Putting together a coffeehouse PA system
How to build a system for solo or duo shows
Ken Nail has written about car audio for Crutchfield since 2003, after four years as Crutchfield Sales Advisor, and 10 years as a music teacher. He's an avid music listener, whose favorites are classical and film music. When not chained to a desk, Ken spends most of his time training for triathlons and marathons, and likes getting outside for backpacking, downhill skiing, and bicycle touring. He attended West Virginia University, where he received a Master's Degree in Music Performance and a Bachelor's Degree in History.
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If you're gigging at small venues as a solo act, or maybe a duet, you'll need a PA system that 's compact enough to transport and set up easily. It should be easy to operate from the stage. And it should be both rugged and affordable.
Your perfect system
The simplest approach is a pre-packaged system. But a component system may suit your needs better. Here are some tips on how to build the right system for your shows.
First take stock of what you're going to need. The diagram below shows a pretty typical setup for a small PA system.
Keep in mind that your specific requirements may be different. Let's take a look at the individual elements of the system, and provide you with links to products that we're confident will work for you.
The elements of a simple PA system
Step 1 — choose your microphones
Your sound starts with microphones. We've selected a range of microphones that are designed for use in live performance — be sure to check our detailed descriptions of the models we've selected to help decide which is best for you.
Browse the selection of stage microphones that we've selected for this application.
Don't forget the microphone stands and cables you'll need
Step 2 — choose your mixer
A mixer pre-amplifies microphone input signals, combines them with the signals from your instruments, and lets you adjust the tone and balance of the sounds.
While you can plug microphones and instruments directly into most powered speakers, having a mixer adds a degree of control and flexibility you won't get from going directly to the speakers. Plus, it makes it a lot easier to adjust your settings quickly during a performance.
Some mixers have built in effects, so you can add the right level of reverb, delay, or other effects to match the environment you're performing in.
Step 3 — choose your powered speakers
For ease of setup, you can't beat powered speakers. You can start your system with one speaker and add another later if you start playing larger venues where you need better sound coverage. A powered speakers can serve as a monitor speaker, too (if your mixer has a monitor output built in).
Browse the powered speakers we've chosen for this application.
And don't forget cables — they're the link between your mixer and your speakers. Be sure to check the types of connections required between the output of your mixer and the input of your speakers to make sure you're getting the right cable, whether it has XLR connectors or 1/4" TSR plugs.
And speaker stands are a must if you want to ensure that you'll be heard properly at the gig.
Step 4 — get the accessories you need to transport and protect your gear
Now that you're ready to head to gig, keep your gear safe with cases and bags. And this Furmann Furman SS-6B surge protector is specifically built with live sound applications in mind — power protection is always a smart idea when you're trying to protect your electronics investment. And don't forget to take a few sturdy extension cords to the gig.
A power protection unit provides the outlets you'll need and protects your gear from power surges.