PA systems vary in size, shape, functionality, price, and quality. There are hundreds of models to choose from dozens of manufacturers. With so many options available on the market, it’s often hard to find the best fit for your particular needs. The following review breaks down what to look for before purchasing a PA system and highlights a number of great models that suit a range of sound reinforcement needs at varying price points.
10 Questions before choosing your PA System
Before embarking on a your journey to acquire a new PA system, you should ask yourself the following questions:
- What is your budget?
- How many inputs, outputs, and buses do you need?
- Are size, weight, portability, and/or compactness important to you?
- What size venue and/or crowd are you looking to cover with your PA?
- Do you need scalability to expand your PA system in the future?
- Do you need wireless connectivity?
- What kind of built-in effects are you looking for?
- Do you (or other potential operators) feel comfortable operating a digital mixer that may have a learning curve to get familiar with the controls?
- What routing options do you need?
- Will you need to make live recordings from the console?
Additional Equipment Needed
While there are some all-in-one PA systems on the market, a complete PA system is typically comprised of three separate systems all working together:
- power amplifier
In certain instances a mixer or a speaker will also include a built-in power amplifier, but in any case you’ll need a combination of all three pieces of gear (whether integrated or separate) to successfully setup your PA system. This article focuses on mixers, but in certain scenarios the mixer is integrated with a power amp and/or speakers.
In addition, you’ll need cables to connect these three systems. The type of cables will depend on your particular gear and situation, but most likely you’ll need some combination of speaker cables, Speakon cables, TRS cables, XLR cables, analog snakes, and/or digital snakes.
Lastly, you’ll also need equipment to connect to your PA in order to get sound into the system. Depending on how you are using your PA, this might be: 1) a number of mics, mic stands, and XLR cables, 2) a mobile device and stereo audio cable, 3) a laptop computer, audio interface, and XLR cables, 4) instruments, instrument cables, DI boxes and XLR cables, or 5) some combination of the aforementioned.
Whatever your sound needs, this review features a breadth of high-quality mixers covering models for all purposes, from weddings gigs to international touring acts.
Best Overall PA Systems
|Category||PA System||Price||Best For|
|Under $750||Yamaha EMX512SC||$599.99 on Amazon.com||Rehearsals, house shows, and small venues|
|Under $2000||Behringer X32||$1,699.99 on Amazon.com||Mid-sized venues, touring acts, and festivals|
|Over $2000||Soundcraft Vi7000||~$26,400+||International touring, arenas, and large installations|
Best Budget PA Systems (Under $750)
Behringer Europort PPA500BT
Starting at $488
The Behringer Europort PPA500BT 500W mixer is one of the most portable all-in-one PA systems at this price point. It’s the perfect PA for solo artists who need a portable PA for smaller gigs or for small events that need music and one or two announcement mics. Setup and operation is designed with user-friendliness in mind for those new to operating PAs, but the PPA500BT’s feature set also allows for more experienced sound engineers to tailor their mix to specific scenarios in smaller venues.
- Compact, lightweight, and portable (45lbs)
- Bluetooth connectivity
- 100 built-in effects presets
- FBQ Feedback Detection system
- 5-band master EQ (63Hz, 250Hz, 1kHz, 6.3kHz, and 12kHz)
- Phantom power
- No monitor outputs
- Only 2 mic/line inputs and 2 stereo line inputs
- Limited expandability
Starting at $199.99 (on Amazon.com)
Yamaha’s reliable EMX512SC 500W + 500W eight-channel powered mixer is both portable and powerful. The EMX512SC has a built in 500W + 500W power amplifier, so you won’t need to carry around a separate amp for your unpowered PA speakers. Furthermore, you can expand the system by adding powered speakers to the main or monitor outputs. This PA system excels as a workhorse for smaller bands needing sound reinforcement for rehearsals, occasional house shows, and smaller venues.
500W + 500W
- 8 mic inputs (including 4 mono ¼” inputs, 2 stereo ¼” inputs and 2 stereo RCA inputs)
- SPX effects processor with 16 built-in effects
- Compression available on 4 mic/line inputs
- 7-band graphic EQ for main and monitor mixes
- Feedback Channel Locator (FCL) System
- No wireless connectivity
- No headphone output
- 12V phantom power (not standard 48V)
Allen & Heath ZED16FX
Starting at $699
Quality, versatility, and user-friendliness are highlights of Allen & Heath’s ZED16FX unpowered mixer. The ZED16FX provides plenty of inputs and flexibility for small venues, mobile sound companies, and artists who need a fully featured mixer in a compact size. Don’t let the affordable price fool you. This mixer has a rugged build-quality and transparent preamps for superior sound.
- 10 mic/line inputs
- 3 stereo line inputs
- 3-band EQ on channels 1-10
- ZED-FX processor with 16 different effects
- L/R XLR main outputs, 1 mono ¼” main output, and 3 aux ¼” outputs
- USB connection for stereo recordings
- No graphic EQ for main or monitor outputs
- No onboard compression
Best Medium-Priced PA Systems (Under $2,000)
Allen & Heath Qu-Pac
Starting at $1,499
Tablet-controlled mixers have become popular in recent years due in large part to their form-factor. Without traditional faders and knobs, manufacturers can pack a lot of functionality and input/output flexibility into small packages. The 16-channel Qu-Pac digital mixer offers features from Allen & Heath’s top models like four effects engines, high-quality preamps, and expandable inputs and outputs via dSNAKE. Venues, musicians, and engineers looking for a digital mixer in a compact format will enjoy the functionality and quality of the Qu-Pac iPad-controlled digital mixer.
- 16 mic/line inputs (up to 38 inputs via dSNAKE)
- 12 XLR mix outputs
- 4 groups and 2 matrix outputs
- 4 FX engines and 4 FX sends/returns
- iPad app for wireless live mixing and iPhone app for personal monitoring
- Learning curve required for operation
- No faders or rotary knobs
- Decreased usability without iPad
Soundcraft Si Impact
Starting at $1,949.99
Digital mixers typically offer more mixing capabilities than their analog counterparts. However, this increase in mixing performance comes at a cost: usability. Soundcraft’s Si Impact solves this issue by decreasing the learning curve necessary to operate the mixer and increasing the user’s ease of operation with color-coded fader banks. With plenty of input/output flexibility and effects processing from DBX and Lexicon, the Si Impact sounds great, too.
- 32 XLR inputs and 16 XLR outputs
- DBX dynamics processing on each input channel
- 4 hardware-based Lexicon effects processors
- 4 fully customizable color-coded fader layers with FaderGlow technology
- Cat 5 connection for stageboxes
- Expansion card slot for flexible connectivity
- Small touchscreen
- Can’t be used as a DAW controller
- Wireless control only with iPad
Starting at $1999.94
Revolutionizing the live digital mixing console market, the Behringer X32 is a staple in the live sound world. If you’re in need of flexible routing, recallable settings, 32 XLR inputs, and plenty of buses, the X32 is a classic and affordable choice for sound reinforcement in a variety of applications. You’ll find it equally at home at outdoor festivals, on extended tours, at indoor installations, and in theater productions.
- 32 XLR inputs and16 XLR outputs
- P-16 personal monitoring connectivity
- MIDI I/O and DAW remote control
- iPad, iPhone and computer remote control connectivity through the X32 App
- AES50 connection for stageboxes
- Expansion port for audio interface cards
- Other than 6 aux inputs and outputs, there are no ¼” connections
- No wireless control system of P-16 personal monitoring system
Best PA Systems Over $2,000
Starting at $3,599.99
The Yamaha TF5 offers features that save time and effort for both entry-level users and experienced professionals. With a multitude of usable effects presets, easy to use one-knob compression and EQ, GainFinder technology for quickly setting gain, and flexible routing typical of a digital mixer, the TF5 makes achieving stunning mixes a joy rather than a chore. Yamaha’s dedication to transparent signal paths is demonstrated with this console’s superb preamps and effects processors.
- 32 XLR/¼” combo inputs and 16 XLR outputs
- Extensive effects library
- 20 aux buses and 8 groups
- 8 effects processors
- 1 expansion slot for Dante connectivity
- Wireless control of console using iPad
- Wireless personal monitor mixing via iOS
- GainFinder for easy gain setup
- Wireless console operation for iPad only
Starting around $26,400
If your production calls for inputs and outputs in the hundreds and you’re looking for a console that will keep this multitude of channels and buses organized, Soundcraft’s Vi7000 provides a solution. In true form, Soundcraft keeps usability in mind with Vistonics and FaderGlow technology making your complex mixes a simpler task to manage. Most excitingly, Realtime Rack (an optional integrated rack unit) provides the potential to utilize plugins from Universal Audio bringing the sound of some of the world’s best studio plugins to the live mixing arena.
- Up to 128 inputs and 32 buses
- 5 touchscreens that each have 8 faders and 16 rotary knobs
- Vistonics touchscreen technology
- FaderGlow technology
- Up to 384 I/O channels with Soundcraft’s Local Rack hardware
- 8 Lexicon multi-FX units and built-in BSS equalizers
- Realtime Rack integration enables use of UAD plugins (two versions available: Ultimate Live with 74 plugins and Core Live with 14 plugins)
- Redundant power supplies and redundant operation mode for network connections
- Operation at 96kHz requires additional DSP cards and a reduction in channel count
- 1-year warranty
Avid VENUE S6L-32D
Starting around $81,000
Scalability and flexibility in the live sound arena are brought to their utter extremes with Avid’s VENUE S6L-32D live mixing system. If money is no object and you’re looking for top performance in all aspects of your PA system, the myriad of customizable options afforded by the VENUE S6L-32D should satisfy even the most demanding requirements. Seamless integration with Pro Tools, access to a plethora of Avid’s plugins, 12 input/output card slots, and compatibility with plugins from McDSP and Sonnox put this live mixing console on the cutting edge of sound engineering technology.
- 34 faders
- 4 daylight-visible 12.1” touchscreens
- 12 I/O card slots
- Expandability by Avid’s Stage 64 racks which are customizable with up to 64 inputs and 32 outputs
- 2 different engine options: E6L-192 and E6L-144 provide 192 or 144 input channels at 96kHz
- Pro Tools integration
- Onboard effects including parametric EQ, expander/gate, compressor/limiter, delay, and 4 plugin inserts
- Vast library of Avid plugins and compatibility with certain 3rd party AAX plugins
- Redundant power supplies and network connections
- Separate Pro Tools contract required for Pro Tools updates