Will a mini PA system work?

7 things to consider when deciding whether a “mini” public address system suits your needs.

The cheapest of public address systems (public address systems with 30 watts of power or less) offers a wide range of highly functional solutions to sound reinforcement problems.

Because they are relatively easy to manufacture, this segment of the market is not only highly competitive, but also quite diverse.

For example, equipment ranging from a 2-watt waist amplifier with a headband microphone to a 30-watt sound system with speaker stands and a handheld microphone are considered mini PA systems.

Like all public address systems, the Mini PA includes an amplifier, speaker and microphone. Mini PA systems are highly portable, and while less powerful than full-sized PA systems, they also come in feature-rich models.

The following discussion will help you decide if a Mini PA system is the right choice for you.

1. How portable do you need your public address system to be?

Mini PA systems are highly portable almost by definition. But still, some PA systems are more portable than others!

A Mini PA can weigh a few ounces (the 2-watt Califone VoiceSaver PA weighs only 8 ounces). Some of the smaller mini PA systems can be attached to a belt for maximum convenience (see the Sidekick for an example). Other mini public address systems can be carried in the hand or on the shoulder.

Mini PA systems are ideal for use in a small group where the presenter needs to take the PA with them (eg a tour guide moving around exhibitions) or moving between different venues in a larger venue ( for example, small classrooms in a school). .

The trick is to buy a PA system that has the best balance between weight and power. This brings us to the next consideration.

2. Will you be using your public address system in small indoor venues or larger spaces?

The amount of power you need depends on the size of the room that needs sound reinforcement.

A mini PA system with 5 watts of power, for example, may be ideal for a small classroom, but for a meeting room that seats 50 to 75 people, you’ll need at least 20 watts of power.

Where you use your PA also makes a difference. If you’re using it outdoors, where sound waves don’t bounce off walls and there’s more ambient noise, you’ll need a lot more power to be heard.

When in doubt, it is better to opt for too much power than too little; having to turn up your PA volume to the max in order to be heard drains your battery faster and increases the likelihood of distortion.

For larger venues (over 75 people), you’ll want to consider PA systems in the small, medium, or large categories.

3. Will you be using the public address system only for speeches or for presentations with music?

The underlying question here is what sound quality do you want because music requires higher fidelity than speech. But since the sound quality increases with the power of the public address system (among other factors), we return to the issues affecting the power requirement.

If you don’t need to play music, for many purposes a mini PA is all you need. But below 20 watts you simply don’t get enough power for decent music reproduction, even in a relatively small venue of 10-20 people.

A Mini PA system in the 20 watt to 30 watt range may be sufficient to play a music CD as background to a speech. But note that the sound reinforcement for Live music usually starts at a much higher power – hundreds of watts instead of tens of watts.

4. Will you be using your PA in places with limited access to power outlets?

If you use a mini PA exclusively indoors (for example, in a classroom), you may like a system that relies solely on an AC adapter.

But if you’re going to use the PA outdoors or on the go, you should consider getting a PA with built-in power supplies, including rechargeable batteries.

If you’re thinking you’ll need batteries, you’ll need to consider how long a charge will last when the PA is in continuous use and/or how long it takes to charge the battery.

5. What type of microphone should you use with your mini PA? Wired or wireless, hands-free or handheld?

This question here goes back to portability.

Wireless microphone systems, and in particular hands-free microphone systems, allow greater freedom of movement for a speaker.

Since mini PA systems are best suited for speakers who need portability, it makes sense to look for a mini PA system that can accommodate a wireless microphone. Also, with wireless microphones, the speaker may need to keep both hands free to demonstrate a product or science experiment in the classroom. In this case, you would want not only a wireless microphone, but a hands-free microphone such as a lapel or headband microphone rather than a wireless handheld microphone.

Smaller mini PA systems solve this problem quite easily; since they are mounted on a belt, they come with hands-free (if not wireless) microphones.

Larger public address systems often include or allow optional upgrades for wireless microphones of various types.

Another consideration when choosing a microphone system is interference. The high-end Williams Sound mini PA system (16 selectable channels) and the Listen Technology Soundfield mini PA system (57 selectable channels) use ADA-compliant bandwidth for their wireless microphones that are restricted by the FCC and less subject to interferences

6. What other features do you need with your public address system?

Higher powered mid-range and large PA systems generally include numerous built-in features to facilitate additional functionality such as CD players and optional expandable speakers.

Surprisingly though, you can get some of these same features built into mini PA systems.

For example, some mini PAs have built-in cassette or CD players, while others have additional inputs to accommodate audio from external sources.

If music is an integral part of your presentations, you should consider a mini PA with features like bass and treble control or a built-in subwoofer. These can add some weight to the speaker, but it’s worth it if sound quality is important.

One caveat though, mini PA systems are best for providing solid performance for small venues where portability is at a premium.

Do not attempt to use a PA system with a maximum of 30 watts of power as a substitute for more sophisticated sound reinforcement functions that require more power!

7. What is your budget for a public address system?

One of the main attractions of a mini PA system is its price.

Mini PA systems are an affordable way to reinforce sound for smaller venues or speakers on the go.

Of course, as you add more features, you add to the price tag.

For example, do you need a wireless microphone or will a cheaper wired microphone suffice?
Do you need rechargeable batteries or will you settle for disposable alkaline batteries?
Need a built-in cassette or CD player?

Find out which options you can’t live without and which ones you can sacrifice to save money, to get the system that does what you want at a good price.

Now that you know what to look for in a public address system, take a look at our selection of public address systems as well as our public address accessories.
Still have questions? Expert advice from AudioLink staff is just a phone call away (1-212-766-0248) or an email away!

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