Has the perfect portable PA system for the solo performer been invented? I’ve tried a few and even pieced together systems on my own, but there is always something lacking.
Compact stereo mixer/amp; two-way speaker cabinets
Yamaha at 714-522-9011,
However, the Yamaha Stagepas 300 is nearly perfect for this application, so close that I could probably live with its few limitations.
Unlike some other portable PA systems, the $699 Yamaha Stagepas 300 consists of two identical but separate speaker cabinets that do not clamp together or attach in any way. The speaker cabinets, measuring about 18 x 11 x 10 inches (H x W x D), are made from a tough black composite material that gives them a serious heft.
Each ported speaker cabinet contains a one-inch compression horn tweeter and an eight-inch woofer, the latter covered with a heavy metal grille. At the top of the speaker cabinet is a carrying handle and the bottom has plastic feet and two points for mounting a stand adapter. (The system does not come with stand adapters, however.)
Fitting neatly into a compartment on one of the speakers is a nifty mixer/power-amp module that locks into place with two positive-feeling screw-head latches. The other speaker has a plastic cover that attaches with similar latches. Since both speakers are identical, either one can hold the mixer/amplifier module and the other can be used to store the supplied speaker and power cables.
And it is a competent little mixer/amplifier. Sporting eight inputs, the mixer has four balanced/unbalanced mic/line inputs (inputs 1-4) and two stereo inputs (inputs 5/6 and 7/8). Each input has a low and high EQ pot, a level pot and the four mono mic/line inputs have reverb select switches, which are then controlled by a master reverb pot. The EQs are fixed-frequency shelving filters providing +/- 15dB of shelving at 100 Hz and 10 kHz.
The output “strip” has a five-LED level meter, a master level pot and an interesting Speech/Music switch that selects between a punchy frequency response for speech intelligibility and a flatter response curve for music. There are two (left/right) outputs for the Stagepas 300’s non-powered speakers and two sets of line level outputs for recording and powered monitor speakers. This monitor output pair has its own level control.
The connectors are a mix of XLR, 1/4-inch unbalanced and RCA jacks, logically chosen for the most likely use of this system. Off to one edge of the mixer/amp module are a standard three-pin power connector and a solid-feeling on-off switch. Two heavy steel handles protect the face of the mixer, minimizing the likelihood that a knob will break if the unit falls off a tabletop.
The amplifier claims a rather optimistic maximum power of 150W per channel into six ohms, but a more reasonable expectation is 100W per channel. This is still a remarkable rating for a mixer/amplifier module that weighs a mere five pounds or so. The mixer/amp has a fan that makes a soft whine when the unit is powered up.
The Yamaha Stagepas 300 is built like the audio equivalent of a fallout shelter, which is the first thing about it that I found endearing. Each speaker cabinet feels exceptionally solid, resulting in punchy, resonance-free bass.
The mixer/amp module nests firmly into the speaker, giving the electronics more protection from brick-fisted helpers you’re likely to find at bar gigs. You can use this sound system with the mixer/amp either on or off one of the speakers; I had it removed for my use.
Just testing the Yamaha Stagepas 300 I found that the tweeters seemed to have a rather narrow axis. However, the sound was impressively balanced when I was on axis, with tight bass and clean highs. Mid-bass was just right for male vocals.
The proof of this system for me was a performance at a nearby park, in a spacious band shell and an audience area of about 300 seats. I played a solo gig on a steamy morning, with my acoustic/electric guitar plugged into one input and a vocal mic in another. Achieving the right mix literally took a couple of seconds, as this system is perhaps the easiest to adjust that I have ever used.
Although I didn’t fill all the seats, this Yamaha system did an excellent job of projecting the sound to the last row; a listener in the back row commented that he could hear everything clearly. The volume even attracted the attention of a few joggers in the park and the built-in reverb added a little interest to the sound of my guitar.
Setting up the system for a performance took me no more than two minutes before I was ready to roll, including a vocal mic and plugging in my guitar. The mixer’s layout and operation are completely intuitive and natural.
The Yamaha Stagepas 300 is a cool system. It’s solid enough to withstand a lot of abuse, powerful enough to fill the typical bar or small church, simple enough to use with two-minutes’ practice and flexible enough to handle both speech and performance applications.
In an ideal world, I’d like to see more delay effects and the ability to feed a small monitor speaker, but the Stagepas 300 is rock solid and may be the best there is for active solo performers.