PA Speaker Buying Guide
How to Choose PA Speakers
Achieving consistently high-quality live sound can be a challenge. Your choice of PA speakers can determine whether you’re mixing to make something good sound great or struggling to solve sound-reinforcement problems. There are three basic categories of PA systems:
Personal PAs consist of single speakers or mini speaker arrays, which serve as both main speakers and monitors. Medium-sized PAs consist of a pair of stand-mounted speakers on either side of the stage plus simple monitor wedges. Full-scale PA systems involve multi-speaker line arrays and complex monitoring systems.
We’ve created this Sweetwater Buying Guide to provide you with the information you’ll need when you’re ready to invest in new PA speakers. Since there’s so much more to consider than what we can possibly cover here, give your Sales Engineer a call at (800) 222-4700 after checking out this guide. They can help you choose the best PA speakers for your situation.
How Much Power Do I Need?
At Sweetwater, we’re often asked how much power is required for a PA system. But the real question is “How loud do you need it to be?” as your power requirements will vary according to your situation. Are you performing low-volume acoustic folk or high-volume progressive metal? A classical presentation or an EDM performance? The size of the venue is also important, as is the number of people attending (human bodies make terrific sound absorbers). A medium-sized venue (250–500 people) may require 2,000 watts or as much as 20,000 watts, based on these factors.
So, is it all about wattage? Not necessarily. After all, more power doesn’t necessarily mean more output. While a speaker’s wattage definitely affects its volume, its maximum SPL (Sound Pressure Level) is a better indicator of how loud the speaker can go. Understanding a speaker’s coverage angle is also important. A powerful speaker with a narrow coverage angle will reach fewer people than a less powerful one with a broader coverage angle. It’s also vital that you consider the speaker’s sensitivity, which is a measurement of its ability to effectively convert power into sound. In a nutshell, sensitivity refers to the SPL that a speaker can produce from a 1-watt signal at a distance of 1 meter. This sensitivity spec measures “efficiency” and is a strong indicator of a speaker’s loudness, which is why a less efficient 1,000-watt speaker isn’t necessarily louder than an efficient 500-watt speaker. In fact, a 500-watt speaker with a sensitivity of 98dB will actually be the same volume as a 1,000-watt speaker with a sensitivity of 95dB.
A TV or home theater speaker system in a single cabinet. Soundbar speakers are designed for apartments or venues where discrete speakers are not desired throughout the room. Self powered, soundbars often support a wireless subwoofer for maximum bass response, which can be conveniently located anywhere in the room. In the more sophisticated systems, "virtual surround sound" is produced by psychoacoustic effects that adjust the timing and volume of the various speakers. Some units bounce the sound off side and back walls, which can be effective in small rooms, while others do not rely on precise placement.
A soundbase is a soundbar that is deeper and flat so the TV stand can be placed on it. See home theater, home theater speakers and home theater in a box.
Why Ceiling Speakers Are Good (Worth It) For Surround Sound
While I was remodeling my home theater, I decided to take a look at ceiling speakers to increase my surround sound, but I found they were going to take a lot of work. This got me wondering whether ceiling speakers were worth the hassle.
So, are ceiling speakers any good?
Ceiling speakers make a great addition to a home theater, particularly if you’re looking for a more immersive sound experience. They need to be specifically designed for ceilings, but they make an excellent addition to a surround sound setup.
When Are Ceiling Speakers A Good Addition?
It’s fair to say that not everyone’s home theater will benefit from ceiling speakers. After all, if you’ve only got a small room dedicated to your home theater, you might already have enough speakers.
Also, if you live in a rented property, you might not be able to carry out the work necessary to install them. These are some of the situations when you’ll probably see the most benefit from ceiling speakers:
1. They’re less messy
Sure, speakers aren’t usually considered ugly, but many people prefer to minimize clutter as much as possible.
If you’re building a home theater, you’ll inevitably have cables running everywhere, and so at least mounting your speakers in the ceiling means you have a few less cables to worry about.
2. They’re a good way of completing a surround sound system
You’ve already got a set of “normal” speakers (think bookshelf speakers or monitors) then you might not want to go out and buy a new surround sound system.
Ceiling speakers are a potentially easier way of completing this, as you can mount them behind your seating area and use them as the rear channels.
3. They allow you to be more flexible with your layout
If you choose to mount your speakers in the ceiling, then you won’t have to worry as much about positioning your furniture around floor speakers.
Not only will this mean fewer cables, but if you get swiveling ceiling speakers, then you’ll have plenty of freedom over where to put your furniture.
4. They give you a more immersive experience
Surround sound is all about immersion, so why not get the most out of your home theater? Cinemas use ceiling speakers for the same reason, so it makes sense to splash out on some if you can.
A woofer is a speaker that is sized and constructed so that it can reproduce low and mid-range frequencies. Woofers do most of the work in reproducing the frequencies you hear, such as voices, most musical instruments, and sound effects.
Depending on the size of the enclosure, a woofer can be as small as 4 inches in diameter or as large as 15 inches. Woofers with 6.5-inch to 8-inch diameters are common in floor standing speakers. Woofers with diameters in the 4-inch and 5-inch range are common in bookshelf speakers.
How many car speakers do I need?
There's no standard for the number of car speakers that are factory-installed in a vehicle. In fact, they seem to get more numerous every year as car makers introduce premium factory sound systems with perks like noise cancellation and simulated engine noise. But for this article, we'll stick to the basics.
Speakers for the front of your vehicle
Some vehicles only have two speakers in the front, one per door. They use a full-range design. Other vehicles feature four speakers in the front, two per side. This is typically woofers in the door and a tweeter either higher up in the door or in the corner pillar or dash.