Basic PA SystemsBuying Guide

Explaining the Different Configurations and How to Choose What's Best for You

Say you're in band that just got a rehearsal space of its own or a promoter tired of renting speakers for your shows—you can find plenty of options for PA systems on Reverb. The basic components are a mixer, a power amp, and speakers, which can be found in all manner of configurations.

In the video below, Reverb's Joe Shadid takes a look at the various options and explains what buyers should consider before deciding what's right for them. You'll also find a series of excellent and recommended options under the three main configuration categories.

Reverb's Joe Shadid breaks down what to consider before buying a PA and how to set it up.

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Plug-and-Play PAs

The simplest PA configuration is an all-in-one system, which can be as small as one powered, plug-and-play speaker with a power amp and onboard mixing options. Just plug a microphone or instrument directly into the back, adjust the volume (and perhaps change some tone), and you're good to go.

This type of setup is ideal for a singer-songwriter, a karaoke night, or other scenarios where you don't need many voices or instruments to be amplified, as these plug-and-play PAs generally only have one or two inputs. If you need more than that, you can always add an external mixer for more inputs.

Below, check out the Fishman SA220—a great plug-and-play-style PA system with two inputs that's especially great for acoustic singer-songwriters. This is Joe Shadid's go-to solo performance PA.

Plug-and-Play PA Systems

Non-Powered Mixers & Powered Speakers

A very popular type of PA system today is one that includes two powered speakers and a non-powered mixer. These mixers—which can be very lightweight and inexpensive—take the signal from mics or instruments, allowing users to treat them with EQ (and sometimes effects).

They also include auxiliary inputs so that you can use the signal from cell phones, laptops, or other devices. Because the mixer doesn't amplify the signal itself, the wattage of your powered speakers will decide how loud the system can be.

Below, check out our picks for a solid analog mixer—the affordable and portable Mackie Mix8—and robust powered speaker, the Electro-Voice ZLX-15P.

Non-Powered Mixers

Powered Speakers

Powered Mixers & Passive Speakers

The reverse scenario is also a popular option: a powered mixer and passive speakers (aka non-powered speakers). In this scenario, the speakers are often lighter, since they don't contain the power amp, while the mixers are heavier and more expensive.

Manufacturers like Yamaha, with its StagePas 400i and 600i PA systems, or Fender, with its Passport Venue or Passport Event, will sometimes sell these powered mixers/passive speaker setups as a package deal.

The Peavey PVi 6500 below is also an excellent powered mixer, ideal for players looking to use it in their practice space or at a smaller venue. The Peavey PVX10P makes a great complementary passive speaker option, but check below for even more options.

Powered Mixers

Passive Speakers

Other PA Options and Accessories

A fourth option involves both non-powered mixers and non-powered speakers with a standalone power amp between them providing the amplification. A benefit of this option is you can match the output with many different types of speakers, but this is usually not ideal for amateurs looking for the easiest option.

This type of PA system, broken down into its various components, is most often found in professional setups at venues and concert halls.

Power Amps

Regardless of what kind of PA system configuration you end up going with, you'll still need a few more accessories to get going, like mics (which are connected via XLR cables) and instruments (connected via instrument cables). If you don't already have them, these things are easy to find on Reverb. Look below for some of our favorites.

Go-To Mics and Cables

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