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How to Set Up a Battery-Powered PA System

Whether busking or playing an outdoor gig where there's no decent power supply, a battery-powered PA can be the perfect addition to your music gear. 

Sometimes hiring a battery-powered PA can be a better option. But then how do you set the system up? Sometimes, they just plug and play, but in other instances, you need to take precautions not to damage the system.

You can have several configurations when setting up a PA system. If you're unsure of which time of battery-powered PA system you need or how to set one up effectively, read on to find out more.

How Does a Battery Powered PA System Work?

A public address system amplifies noise that's input through a microphone and instruments. A battery-powered PA system essentially consists of speakers, a mixer, and at least one microphone. 

The microphone is used to convert the input sound into voltage. A power amplifier or a battery-powered mixer is used to amplify the voltage, then used to drive the speakers to produce a louder sound. 

The difference is, for a battery-powered PA the system uses a DC current instead of an AC one. This often means the system can not go as loud, and some people argue the signal does not come through as clear. Don’t try to use a system intended to run of DC power on AC power and vice versa without using an inverter. Otherwise, you’ll risk causing irreversible damage to your system.

You can read more about how amplifiers work in detail here.

You could technically call a battery-powered guitar amp with a microphone input a battery PA and these are often the best choice for a solo performer or speechmaker. Yet, they often don’t cut the mustard in terms of volume.

Which Types of Batteries You Should Use

Since you'll be running your batteries down to almost 0% quite often Lithium batteries are the best type to use. You'll need to check whether 12v or 24v ones suit your other gear and find a suitable one to match.

You can also use lead-based batteries but they're more difficult to transport safely, are less reliable, and don't last as long. But, they are much cheaper.

Active vs. Passive Speakers

Most times, a larger battery-powered PA system will use active speakers. They will often need to each be powered by their own 12v battery. This is the only way for the speakers to draw enough power to achieve a loud enough sound for bigger gigs.

A smaller setup may use passive speakers which draw their power from a powered mixer. In this arrangement, there will only need to be one battery connected to the mixer. The sound won’t have the capabilities of a powered speaker setup though so you trade off loudness for an easier time setting up.

What Is Feedback and How to Prevent It

Feedback can sometimes be worse with battery-powered systems than AC versions. This is especially true with single speaker systems, as it sometimes becomes hard to point the mic away from the speaker, particularly if the presenter is inexperienced using a microphone.

Feedback can occur in a PA system when the amplifier boosts its own signal, which can cause a ringing tone that keeps getting louder and louder till it is stopped manually. To keep this from happening, you want to keep the noise from the speakers from being picked through the microphone.

The most reliable solution to stop feedback is to place the speakers pointing away from the microphones. The first thing to do is ensure the microphone never points towards the speakers. However, feedback loops can still occur, and once that happens, you can stop it by muting the microphone.

Feedback often occurs on stage speakers due to their proximity to their microphone. Make sure the speakers face away from the performer and have a considerable amount of distance from each other.

Which Type of Portable PA Should You Use? And, How to Set Up a Battery-Powered PA System

PA systems can have several configurations for different purposes. Here are a few of the most common setups for PA systems.

Presenter

We’d not recommend a big system for one person speaking unless it's to a large audience. Presenters such as marriage celebrants can usually get away with a smaller one-speaker system.

This is the most straightforward system because it uses a microphone and battery-powered speakers. This system is often used for outdoor personal amplification. You can set up this system with an active speaker meaning you don't need to connect an amplifier to your speaker system. 

Battery-powered single speaker systems can often last up to 8 hours on a single charge.

Many of them often have an equalizer built-in with wireless connectivity support for more accessible usage options. You can connect your smartphone to these amps using Bluetooth.

Commonly required gear for this setup includes a mic or a smartphone and a speaker system. 

This type of system is excellent for personal portable amplification in terms of user-friendliness, especially using a self-contained 12V battery PA system.

Solo Musician

There are single self-contained portable PA systems available for solo musicians. These are great for busking as they are easy to get around with on public transport or in there fewer wires etc to worry about tripping people over with.

These are very similar to the presenter PA system, but systems for musicians often require more audio input channels, whether it's for an electric guitar or a piano. If you're playing an acoustic instrument, additional mics may be necessary. 

For this, you need to have a mixer attached to your system. This will allow you to mix the audio and output it through the speakers.

A mixer is a must here because it allows you to adjust the audio levels to sound at a similar audio level. The mixer is separate from the speakers and has ports for various inputs. Speakers are connected to the mixer's main channel, and microphones can be added according to the performer's requirements.

For a clearer and more voluminous sound, you’ll need a two-speaker setup with a separate mixer. We’d also recommend finding a battery-powered subwoofer to have saturated low notes too. Just keep in mind that low-frequency sound requires more energy to produce so you won’t be able to power a huge sub with a battery.

Band

A PA system for a band requires a lot of audio channels as there may be several people in a band, with every member needing one or two microphones. Most portable amps and PA’s mixers don't have enough channels to support audio inputs for all band members.

You will likely need a specialized battery-powered mixer for this setup with built-in signal processing that allows greater control. You may need additional unique microphones that will enable them to pick up low-frequency sounds, such as bass drums.

It’s all but necessary to use powered speakers when using a battery-powered PA for a band. So, you’ll need a lot of batteries, one for each speaker, and one for the mixer. When you account for fold-back speakers and subs as well, that adds up to a lot of space needed in the back of your van.

Some people prefer to have a separate stand-alone battery-powered amp for each band member for outdoor gigs. This can work, but be aware that it makes it much more difficult to produce a cohesive and balanced sound.

Large Performance

Forget about using conventional battery-powered PAs. You’ll need a generator and a transformer for safety.

Grand concert venues generally have many speakers, as you need to ensure the audio is heard throughout the venue. This setup requires a lot of power amplifiers and speakers. 

Low-frequency sounds need a lot of power to reproduce, meaning additional amplifiers may be required depending on the size of the venue. You will also need to add dedicated subwoofers to reproduce the lower frequency sounds.

If the stage is enormous in size, wireless microphones are a more convenient option to use. Additional mixers will be needed, which will be operated by a monitor engineer who will manage the monitor mixes.

This system is much grander in scale, meaning you need to do sound checks to ensure everything is working before the performance starts.

All of these factors make it impossible to use a battery-powered PA for such gigs.

Tips for Battery Powered PA Setup

  • Uses seperate batteries for each speaker for the loudest and most efficient system
  • Some PAs draw less power through the master aux channel so it may be more effective to run your main mix through the aux channel
  • Keep a voltometer handy so you can check how much juice you have left
  • Disconnect the batteries between sets to not waste power

Which Type of Portable PA Should You Get?

PA systems are a great way to amplify your sound for your listeners. Portable systems are a great alternative as they are easy to travel with. 

Many are also self-contained, meaning you don't have to go through the hassle of setting up the whole system with many wires or risk doing it wrong and damaging your system. These are the best option if you don’t have much experience setting up a PA.

A two (or more) speaker system is much better for a band. We recommend opting for an active speaker system with individual batteries powering each part of the system for this purpose.

Your amps and other portable electrical gear can overheat if not taken care of properly, to avoid this learn about how to keep your amplifiers from overheating.

Or check out our blog for more useful music articles.

Author

  • How To Set Up A Battery-Powered Pa

    My "day job" used to be teaching but I decided to give that up to play music full time. I have gigged all over the world playing in bands or as a solo act since then. I still have a passion for teaching others anything related to music. Writing content for InciteMusic.com gives me an opportunity to combine my love of music and education.

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