It’s that time of year again—with the holidays are just around the corner, everyone is in a celebratory mood. If you find yourself wanting to buy a sound system and have no idea where to start, then this beginner’s buying guide will be of great help. For a beginner system, I highly recommend a powered speaker because they contain the built-in amplifiers that are optimized for the best sound. You don’t have to worry about calculations or providing additional equipment like amp racks and heavy speaker cables. Some powered speakers include built-in mixers that can accommodate a variety of inputs including microphones, line-level, and Hi-Z instruments (guitar), as well as integrated Digital Signal Processing (DSP) to help fine tune the sound.
Before we dive into some recommendations, let’s first talk about some performance specifications that will help you determine what speaker would be best for your application. The most important specs to know are Frequency Response, SPL, and Dispersion.
Frequency response is the range of sound that the speaker is capable of reproducing. In layman’s terms, think of it as treble and bass on your stereo. How low does the bass go and how high does the treble go.
Sound Pressure Level (SPL) is how loud of a sound the speaker can output. There is nothing worse than having a speaker with low output, as you’ll overdrive and distort the sound trying to squeeze as much output as possible.
Dispersion is the way the sound is projected horizontally and vertically from the speaker. This is useful for determining the placement of speakers since you can direct the sound away from boundaries, such as walls and ceilings. Knowing the dimensions of the room or coverage area will help inform your speaker selection. For example, you wouldn’t want a wide dispersion speaker in a narrow room because the sound would bounce off the walls and create reflections that can muddy the sound. And a narrow dispersion in a wide room will leave a lot of uncovered areas.
If you’d like to know more about sound, sound systems, and other details, please check out this Live Sound 101: Event Sound System Design and Setup article.
The K12.2 is one of the most popular PA speakers available on the market today and for good reason. It is lightweight, easy to transport, and sounds great. The K12.2 is a highly flexible, easy to use, powered portable PA speaker well suited for musicians, singer/songwriters, mobile DJs, and other sound applications. With a frequency response of 50 Hz to 20 kHz, a max SPL output of 132 dB, and a 75° conical dispersion, a pair of K12.2s are well equipped to cover 300 patrons. The rear panel offers a two-input mixer and a digital interface for the integrated DSP, which offers control and selection of loudspeaker functions including crossover, EQ, delay, and frequency contour, as well as Factory Presets and savable/recallable scenes for commonly used applications.
RCF ART A915-AX
Another fantastic power PA is the RCF ART A915-AX, a highly flexible, easy to use, powered PA speaker with Bluetooth and a built-in 6-channel digital mixer. The advanced user interface features a built-in touch panel and Bluetooth remote control, which allow you to set up and control the mix wirelessly using your favorite portable device. With the larger 15" woofer, the A915-AX provides a full-range sound (45 Hz to 20 kHz), and with a 131 dB SPL and 100x60° (HxV) dispersion, the speaker can cover a large area with up to 300 patrons. The rear panel offers two combo XLR-1/4" inputs and a stereo 3.5mm input. Notable features include a powerful Bluetooth circuit and studio-grade preamplifiers. The Bluetooth can receive two-channel audio streaming and provides a stereo or dual mono output for pairing the other RCF speakers. The microphone preamp features the latest THAT circuit for ultra-clean and precise performance.
If you are looking for a high-quality speaker capable of subtlety and nuance, the JBL PRX835W would be an excellent choice. It’s a 3-way active loudspeaker designed for main PA applications with extensive Wi-Fi control over the onboard DSP. With a full-range frequency response (39 Hz to 20 kHz), a peak SPL of 138 dB, and a 90x50° (HxV) dispersion, the speaker is optimized for full-range sound reinforcement applications and can cover over 300 patrons. The built-in Wi-Fi offers wireless control of the system from anywhere in the venue using the free PRX Connect app for iOS and Android devices. The app controls levels, parametric EQ, user presets, and more. The rear panel offers two combo XLR-1/4" mic/line inputs, a stereo RCA aux input, and an XLR mix output. The 3-way design provides a tweeter, mid-range, and woofer, allowing for accurate sound reproduction with finesse.
If you need a quality speaker that won’t break the bank, the Yamaha DHR15 provides professional-grade performance for a variety of sound applications. The DHR15 is a compact 2-way speaker with an integrated DSP that optimizes performance and ensures a consistent sound throughout all output levels, meaning it sounds the same when playing quietly or at peak performance. The speaker offers full-range sound (44 Hz to 20 kHz), a peak SPL of 131 dB, and a 90x60° (HxV) dispersion, great for up to 250 patrons. The rear panel features a simple 2-channel mixer with combo XLR-1/4", 1/4" TRS, and RCA connectors. A dual-angle pole mount socket provides two positions—0° or -7°—to direct the acoustic energy away from reflective surfaces and on to your audience, where it belongs.
LD Systems MON 15 A G3
My next choice is a little unusual but hear me out! The MON 15 A G3 is a compact, powered stage monitor with DSP with a highly flexible deployment. The speaker is at home onstage as a musician’s monitor speaker and as a high-quality full range speaker. The drivers are arranged in a coaxial design for true point-source performance and provide a full range sound (58 Hz to 18 kHz) with a peak SPL of 129 dB and a 50x90° (HxV) dispersion. An integrated DSP provides four application presets, a 3-band EQ, tunable notch filter, and an alignment delay. The side of the speaker features two combo XLR-1/4" inputs and XLR-thru outputs, while the opposite side features a 35mm pole socket for raising the speaker on a stand to be used as a main PA.
For a cost-effective speaker selection that sounds great, check out the Thump215XT. It’s a powerful PA speaker with a 2-channel mixer and an integrated DSP with four application-specific voicing modes, an outdoor mode, and Bluetooth for streaming, speaker link, and wireless control. It offers a full-range sound (40 Hz to 20 kHz) and an SPL of 129, which is pretty loud for most parties and events with 200+ patrons. Unfortunately, Mackie didn’t include the dispersion, but from my personal experience, it’s probably close to 90x50°. The mixer features two combo XLR-1/4" mic/line channels, a 3.5mm stereo input, and an XLR output for daisy-chaining additional speakers. Notable features include music ducking for making announcements and a feedback eliminator that mitigates microphone feedback automatically.
As you can see, there are several options to choose from and this guide has only scratched the surface. For more information about the latest PA speakers, including additional features, specs, and highlights, be sure to check out the detailed product page for each active PA speaker. Or drop us a line below, and we’ll do our best to reply to your comments and questions.