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How to Buy Used PA Speakers

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How to Buy Used PA Speakers


Nowhere is the saying, first impressions count, more apparent than in a live music context. Bands, solo performers, and spoken-word artists have to ensure that their message gets across via a clear, undistorted PA system. Buying used PA speakers may enable the purchase of higher-quality gear than would be affordable when buying new.
It will be assumed that the purchase and setup of PA systems for larger concert venues, touring bands and the like, which is typically the domain of the professional PA sale or hire company, is outwith the scope of this article, and that the reader will be working in the context of small to medium-sized PA systems.

Buying Speakers as Components in a Complete PA System

When setting up a PA system from scratch for a new ensemble or artist, it's possible to buy speakers separately, or as part of an all-in-one system, which will include a mixing desk and possibly microphones, too. The purchase of an all-in-one system practically guarantees that all the components, in coming from the same maker, will match, and be designed to work together. These systems may well come supplied with all the necessary cabling, enabling even the inexperienced amateur to get them up and running easily.
The main consideration with regard to the speakers in the context of this type of purchase is to judge the power output of the system as a whole, when compared to the venue(s) in which it will be used, the size of audience expected, and the use to which the PA will be put. A simple spoken-word presentation, for instance, or voice plus acoustic guitar, won't be as demanding as a full-blown rock band.
A general rule of thumb approach to this is outlined in the following table.

Type of Act/Performance

Number of watts per audience member

Spoken Word
 

Up to 1

 

Soloists, duos and acoustic acts
 

2 – 3

 

Small bands, small to average venues
 

3 - 4

 

Large venues, large and loud bands
 

4 - 5

 


Once the appropriate power rating has been determined, consider the physical size of the speakers included, and whether or not they will be suitable in the desired context.
If the system is being used by a solo artist, determine whether or not that artist will be carrying the PA to, from and into the performance venue(s). If so, consider whether the speakers are of the right size and weight for the available transport, and if are they light and compact enough for one person to carry, and to set up in the venue(s). Look at any carrying handles fitted to the speakers, and also consider any stands that are supplied, and whether or not they can be easily assembled by one person.
For larger groups or ensembles, these considerations will vary, but should still be assessed as more personnel become available, and as system sizes progress toward medium and larger systems.

Buying Individual Speakers

When buying individual used speakers for a PA system, it is important to evaluate how the overall system will be put together. Here, the considerations would be if the system is being built new, if a current system is to be upgraded or if older, faulty or damaged speakers are to be replaced.

Building a New PA System

When buying used PA speakers individually to assemble a new system (as opposed to the complete matched system purchase described above), it's necessary to consider what type of speakers are needed to match the existing or intended front-end equipment. If amplification is already in place or has been selected, then passive speakers will be required. If the existing equipment has line-level outputs, it will be intended to partner active speakers, and these should be considered for purchase.

Passive Vs Active Speakers

Passive speakers contain drive units only, and they are designed to be partnered with separate amplification. Active speakers contain drive units and amplifiers, and they are designed to accept line-level signals from a mixing desk. The active speakers have the advantage that the amplifier and drive units therein will be ideally matched by the manufacturer, and this removes any doubt about amplifier/speaker matching from the buying assessment. Passive speakers connect to their partnering amplifiers with one set of cables, and the amplifiers need to be connected to a power source. Typically, the amplifiers will be located in or close to the mixing desk, which is likely to be close to power outlets. With active speakers, connection to the mixing desk is made with one cable, but the active speaker will require power for the amplifier within, so will either need to be installed close to other power outlets, or be partnered with long power cables.
The power handling of a passive speaker or set of speakers should be matched to the available amplification. As a general rule, if a 120w amplifier is in use, the speaker(s) should be rated at 120w or more. Whilst it's possible, with care, to use a lower-rated speaker with a higher-rated amplifier – a 100w speaker with a 120w amplifier, say – this approach is generally not recommended.
In the small to medium-sized PA context, many speaker systems these days are designed as full-range units, whether they are passive or active designs. Early PA systems had their speakers divided by audio frequency range; large drivers and cabinets for the bass end, smaller drivers and smaller cabinets for midrange, and smaller drivers and cabinets still for treble. Whilst this approach is still in use for medium to large designs, it's becoming less and less common in small to medium applications.

Upgrading Individual Speakers

An artist or ensemble may want to purchase used PA speakers to upgrade existing ones. This would typically be done for increased power output, perhaps because of graduation to larger venues and audiences, or for improvement in quality.
Broadly speaking, if active speakers are in use with a line-level desk, there's little or no matching to be considered, and any active speaker could easily be replaced with another of higher output or better quality.
An upgrade of any passive speakers should probably be considered in tandem with an upgrade to the amplification setup, unless there's a clear indication that the replacement speaker is of better quality than the original. There will be no increase in volume level by substituting a higher-rated speaker, as the overall output will be determined by the amplification in use.

Replacing Existing Speakers

When replacing existing PA speakers due to faults or other damage, it's probably best to replace like-with like, for the same reasons as shown in the upgrading paragraph above.

Buying Monitor Speakers

Monitoring, or foldback, is a technique used to enable artists or bands to hear themselves on stage. With larger ensembles, it's sometimes difficult for vocalists to hear themselves over other instruments, or for a musician at stage left to hear another at stage right.
Monitor speakers are typically used in partnership with a dedicated monitor mixing desk, and again are available in active and passive form. Selection will depend on whether a complete monitoring system is being assembled, the speakers are being added to an existing amplification system, or whether they are adding to or replacing existing monitor speakers. Traditionally, monitors are built in wedge-shaped cabinets, with the dual purpose of making them less obtrusive at the front of the stage, and of directing the speakers up at the performers. The power output of the wedges should be judged in comparison with the onstage volume, and whichever other amplified instruments are in use.

How to Find Used PA Speakers on eBay

From the eBay homepage, select Buy and Browse Categories.. Select Musical Instruments,, then Pro Audio Equipment.. Since the specific topic of this guide is Used PA speakers, the Condition Used can be selected here (or later), then Speakers and Monitors,, and either PA Speaker or PA Speaker System.. These two categories can be further refined into Active or Passive subcategories, such as Active PA Speakers,, or Passive PA Speakers..

Conclusion

Many refinements in speaker technology have been made in recent years, notably the trend toward active speaker styles in public address applications. Buying used speakers can sometimes enable the artist to secure a quality system at far lower price than would be achieved when buying new.
Before finalising a purchase on eBay, carefully consider the details in item listings, and look carefully at the seller's history and feedback rating. PA speakers are typically large and heavy items, so look closely at delivery arrangements and costs. If in doubt about any aspect of the listing, ask the seller by clicking the Ask seller a question link under their profile.

 
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