Why I didn't want any of the off-the-shelf battery powered PA Systems (PWWT 007)
As many of you know, I designed and built a custom soloution to power a full featured PA system without needing a power point. Not many of you know why.
I did it because in my opinion, with the exception of the very best battery-powered PA system, the rest of them can barely hold a candle to the average standard PA system; most people intuitively know this from experience with other battery powered devices.
The highest compliment I can give the best option that is currently on the market is that it's as good as a good quality PA system (for several times the price). So I give you my (very specific) reasons...
why I didn't want any of the off-the-shelf Battery-Powered PA systems
- Outright power: The most powerful all in one battery-powered speaker I could find has a maximum power rating of 500w. The smaller of the two speakers that I use has a rating of 800w, the bigger one is 1000w. The higher the power rating, the more the speaker can handle before it "peaks" or "clips" - otherwise known as cutting out or limiting the sound.
So while you might not care about the maximum capacity of a speaker, you do want to care about how "hot" the system is being run (or how much of the maximum capacity is being used) to get to a reasonable volume. The more power a speaker is rated for; the lower the chance of distortion, peaking, crackling and other noise because less of it's capacity is being used.
- One Brand Packages: Every package that I looked at was designed in such a way that you could only use the rest of that brand's products with the system. So if I wanted to go with "Brand X" speaker because it was the most powerful, I was then forced to use the "Brand X" Microphone, the "Brand X" Bluetooth Receiver, the "Brand X" audio interface (if it had one), etc.
I wanted to pick the best and most reliable microphone, the best and most reliable Bluetooth receiver, the best and most flexible digital mixer, etc. not just use the one that I was forced to use as part of the package.
- Lack of inputs & outputs (this is a big one): Generally most speakers have one or two inputs and one output. This is because usually all of the sources (i.e. guitars, microphones, etc.) are plugged into a separate mixing desk, from which the combined signal is sent to the speaker. Many of the battery-powered systems are based on the same design with (at best) only a few physical inputs and one output.
While some do provide a few more "inputs" by having internal wireless receivers for Bluetooth signals and wireless microphones, most of the time only one or two of inputs listed on the spec sheet are a physical input that you can plug something that isn't part of the package into. So because most of the inputs are single-use inputs (i.e. the input can only ever be used for the provided wireless microphone) not only is there a problem with the total number of inputs, there is also a problem with the limits on what the "inputs" can be.
Finally, there's also the issue with the number of outputs. I also wanted more than one output and like the inputs, not only did I want several outputs, I wanted different types of outputs so that I could provide awesome sound no matter what.
Whether it be plugging into an in-house system a venue has (if they have one) or providing an output for a videographer to plug a transponder into or a "foldback" speaker for the band; most battery-powered systems could only do one of these two things at the same time.
- Equalisation: Many of the off-the-shelf battery-powered PA systems don't have adjustable equalisation settings, those that do are generally only equipped with broad knobs for treble, middle and bass like you find on your car stereo. The broad knobs can be referred to as a "3 band EQ" and I wanted more control over the equalisation than this as 31 band EQ's are now fairly standard on digital mixers.
Proper equalisation is the very first step in getting great sound in any environment.
- Effects: Few battery-powered systems provide any effects and if they do there's only limited control over them. Sometimes effects are needed to fill out the sound if we're in a room that has difficult acoustics to work with or to cut out problems with the sound. While most people think of "karaoke reverb" or "Stadium echo" when talking about effects and as such think that effects are unnecessary there are way more, and useful effect available. In fact, the effects I use most are;
- the noise gate, which cuts out background noise and provides a cleaner sound, it sets a minumum intensity for a signal before it is sent through to the speaker, so only signals that are made intentionally (like speaking into the microphone) go through to the speaker whereas background or ambient noise is blocked by the gate.
- the compressor (for the speech microphone), which (although it's hard to explain in a sentence) makes the sound "denser" and gives it more cut-through in locations where there is a lot of ambient noise, and
- the de-esser, which prevents pops and other nasty sounds when "Puh", "Tuh" and "esssss" syllables are used in speech.
Note: Each tweak of the equalisation and effects individually do very little to the overall sound and many people think that you can get away without using them (this is why many portable systems only provide basic EQ facilities if any at all). However, the cumulative effect of all the little tweaks adds up to a massive difference in the quality of sound.
- Redundancy: In an all in one system, if one component fails, the whole thing has to be sent back to the manufacturer for repair, in the rare event that one of the elements in the system fails (which is unlikely given the quality of the elements I've chosen), I wanted to be able to swap it out in minutes so that we can get on with the wedding.
- Lite and light features: While many manufacturers make great products (such as microphones and receivers, etc), to minimise draw on the battery and to save space; they don't put the top-of-the-line versions in the pre-packaged systems.
- If I'm spending that much: There was one system on the market that I was a fan of; the Sennheiser LP 500 Pro. This system is amazing for an all-in-one battery-powered package and ticks almost every one of the boxes; I love almost everything about it except for the price... Fully optioned it costs more than my first two cars did (put together).
I figured if I was to spend that sort of money; I was going to custom design something that was exactly what I wanted rather than something that is a really good compromise.