you get to the point where you’re thinking of adding active Delta subs, you’ll quite probably start thinking about upgrading your Orions to their active 1x12 or 1x15 Delta equivalents. It’s at this point that your planning kicks in as the Orion active loudspeakers that you already own will make great floor monitors, side-fills or drum monitors.

In the coming chapters, we’ll delve into larger PA systems, look at the active vs. passive loudspeaker dichotomy and discuss why hybrid active/passive systems can make a lot of sense in certain circumstances.