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PA Speaker Buying Guide

How to Choose PA Speakers

Achieving consistently high-quality live sound can be a challenge. Your choice of PA speakers can determine whether you’re mixing to make something good sound great or struggling to solve sound-reinforcement problems. There are three basic categories of PA systems: 

Personal PAs 

Medium-sized PAs

Full-scale PAs

Personal PAs consist of single speakers or mini speaker arrays, which serve as both main speakers and monitors. Medium-sized PAs consist of a pair of stand-mounted speakers on either side of the stage plus simple monitor wedges. Full-scale PA systems involve multi-speaker line arrays and complex monitoring systems.

We’ve created this Sweetwater Buying Guide to provide you with the information you’ll need when you’re ready to invest in new PA speakers. Since there’s so much more to consider than what we can possibly cover here, give your Sales Engineer a call at (800) 222-4700 after checking out this guide. They can help you choose the best PA speakers for your situation.

How Much Power Do I Need?

At Sweetwater, we’re often asked how much power is required for a PA system. But the real question is “How loud do you need it to be?” as your power requirements will vary according to your situation. Are you performing low-volume acoustic folk or high-volume progressive metal? A classical presentation or an EDM performance? The size of the venue is also important, as is the number of people attending (human bodies make terrific sound absorbers). A medium-sized venue (250–500 people) may require 2,000 watts or as much as 20,000 watts, based on these factors.

So, is it all about wattage? Not necessarily. After all, more power doesn’t necessarily mean more output. While a speaker’s wattage definitely affects its volume, its maximum SPL (Sound Pressure Level) is a better indicator of how loud the speaker can go. Understanding a speaker’s coverage angle is also important. A powerful speaker with a narrow coverage angle will reach fewer people than a less powerful one with a broader coverage angle. It’s also vital that you consider the speaker’s sensitivity, which is a measurement of its ability to effectively convert power into sound. In a nutshell, sensitivity refers to the SPL that a speaker can produce from a 1-watt signal at a distance of 1 meter. This sensitivity spec measures “efficiency” and is a strong indicator of a speaker’s loudness, which is why a less efficient 1,000-watt speaker isn’t necessarily louder than an efficient 500-watt speaker. In fact, a 500-watt speaker with a sensitivity of 98dB will actually be the same volume as a 1,000-watt speaker with a sensitivity of 95dB.

soundbar

A TV or home theater speaker system in a single cabinet. Soundbar speakers are designed for apartments or venues where discrete speakers are not desired throughout the room. Self powered, soundbars often support a wireless subwoofer for maximum bass response, which can be conveniently located anywhere in the room. In the more sophisticated systems, "virtual surround sound" is produced by psychoacoustic effects that adjust the timing and volume of the various speakers. Some units bounce the sound off side and back walls, which can be effective in small rooms, while others do not rely on precise placement.
 

The Soundbase

A soundbase is a soundbar that is deeper and flat so the TV stand can be placed on it. See home theater, home theater speakers and home theater in a box.

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