PAR Recommends Portable PA Options for 2009

In addition to finding a gig as a club's FOH engineer, making a small, up-front investment in a portable PA is another way to add a marketable service to your resumé.
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Even elite studio pros will admit it: It's tough out there. Engineers who routinely enjoyed high incomes in the past are scuffling today, thanks to file sharing and the music industry's meltdown. Further down the pyramid, things are no different; not only are label budgets far smaller than they used to be, but there just aren't as many of them.

As a result, audio engineers of all stripes are searching for new revenue, and one obvious place to look is live sound. Though recording may have migrated from commercial studios to project rooms and bedrooms, musicians still perform live to reach, and solidify a connection with, their audience. There is no apt analog to the DAW revolution in live sound — honestly, how much fun is a webcast, compared to being there?

In addition to finding a gig as a club's FOH engineer, making a small, up-front investment in a portable PA is another way to add a marketable service to your resumé. Manufacturers are constantly improving their offerings, with auspicious trends of smaller, lighter and less expensive making it easier than ever to offer sound reinforcement for outdoor concerts and festivals, DJs, and the ever-lucrative corporate gig.

Check out this sampling and go get 'em!

Alto Orient Express Series OEX-400

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The Alto Orient Express Series OEX-400 is a mobile rig featuring I/O and effects, all cabling and a pair of microphones and XLR cables.

The system is comprised of an amplified mixer with effects and two passive speakers with a 10-inch woofer and a 1-inch concentrically mounted neodymium tweeter.

Two speaker cables and two Alto AM6 dynamic microphones are included. Mounted on either end of the mixer, two black metal hinges secure the speakers for easy transport.

The OEX-400 offers 350 watts RMS. The mixer features seven line inputs and four mic preamps. Three Neutrik XLR/1/4-inch combo jacks and one standard XLR are utilized; channels 4/5 and 6/7 include stereo TRS line in and stereo RCA line in and out, respectively. Other TRS in/out includes effects send/return, headphone jack and footswitch. The mixer also includes a 7-band graphic EQ.

Each channel offers 2-band high and low-shelving EQ, a level pot, and a DSP effects pot. A rotary knob adjusts a 24-bit digital effects unit with 16 presets; its on/off switch can be used with the footswitch jack, and a "DSP RET" knob adjusts effects return level. List price: $499.

Yorkville Audio Group, www.altopa.com

Cerwin-Vega! Professional Active Series: CVA-28 and CVA-118

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The Cerwin-Vega! CVA-28 is a three-way, dual 8-inch active full-range speaker packing 400 watts continuous/800 watts peak; 70 Hz - 20 kHz frequency response; and a maximum 128 dB SPL.

Its cabinet is 11 inches wide by 20.5 inches tall across the front panel, and 12 inches deep. The cabinet tapers to an 8.5-inch width at the rear panel, where XLR female and 1/4-inch TRS inputs, balanced XLR male and 1/4-inch TRS outputs, and rotary level knob are found.

The CVA-118 is an 18-inch active subwoofer offering 700 watts continuous, 1,400 watts peak; its internal amp is the CVA600. Frequency response is 41 Hz - 135 Hz; maximum SPL is 131 dB at 1200 watts. The sub is 21 by 25 inches tall by 23.5 inches deep. Its rear panel includes two balanced XLR female and two 1/4-inch TRS inputs; two balanced XLR male and 1/4-inch TRS outputs; one male XLR and 1/4-inch Link Out outputs with Master or Slave toggle; polarity reversal toggle, and power switch. List prices: $849 (CVA-28); $1,320 (CVA-118)

Cerwin-Vega!, www.cerwin-vega.com

Fender Passport Deluxe PD-250 PLUS

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The doyen of guitars and amps offers PAs as well. The portable, compact, and simple to set up and operate Passport Deluxe PD-250 PLUS is suitable for a wide variety of settings. Fifty-three lbs. and contained in a 24.2- x 33.7- x 11.8-inch molded case, the 250-watt system offers four mic inputs, one stereo line-in and a built-in CD player.

Color-coded Mic channels and the stereo line channel feature a 2-band EQ, Reverb/Aux, and Pan controls; the CD channel includes playback, 2-band EQ, reverb/aux and balance controls. Speaker cables and a pair of P-51 cardioid, dynamic mics, clips and cables are also included. The 35mm speaker stand adapters are built into the cabinets. List price: $1,150.

Fender Musical Instrument Company, www.fender.com

JBL Next-Generation EON500 Series

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The next-generation EON loudspeakers are lightweight and feature balanced weight distribution, full-size handles and flexible mounting capability.

The EON500 is comprised of the EON515 and EON510 2-way powered speakers, and the EON518S subwoofer. Each includes an onboard mini-mixer with loop-thru or mix-out capability. The series also features selectable system EQ, multiple suspension points, softgrip handle and a full screened backed grille.

The EON515 and EON510 offer mic and line level inputs. Both feature one XLR/1/4-inch combo connector and additional 1/4-inch inputs. Each features one XLR output where the output signal is selectable; the whole mix may be looped to another speaker (or sent to a mixing console), or simply the primary input for daisy-chaining.

The EON518S features an 18-inch differential drive woofer powered by a 500/1,000 watts (continuous/burst) amplifier. It includes a pole mount cup for sub/satellite applications, level control, dual inputs, a stereo crossover network, peak limiter and polarity reverse switch.

List price: $799 (EON515); $749 (EON510); $1,129 (EON518S).

Harman International Industries, www.harman.com

Mackie SRM150 Compact Active PA System

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Geared more to performing solo musicians, Mackie's SRM150 takes portability to another level. The self-contained 3-channel mixer, 5.25-inch, EAW-developed neodymium speaker and 150-watt Class D amplifier delivers up to 116 dB SPL at one meter, and is adaptable to mount on a mic stand with included boom arm adapter.

Two mic channels feature Neutrik combo XLR/1/4-inch TRS inputs and phantom power; the first has an instrument switch for use as a DI. The third channel's stereo RCA input allows MP3/CD playback or an additional instrument such as a keyboard or drum machine. The mixer also includes a 3-band and built-in limiter. Frequency Response is 100 Hz to 17.5 kHz.

Using the back panel's XLR "Thru" connector allows connectivity to an additional, powered monitor, or to send the mix to a front-of-house system at mic level (by activating its mic/line switch). The main input can receive monitor signals or can be used to link more SRMs. The SRM150 is also popular as a personal monitor: with the boom arm adapter it can be positioned in traditional "wedge" position. The SRM150's Polypropylene plastic case has a carry handle for ease of transport. List Price: $389.99

Mackie Designs, www.mackie.com

Yamaha STAGEPAS 250M

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The combination mixer/amplifier/speaker STAGEPAS 250M is another lightweight/high-output system for compact and convenient operation and transport.

The built-in detachable mixer includes 10 input channels: two mono mic/line inputs with phantom power and four stereo lineins. It also houses the system's built-in EQ, digital reverb, auto limiter and LED output level meter.

The two-way, full-range speaker houses a 10-inch woofer and a 1-inch titanium tweeter. The speaker output jack is joined by a Stereo Link Out jack for connectivity to external amplifiers or powered loudspeakers; the balanced stereo sub output links to a main mixer or recorder. A headphone jack and speaker cable are also included.

The speaker features a pole mount receptacle for speaker stand mounting. The 250-watt STAGEPAS 250M can also serve as a monitor system or keyboard amplifier; the system features Click Assign switches for listening to a click track through headphones or a monitor. List price: $799

Yamaha, www.yamaha.com/proaudio

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Peavey Escort 3000

The Peavey Escort 3000 is another ultraportable system featuring an integrated design for compactness and ease of transport and operation. The 5-channel, 300-watt Escort 3000 includes a powered mixer and two-way speakers with 10-inch woofer and piezoelectric horn. The mixer features four XLR mic inputs with phantom power, two stereo line inputs, a 5-band graphic EQ and digital reverb. Also included are a PVi cardioid dynamic mic, folding speaker stands and two 25-foot speaker cables. Frequency response is 40 Hz - 20 kHz. List price: $849.99

Peavey, www.peavey.com

Christopher Walsh is the recording editor for Pro Sound Newsand the associate editor of Pro Audio Review.