Okay, we know PA speakers aren’t exactly glamorous. They tend to play second fiddle to the more exciting purchases such as a new electric guitar or drum set, but without them live music wouldn't be the same - for a start, events would certainly be a lot quieter! If you’re planning to play live - as part of a band or solo - you are going to need a PA system, and choosing the right one, can be an extremely difficult process. Luckily we’ve put together this handy guide to the best PA speakers to help you make an informed decision.
We've all been at arena gigs or festivals and looked up in awe at the gigantic hanging speaker systems above us. As cool as these are, they might be overkill for that wedding gig you just landed. That's why we have chosen to purely focus on compact active PA speakers that would suit anyone playing in small venues. This includes full bands with drums, solo artists, duos, and trios. PA systems also come in handy for instruments such as acoustic-electric guitars and keyboards that don't have their own amp, or even for playing along with backing tracks - oh, and let's not forget about the buskers, they need to be heard, too.
All the PA systems in this guide are incredibly user-friendly, simple to set up, and, more importantly, will fit in a car for easy transportation. So without further ado, let's dive into the best PA speakers on the market right now.
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Best PA speakers: Our top picks
We highly recommend going for one of the portable line array systems for the singer-songwriters or duos playing indoor gigs. You can't go wrong with either the RCF EVOX JMIX8, Bose L1 Compact, or Yamaha Stagepas 1K. These are easy to set up, simple to use, and ultra-portable.
If you're more of a traditionalist looking for the standard setup of two speakers on poles, then the Yamaha DZR12 gets our vote. The DZR12 delivers unparalleled build quality, and sound too.
For anyone busking in the street with a guitar, the small size and the massive sound of the Roland Cube Street EX is hard to beat.
Best PA speakers: Product guide
First and foremost, PA speakers have to be reliable. A failing speaker could be disastrous for a gig, and not to mention lose you money! With the Yamaha DZR range, that need not be a worry, as Yamaha offers a whopping seven-year warranty on these high-tech loudspeakers.
No matter the application, there is plenty of horsepower in these 2000W bi-amped speakers, as well as other handy features to ensure you can use them in any situation. The ability to rotate the horn allows you to hang these speakers from the ceiling, mount them on speaker poles, or even use them as floor monitors. The convenient LCD screen located on the back of the unit allows you to easily adjust a wide range of DSP functions, from loading venue-specific presets to adjusting the EQ balance of the speaker. You can also save your setting on a USB drive and transfer them between speakers.
So if you're looking for one of the best PA speakers on the market and one that will stand the test of time, the Yamaha DZR12 is the perfect speaker for you.
If the thought of setting up a PA system breaks you out in a cold sweat, then the RCF EVOX system is the perfect solution for you. This all-in-one, small line array is super easy to set up and comes with a myriad of effects - and even amp modelers so you can plug your electric guitar or bass guitar directly in.
The entire system is controlled by the highly intuitive EVOX mobile app. This app allows you to manage all the features of the in-built eight-channel digital mixer, from gain, levels, EQ, and effects. This also allows you to mix from anywhere in the room - and even from the stage if you wanted to.
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The smallest and most easily portable of the company's L1 range, the Bose L1 Compact System combines a PA and monitors in one unit, with interlocking components that Bose says can be easily set up in just one minute.
The main component is a slim line array speaker that's about 2m high and features six small drivers mounted at precise angles. This is placed vertically and slotted into a power stand with an integrated bass speaker. The advantage of a line array is that it disperses sound spatially, not only to fill the whole room for the audience, but also onstage for monitoring.
Electro-Voice has been in the live sound game for over 90 years, so it's safe to say they know a fair amount about sound reinforcement. Famed for their high-quality and reasonably priced speakers and microphones, EV sure makes some of the best PA speaker systems on the market.
For this guide, we have chosen to single out the ELX200-12P. This 12" powered speaker delivers a fantastic clear and articulate sound - and is more than capable of hanging with the more expensive entries on this list.
Like the Yamaha DZR, the EV also features an LCD screen for navigating through EQ presets and giving a visual meter for both input one and two. This can also be accessed through the EV QuickSmart mobile app.
This compact PA from Yamaha features the traditional PA format of a separate powered mixer and two passive speakers but with a twist – the detachable mixer slots into the back of one speaker for transport.
Capable of 400 watts, it has 8 channels making it suitable for handling several vocals, with channels to spare for some instruments, perhaps even a drum mic or two – maybe to give the kick drum some punch.
It's also equipped with a Bluetooth input for wireless audio streaming from smartphones or tablets. Monitor and subwoofer outputs allow expandability. There's also the more powerful 600BT to consider if you want a little more punch.
Yes, we know that we've just featured a Yamaha Stagepas above. Still, we believe the new Yamaha Stagepas 1K is different enough to earn its place on this list. This new PA system builds on the legacy of the previous Stagepas and turns it into a personal line array system.
If you're entirely new to sound reinforcement, then this is the PA for you. This unit couldn't be any easier to set up. Simply insert the two spacer units into the 12" subwoofer, and top with the line array head, and that's it. Even making adjustments to the EQ and effects is also super easy - with the use of Yamaha's one-knob EQ and simplified controls.
Although this system is a little small for full band setups, this sleek and well-built PA is perfect for singer-songwriters, duos, or even spoken word applications such as speeches, schools, or worship.
Portable and battery-powered, Roland's Cube Street EX PA speaker system features four independent channels for connecting a variety of mics and instruments, including iPhone or iPad to play backing music, but seems particularly aimed at busking guitar players with its modelled COSM amp sounds - Clean, Crunch, Lead and acoustic simulator options for electric guitar and a preamp for electro-acoustics.
There's also a tuner, 3-band EQ, reverb and a choice of chorus or delay. A 50W setting offers maximum output but there are also quieter 25W and 10W output power modes, saving on battery power. There's also iPhone/iPad recording via i-CUBE LINK and the free CUBE JAM app.
Read the full Roland Cube Street EX review
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JBL has covered many options with this compact all-in-one box which is ergonomically designed to be easy to carry and can be set up monitor-style or vertically. The battery offers 12 hours of operation and is rechargeable via an IEC mains socket while the unit is being used.
Four channels allow a variety of uses although it seems ideally suited to solo vocal and guitar performers who may wish to take advantage of the onboard FX – all controlled from an iOS or Android app. There's a Bluetooth connection and a pair of USB sockets to charge attached mobile devices.
Busking in the town centre and don't relish carrying your PA speaker system? How about rolling it? Behringer's MPA 40BT Pro has a retractable handle and wheels just like a piece of rolling luggage.
It's a very compact 40-watt system with two mic/instrument inputs and an aux input for a music player if you don't want to stream music to it via the in-built Bluetooth.
There are no effects, but you get an overall basic 2-band EQ. It's mobile busking made easy - guitar gigbag on your back, mic stand in one hand while you pull this with the other - making it one of the best truly mobile PA speaker systems.
The SRM range is, according to Mackie, the most widely-used portable loudspeaker ever and, while the SRM450 by itself is a self-contained PA, it can also be used as part of a larger system and can have a subwoofer added, so may be a starting point for someone looking to eventually expand their facilities.
There are two channels, so you can comfortably have two vocals or a vocal and instrument. Channel 2 also has connections for a music player. Onboard DSP provides voicings for PA, DJ, Monitor and Soloist with various bass rolloffs and mid-cuts, but there is no other EQ.
One of the smallest of HK Audio's PA systems, the Nano 305 FX features a 5-channel mixer built into the same enclosure as its active subwoofer, plus a pair of smaller satellite speakers that can be stashed away in an internal bay for transport. Those speakers can be cabled and perhaps put on optional stands or connected with an optional height-adjustable, signal-carrying pole (S-CONNECT POLE LN).
The three main channels each feature two-band EQ, there are seven onboard reverb effects and an MP3 player can be streamed via Bluetooth. Expansion into a larger PA speaker system is possible with other products in the range.
Now, we have features a few column systems in this guide, but the LD Systems Maui 5 Go 100, is the only battery-operated option. This sleek and modern mini line array is the latest offering from LD Systems and is designed with portability in mind.
The newly designed lithium-ion battery can deliver up to 12 hours of continuous operation - when used at 98 dB - and allows you to play music absolutely anywhere. A quad of 3" neodymium speakers housed at the top of the column deliver fantastic clarity while the 8" ferrite subwoofer - which acts as the base of the unit - kicks out plenty of low-end thump.
With a maximum output of 120dB, the Maui 5 Go 100 will certainly serve a number of small venues, with LD saying the Maui is perfect for audiences of up to 100 people - hence the name. So whether you are looking for a powerful, lightweight system for busking or an understated PA for small pub gigs, it’s worth considering the LD Systems Maui 5 Go 100.
Read our full LD Systems Maui 5 Go 100 review
Best PA speakers: Buying advice
Choosing the right PA can seem complicated, but it doesn't have to be. If you follow this simple advice, you should be able to quickly find the best PA system for your situation.
How many inputs do I need?
First of all, think about how many instruments will be running through the PA – unlike at large concerts, you're unlikely to be amplifying every instrument on the stage. You'll most likely need enough inputs for the vocals, acoustic guitars, bass, and maybe a keyboard. If you do want to play everything through your system, then you'll need to consider purchasing a mixing desk.
Look at the total number of XLR mic inputs and any instrument and line inputs and see if it's going to provide everything you need in the immediate future, but also for any projects you might get involved in down the line. Some even come with built-in Bluetooth, which is very handy if you want to stream music throughout the gig.
What wattage does my PA need to be?
Well, there's no hard and fast rule for how powerful your PA system needs to be. Think about the size of venues you'll be playing regularly (and don't forget your rehearsal space) and consider the rated power output. There are so many variables that will change how loud a speaker will appear. The room size, indoors or outdoors, and the number of audience members, all affect how a speaker performs. So check the manufacturer's guidelines for a rough place to start.
How easy is a PA to move around?
Suppose you're a solo artist, a busker, or just prefer the easy life. In that case, portability may be a significant factor to consider. All of the systems on this list are very portable, some more so than others. If you want to minimise the amount of gear you're carrying around, then it's worth checking out an all-in-one system. Some of these even fold down into an easy-to-carry unit.
What features does my PA system need?
It's worth thinking about how much control you need over the audio. For speech applications, it's not all that important to have an array of effects. Still, for music, you may want to have good quality reverb and a decent EQ section so you can really shape your sound. Many systems these days come with a mobile app. This is very handy if you need to mix the sound from on the stage or even if you want to make adjustments on the fly.