Looking for a portable PA system can be intimidating as there’s so much choice! In this blog post we’ll be reviewing different types, sizes, and additional extras some of the more popular portable PA systems have to hopefully give you an idea of where you need to be looking.
The idea of a portable PA is quite simple – an all in one solution for a transportable, battery powered speaker, usually with multiple accessories including wireless microphones, Bluetooth connection, and more! Most portable PAs look like standard speakers but generally have a trolley handle and wheels making it as easy to transport as a suitcase!
If you know what you’re looking for and want to quickly navigate through this guide, please find some handy links below; If you’re still not sure, please carry on reading!
Before we look at the different sizes and what they’re good for it’s worth first considering which ‘extras’ you might need, as different sizes often come with different accessories. To start with we should look at the different microphone options that are available:
Handheld Wireless Microphone: These look like a ‘traditional’ microphone that you hold in your hand (hence the name!) and raise up to your mouth to use. These are probably the most common types microphone bundled in with Portable PAs. If you plan on singing, these are often your best bet.
Headband / Neckband Microphone: These are very handy for those situations where you need to be ‘hands free’ but still amplify your voice. They sit round the back of your head, hook over your ears, and have a small microphone on the end of an adjustable arm which you position just over your mouth. These will almost always be coupled with a beltpack, which just clips onto your clothes. Plug the lead from the headset into the beltpack, turn it on, and you’re on your way! These are absolutely perfect for fitness instructors, demonstrations, performers, etc.
Lapel Microphone: These little microphones are very similar to the headband microphones described above, in that they need to be paired with a beltpack to work. Instead of resting on your head though, they clip to your clothes – or more specifically, your lapel – and pick up your voice as you speak normally. These can be tricky to place correctly, so if you know you’re going to be moving a lot, these might not be your best option.
Next thing to take a look at before we start going through some actual models is the different types of connections available:
VHF vs. UHF: This is a question we get asked a lot about portable PAs: what’s the difference between a VHF connection and a UHF connection? This generally refers to the wireless microphones that come with these systems. VHF stands for ‘Very High Frequency’, and UHF stands for ‘Ultra High Frequency’ – this refers to the bands of frequency the systems occupy. For reference these are:
VHF Frequency Bands: 173.8MHz – 175.1MHz
UHF Frequency Bands: 863MHz – 865MHz
There are pros and cons to both VHF and UHF, and without getting too technical here are a few: VHF being a lower frequency is able to travel a bit further, meaning you will be able to move the microphone further away from the receiver (or in this case, the speaker) and still retain signal. The pitfall of VHF, however, is that if the microphone is not in clear view of the receiver (behind a wall, or obstructed in any way) you’re far more likely to have an intermittent connection. On the other hand UHF can’t travel quite as far but is much better at penetrating through walls or other obstructions. On top of this, you’re less likely to have any interference on a UHF system as there are more available frequency bands.
RCA/Bluetooth/USB: RCA refers to the small red and white inputs you’ll find on the back of almost all portable PA systems. This is usually the easiest way to get an audio signal through the system from a phone/MP3 player/laptop, as the most common RCA lead has a 3.5mm jack connection on the opposite end which will plug into any standard 3.5mm headphone port. Another common way of getting audio through the system is Bluetooth! Being able to connect to a portable PA via Bluetooth is a very handy feature, as you’re able to control the music from the device without being tethered to the speaker. This generally consists of pairing your device with the portable PA the first time, then every time after that it should connect automatically. The last main method is via a USB stick, if the PA has a USB slot, this means you can usually load a USB stick with music, plug it into the unit, and it will play whatever is on there! Most units come with a small remote which let you control the media player (play and pause, skip forwards etc.).
Please note that USB inputs on portable PA systems can NOT be used to plug in a phone with their charging cables! It will use the built in battery to charge your phone, but no audio will be transmitted through the power connection.
Now that we’ve covered most of the extras, it’s time to have a look at some actual products! It’s worth noting that the sizes these (and all speakers) are referred to aren’t the actual physical size, but the size of the main speaker driver.
These are generally the smallest size available, and even then, not every brand has an 8” version so it’s worth a check if you think this is the size you need. Typically PAs of this size are used for speech – so things like small sermons, demonstrations etc. are perfect. 8” Speakers aren’t generally used for music playback because the main driver isn’t big enough to give a true frequency response, especially in the lower (bass) frequencies – so you’ll often find if you play music through an 8” speaker it will seem quite ‘thin’.
Kam RZ8PA – Features include Bluetooth, built in media player, USB & SD Card input and 1 VHF wireless handheld microphone, all in a very compact and easily transportable unit!
QTX Delta 50 – This one is more of a handheld system as it doesn’t have trolley wheels, but it’s small enough to carry around! Features include Bluetooth, USB player, 2 VHF wireless handheld microphones.
This is where the choices start to get quite substantial! Since the driver is bigger, these are better at reproducing music. You will definitely hear the bass end of a song more than an 8” and it will be louder to boot! As you might expect, with these being slightly louder they are more suitable to slightly bigger crowds of people. Again the main uses for this size of system are for larger demonstrations, sermons, and small outside events for announcements / background music.
LD Systems Roadjack 10 – Features include a more robust housing with better quality sound and battery life plus Bluetooth, USB & SD Card reader, as well as reverb.
Arguably 12” portable PA systems are the most popular, offering an equal balance of portability, power, and representation of music. You will find with a 12” that music will sound ‘full bodied’ as well as being louder than the smaller systems. This size of PA system is often perfect for fitness classes, quiz announcements, buskers, outside events (both announcements and background music) and more.
QTX QX12PA-Plus – Very similar looking to the QR12PA, but this one has some extra features: Bluetooth being the main one. The 2 wireless handheld microphones are UHF too, as well as being sturdier in construction. Package option available here.
QTX Busker 12 – This is a larger version of the above mentioned Busker 10 with all the same great features but as well as the extra volume/output to it’s smaller sibling, it’s also supplier with 2 handheld VHF microphones. Package option available here.
The biggest of the conventional sized portable PA systems, these systems are able to handle bass heavy music with ease, although there isn’t too much difference in terms of loudness between these and the 12” counterparts. They do handle playing music outside better than any of the previous iterations because of the full frequency replication they achieve.
QTX QR15PA – These are also very popular for being no frills, comes with 2 VHF wireless handheld microphones and a USB player. Direct upgrade to the QR12PA in terms of frequency response, and can handle use outside even better. Package option available here.
QTX QX15PA-Plus – Similar to the QR15PA, this is a direct upgrade to the QX12PA-Plus. Bluetooth present again, and the 2 wireless handheld microphones are still UHF, as well as being sturdier in construction compared to the QR15PA. Package option available here.
QTX Busker 15 –Again, a bigger unit than before. Exactly the same features as the 12”, including the handheld microphones. The size of the speaker driver is what sets this one apart from the 12”. Package option available here.
Now that we’ve reviewed the ‘standard’ portable PA systems, it’s time to have a look at the less conventional ones. This is either due to have specific functionality, having more power than a standard portable PA, or being able to pick and choose the functions that they have.
LD Systems MAUI5-GO – Brand new from LD Systems – this is a battery powered version of the very popular column PA system MAUI5. What is quite unusual about this system is that the battery isn’t hidden away inside of the unit, but one of the column pieces actually contains the battery inside! On the standard MAUI5, 2/3 columns are spacers just used to give the unit height to project further from the one column that has speaker drivers inside, so you don’t lose out on any volume for this feature. The battery is actually lithium ion so is guaranteed to hold its charge for a long time, the manufacturer gives a real world estimation of 30 hours! On top of that, the battery columns are available to purchase as an extra so you can always be confident you have enough charge for any function where you aren’t near mains power.
LD Systems CURV500 – Another great, but unusual portable PA choice from LD Systems! This is essentially a portable mini line array system. Although it is portable, it is NOT battery powered. The subwoofer needs a mains connection, but that powers the small satellite speakers (up to 5 per sub!) via one speakon lead.
Monacor TXA-800 – Although these are an 8” driver, they sure do pack a punch! More comparable to a 10” driver in terms of frequency response and volume, but the real treasure in these systems are just how customisable they are. They use a very impressive modular approach where you can add a multitude of features by adding different modules into the back of the base unit. Most impressive is extra multi-frequency UHF receivers to add microphones of all types – up to 4 wireless microphones, or even wireless slave speakers. 4 Frequencies can be used together, so if you wanted extra wireless speakers, you would decrease the number of microphones to 3 as they occupy the same bands. Another notable extra is the ability to add a CD player, which not many portable PA systems have.
Will my portable PA system fit on a speaker stand? For the most part – the answer is yes. You can tell for sure if you have a look at the product description as they will usually say if a product has the 35mm insert needed for this use. If the portable PA has a standard speaker shell, it’s a good indicator that it does have the insert.
This PA system has more Watts than another – does this mean it’s louder? No. It’s not quite as simple as that I’m afraid! Watts refers to the amount of power required to run the speaker, and some speakers aren’t as efficient at turning that power into volume. With a very efficient amplifier you could have a speaker with half the wattage as another be twice as loud. We know it’s confusing, but as a rule of thumb – if you can see the ‘Max SPL’ of a speaker, that refers to how loud it actually is.
The system won’t be used very often, how do I keep the battery in good working order? We would recommend that the battery is recharged immediately after every used and topped up every month or so if unused. This will help to prevent the condition known as ‘deep discharge’ which occurs when a battery sits idle for long periods and reaches a stage from which it cannot recover thus requiring replacement. It will not overcharge as it is self-regulating.
What does weatherproof mean – can it be used outside? Weatherproof doesn’t mean waterproof unfortunately as that would require the product to be IP rated. Weatherproof means that the product will be protected from freezing conditions and very light spray from rain showers. Just don’t expect a weatherproof PA system to withstand a heavy downfall! We usually recommend having some form of cover over the system if possible, if you’re planning to use it outside – you can never be too sure of the weather!
|Portable PA System Model||Battery Powered||12V DC||Wireless Mics||Wired Mics||Optional Mics||Line Inputs||Mic Inputs||Line Outputs||Onboard Player||Onboard FX||Cover||35mm Speaker Stand Socket?||Standout Features|
|QTX PAL8||Yes||Yes||1 x VHF HH||N/A||Headset||1||1||N/A||SD / USB / BT||Echo||N/A||Yes||Built in LED light|
|Adastra H25||Yes||No||1 x VHF HS||N/A||Handheld||1||N/A||1||USB||N/A||Included||No|
|QTX PAL10||Yes||Yes||1 x VHF HH||N/A||Headset||1||1||N/A||SD / USB / BT||Echo||N/A||Yes||Built in LED light|
|Stagg Riotbox 8U||Yes||No||1 x UHF HH||N/A||N/A||2||1||N/A||BT||N/A||N/A||Yes|
|QTX Busker 10||Yes||Yes||2 x VHF HH||N/A||Headset||2||2||1||SD / USB / BT||Echo||N/A||Yes|
|QTX QR10PA||Yes||Yes||1 x VHF HS||N/A||Handheld||2||2||1||SD / USB||Echo||Optional||Yes|
|QTX Busker 12||Yes||Yes||2 x VHF HH||N/A||Headset||2||2||1||SD / USB / BT||Echo||N/A||Yes|
|QTX QR12PA||Yes||Yes||2 x VHF HH||N/A||Headset||2||2||1||SD / USB||Echo||Optional||Yes|
|Alto Uber PA||Yes||No||N/A||N/A||N/A||2||2||1||BT||N/A||N/A||No|
|Pulse Trekker||Yes||No||N/A||1 x HH||N/A||1||2||N/A||iPod Dock||N/A||N/A||Yes|
|QTX Delta 50||Yes||Yes||2 x VHF HH||N/A||Headset||2||2||1||SD / USB / BT||Echo||Optional||No|
|Ibiza PORT8UHF||Yes||Yes||1 x UHF HH||1 x HH||Headset||2||2||1||SD / USB / BT||Echo||Included||Yes||Available in white|
|QTX Busker 15||Yes||Yes||2 x VHF HH||N/A||Headset||2||2||1||SD / USB / BT||Echo||N/A||Yes|
|QTX QR15PA||Yes||Yes||2 x VHF HH||N/A||Headset||2||2||1||SD / USB||Echo||Optional||Yes|
|Ibiza PORT10UHF||Yes||Yes||1 x UHF HH||1 x HH||Headset||2||2||1||SD / USB / BT||Echo||Included||Yes||Available in white|
|LD Systems Roadjack 8||Yes||No||N/A||N/A||N/A||2||2||N/A||SD / USB / BT||N/A||N/A||Yes|
|Ibiza Port12UHF||Yes||Yes||1 x UHF HH / 1 x UHF HS||N/A||Headset||2||2||1||SD / USB / BT||Echo||Included||Yes||Available in white|
|QTX SC100||No||No||N/A||1 x HH||N/A||3||4||2||SD / USB||16 Program DSP||N/A||Yes|
|Alesis Transactive 2||Yes||No||N/A||1 x HH||N/A||1||2||N/A||BT||N/A||N/A||No|
|QTX Quest 12||Yes||Yes||2 x VHF HH||N/A||Headset||2||2||1||SD / USB / BT||Echo||N/A||Yes|
|LD Systems Roadjack 10||Yes||No||N/A||N/A||N/A||2||2||N/A||SD / USB / BT||N/A||N/A||Yes|
|Ibiza PORT15UHF||Yes||Yes||1 x UHF HH / 1 x UHF HS||N/A||Headset||2||2||1||SD / USB / BT||Echo||Included||Yes||Available in white|
|QTX QX12PA||Yes||No||2 x VHF HH||N/A||Headset||2||2||1||SD / USB / BT||Echo||N/A||Yes|
|QTX Quest 15||Yes||Yes||2 x VHF HH||N/A||Headset||2||2||1||SD / USB / BT||Echo||N/A||Yes|
|QTX QX15PA||Yes||No||2 x VHF HH||N/A||Headset||2||2||1||SD / USB / BT||Echo||N/A||Yes|
|QTX QX12PA PLUS||Yes||Yes||2 x UHF HH||N/A||Headset||2||2||1||SD / USB / BT||Echo||N/A||Yes|
|QTX QX15PA PLUS||Yes||Yes||2 x UHF HH||N/A||Headset||2||2||1||SD / USB / BT||Echo||N/A||Yes|
|Monacor TXA110||Yes||No||1 x UHF HH OR HS||N/A||1||1||1||N/A||N/A||Included||Yes|
|Studiomaster Walkabout||No||No||N/A||1 x HH||N/A||5||4||1||SD / USB||16 Program DSP||N/A||Yes|
|QTX PAV8||Yes||Yes||2 x UHF HH||N/A||Headset||2||2||1||USB / BT / CD / DVD||Echo||N/A||Yes||Inbuilt DVD player + video out. More info.|
|Peavey Messenger||No||No||N/A||1 x HH||N/A||2||2||1||N/A||FLS Feedback Suppressor||N/A||Yes|
|LD Systems Roadbuddy 6||Yes||No||1 x UHF HH OR HS||N/A||Rx / HH & BP Tx need adding||3||2||1||SD / USB / BT||N/A||N/A||Yes|
|Alto Transport 12||Yes||No||1 x UHF HH||N/A||N/A||1||1||1||USB||N/A||N/A||Yes|
|LD Systems Roadboy 65||Yes||No||1 x UHF HH OR HS||N/A||Handheld|| Headset || Tx||1||1||1||USB / SD / CD||N/A||Optional||Yes – 16mm||Powered output to run slave|
|Peavey PVI||No||No||N/A||N/A||N/A||6||4||1||N/A||16 Program DSP||N/A||Yes|
|LD Systems Roadbuddy 10||Yes||No||1 x UHF HH OR HS||N/A||Rx / HH & BP Tx need adding||3||2||1||SD / USB / BT||Echo||Optional – LDRBUD10PC needs adding||Yes|
|Yamaha Stagepas 400BT||No||No||N/A||N/A||N/A||4||4||1||BT||4 Program DSP||Optional||Yes|
|Monacor TXA-800 Series||Yes||No||Fully customisable for up to 4 x HH / HS UHF mics||1||1||1 + optional UHF Tx||Customisable for CD, USB, BT||N/A||Included||Yes||Wireless linking ability|
|Peavey Escort 3000||No||No||N/A||N/A||N/A||7||6||1||USB||16 Program DSP||N/A||Yes|
|Yamaha Stagepas 600BT||No||No||N/A||N/A||N/A||4||4||1||BT||4 Program DSP||Optional||Yes|
|Peavey Escort 6000||No||No||N/A||N/A||N/A||8||7||1||USB||16 Program DSP||N/A||Yes|
|LD Systems Roadman 102||Yes||No||1 x UHF HH||N/A||Handheld || Headset || Tx||2||2||1||USB / SD / CD||N/A||Optional||Yes||Powered output to run slave|
|Monacor TXA-1020 Series||Yes||No||Fully customisable for up to 4 x HH / HS UHF mics||2||2||1 + optional UHF Tx||Customisable for CD, USB, BT||N/A||Included||Yes||Wireless linking ability|