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A Quick & Simple Guide to 11 Portable P.A. Systems

August 17, 2012
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Although many venues offer installed house-sound systems, a musician is never truly free until he or she can gig anywhere and anytime with a personal P.A. For solo artists and bands on the go, we looked at 11 new and recently released systems that are uber-portable—meaning they can fit into the back seat and/ or trunk of a sedan, and can be easily set up by one person.

The Features

Watts. Power alone doesn’t necessarily equate to volume, as efficient speakers can pump out a lot of level from lowwattage amplifiers. Happily, we found each system powerful enough to do its duty within the “Recommended Venues” slot we put it in.
Mixer Channels. Here’s the difference between systems that can handle just a solo or duo act (two to three channels), and systems that can power a small band (eight or more channels).
Inputs. All of the systems include XLR inputs for professional-level mics, and 1/4" jacks for instruments, wireless receivers, and hobbyist-quality microphones. Added flexibility is offered on some systems with RCA and 1/8" inputs that can accommodate mp3 players and other playback devices.
Phantom Power. If a system doesn’t have phantom power, you won’t be able to use condenser mics. This isn’t a big deal, as there are tons of excellent dynamic mics to choose from, but some singers feel condensers are better matches for their vocal timbres. Likewise, singer/songwriters may prefer to mic their acoustic guitars with condensers.
Speakers. Systems with low-frequency (LF) and high-frequency (HF) speakers typically offer more tonal separation, as well as better sonic dimension. Multi-speaker array systems can deliver wider dispersion of sound (depending upon how the individual speakers are positioned within the cabinet). Good single-driver speakers can serve up a focused and balanced sound output.
EQ. Two-band EQ gives you control over preset high and low frequencies—which is nice—but if you like tweaking the mids on vocals and guitars, you’ll be happier with 3-band EQ. A system that adds a 5- or 7-band EQ on the stereo master is good for fighting feedback and tailoring your sound to the performance environment.
Onboard Effects. Signal processing is always handy to spice up your mix. It’s not essential, however, as performance spaces will have their own “room tone,” which can diminish the need for additional ambience/ reverb.
Extras. A list of some key “added value” features included with the system.
Weight. You will be lugging these systems around, so make sure the weight is comfy as you assess load-in/load-out factors such as stairs, distance from car to venue, and lifting out of your car.
Recommended Venues. This is our editorial assessment on where each system will perform optimally.

The Ratings

The editors chose four performance categories, and evaluated each system with “mic ratings,” as follows: one = “Not Happening,” two = “Adequate,” three = “Real Good,” four = “Excellent,” and five = “Truly Kick Ass.”
Sound Quality. We plugged in vocal mics, acoustic and electric guitars, and prerecorded stereo music tracks (via mp3 or CD player), and listened for clear and articulate mids, airy highs, and taut lows. We also checked for distortion, lack of headroom, muddy or indistinct playback, and dispersion of sound (how wide of a field of audible sound is pumped into the performance/ listening environment).
Portability. Are the components easy to carry? Can one person do it all—load-in, set up, and load-out—without sweating all over his or her stage clothes?
Flexibility. We determined if a system could be easily deployed for mixed usage— solo artist and band sound reinforcement, DJ gigs, public address (speaking), music playback, and front-line monitors.
Ease of Use. Is the system so butt-simple you can operate it without reading the manual? Is a complete set up fast and easy? Are all operations laid out in a super userfriendly configuration?

Behringer Europort EPA900

Contact

Behringer.com

Street Price

$699

Watts

2 x 450w

Mixer Channels

8

Inputs

4 x XLR, 4 x TRS, 6 x 1/4", 4 x RCA, 1 x 1/8"

Phantom Power

Yes

Speakers

10" LF, 1.35" HF

EQ

2-band (channel), 7-band (stereo master)

Onboard Effects

100 presets

Extras

Feedback detection, Voice Canceller, Behringer XM 1800s mic, 20' mic cable.

Weight

82.5 lbs

Recommended Venues

Small clubs and performance spaces

Sound Quality

4

Portability

5

Flexibility

5

Ease of Use

5

Bose L1 Compact

Contact

bose.com

Street Price

$899

Watts

130w (mono system)

Mixer Channels

2

Inputs

1 x XLR, 1 x 1/4" TRS, 1 x 1/8" TRS, 2 x RCA

Phantom Power

No

Speakers

1 x 8" LF, 6 x 2" HF

EQ

2-band (mic channel only)

Onboard Effects

None

Extras

ToneMatch preset EQ curves.

Weight

29 lbs

Recommended Venues

Coffee houses to small clubs

Sound Quality

4

Portability

5

Flexibility

3

Ease of Use

5

Carvin XP800L-PM10

Contact

carvin.com

Street Price

$599

Watts

2 x 250w

Mixer Channels

8

Inputs

6 x XLR, 4 x 1/4", 4 x RCA

Phantom Power

Yes

Speakers

10" LF, 1.5" HF

EQ

3-band (channel), 7-band graphic (stereo master)

Onboard Effects

256 presets

Extras

Two Carvin M50 mics, cables, auto AC switching (120v-240v), USB power.

Weight

56 lbs

Recommended Venues

Small clubs and performance spaces

Sound Quality

3

Portability

4

Flexibility

5

Ease of Use

3

Fender Passport 500 PRO

Contact

fender.com

Street Price

$999

Watts

2 x 250w

Mixer Channels

8

Inputs

6 x XLR, 6 x 1/4", 2 x 1/4", 2 x 1/8"

Phantom Power

Yes

Speakers

10" LF, 1.2" HF

EQ

2-band

Onboard Effects

Reverb

Extras

USB port, subwoofer output.

Weight

44 lbs

Recommended Venues

Small clubs and performance spaces

Sound Quality

3

Portability

5

Flexibility

5

Ease of Use

5

Fishman SA220

Contact

fishman.com

Street Price

$999

Watts

220w (mono system)

Mixer Channels

2

Inputs

2 x XLR, 2 x1/4" (line), 1x1/4" (aux)

Phantom Power

Yes

Speakers

6 x 4" midrange drivers, 1" HF

EQ

3-band

Onboard Effects

Reverb

Extras

Dual effects loops, XLR DI outputs, tuner output, channel mute, phase and notch filters, 10dB pad, stand, carry bag with wheels.

Weight

35 lbs

Recommended Venues

Coffee houses to small clubs

Sound Quality

5

Portability

5

Flexibility

3

Ease of Use

5

JBL EON 210P

Contact

jblpro.com

Street Price

$799

Watts

2 x 150w

Mixer Channels

8

Inputs

4 x XLR, 4 x 1/4" 2 x1/4" TRS, 2 x RCA, 1x 3.5mm stereo

Phantom Power

Yes

Speakers

10" LF, 1.5" HF

EQ

2-band

Onboard Effects

Reverb

Extras

N/A

Weight

33 lbs

Recommended Venues

Small clubs and performance spaces

Sound Quality

3

Portability

5

Flexibility

4

Ease of Use

5

Mackie SRM150

Contact

mackie.com

Street Price

$249

Watts

150w (mono system)

Mixer Channels

3

Inputs

2 x Neutrik XLR/1/4" combo

Phantom Power

Yes

Speakers

5.25"

EQ

3-band

Onboard Effects

None

Extras

Dedicated stereo channel for iPod, etc.

Weight

7.6 lbs

Recommended Venues

Personal monitor to quiet coffee houses

Sound Quality

3

Portability

5

Flexibility

2

Ease of Use

5

Peavey Escort 3000

Contact

peavey.com

Street Price

$649

Watts

2 x 150w

Mixer Channels

5

Inputs

4 x XLR, 3 x 1/4" (line), 2 x 1/4" (stereo), 2 x RCA

Phantom Power

Yes

Speakers

10" LF, piezoelectric horn HF

EQ

2-band (channel), 5-band (stereo master)

Onboard Effects

Reverb

Extras

Peavey PVi dynamic cardioid mic, mic cable,stands, FLS Feedback Locating System

Weight

50 lbs

Recommended Venues

Small clubs and performance spaces

Sound Quality

4

Portability

5

Flexibility

5

Ease of Use

5

Roland BA-55

Contact

rolandus.com

Street Price

$899

Watts

2 x 10w

Mixer Channels

3

Inputs

1 x XLR, 2 x 1/4", 1 x 1/8", 2 x RCA

Phantom Power

No

Speakers

2 x 6.5"

EQ

2-band

Onboard Effects

Reverb

Extras

Built-in wireless receiver, wireless mic, battery powerable (8 x AA).

Weight

19.9 lbs

Recommended Venues

Street busking to coffee houses

Sound Quality

4

Portability

5

Flexibility

4

Ease of Use

5

SAmson Expedition XP308i

Contact

samsontech.com

Street Price

$499

Watts

2 x 150w

Mixer Channels

8

Inputs

4 x XLR, 4 x 1/4", 2 x 1/4" (stereo channel), 4 x RCA

Phantom Power

Yes

Speakers

8" LF, 1" HF

EQ

2-band

Onboard Effects

Reverb

Extras

iPod dock, RCA Recording output.

Weight

37.4 lbs

Recommended Venues

Small clubs and performance spaces

Sound Quality

3

Portability

5

Flexibility

5

Ease of Use

5

Yamaha STAGEPAS 500

Contact

yamahaproaudio.com

Street Price

$899

Watts

2 x 250w

Mixer Channels

10

Inputs

4 x XLR, 4 x 1/4" (mono), 4 x 1/4" line (for two stereo channels), 4 x RCA

Phantom Power

Yes

Speakers

10" LF, 1" HF

EQ

2-band

Onboard Effects

Reverb

Extras

Built-in compressor/limiters (channels 1 and 2).

Weight

52.9 lbs

Recommended Venues

Small clubs and performance spaces

Sound Quality

5

Portability

5

Flexibility

5

Ease of Use

3

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