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Hey Now, What’s That Sound System?: What To Look For In A Personal Sound System

The days of carrying around multiple heavy speakers, a large sound mixer, power amps and miles of cables is far over. If you’re a performing solo artist or even a small 3-piece band you have way more convenient options today that don’t sacrifice flexibility, features or sound quality. Today’s market for portable speaker systems has grown considerably since Bose first introduced their all in one system the L1. Now almost every major speaker manufacturer has taken notice of the design and are putting out their own versions. This month we’re going to look deeper at what these speaker systems are and why you’d want to consider one.

When considering a portable sound system there are 4 components you’ll want to check off your list before purchasing.

  1. Amount of speakers and their maximum output

  2. Number of inputs/outputs

  3. Built-in tuning and effects

  4. Expandability and convenience

Speakers & Wattage

When it relates to speakers, the more wattage (power) the speaker has the louder it can go but that also means it will perform better at lower volumes. This has to do with how much energy and power you’re attempting to drive through the speakers before they start to distort. You don’t want to be left in a situation when your system is near max volume and your audience is still having a hard time hearing you. So look for a higher powered speaker to provide yourself with a versatile system you can

use in smaller and medium size venues. One thing to take note here is that typically higher powered systems tend to weigh more than lower powered systems so if you’re going to be performing or traveling solo be sure to compare the overall weights of each system you’re considering.

Inputs & Outputs

The number of inputs and outputs of the system is important to note. This also includes any digital connections or Bluetooth connections. You want to look for a system that can handle your entire set up plus at least one other person. A typical solo artist might have 3 inputs to themselves: microphone, guitar, drum machine/backing tracks. If you’re a piano player you’ll likely have at least 4 if you want your piano to have a stereo sound (you may even want two portable systems to be able to provide that stereo image as well.)

The important thing to know here is that you want to have more inputs than you think you’ll need.

You never know what can happen on a gig and you want to be able to expand your system if need be. The outputs of a portable system will likely be used to hook up to a second portable system to have a stereo image across the audience or be used to connect to a recording device if you’re trying to capture the live performance. Some professional videographers will often ask for a direct output feed to synchronize the performance with their video, the resulting audio is miles ahead in terms of quality than if they were to just capture the sound coming from out of the speakers themselves.

Tuning & Effects

Built-in tuning and effects relates to having the ability to control the bass, mid and treble of each input as well as adding in things like reverbs or delays. In general, your speaker system will sound a little bit different in each venue you play at. This is due to the physical nature of frequencies and how they are either absorbed or reflected by their environment. A venue with high ceilings and flat walls will cause the sound to echo and bounce all around where a venue with lower ceilings and artwork all over the place will dampen the sound. You want to be able to tune your speaker system to sound it’s best in each of these venues so having control of the bass and treble output is very important. Some portable systems even allow you tone control on each channel giving you further control over individual elements such as a vocal or guitar. Then to be able to give your sound a uniform feel you’ll want to see if you can add in

reverb or short delays into the mix.

Digital reverb recreates the way sound responds in a particular environment such as a large hall or a cave or a small room. Being able to apply a reverb to the entire speaker system allows you to define your style of music and it also makes the music more enjoyable for your listeners.

Portability & Flexibility

The final piece to consider when purchasing a portable speaker system is its ability to expand to a larger system for larger venues and also the convenience of transporting it. If you get the opportunity to play a larger stage or venue you’ll possibly need a bigger system so being able to tie that into your current setup is a huge bonus.

As I mentioned before, powerful sound systems typically weigh a lot so having the ability to pack everything up compact will make it that much easier to transport. You will see that most of these systems are made up of a large base for the larger speakers which produce the low end and a thin tower where the smaller speakers are that produce the high frequencies. The tower and small speakers will be able to break down and fit inside the base of the system to all be carried away with a single handle.


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