Whether you’re a solo performer, half of an acoustic duo, indulge in a bit of street busking or are part of a full-blown band, you’re going to need a public address system – more commonly referred to as a PA system.
Your own particular circumstances will dictate the type of system you need. In a solo/duo environment you may just need to put vocals and acoustic guitar through it? Or perhaps you want to play and sing against a backing track? Or you might just use it for vocals in a band setting with a backline of instrument amps?
Hell, maybe you just want to pitch up in a busy street, find a convenient spot and start playing?
Whatever your needs we’ve covered all the bases and done all the legwork for you. Here’s seven of the best public address systems to suit every need.
In a hurry? In a closely contested shoot out, the Yamaha Stagepas 400BT is our overall winner.
- In compiling this review we’ve tried to cover the most common applications
- We’ve kept it practical so you won’t find any zillion kilowatt systems here. For large venues you’d probably be hiring rather than buying
- Sound: Big in the bass department, weedy in the top end or nicely balanced?
- Portability: You’ve got to carry it around after all
- Functionality: Effects, channels, EQ; Bluetooth? Decide what you need in your ideal PA system
- Bang for your buck: what you get for what you pay
- Accessories: the all-important bundled extras
1. Best Overall: Yamaha Stagepas 400BT
Packed with features, the Yamaha Stagepas is a 400W (200W + 200W) compact PA system with detachable 8 channel powered mixer, two 8″ speakers with 1” voice coil compression drivers, Bluetooth input, SPX digital reverbs, an onboard feedback suppressor and versatile 2-band EQ.
Input wise, there’s plenty of options. Channels 1 and 2 are switchable mic/line XLR; channel 3 and 4 are mono XLR/ ¼” jack combo inputs; channels 5 and 6 are stereo ¼”/RCA jacks and channels 7 and 8 are ¼” stereo jacks. Monitor and sub-woofer outputs are also a welcome addition – but these are passive so anything you plug in will need to be powered.
On channel 4, a Hi-Z input is provided for passive instruments like guitars and expanding the versatility further, the stereo channels are switchable to mono. Bluetooth audio streaming is also provided – as is phantom power on channels 1 and 2. A built in feedback suppressor does what it says on the tin.
Like the Fender Passport, compactness is the order of the day. The two speakers and mixer weigh a tad over 40lbs yet everything feels really solid. Sound wise, the Stagepas 400BT is plenty loud enough for small gigs and when compared to the Fender Passport Event, we believe the Yamaha has the edge. It just sounds more solid and smooth.
Portability is a key feature with the Yamaha. The mixer locks into the rear of one speaker and all the cables fit nicely into the other. You can leave the mixer in place during your performance or detach it and position it somewhere else.
- Good sound quality
- Plenty of input options
- Detachable mixer
- Switchable mono/stereo inputs are a nice touch
- Hardly any. At this price point it’s a big ask but separate monitor level controls would be nice
As a mid-range, small venue PA system the Yamaha Stagepas 400BT is hard to beat. It sounds good, has versatile input options and the bundle comes with stands and cables.
However, there is a beefier option available. The Yamaha Stagepas 600BT has 10 channels, 3 band EQ, 680W power output and larger speakers. The rub of course is that it’s heavier and more expensive but it still represents good value and comes highly recommended.
Bose was the first to introduce line array PA systems back in 2003 and at the time, they were a radical development. Line arrays are monophonic and constructed in a tower configuration – bass driver at the bottom; high and mid-range at the top.
Over the years, other manufacturers developed their own line array systems and Bose lost its way a bit. But now they’re back with a new range of L1 Pro systems. There are three models in the range: the L1 Pro 8, Pro 16 and Pro 32. We think the Pro 8 represents a great balance between price, portability and performance.
The Bose L1 Pro 8 is a 300W system that to be honest sounds much louder than its stated wattage. It has an integrated woofer with slim racetrack driver handling the low end and eight 2” neodymium drivers in a C-shape taking care of upper frequencies and mids.
Line array systems are all about projecting the sound evenly to your audience. Irrespective of where individual members of that audience are standing (or sitting), they should all hear the same quality of sound whether they’re at the front or sides of the stage.
The base unit houses not only the subwoofer but a three channel mixer. The best bit however is that the mixer controls can be remote controlled via an app in real-time. This is really useful for fine tuning levels during a performance. You can wander out into the audience area and make adjustments yourself on the fly.
- For solo singer/guitarists, the Bose L1 Pro 8 is hard to beat. It’s supremely portable and easy to set up and belts out a really rich sound with deep lows and clear mids and highs
- The app is excellent. As well as offering remote mixer control, it also provides access to Bose’s ToneMatch library of preset EQ settings for instruments and microphones
- The mixer offers phantom power so dig out those condenser microphones
- The line array system does a pretty good job of dispersing the sound uniformly to your audience. Everyone will hear your performance the same way
- This is a three piece assembly: base unit; extension spacer; and line array. Unfortunately at higher volumes the base unit, through vibration, can disconnect itself from the upper line array. It’s pretty rare but it does happen
- A master volume control would be nice
For solo performers, duos, guitarists/singers, playing coffee shops, bars, restaurants and small to medium venues, the Bose L1 Pro 8 is pretty much perfect.
It’s not really a band PA. Just a three channel mixer and monophonic set up means you’d run out of inputs pretty quickly but to be fair to Bose, that’s not what the L1 Pro 8 is designed for.
Optimally designed for easy transportation and high quality sound, the Bose L1 Pro 8 is uncluttered and a breeze to use. The app and ToneMatch libraries are icing on the cake.
We’ve only just scratched the surface explaining the virtues of the L1 Pro 8. Be sure to check out our in-depth review here.
We’ve included the Behringer EP5500MP3 in this review because it’s very compact (43lbs), sounds good and is great value for money.
This is specified as a 500 watter. It didn’t sound that loud to us but it’s still perfectly usable in smallish venues. You get an 8 channel (4 mic/line, 2 stereo) mixer which can be stored in one of the speakers or detached, and a pair of speakers with 8” woofers and 1” compressions drivers.
There’s more: you also get a XM1800S mic and all cables. Not the best mic but certainly usable. We’d swap it for an SM58.
Like practically all public address systems in this review, the bottom end benefits significantly if you hook up a powered sub-woofer – like the Behringer K105 (link below). Whether you need this or not will depend largely on your personal circumstances – but if you need one, you need one.
Add stereo reverb, 2 band EQ, phantom power, built-in auto limiter and an MP3 player into the mix and you’ve got everything you need. Like its bigger brother, the PPA2000BT, the system is wireless ready if you want to shell out on Behringer’s digital wireless mic.
- Punchy and loud for its size
- Excellent on acoustic guitars and vocals
- Detachable mixer
- Great value
- No speaker stands
- No Bluetooth – but you get an MP3 player
- Onboard reverb is a bit limited
- Noisy fan
For us it’s the portability that appeals most about the Behringer EPS500MP3. For under $500 you get a decent sounding PA in a compact package that’s easy to shift around.
It would be remiss of us to not cover busking equipment in this review so we’re talking battery power and single speakers here.
Actually, the Roland BA-330 can be mains powered as well so there’s real versatility here. And it’s a bit unfair to associate it purely with the busking fraternity. True, it’ll be ideal for roving street musicians wanting high quality audio, but it’ll fill in perfectly for soloists performing in small bars and coffee shops.
Roland equipment is legendary and with the BA-330 you’re getting a stereo 30W (15+15) public address system with built-in effects (reverb delay and wide) that on/off selectable on each channel.
The speaker design incorporates 4 x 6.5” stereo speakers and 2 tweeters enclosed in a single enclosure. There are 4 mixer channels – 2 x mono; 2 x stereo; a stereo aux input with dedicated volume control and an advanced intelligent anti-feedback function.
It’s not mandatory by any means, but you’ll get the best results mounting this on a conventional speaker stand.
There’s literally no set-up required with the BA-330: it’s about as plug and play as you can get. And when you head off out into the street, you can power this thing on 8 x AA batteries for about 8 hours of playing time.
When on battery power, the MAX/ECO switch is a nifty option. No prizes for guessing that ECO is the option to choose for eeking out battery life but this is at the expense of some output power but that’s a fair trade off.
Roland claims this thing will give up to 15 hours battery life but in real life you’ll be doing well getting half that. Still very impressive though.
Portability. No set-up involved – just pitch up and play
The stereo link: you can link 2 x BA-330s together to produce a high quality twin speaker system and more input channels
The MAX/ECO battery option and battery indicator are really useful
Loud for its size
- No speaker stand included
- At high volumes, some limiting seems to take over so driving the BA-330 too hard is not a good idea
- For mid-gig tweaks, the location of the mixer section at the rear of the speaker is a bit of a pain especially if you’ve got it on the floor. Much better on a stand
The mains/battery power options make the Roland BA-300 a winner for buskers straight off the bat. We think it would be best suited to solo performers but you could stretch it to duos. Just watch that volume: driving the BA-330 too hard will result in some limiting.
No doubt it’ll be compared to another Roland product – the Street Cube EX. The latter is lighter and cheaper, but this also works against it because it’s prone to rattling at higher volumes and it can be a bit muddy sounding. If you can afford the extra beer vouchers, the BA-330 is a better option in our opinion. It just sounds better.
Fender to musical gear is like Hoover to vacuum cleaners so seeing its name on a public address system will invoke fuzzy warm feelings of reassurance.
The Fender Passport Event is a 375 watt, seven channel powered mixer and speaker set-up with easy to use front panel controls that will be ideal for solo performers, duos and small combos at parties, small halls and coffee shops.
The 2 x 8” speakers with 2 x 1.2” horn loaded drivers interlock with the central mixing section making the unit very compact.
The mixer section comprises XLR/¼” line jack inputs on channels 1-4, a ¼” only input on channel 5 with a guitar switch option (high impedance Hi-Z), and stereo inputs (for keyboards) on channels 6 and 7.
A nice touch is Bluetooth. Perfect for hooking up to your phone or tablet to keep your audience entertained while you take a well-earned break. For more low-end rumble, we’d recommend using the Fender Passport event with a sub-woofer. It has a dedicated output for this purpose with automatic high pass filter.
Each channel has volume, bass, treble and reverb controls and there’s a large master volume dial and clipping indicator. For hot input signals, pad buttons on channels 1-4 reduce the sensitivity by 20dB.
Whilst the system is compact – it all clamps together and there’s a compartment in one of the speakers for all cabling – at 58lbs it’s not exactly light.
- A very compact, easy to set-up all in one solution. The bundled option gives you stands and cables
- Well-balanced sound
- Reverb is basic but very usable
- Bluetooth is a nice addition
- It may be compact but it’s weighty. A trolley is recommended for solo performers
- A tad lacking in bass. Get a sub-woofer for an enhanced low-end
No real standout features here – just a nice PA system with everything you need in a convenient package and Bluetooth functionality as well. The Passport Event would be ideal for solo performers, duos and small combos in small venues.
The second Behringer PA system in this review.
Behringer is renowned for its ability to manufacture high quality audio gear at affordable prices and the PPA2000BT you get a 2000W, 8 channel public address system bursting with desirable features like Bluetooth connectivity, a wireless microphone option (for Behringer’s ULM series mics), 100 preset Klark Teknik multi-effects processor and FBQ feedback detection.
The powerful 10” woofers and 1.35” aluminum-diaphragm compression drivers collectively move a decent amount of air but although the PPA2000BT is no slouch in terms of volume, there’s no way it throws out 2,000W so the specs are misleading.
The 8 channel mixer comprises 4 mono and 2 stereo inputs with 2 band EQ and 7 band graphic equalizer. 48V phantom power for condenser mics is also provided.
The package comes complete a Behringer XM1800S microphone, a mic clip and a 20′ cable. The whole unit clamps together in a suitcase style arrangement for transportation.
- Good sound quality with a decent low end but there’s a sub-woofer output for bass freaks. Nice selection of good quality effects
- Good value for money
- Poor clasp quality
- The wheels on the base are badly positioned. When pulling the unit, there’s a good chance it’ll fall over because, quite bizarrely, they’re too near the center
- The included microphone won’t set the world alight
- Rated at 2000W but it’s nowhere near that
- No stands included (see below for recommendation)
This is one of the better sounding PA systems in this review but it has its fair share of shortfalls. If you can live with those, the PPA2000BT is ideal for medium sized venues and puts out enough decibels to use in a band environment – albeit not 2,000W.
When we look at Peavey’s Escort 6000 PA system, we can’t get images of barbecues out of our heads. Folded down, it bears a striking resemblance. Burger anyone?
But we digress. Peavey has been making quality gear for eons now and with the Escort 6000 the company has managed to design a fully functional 600W PA system into a really compact format. 61lbs is on the heavy side for a solo performer to manage though.
The storage unit houses the non-detachable mixer, folding speaker stands, cables and mics. It even has wheels for transportation. Your back will thank you later.
All the usual bells and whistles – digital multi-effects, USB MP3 player, 2 band EQ, 7 band graphic equalizer and Peavey’s patented FLS (Feedback Locating System) are included. The package is rounded off with a pair of two-way speakers with 10” woofers.
Peavey’s mid-morph EQ system is worthy of mention. It’s effectively two controls in one for cutting muddy low-mid frequencies or boosting upper mids for better vocal clarity.
The system features 9 inputs in total. 7 combination XLR/ ¼” inputs and two media channels. Channel 8 offers stereo RCA jacks for connecting something like a CD player perhaps and channel 9 provides a USB input for a memory stick or Bluetooth input capability via the supplied antenna.
To be honest, we’d have preferred a couple of stereo ¼” inputs for keyboards and synths.
- Plenty of power for medium sized venues
- Sound quality
- Decent effects
- 15V phantom power on the XLR inputs will be too weedy for some mics which require 48V
- Cheap locking latches
- No individual channel volume control through monitor line out
- Mediocre quality speaker stands
A strange looking beast but this is a nice sounding PA system let down a tad by the hardware. We’d recommend checking out the mixer stand which makes using the system a whole lot easier.
The Bottom Line
It’s important to state that there are no bad PA systems in this review. That’s because we’ve separated the wheat from the chaff and all seven products in this list will serve you well.
It was difficult choosing a winner but in our opinion, the Yamaha Stagepas 400BT, or indeed its bigger brother if you need more decibels, the Stagepas 600BT take the crown for their sound quality and versatility.
For solo performers and guitarist/singers, the Bose L1 Pro 8 takes some beating.