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How To Choose The Perfect Portable PA System

- January 29, 2019

Portable PA System

Performing live is the oldest form of entertainment. It started with a king’s personal minstrel and has formed into something completely new yet completely the same. If you want to stand out and be prepared nowadays, you’ll probably need a portable PA system.

The question is: how do you choose the best one for your situation?

Frequency Of Shows

First, you have to figure out if buying a PA system is even worth it. Do you play out enough that it warrants an investment like this? Or would it make more sense to rent a sound system from a local company?

If you play shows on the regular, you’ll probably need a sound system, unless every venue you play provides one. And if you only play out every once and a while, it may make more fiscal sense to rent.


Next, you should think about how many inputs you need. If you’re in a band, you’ll have to break down every single wire for every instrument and figure out how many inputs it will take.

Once you figure that out, it’s better to round up. Get a PA system that has more inputs than you think you’ll need, just in case.


Now you’ll need to figure out what PA system will work best for the venues you’ll be playing. If the venue does not provide a sound system, you should take into consideration the size and capacity of the venue.

The first detail to think about is how far away the back of the room is from the speakers. You want people in the back to hear every note you play, but you also don’t want to damage the hearing of those in the front row.

It’s all about balance.

Here are some general guidelines for how far away your PA system speakers should be from the back of the venue or the edge of the outdoor event:  

  • Coffee shop, bar, brewery, restaurant: 15-30 feet
  • Auditorium, small outdoor festival, club: 30-100 feet
  • Arena, large outdoor festival, concert hall: 100 plus feet

Make sure you, one of your bandmates, or your music-savvy manager stands in the back of the venue during sound check, just to make sure the volume is loud enough but not too loud.

PA System Power

Knowing how many watts your PA system needs is also very important. Again, it’s about balance. Not too much power, not too little.

So here’s a general idea of how many watts your PA system needs depending on the venue you’re playing:

  • Coffee shop, bar, brewery, restaurant: 250 W or less
  • Auditorium, small or medium outdoor festival, club: 250-3,000 W
  • Arena, large outdoor festival, concert hall: 4000-15,000 W

Presenting The Best You On Stage

Having a high-quality PA system not only helps make your band sound awesome, but it also shows people you’re serious about your craft. Plus, a good sound system takes away the frustration that sometimes comes with shows. All you want to do is play music and an issue with the sound is screwing everything up.

That’s why buying the right PA system for you and your band is so important.

Caleb J. Murphy is a songwriter and producer based in Austin, TX. He’s also the founder of Musician With A Day Job, a blog that helps part-time musicians succeed.