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Electro Voice ZLX-12BT
A 12” active loudspeaker with Bluetooth
£ 309.00
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Bose S1 Pro System
Lightweight Active Bluetooth PA Speaker System
£ 488.00
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Things to know about PA speakers

PA speakers belong to a PA system like strings to a guitar. But which loudspeakers do I actually need for which situation and what do I have to consider in general? We tell you!

1. Active and passive speakers

Let's start with the distinction between active and passive systems. PA speakers - tops, subwoofers and monitor speakers - are available in both versions. The big difference is that active speakers already have a built-in amplifier, whereas passive speakers need an external power amplifier (or power mixer or similar). This may save you a lot of lugging around - especially since modern amplifier modules are now so light that they don't directly add much weight to the speakers. In addition, active speakers often contain a DSP (digital signal processor) and options for sound shaping (keyword: effects).

Advantages of active PA speakers:

  • Compact, because the amplifier is already integrated

  • Easy handling, because e.g. the resistors of amplifier and loudspeaker are perfectly matched to each other.

  • Evenly distributed power, because each unit has its own amplifier (especially practical for PA systems with tops and subwoofers).

  • When connecting and combining several speakers, there is no need to consider aspects such as total resistance.

Aktiv-Lautsprecher mit 15 Zoll
Active loudspeaker with 15": Fame Audio Challenger 15A

The controls of active loudspeakers are located on the cabinet - which, however, can also be a disadvantage in some situations. For example, if the speaker is out of reach, changing the settings can be a bit time-consuming and annoying.

By the way: bad weather is not automatically an argument against active speakers. For many models, so-called rain covers are available that offer protection against short-term moisture.

Passive speakers do not offer the advantages just mentioned. Active models are also usually the better choice when it comes to crossovers (the division of the sound signal into different frequency ranges such as bass, mid-range and treble and the subsequent forwarding to different speakers). Last but not least, passive speakers have much longer cable runs because the power amplifier is not located directly in the cabinet. Nevertheless, passive speakers also have their advantages.

Advantages of passive PA boxes:

  • Often cheaper
  • Flexible combination of speakers and power amplifiers or power mixers possible
  • Loudspeakers and amplifiers can be replaced separately in the event of a defect
  • Particularly free positioning, as control is collected via the power amplifier

Make sure that the power of the amplifier is higher than that of the passive speakers - about 30 percent more is recommended.

Passive PA-Box von JBL
Passive PA speaker by JBL with 15" woofer and 1" tweeter

2. Tops

PA tops are PA speakers that cover (more or less) the entire frequency range and can therefore be used separately (i.e. without a subwoofer). For this purpose, they typically have several loudspeaker components, each of which takes care of different frequency ranges, for example bass, midrange and treble. Such speakers are called multi-way speakers because the sound is split up and transported via several paths. 

Common examples are:

  • 2-Way loudspeaker: 1x woofer and 1x tweeter
  • 3-Way loudspeaker: 1x woofer, 1x midrange and 1x tweeter.

The more ways a PA speaker has, the more balanced the sound generally is. However, you can also achieve decent results with 2-way speakers.

Tops are generally very flexible and can be used for different occasions:

  • As vocal speakers
  • As part of a party sound system
  • As PA speakers for small to medium-sized events
Electro Voice ELX112 als Monitorbox
Many tops like this Electro Voice ELX112 can also be laid down and used as a monitor.

The size of the speakers depends on the area of application and on the rest of the PA system. The size specifications in inches refer to the diameter of the cone of the installed woofer. The following sizes are common:

  • 8“
  • 10“
  • 12“
  • 15“

The larger the diameter, the more bass the speaker can reproduce. 12" speakers are a good compromise and can also be complemented very well with subwoofers. If you prefer a smaller set-up, two 15" models without a bass box can also do a good job. In this case, it depends on what is to be reproduced: Speech hardly needs low frequencies, but clarity - smaller speakers are often sufficient here. For music, on the other hand, larger speakers and additional subwoofers are often better suited.

Click here for passive speakers and here for active speakers.

Tip: There are also PA sets that contain several components that are coordinated with each other - for example, two tops with matching speaker stands, speaker sets with tops and a separate subwoofer, etc. This way, you get everything you need to get started in one package. Here you will find active complete PA sets and here passive complete sets.

PA-Komplettset von Fame Audio mit Boxen, Stativen, Kabeln und Endstufe
Complete PA set from Fame Audio with speakers, stands, cables and power amplifier

3. Subwoofer

If a powerful sound foundation is desired, there is hardly any way around combining tops with PA subwoofers. In this case, the signal is divided into different ranges by crossovers, which are then output via top and sub respectively.

Common diaphragm sizes of subs are:

  • 10“
  • 12“
  • 15“
  • 18“

Here too, the larger the diameter, the stronger the bass response. However, the larger the diaphragm, the slower the response of the speaker - of course, because more mass vibrates more slowly. Depending on how dynamic and compact you want the sound to be, it doesn't necessarily have to be the largest model.

Tip: Many subwoofers have practical threads for stands on the top - so you can place the top directly above the bass speaker and thus better direct it towards the audience's ears. This makes the sound more balanced.

Since it takes considerably more energy to reproduce bass frequencies, subwoofers also have a correspondingly higher output than tops. Large 18" models can easily deliver 1000 watts and more. 

Here you will find passive subwoofers and here active subwoofers.

4. More PA Speakers

Besides the "classic" PA speakers, i.e. separate tops and subwoofers, there are other speakers that can be used in a PA system.

Column Systems

These systems consist of a woofer and an elongated loudspeaker that is mounted directly on it. Usually, there is also a spacer element so that the speaker can be raised. The great advantages of column sound systems are their compactness and ease of use - simply plug the desired components into each other and you can start the sound system. Dismantling and transport are just as easy.

Another great advantage of column systems is their dispersion behaviour: By installing several small loudspeakers on top of each other in the loudspeaker element, a similar effect is created as with line arrays (see below) - in combination with the tall design, this results in a large range at a constant volume. 

Monitors

Monitors or monitor boxes have a slanted side so that they can be laid on their side and then radiate upwards. You have probably seen such speakers on stages, where they are used so that the musicians can hear themselves well. There are both active and passive monitors.

Line-Arrays

At festivals, concerts or similar large events, you have probably noticed the large "loudspeaker chains" on the sides of the stage: These are so-called line arrays - literally a whole row of loudspeakers that hang down slightly curved or are "flown". Thanks to their design, line arrays not only achieve top volumes, but also ideal dispersion and range, so that as many people as possible can enjoy the best possible sound.

Line-Array von dB Technologies
Line-Array von dB Technologies