A Singers Guide to Buying a PA System

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A Singer's Guide to Buying a PA System

Singers who want to amplify and project their sound to a wider audience may benefit from the use of a PA system.

About PA Systems for Singers

PA systems, or public address systems, consist of various components that work together to take sound and project it to a targeted audience of varying size and distribution. The basic components of a PA system are the same whether it is a small portable PA system or a PA system for large venues, although larger systems have additional components and a different layout.
The basic components of a PA system are a microphone, amplifier, and speakers. PA systems may have more than one microphone and varying numbers of amplifiers and speakers. They may also contain components such as audio mixers, or mixing consoles, other effects processing units and stage monitors used by performers onstage. PA systems also require various cables and accessories.
In many ways, PA systems are a more important consideration for singers than for other musicians. Part of this is simply down to the fact that a singer’s voice cannot carry as far as instruments such as electric guitars and drums. Vocals need extra help to be amplified and projected. If vocals need to be combined with instruments, especially multiple instruments, the ability to mix and balance the different tones and volumes becomes especially relevant. Choosing the various components of a PA system should be done with consideration as to which are the most appropriate for the particular sound, or sounds, or which have the best capacity to accurately reproduce the varying sound frequencies.

Choosing a PA System for a Singer

Choosing a PA system requires weighing up various factors such as sound performance, functionality, practicality, and cost.

Performance and Functionality

A singer needs a PA system that can handle vocals well. The quality and functionality of the various components is important and should be carefully considered. However, although vocals need help to be amplified and projected, a PA system for mainly vocal use does not need to be especially complex. Other instruments, especially drums, need more intricate systems because they produce a wider range of sound frequencies. With this in mind, it may be preferable to aim for quality and performance rather than complex functionality which may not be required. Reading product reviews and visiting music forums can be a good way to find recommendations and test out the waters of particular models before committing to purchasing.

Practicality

A PA system needs to be practical as well as fit for purpose. There is little point in having a large and unwieldy system if there is no way of transporting it. PA systems have several components which can easily add up, especially when accessories are thrown into the mix, so always keep in mind whether a system is practical for the particular purpose. Some singers may require more portability, especially if travelling frequently to various gigs, while for others this may not be such a pressing concern. Speakers are typically the largest components and finding decent but smaller speakers is a good way to make the system more portable.

Cost

Purchase of a complete PA system can involve quite a bit of expenditure, so it is always worth doing some research beforehand. Read up on product descriptions and reviews to find microphones, amplifiers and speakers that meet the requirements for performance, practicality and cost. While it may be tempting to skimp on quality, the PA system is a key factor in how the audience will perceive the sound. For this reason it is generally recommended to buy tried and tested components from a reputable brand.
It may be possible to buy separate components or a complete system second hand, and this can be a good way to keep costs down. If doing this, always read the product description carefully, checking that all the components are complete and undamaged. It is a good idea to buy from a reputable seller with solid feedback and ratings.

Components

Microphones

Microphones convert sound or air pressure to electrical signals. Electrical signals are then passed to an audio mixer or directly to an amplifier.

Microphones vary in style. Singers typically use hand held microphones or place them in a stand. Headset microphones may also be used, especially if the performance incorporates a lot of dance moves.

There are three main types of microphone – condenser, dynamic, and ribbon. Of these, dynamic microphones are valued for their robust design and ability to handle audio feedback. Condenser microphones and ribbon microphones are both noted for their sensitivity and smooth sound.

Audio Mixers

Audio mixers receive electrical signals from microphones. Each microphone can be directed into its own input channel and then its signals corrected and modified in different ways. These include buffering, fading, equalisation, adding effects such as delay and adjusting the volume. The mixer needs to have enough channels for each input, but in the case of a solo singer, duet or similar set up, four channels or so may be sufficient. The signals are then combined and passed to an amplifier and, in some cases, stage monitors.

There are two basic types of audio mixer – analogue and digital. Of these, analogue mixers are regarded to have better sound quality and are cheaper and easier to operate. Digital mixers offer more capacity for playing around with effects and are also smaller.

Amplifiers

Amplifiers transmit amplified signals from microphones or audio mixers to loudspeakers. In smaller systems amplifiers may be built into the audio mixer or loudspeaker, but larger systems have separate mixers, amplifiers and speakers. The first system is more portable but separate components give more flexibility.

Amplifiers need to be compatible with loudspeakers so as not to damage them and also to produce as clean a sound as possible. Current is expressed as root mean square (RMS) and this indicates how much power the amplifier can transmit.

Loudspeakers

Loudspeakers receive signals from amplifiers and convert them into sound. It is the size and quantity of loudspeakers that determines how loud the sound can be, not the amplifier.

There are various types of loudspeaker, including woofers, mid-range speakers and tweeters. Each handles a different range of frequencies - woofers low frequencies, mid-range speakers middle frequencies and tweeters high frequencies. Mid-range speakers are the most important for vocals. Other loudspeakers are able to handle all frequencies.

The number and combination of different speakers can impact how accurately different frequencies are projected, and it is important to weigh up how important this is against portability.

Find a PA System on eBay

To find a PA system on eBay, type in relevant terms such as “PA system” into the search bar at the top of the eBay home page. This is a quick way to bring up listings which can then be refined using the left hand side tabs.
Alternatively, from the eBay home page go to the left hand side tabs and scroll over All Categories. Select Musical Instruments followed by Pro Audio Equipment. The listings can then be browsed for PA systems and components. The tabs to the left can also be used to select individual components, including microphones, amplifiers, audio mixers and loudspeakers, and then to refine listings as required.

Conclusion

PA systems consist of various components that take sound and project it to an audience. The basic components are a microphone, amplifier, and loudspeakers, and PA systems may also have an audio mixer and additional components such as effects processing units and stage monitors. PA systems are an important consideration for singers as vocals cannot carry as far as loud instruments and need help to be amplified and projected. The various components of a PA system work together to transmit and transform sound, and singers in particular should focus on acquiring a PA system which will ensure quality sound and performance. Using eBay, the ideal PA system for a singer can be found.

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