Is this thing on? Click! SQUEEEEEEEL! WHISTLE! HOWL!
PA System is a very broad term covering multiple purposes and requirements – we briefly cover portable and fixed installation for assembly and classroom.
Portable PA Systems
Battery operated sound systems can weigh up to 22kg and may even have wheels. Simple to operate, loud and clear for music and speech, CD players, wireless microphones and connections for extra speakers. Very low maintenance -they’ll last for years if you take care of them.
These are very flexible, the closest you come to multi-purpose for assembly, sports and even drama.
Technology changes mean more powerful portable systems that weigh less, use less power than even two years ago and are lighter, louder and operate for longer on built in batteries.
A 120 Watt system will easily cover 300-500 people in a group.
Portable PA’s must be recharged after use or the battery will be permanently damaged if it is left flat for even three days. If you have a Portable PA system that isn’t lasting as long as when it was new the batteries may need replacing –might only cost you $60 to $150 to get it back to “as new” performance.
Classroom Soundfield Systems
The strain and fatigue on teachers’ voices and vocal cords trying to speak over ambient babble and chair shuffling is a major stress factor for teachers, who have said that a voice amplifying system made the most positive difference of any classroom audio-visual equipment to both them and the children; more so than other classroom aids such as computers and projectors.
Important considerations in a classroom sound system
Simple installation, simple operation and low maintenance. Recharging the microphones should be straightforward. Modern systems have chargers you simply drop the microphone onto overnight.
One useful feature is being able to use two microphones simultaneously – so the teachers’ microphone can be used alongside a handheld pass-around microphone for the kids. Additional audio input connections for an ipod, projector, laptop etc are available.
School hall / musical production
Technology in speakers and amplifiers has changed dramatically over the last few years with self-powered speakers, efficient Class-D amplifiers that produce thousands of watts, new digital audio mixers making existing sound systems look a little antiquated, but don’t be sucked into buying fancy equipment if you don’t need it.
What hasn’t changed is the most important question – What is it actually going to be used for?
Get something appropriate for your school at the right level of complexity or no one will use it.
If you simply need to connect a couple of microphones and a lectern then a simple Mixer/Amplifier and good quality wall mount speakers will do, and is easy on the budget too.
If music and productions will be a focus then you need a larger amplifier, music quality speakers to match, and a mixing desk. This is where it gets too specific for this article – find someone local you know, a sound company that has been around for at least five years so you have some assurance of service and backup.
For an auditorium or theatre consider a line array speaker system. You get what you pay for and if you find a line array system for less than $20,000 it is likely a toy. Google “line array speakers” to learn more; the sound is fantastic, but they need to be set up properly.
LAN networks can be used for distributed sound. Network IP audio amplifiers, microphones and speakers can be installed anywhere on a LAN network, thus saving time and new cable installation. The biggest advantages of this are the great distance of audio transmission, simultaneous program transmissions across the network and using existing network wiring. You get CD quality digital sound all around the school network and hardly have to run any cabling.
Be clear about what you really want your sound equipment for, and get advice from a local company you trust. They can tell you what you need as long as you know what you want to do.
Don’t buy this equipment from the Trade Me hawkers or “online only” shops as you need a brick and mortar company to back you up and help when something isn’t working.
You can always hire in extra microphones, larger mixing consoles and specialist equipment for events so get an appropriate workhorse that you can use every day that can deliver most of your requirements, have it installed properly and expand as budget allows.
By Jonathan Neil, Edwards Sound Systems