Portable PA Systems

Here you can discuss details about instruments, equipment and all those other bits that non-musicians won't understand !

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Mike Stranks
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Joined: Sat Nov 03, 2007 8:47 pm
Location: Cirencester, UK

Portable PA Systems

Postby Mike Stranks » Sun Feb 03, 2008 3:13 pm

I met Bob Wilson last night after the Fleet Concert (nice one Gordon; an excellent range of material - the 'plastic' and the 12-string sounded great).

Anyway, back to the plot... Bob and I got to talking about portable PA systems of the type Gordon uses when he's not using a 'house' PA. Because of what I do - semi-pro sound engineer concentrating on live sound - Bob suggested that I post a few thoughts here on what those of you who do small to medium size gigs (max 300 people) might want to consider when looking for a system.

A few qualifiers before I go further. What follows is based on the assumption that we're talking about systems that would support solo performers or duos that are using predominantly acoustic guitars with pick-ups through a pedal-board or 'directly' (probably through a DI box) connected to the sound system. My working assumption is that the system should be easy to move about and set-up and be capable of being carried in the boot of a car. What I am NOT talking about are systems that would support full rock bands with heavy-duty electric and bass guitars. drums and vocals. In effect, we're talking of the same sort of set-up that Gordon uses.

Gordon uses a Fender 'Passport' system of the type that everything except the speaker stands clips together in one 'luggable' unit. With these you get a mixer amp with some equalisation on each channel, the speakers and (usually) the speaker cables. There is quite a range of 'Passport' gear now available, with various power outputs and different sized mixers. I wouldn't go for the smallest in the range - the P80 - as the output power is probably only adequate for speech material - talks, lectures etc. In fact, talking of power outputs (which is a topic in its own right) I would go for an absolute minumum of 100 watts RMS (the RMS bit is important - other measures like 'peak' or 'music-power' output are grossly inflated and largely meaningless) per side. If budget allows, go for 200-250 watts RMS per side minimum.

A similar product to the 'Passport' is the Yamaha 'Stagepas' range - two models: the Stagepas 300 and Stagepas 500. An interesting feature is that the mixer-amp sits in the back of one of the speakers, but can be removed and mounted separately if that's more convenient. I've never heard either in action, but have read some good reviews and heard other engineers speak favourably of them. Peavey also do some stuff in this category, but I can't give you model details as their web-site is down (again!). Steer clear of the Peavey 'Escort' though - adequate though it is for its intended use, it's not really designed for serious musical duties.

The next step up is to buy a set of powered speakers and a separate mixer to 'front-end' them. (Mixers are another topic in their own right so I won't go very far apart from to say that Gordon uses a small Yamaha mixer. Very good and they have some good models (some fairly recent) in their range.)

In this group, the usual technique is to use smallish speakers on poles/stands (usually referred to as "tops"), with a subwoofer to handle the bass sitting on the floor. Because bass is virtually non-directional you only need one subwoofer. The idea is that you don't overstrain the tops with loads of bass, but route that just to the subwoofer. That way, not only do you get a better-defined sound, but you can use smaller speakers for the tops. Usually you route your audio into the subwoofer which hangs onto the bass frequencies and passes the rest of the audio spectrum to the tops.

HK Audio do a range of systems in this category and they are really first class. They employ some processing technology within the ampliers to keep the sound really tight and crisp. The 'Soundhouse 1 & 2' are the entry-level packages, with the 'L.U.C.A.S Smart' being the next rung up. (One day Santa might bring me one of the mid-range HK systems!!)

DAP Audio do some very similar LOOKING gear, which is a bit cheaper. Never heard it and not read any reviews, so an audition would be ESSENTIAL! I think Peavey also do something similar, but for the reasons explained above I can't check this out. Both HK and DAP do accessory packs with covers, clips and wheels so that everything can be clipped and made as portable as possible.

Another option is to buy a standalone mixer-amp and and a separate set of speakers. There are scores of options here, so I won't go down that route. Of course, you gain the advantage of selcting the individual components, but you miss out on the 'clip-together' portability. Think carefully before buying a mixer-amp that seems to offer loads of facilities at a bargain price - and don't forget about RMS watts - see above! EBay and other sites are always offering very attractive prices on gear by Behringer , Phonic etc. I've had mixed experiences with Behringer - some stuff has been (and is) good - other has either been not very good or has failed after a few months. You get what you pay for and you need to be sure that gear you'll be taking on the road - perhaps to paying punters - isn't going to let you down or prove a huge false economy.

Well Bob - and others - I hope that's a useful starter for 10. I've only scratched the surface so if you want to know more please PM me. Doubtless others will also have their own thoughts and experiences of this type of gear.

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Bob Wilson
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Postby Bob Wilson » Sun Feb 03, 2008 8:01 pm

Nice one Mike.
That is certainly plenty for me and others to get their teeth into. Thanks for that. Gordon's costing me a fortune :)
It was good to meet another forum member plus forum administrators Sue and Mike Holton, Hilary and friends, and have a chat before and after the gig. (where were you Roger and Emm :roll: ) Having been to a few of Gordons concerts I always keep a look out for members that post their photo or say that they are going to certain venues. Maybe its time we had GGFM (Gordon Giltrap Forum Member) badges made. Perhaps I'll look into it :wink:
Best wishes

Gordon, thank you for playing Splinter at the start, what a great warm-up exercise :lol: and what a varied set. The 12 string sounds great, looks odd and must be a nightmare to play with those fanned frets, but you obviously enjoy the challenge and played some brilliant tunes. I would think Sallie's Song would suit that deep, full sound.
I bought the Collection CD for 'Heartsong 93', having heard it on Rick's show and surprise, surprise another track on it was 'SPLINTER' which I thought was unrecorded. Brilliant!
For anyone who hasn't heard 'Heartsong 93', it is a version of Heartsong with Gordon and a few friends, Midge Ure, Steve Howe, Rick Wakeman, Neil Murray and Brian May. What a powerful version! It seems to me to have a Christmassy feel to it and I can't think of a better tune to keep Cliff from the Christmas no 1 if it was reissued at the right time :)

Well a simple thankyou has turned into a full blown ramble so I'll now get back to restringing the Appalachian guitar.
Best wishes to Hilary and you
Be well both

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