Last Updated on February 27, 2021 by Dave Tudor
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 eight 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.
2. Recommended: Fender Passport Event S2 PA Speaker System bundle
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.
3. Best on a budget: Samson Expedition XP150
It’s reassuring also that this is a Samson product – one of the best known names out there when it comes to high quality sound equipment. This is a 150W public address system that packs away and weighs just 24lbs. It may not have all the bells and whistles, but who cares if you just want a basic, nice sounding system.
Actually the XP150s spec is pretty credible albeit limited: 5-channel mixer comprising 3 mic/line channels with XLR and 1/4″ inputs and stereo 1/4″ and 1/8″ (3.5mm) input channels (4&5) for connecting external devices like MP3 players, keyboards and the like. There’s also built-in digital reverb and 2 band EQ.
For its size, the Samson XP150 sounds surprisingly good. The speakers are rugged and produce a balanced sound – even in the bass department. Speaking of speakers – they feature 6” woofers and custom 1” HF drivers.
- Compact, brilliantly priced, nice sounding and functional
- Controllable reverb on each channel
- No speaker stands
- Not really a con, but no phantom power
For an entry-level PA system this is hard to beat. Great for solo performers and duos in small bars, coffee shops and cafés where space is tight. Be mindful of its limitations and you won’t go far wrong. Recommended.
4. Best for Buskers: Roland BA-330
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.
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.
This is a high end 6 channel 380W PA system predominantly aimed at solo performers and duos. For some, the highish price tag will be justified but for others it may be a bridge too far. A 10” bass reflex subwoofer delivers a clear, well-defined low frequency response and 6 x 2” HF drivers deliver the top end.
The Eon One incorporates a line array speaker arrangement – similar in principle to those used on its massive stage set-ups. This sound is evenly distributed, meaning the audience will experience the same great sound no matter where they’re standing.
For such a compact unit, there’s enough inputs to cater for modest musical set-ups. Channels 1&2 are combined ¼”/XLR; 3&4 offer stereo ¼”/RCA inputs and 5/6 provide 1/8” (3.5mm) input jack for portable electronics or Bluetooth audio streaming.
It’s a very neat all-in-one system that uses spacers to vary the height of the speaker array. Fully extended, it’s a lofty 7ft tall. The spacers and high-frequency unit conveniently pack into the base—making it easy to set-up or break down in seconds. Carry it with one hand.
- Wonderfully compact and easy to carry around. The JBL EON ONE weighs a meagre 40.8lbs
- Speaker array offers renowned JBL sound quality and wide audio coverage
- Three operating positions via the spacers
- No additional speaker stands required
- No phantom power
- Output of mic preamps is on the low side. Remedied with an external mixer but that’s additional expense
- Spacers are stiff fitting together and separating. Might need a drop of lube
Portability and great sound are the major benefits of the EON ONE. The way it folds down makes it easy to transport around so that will appeal to soloists and duos.
The mic pres are definitely on the quiet side and JBL should address this. Depending on your specific application this may or may not be a problem.
Users will compare this to the Bose L1. We believe the EON is more rigidly constructed and has a fuller, more rounded sound – especially in the bass department.
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 eight 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.