A portable PA system for film projection
April 10, 2011 2:20 PM   Subscribe

Help us choose a portable PA system to show films.

Our small non-profit is buying a portable set-up to show films and present slide shows, etc. We need a portable PA system, but don't know what to look for.

The venues:

1) A 500 seat school auditorium.
2) A small 100 seat community theatre space.

The inputs:

DVD players, laptops (via audio interface), sometimes a single mic (so we need two pairs of RCA inputs and a single XLR input).

Major factors:

Power - we need enough to provide sufficient volume in the 500 seat auditorium.
Portability - we need to lug this thing up stairs to the smaller venue and we'd like to be able to fit it in a car or minivan.
Cost - $2000 is our maximum budget, though we'd prefer to spend less than $1500.

One option would be a system with two speakers on stands for the smaller venue and the same two speakers, plus a subwoofer in the larger venue. This will be paired with a 20' wide screen in the larger venue, so we'd like to be able to have sufficient volume and low-frequencies to provide a theatre-like experience.
posted by ssg to Media & Arts (10 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I'm posting from my phone, so I can't provide a link, but the Fender Passport system might be just what you are looking for. It comes with a mixer and two speakers that can be mounted on stands. As a plus, the mixer and speakers connect and form a portable "suitcase."
posted by 4ster at 2:57 PM on April 10, 2011

Actually, here is a link for the high end model.
posted by 4ster at 3:01 PM on April 10, 2011

I was going to say "Passport" too. A small nonprofit I'm affiliated with uses the one 4ster linked for audio reinforcement in live music situations; I've seen similar units used for outdoor weddings, too. It might be stretching it a bit for the 500-seat auditorium (I've never used that unit in that large a space, so I can't say one way or the other), but it would serve for the 100-seat theater.
posted by Alterscape at 3:05 PM on April 10, 2011

Check out the PA systems at Carvin, maximum bang-for-buck.
posted by dbiedny at 3:58 PM on April 10, 2011

We have a Fender Passport and I'm very unhappy with its performance. For your situation I would look at Anchor's Liberty or Explorer Pro. We have 2 Liberty Systems and they are great. I've had at least 2 "Coffe House" performers whose riders specifically stated that they would not perform if a Fender Passport was provided as the PA system.
posted by jmsta at 4:44 PM on April 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

The Passport just won't cut it. It would be passable for the 100 people setting, assuming you're not showing anything bass-hungry, but you're wanting theater-like and that isn't going to happen with the Passport.

Seconding Carvin: You could get this system for $1269. Two 2x15 speakers, 4 power channels at 300w each. You could add 2 subwoofers for $569, but honestly I think the 2x15 mains would be bassy enough for your purposed (and I'm a bass player).
If you do add the subs you could run them off of the monitor outputs.

The real cost here is portability, as the 2x15s would be tough to transport in a car. They do of course have smaller systems, I just wanted to pick one that shows you the amount of speaker and power you can get vs. the Passport in a similar price range.
posted by Benjy at 6:22 PM on April 10, 2011

Ugh, the Fender Passport systems that I have encountered have been terrible - the speakers are not very good at all. I would strongly, strongly advise you against buying a fender passport. The portability tradeoffs completely cripple the performance of the PA.

I'd suggest a system similar to that which Benjy linked above, but I think you could go with a 1x15 speaker over the large 2x15s.
posted by davey_darling at 6:38 PM on April 10, 2011

Stay away from Fender's stuff.

If you really want to just buy a package setup, Yamaha's StagePas 500 might be enough, though the low end is nothing to write home about in a typical 500-seat room.

I'd recommend a pair of Mackie SRM 450v2 speakers - should be $600 each, with a stand.

Get a basic mixer, preferably with some kind of EQ to give you a little more control in less favorable rooms. Maybe Mackie's ProFX 8 (I'm not a massive fan of Mackie's mixers, but they're probably the best of the low-cost options - just avoid using the built-in effects). Use some rca->1/4" adapters/cables to get your DVD player/laptops/etc in to the stereo channels - any music / pro audio shop should have all you need for 5-10 bucks a cable.

Add a couple 50 foot XLR cables and you should be pretty much set, for right around the $1500.

All of that will fit easily in the trunk of an 80's Accord, so you should be fine for portability.
posted by jjb at 9:32 PM on April 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

Seconding jjb regarding the Mackie powered speakers - I absolutely LOVE my SRM 450s. For a small mixer, I recommend the Mackie 402-VLZ3 - ultraportable, solid, takes RCA inputs, has a couple of microphone inputs so your emcee can introduce the film, etc. I use its predecessor, the sadly-discontinued Tapco Mix 50 - if you can find one of those used, grab it.
posted by myrrh at 10:46 PM on April 10, 2011

We ended up buying a pair of Mackie HD1221 speakers and a HD1521 sub. With rebates and good best offer deals on eBay, this wasn't much more than the SRM450s and the extra power is reassuring in our larger venue. We got a PROFX8 mixer - something simpler would have been better, but in the end the USB connection was worth it (one less thing to lose when dealing with laptops). The sound was excellent for our first event, much better than we are accustomed to. The speakers aren't light, but they are reasonable for one person to handle and fit in a car.

I checked out the Carvin gear but found that it wasn't particularly cheap once you added sufficient amplification (Carvin's packages seemed to skimp on amplification in general).

Thanks to everyone who answered.
posted by ssg at 5:14 PM on May 26, 2011

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