Wanted: An awesome, but cheap, sound system for a student co-op
September 16, 2010 1:17 PM   Subscribe

What kind of (budget, DJ-quality) sound system should we buy to have amazing parties at a student co-op?

The co-op I live in has a beautiful common room that is sometimes converted into a dance floor, but we always need to bring in DJs from elsewhere to drive the party. However, it's about time we setup our own sound system.

We want to invest in a decent enough sound system that can get us dancing. Unfortunately, I'm at a complete loss for where to even start researching potential systems; I don't know anything about watts, ohms, subs, amps, etc. However, I am confident that the hivemind will come to the rescue :-)

The room in question isn't too large, but can definitely hold 50-60 people. Our budget is $500, and we want to maximize the bang for buck ratio. The students in question aren't audiophiles and are just looking for a good time and a loud enough to beat to jive to. The system itself should be durable to stand the test of time (especially in a student-run living environment) as well as the random person who decides to crank every dial to the max.

We will most likely connect the system to a computer or mp3 player via a 3.5mm jack.

So, hivemind, what kind of equipment do you think we'll need?

Thanks in advance for your suggestions!
posted by mahoganyslide to Technology (11 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
The system itself should be durable to stand the test of time (especially in a student-run living environment) as well as the random person who decides to crank every dial to the max.

This is the problem you face with shared party equipment. It is going to be beat to shit. It'll be either sturdy and repairable (costly) or mid-range and replaceable (cheaper). Don't go with the cheapest, as you'll pay a lot more in the long run. But given your price, you'll probably looking for a used kit from a DJ or MC who is upgrading their rig, and you'll only find things on the low end. This shouldn't be too much trouble, unless you happen to live far away from other college students.

I don't know the language or ratings, so I'll let someone else speak to that. But you'll probably end up with two speakers and an amp for $500. You'll want to set them up away from where people could set drinks on them or spill on them, lean or climb on them, trip over the cables or accidentally grab them while dancing around.

Good luck, and be good to your neighbors.
posted by filthy light thief at 1:36 PM on September 16, 2010

My co-op had a PA system which was used for DJing or for bands. It was locked away when we weren't using it, and only the house managers had access. I don't know if you'll need a huge mixing board because I doubt you'll need more than a few channels. I would suggest looking on Craigslist or maybe talk to people at (I know...) Guitar Center to help you out.
posted by kendrak at 1:48 PM on September 16, 2010

I was the social chair for my frat in college and I was put up to this same task. We wound up getting a rocking, super-loud sound system on a budget with stuff we bought off craigslist. You can get away with spending less than 200 bucks if you look around enough. Here's what you'll need to get:

1. A receiver. We got a Sony receiver like this one for about 60 bucks. I'd say this should be your first purchase, because you can use it to test speakers later on to make sure they're good and they work with your configuration.
2. Speaker wire. Occasionally people will toss this in with a receiver or speakers. If not, it's cheap to buy used. 15 bucks for 50 feet on amazon.
3. Depending on what kind of receiver you get, you'll either need a male-to-male 1/8 inch speaker cable and a 1/8 to 1/4 inch converter, or a 1/8 inch to RCA cable. This is what plugs your computer/ipod into the receiver. If you don't know what the hell I'm talking about here, just take your receiver to Radioshack and ask them what to do, they'll hook you up.
4. Speakers. You should also get these off craigslist. We bought a pair of Yamaha amps from some old DJ who was getting rid of his equipment. I don't think we spent over 100 on them. Buying speakers used can sometimes be tough. Don't get ripped off - ask to hear the speakers first, and ask the person to crank it, even if just for a little while. If they start rattling or scratching past a certain level, don't buy them. You'll most likely have to do the most looking around for a decent pair of speakers.

If you buy this stuff used, make sure to verify it works before you pay. Don't buy anything that doesn't sound exactly the way you like it.

Buying everything used can be a little tedious, but it definitely is the way to go. Chances are, if you live in a co-op, these things will eventually get beat up and need replacement. People will spill drinks on them, or knock them over, or they'll somehow get lost. The little extra effort you put into searching around on craigslist will pay off when this happens and you lose 50 bucks instead of 500.
posted by streblo at 1:53 PM on September 16, 2010

A subwoofer will make more difference than just about anything else you can manage at this scale. Your budget is too small for a really powerful PA, but if people can feel a thump when the kick drum hits, they will perceive the music to be loud and danceworthy.
posted by Mars Saxman at 2:18 PM on September 16, 2010

This and nothing more but a 3.5mm cable to 1/4" or xlr.
posted by bravowhiskey at 2:29 PM on September 16, 2010

Ok, with your budget, forget about getting any sort of real industrial strength PA gear, even used - it just doesn't get that cheap.

There are some off-off-brand systems that should get you going (something like this would suit your needs just fine)

When looking at systems, you want to go for the largest speaker possible - 10" is too small, 12" is so so. I'd go for 15" speakers to get the maximum thump here. The speakers in the kit above have piezo tweeters, which more or less suck for anything that requires accurate sound, but, as I said, they should sound OK for you.

DO NOT BUY A "FENDER PASSPORT" system. The speakers that they come with are horrible and won't reproduce bass to your satisfaction.

Feel free to look at some systems and report back here for specific advice on what you find.
posted by davey_darling at 2:59 PM on September 16, 2010

Bravowhiskey, sorry that I am so ignorant about all this, but will one of the JBL Eons be enough to power a party in a moderately large room?

It looks like a really nice deal (one unit, portable, good quality, etc), but I'm just a little skeptical about its "oomph".
posted by mahoganyslide at 3:58 PM on September 16, 2010

EatingCereal, and everyone concerned about our neighbors: the co-op is located between a sorority, and another co-op. We've never had noise complaints, even with live bands belting out loud tunes. Regardless, we're courteous neighbors. I appreciate the concern though :-)
posted by mahoganyslide at 4:19 PM on September 16, 2010

One concern that I would have with the JBL Eon is the lack of flexible EQ - prerecorded music can sound a bit "shrill" when passed straight through an amp and into a speaker.
posted by davey_darling at 4:54 PM on September 16, 2010

mohoghanyside, this line of speakers is what many audio professionals use in their live setup. It will definitely fill a good size room with music. Go listen to a setup at a local music shop. I would be searching local craigslist for two of the older JBL Eons (active) along with a mixer for a little more than what you want to spend. davey_darling, there is an integrated EQ for those low quality mp3s too
posted by bravowhiskey at 6:14 PM on September 16, 2010

Audioengine 5s plus a powered subwoofer.
posted by iiniisfree at 12:33 AM on September 17, 2010

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