So, your significant other caught you browsing the internet looking for your next purchase, and told you you already have enough speakers. What? You can never have enough speakers!
Our quest for better hardware, clearer sound, and bigger speakers never seems to end. The reasons for this could be many. Maybe you want to expand your room’s PA power for rehearsal purposes. Maybe your venue is getting more crowded and you need to turn the volume up without going hot on your current gig. Or maybe you are putting together a mobile rig for touring and want to make sure you always have enough power for anything they throw at you.
Powered speakers often offer many advantages over passive speakers. Yes, powered or active speakers tend to be on the expensive side, but if you play your cards right you can actually save a lot of money by going powered.
For starters, you don’t have to worry about investing in power amplifiers and/or crossovers to correctly manage your power and frequencies. Powered speakers have everything you need in one box, and that includes an amplifier that will provide just the right amount of power to drive your speakers without busting them.
However, before making any investments, you need to know a few things about the use you are going to give them.
How Much Power Do You Need?
This can be translated to “how loud do you need your speakers to be?”
Power requirements can vary widely depending on factors such as music genre, venue size, venue configuration, and attendance.
Making an acoustic folk trio sound good does not require the same power as, say, a DJ or a power metal band. Space and acoustic obstacles can impose different requirements on your sound. Human bodies absorb a lot of the sound that comes off from your speakers, making it a challenge to reach everyone evenly during an event.
I hear you saying “So, if I buy the biggest and baddest powered speakers, I will be able to cover any situation I find, right?”
Not so fast.
First, you need to understand the difference between wattage and Sound Pressure Level (SPL for short). Watts usually means power consumed when driving your speakers and it usually affects volume. However, efficient speakers will usually be louder while requiring less wattage.
The principle here is that increasing your sound levels by 3dB, the smallest perceivable volume change for human ears, you need to double the power. However, to produce a change of 10dB, what people consider to be “twice as loud”, you need to increase wattage by ten. In other words, ten times the power will only get you “twice as loud”.
So, you need speakers that have a good watt/SPL ratio if you want to get the most bang for your buck.
One other thing to consider is the coverage angle. Speakers with a narrow coverage will generally leave out a big chunk of your audience no matter how loud you drive them.
So, you need to think about how your audience will be distributed before deciding on your speaker configuration.
One more thing. Pushing your speakers to the limit is not always the best way to make sure your audience is showered evenly with great sound. Consider the addition of subwoofers to your rig. If you send all your frequencies through your mid and high-frequency drivers, you will sacrifice clarity and will need to turn your volume up so they can fill your room.
A separate box for low frequencies allows you to free your drivers so they can produce the right frequencies without compromising clarity. Additionally, a subwoofer gives you a lot more headroom.
Now comes the question of pricing. As we mentioned before, active speakers tend to be more expensive than passive models. However, there are many ways to get your hands on used powered speakers that are just as good as new. I have found most of my gear at EMI Audio, a service center and professional audio store in Minneapolis that usually has excellent deals on new and used powered speakers. Visit their store or give them a call, and they will help you find exactly what you need.