February 17, 2023
Whether you’re just getting a new act started or you’re looking to upgrade, there are more choices than ever when it comes to PA systems for your band. With so many options and so many different band scenarios, the choice is quite personal. Here are a few things to keep in mind when choosing your band’s PA system.
Start with your genre and lineup. Obviously, if you’re strictly a singer/songwriter with one acoustic and one vocal, your PA needs are less than a four-piece with drums, bass, two guitars, and three backup vocals.
In the former case, if you don’t have plans to expand, a combo amp designed for acoustic guitars is often enough. These amps don’t impart their own character like electric guitar amps and usually have at least one mic input for vocals. The whole package is convenient and portable. Have that combo on hand for small to medium venues and get a direct box like Carvin’s FDR60 for bigger venues with a house PA and that could be all you ever need.
On the other hand, a full band needs to consider inputs, low-end response (for kick, bass, and synths), and overall loudness, even for small to medium venues, since vocals will need to compete with loud sources like the drum kit and guitar amps. You’ll also need to consider monitoring and whether or not you’ll be using stage monitors or in-ear monitors. When using stage monitors, you may not need one for every member, depending on your stage plot and preferences. Discuss what each member needs to hear and where they’ll be on stage.
Finally, consider your genre. A metal band calls for significantly more loudness and punch than a jazz ensemble, for example, even in some of the same venues. Rock, hip-hop, and metal bands also call for better low-end reinforcement, especially for kick drums, whereas jazz calls for a subtler low end.
Once you have a solid view of who’s in the group, what inputs are necessary, and what you’ll need as far as monitors, consider your goals and the venues you’re likely to play now and in the future. It’s tempting to put together a rig that can handle every aspect of every possible gig from front of house to monitoring and small coffee shops to outdoor festivals, but you may not need to go that far. If you know you’ll only need to provide the PA at smaller venues, for example, you may be able to stick to a smaller system and a single monitor while you rely on the house sound system at larger venues.
If you want to be well-prepared for a variety of venues, consider a modular approach, and don’t forget the flexibility and power of a column array system. For extra monitoring, Carvin’s QX15A 1000W active main/monitor is a convenient way to hear yourself on stage without having to implement separate power amps. This kind of unit can also double as a powered all-in-one PA solution for a solo act since it has two mic/line inputs, or it can be paired to create a true stereo PA system, perfect for vocal reinforcement or keyboards.
Flexible active loudspeakers like this can serve multiple purposes in various situations. If you need more channels, a small mixer will do the trick. You also have the option of pairing passive loudspeakers with traditional power amps like Carvin’s LT Series, but for most gigging bands, this is too complex, and most situations requiring that much power will be served by a dedicated sound company.
Many groups and solo acts lack a large van or want to keep gas costs down and would prefer to stick with a normal car for transportation. This is worth considering when designing your rig, and it’s another argument for considering a column array system. For example, Carvin's TRC400A system fits in a Prius along with a 24-channel mixing board. This compact system packs a lot of punch for such a small package, delivering 4000 watts and projecting up to 400 feet.
Column arrays systems also come with subwoofers, which is a good thing for full bands for providing a solid low-end foundation that gives you punch without having to be overly loud. If you’re going with a more piece-built system consisting of various loudspeakers you can configure in various arrangements, consider whether you might need a subwoofer like Carvin’s TRX3118A 2000W active sub. Building a system this way may take up more space in your ride and be more complex to set up, but it does give you adaptability.
At the end of the day, you need to be heard, and you need to be able to set up efficiently. Your choice of PA is personal and depends on genre, ambitions, budget, and technical acumen, but considering these basic needs may be the fastest way to determine what you need.
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