Technology

Portable P.A. Systems 2017

Portable P.A. systems have experienced perhaps the most dra­matic growth of any pro audio product category over the past couple of years. Supported by both manufacturers and retail­ers, this segment of the market offers more new technologies packed into all-in-one systems than ever before, and is being accepted by a broader base of end-users. It’s now common for musicians to own their own P.A., tailored for their specific mu­sic, instrument(s) and the venues they frequent.

Here we present the top manufacturers of Portable P.A. products in al­phabetical order. There are others, to be sure, but the following com­panies reach an ever-growing customer base for uniquely compelling reasons. Read on to find out why.

Alto Pro: Best known for attractive­ly priced traditional powered P.A. speakers, Alto Pro offers a range of in­teresting options in Portable P.A., in­cluding a pioneering product within the “all-in-one” category introduced nearly a decade ago, the MixPack Express; the larger, higher input-count MixPack 10; 3-channel, Blue­tooth-ready Trouper; and Transport 12, a 400W battery-powered PPA with wireless microphone and USB media player.

Anchor Audio: With a clear emphasis on “portable,” Anchor Audio specializes in American-made, battery-powered portable speakers, de­signed for remote locales in which speakers are stand-mounted, as well as personal/carry P.A. systems for tour guides, etc. Anchor Audio also offers a range of lecterns and all-weather portable P.A. systems, includ­ing the Bigfoot Line Array, a caster-equipped, all-weather battery-pow­ered system designed specifically to cover sporting events.

Behringer: The Music Group’s Behringer brand offers a wide range of powered/portable P.A. enclo­sures of all types, sizes and pur­poses. Specifically under its PPA banner, all-in-one systems, bat­tery-powered, handheld systems as well as three-piece, higher-wattage systems are available. Notably, the Europort PPA2000BT (pictured) is a 2000W, 8-channel system featuring Bluetooth connectivity, wireless microphone option, Klark-Teknik multieffects processing, FBQ Feed­back Detection, and more.

Bose: Having emerged as one of the top portable P.A. brands in the industry, Bose offers its legendary and super-portable L1 Series of “stick”-type portable line array systems, debuting in 2004, which notably offers 180 degrees of horizontal coverage. Following the success of the L1, Bose built even larger portable P.A. to effectively handle more inputs and a larger live band with its F1 Series (pictured). The F1 is not­ed for its high power, adjustable four-setting line array coverage, and optional powered subwoofer.

Cerwin-Vega: Lacking all-in-one portable P.A. systems, Cerwin-Vega specializes in high-powered two-way enclosures and subwoofers equipped with legendary Vega Bass circuitry; its latest workhorse enclosure is the 1000W P Series, featuring two sizes of full-range enclosures and a component subwoof­er. Possibly my favorite powered/portable P.A. speak­er of all time is the CVA-28 (pictured), Cerwin-Vega’s 400W (continuous), tri-amped enclosure featuring dual 8-inch mid-woofers and concentric HF driver.

EAW: Under the umbrella of Loud Technologies, EAW is best known as a manufacturer of high-end touring line arrays. However, current collaborations with Mackie are bringing EAW innovation down-mar­ket, potentially broadening both brands’ customer bases. Case in point: Mackie’s new flagship AXIS mixing system is easily networked with EAW’s intelligent RADIUS Series of network-enabled powered loud­speakers—far from “portable P.A.,” this collaboration may hint at the future of Mackie products and their network-based capabilities.

Electro-Voice: E-V builds some of the absolute best “workhorse” powered P.A. enclosures in the marketplace. From the ZLX to EKX to ETX—the company’s budget, midgrade and flagship portable powered enclosure lines—all offer multiple input and throughput types and are equipped with well-chosen DSP parameters to bring out the best in most every placement. I continue to rely upon ZLX enclosures for many gigs, from a couple of dynamic mics straight into its XLR/TRS combo inputs for quick and low-key singer/songwriter moments to dual EV ZXA1-Sub augmented systems that are powerful enough to fill most mid-sized clubs for possibly high-channel count, full band productions.

FBT: Built in Recanati, Italy, and distributed via FBT USA, FBT portable sound systems include the new bi-amplified, birchwood cab­inet-equipped Verve Speaker Series featuring Class D amplification, newly designed DSP with four EQ presets and a reportedly “extremely low” noise floor.

Fender: For those in the know, Fender is not only a premier guitar manufacturer, the company lends its name to some of the best little portable P.A. systems in the business, and has for quite some time. The Pass­port brand is notable for its small size and unique all-in-one packable designs; operating a bit outside the realm of traditional pro audio brands, Fender has his­torically brought a unique, simplistic sensibility to the portable P.A. mar­ketplace. Worthy of note is the tiny Passport Mini, a dual-channel, 7W, battery or AC-powered unit featuring electric and acoustic guitar-based ef­fects, built-in chromatic tuner, and USB connectivity for Fender’s propri­etary FUSE application and recording applications, etc.

Fishman: Two key products have solidified Fish­man’s foothold in the portable P.A. marketplace: the SA Series, purposely designed for the singer/songwriter or duo (the latest SA Series product, the SA330x, is pictured), and the Loudbox Series, of­fering a clean, accurate translation of acoustic gui­tar with added XLR inputs. “Fast forward to today and our three Loudbox models—the Mini, Artist and Performer—collectively make up 48 percent of the acoustic amplifier market in the U.S.,” explains Fishman’s own Larry Fishman. “You’ll see Loudbox amplifiers in coffee shops, arenas and everywhere in between.”

Galaxy Audio: Best known for its line of HotSpot powered personal stage monitors, Galaxy now of­fers its Traveler series of portable P.A., featuring AC or battery operation. The latest model is the Trav­eler TV8 (pictured), a 4-input, Bluetooth-equipped two-way system featuring an 8-inch woofer, 1-inch horn and 80W amplifier, designed to cover up to 600 people.

HK Audio: Known for building a range of line arrays and impressive powered portable speakers, German manufacturer HK Audio builds notably high-quality portable P.A. systems, too. Its Lucas and Lucas Nano lines feature small, full-range speakers and integrated subwoofer/mixer/amplifier “bases.” The latest HK PPA, Lucas Nano 608i (pictured) is re­portedly the first all-in-one P.A. to feature an onboard iPad-enabled mixer and features eight channels, com­prehensive effects and Bluetooth streaming capabili­ties, and it is notably light (under 40 pounds) and easy to maneuver.

JBL: After years of the EON Series of portable powered speakers’ popu­larity in the marketplace—we’ve surely all used them somewhere along the way—JBL has now joined the portable compact line array business. EON ONE is an impressively powerful system, with full bass and natural frequen­cy-wide sound. This user-friendly, all-in-one system is easy to carry with one hand and has a super-wide dispersion. Bluetooth-ready, it offers two XLR/TRS combo inputs, stereo input, eighth-inch input and the wireless channel.

Mackie: Mackie, first known for its compact analog mixers, was next known for its powered speakers, both in studio and live realms. Today, Mackie makes some of the most innovative and dependable powered portable speakers available, and has recently zeroed in on the PPA mar­ket with its superb FreePlay and Reach products featuring digitally con­trolled mixing capabilities and Bluetooth connectivity.

It’s arguable that one of most important products in Portable P.A. isn’t really PPA at all. It’s the Mackie Pro DX Series of digital mixers, which rely upon your iOS or Android OS smart device via Bluetooth. With six or two XLR/TRS inputs, clean Mackie preamps and the super user-friendly parameters and effects borne of the DL Series’ MasterFad­er, add some powered speakers and go.

MIPRO: Wireless systems, microphones and an interesting array of truly portable P.A. solutions: This is what Taiwanese pro audio firm MI­PRO offers to the market, and it has been building its PPA systems for years. MIPRO offers the MA-808 Portable Wireless PA System, accom­modating up to four wireless microphones, XLR and 1/4-inch input, RCA input, and master level volume control via wireless with memory, all with built-in battery or AC powered and with cool extra features such as a Speakon main mix output and retractable handle and wheels. MIPRO also offers USB and SD card-ready personal P.A. I must also mention that this company’s handheld microphones are superb bargains, too.

Peavey: Well before portable P.A. existed, Peavey empowered budget-restricted engineers and bands with relatively hefty (but indestructible) and afford­able live sound speaker enclosures—the first porta­ble P.A., in my experience, however portable or not. Today, Peavey offers some truly powered portable P.A. in its broad all-in-one Messenger Series and the perennially popular Escort Series, Triflex II 1000W full-range enclosures, and the P2 Powered Line Ar­ray system (pictured).

PreSonus: PreSonus is one of the newest pro audio manufacturers to cover both studio and live realms. Having purchased Worx Audio years ago, and with continued development of its live sound division, PreSonus today offers some impressive powered portable speakers, a widely accepted live sound (and recording) end-to-end system called StudioLive while raging DAW wars against Pro Tools (with its Studio One). The StudioLive AI Series is particularly interesting with Ethernet or Wi-Fi control, as well as, with its optional Dante card, ready for CAT5 or CAT6 connectivity.

QSC: Opposite of Mackie, QSC was first known for its powered en­closures and, increasingly now, for the innovative, intuitive Touch­Mix-8, -16, and -30 Pro digital mixers with integrated, proprietary GUI. Together, QSC offers an incredibly “pro” P.A. system that is certainly portable by self-mixing ensemble standards, and quite possibly for the most discriminating self-mixing singer-songwriters, too. Still, QSC re­mains a top source of powered portable loudspeakers, from its superb and rugged 1000W K Series with multiple input options and beyond.

RCF: Based in the mechanical/industrial tech-based city of Reggio Emilia, Italy, RCF produces a wide range of high-quality speakers for live/touring and installation, and even mixing consoles, head­phones and studio monitors. In PPA, RCF offers several series of powered portable speakers; most no­table is its Evox Series of compact active line arrays. Pictured is the 1,400W Evox 8 featuring eight 2-inch full-range transducers, a 12-inch woofer in its base’s bass reflex enclosure, internal DSP, and more.

Roland: Too often overlooked as a source of superb portable P.A., Roland has been producing fine all-in-one sys­tems for decades. From the CUBE Series of battery-powered “street P.A.,” perfect for busking, etc., to the larger BA-330 Stereo Portable Amplifier (pictured), Roland de­signs thoughtful, musician-centric PPAs for creating music anywhere.

Samson: Builder of a wide range of portable powered speaker solutions, Samson offers its Expedition all-in-one portable P.A. The most powerful Expedition, the XP1000 (pictured), is a three-piece, Bluetooth-enabled, 10-channel mixer offering 1,000 W of power (500 x 500 W) for its dual two-way full-range enclosures featuring 10-inch woofers and 1-inch HF drivers.

Turbosound: Like Behringer, Turbosound is owned by Music Group yet has a long history prior of supplying world-class touring acts with large sound reinforcement rigs. Today, Turbosound is committed to commercial/performance-install and live sound, as well as portable P.A. markets. Notably, Turbosound’s iNSPIRE iP2000 is a column-style portable line array with 17 neodymium drivers, 12-inch subwoofer fea­turing 1,000 W of power, Bluetooth connectivity, Klark-Teknik spatial sound technology, and much more.

Yamaha: Beyond Yamaha’s superb range of powered porta­ble loudspeakers for live sound, the company has been selling its STAGEPAS of all-in-one portable P.A. systems for quite some time, and in it, pioneered “one knob” effects, such as reverb and com­pression before the rest of the industry caught onto the appeal of such ease-of-use among PPA end-users. Yamaha’s STAGEPAS range is notably ruggedly built with great-sounding components, all in­tuitively designed and easy to transport. Yamaha, among the first to the all-in-one portable P.A. party targeting DIY musicians, is a great example of doing PPA right.

Yorkville: A privately owned Canadian firm specializing in pow­ered speaker enclosures, mixers, amplifiers and more, Yorkville has long sold well-made portable loudspeakers into the American marketplace, all of which are notably affordable. Worthy of special note is Yorkville’s Excursion EXM400 Compact PA, a 400W 4-channel system featuring compact extension speakers, “pole-through” connectivity, and integrat­ed input/mixer features and functionality. A subwoofer, 24-bit digital effects and Bluetooth connectivity are also included.

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