Choosing the right pro audio speakers for gigs

Choosing the right pro audio speakers for gigs

Live audio speakers

On this blog, we often feature in-depth advice on some of the more technical aspects of live sound. For example, how to EQ vocals, and the secrets of providing a good monitor mix will certainly be of use to audio professionals, but we appreciate not everyone reading these pages will sit within that camp.

What if you’ve been asked to provide sound at a friend’s 50th birthday party or have been roped in to arrange adequate amplification for the (human) speakers at your company’s next conference?

Where do you start?

Providing live sound extends far beyond the speaker system, but we felt it right to start our first post on the basics of pro audio by focussing on the gear from which noise emits. And you’ll be glad to hear the advice we intend to offer is incredibly straightforward.

You’ll need speakers, whatever happens, so here’s how to choose the right ones for your event.

How much power?

The answer to this question requires a solid understanding of the main audio content you’ll be dealing with, along with the type and size of audience and venue.

Consider the following:

  • What type of event is it? Will it be purely music, speaking or a mix of both?
  • How many people are likely to be present? Will it be a small gathering or run into hundreds?
  • Is the audio intended to be centre stage, or act purely as background ambiance?
  • If you’ll be dealing with music, what type is it primarily likely to be? Rock? Dance? A small three-piece folk outfit?

When it comes to sound, power is measured in watts. We’re going to assume you haven’t been put in charge of a huge auditorium or theatre, so here are the key figures you’ll need to bear in mind for three common scenarios:

  1. Speaking event, conference room, circa 50 people: 50 watts.
  2. 4 piece band, good-sized bar with up to 200 people: 900 watts.
  3. DJ playing everything from pop to dance, large bar or reception venue, up to 300 people: 1,000 watts.

This isn’t an exact science, and the above shouldn’t be taken as the ultimate guide to the exact wattage you’ll need come the big day, but our suggestions will provide a nice reference point when speaking to hire companies.

Active or passive speakers?

This one is pretty easy if you’re short on time, budget and pro audio experience. Passive speakers require a good, matching amp to produce sound while active speakers have built-in amps. You want the latter.

Beyond the requirement for a music source and mixing desk (we’ll get onto that in later blog posts), active speakers simply need turning on in order to operate and require very little configuration in order to sound great.

Do I need a subwoofer?

Good question. If it’s a speaking event, you can go without; the low end frequencies provided by subs simply won’t be needed. If you’ve got a fairly decent sized room to fill and the audio content will largely be music, a sub can go a long way.

It’ll obviously come down to budget, and you’ll have to factor in additional setup time, but subwoofers do a marvellous job at providing that bottom-end oomph which can make a musical performance far more powerful and they contribute to a sound spectrum that is balanced and loud without being obnoxious.

All-in-one speaker systems

If time really is of the essence and you love the idea of a plug-and-play system, you can do a lot worse than opt for all-in-one pro audio kit.

Such systems are getting more compact and even more powerful by the day. They’ll slip virtually unnoticed into most venues and are adept at handling both spoken and musical content, no matter the size of the room. A great choice.

Wrapping up

Thankfully, we’ve reached a point in audio technology where it’s getting smaller, more affordable and eminently easier to setup. Nothing can replace an experienced sound engineer, but if you’ve been ‘given the keys’ to the provision of live sound at an event, the above tips should help you get started when it comes to sourcing the right gear.

We’ll be offering more basic tips on live audio in the future, but if there’s anything in particular you’d like us to cover, please do get in touch.

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