Sound System Setup Tips: Speakers, Subwoofers, and More

By Chase Jewell – Sound & Lighting Tutor

In this article, I discuss the proper setup of your PA system, as well as recommendations of what types of equipment you should use or look into purchasing. A lot goes into designing your PA system, and making sure everything runs and sounds perfect can be a full-time job on its own.  Here are some helpful tips from personal experience that have helped me to design a great sound system.

Speaker placement

One of the most important things to remember when setting up your sound system is to place the speakers in the proper positions. Many people disregard this when they set up, and it causes major sound flaws. One of the reasons placement is so important is comb filtering, which is when two speakers overlap each other with their coverage and cancel each other out.

Comb filtering can lead to a muffled sound in the overlapping area. To avoid this problem, place your speakers further apart. I don’t mean to place them as wide apart as you can, but maybe around 12 – 14 feet or more apart. (You don’t want to be wearing your speakers as headphones.)

Another thing to watch out for is the height of your speakers. If you place your speakers too low, all your guests in the back of the room will not hear the mid- and high-frequency sounds because it will be stopped by the first row of guests. Low-range noises penetrate solid and liquid materials better than mid- and high-range sounds. If you raise your 2-way speaker up to where the main driver is (approximately the same height as the average person’s ears), you will be in good shape. This will ensure that the sound is distributed effectively throughout the entire room.

Should I use a subwoofer?

Another question I’m often asked is whether or not to use a subwoofer. . This can be a personal preference, but the most important thing to consider is the size of the room.

With the proper setup and crossover settings, your subwoofer will take a lot of the load off of the top cabs and make them run more efficiently. The subwoofer takes all the low-frequency sound within a set range and outputs that sound. With a crossover, you can send only those signals to the sub and everything else to the top cabs.

For placement of subwoofers, I always recommend placing them in between your top cabs on the floor for proper sound distribution. This will get the low bass throughout the entire room. It will also cause your subs to not comb filter your top cabs.

When will I need another set of top cabinets?

This depends on the room as well: the bigger the room, the more speakers you need. When you add two more speakers and place them out further in the room, you need to delay the signal by a small amount going to the satellite pair of speakers to prevent comb filtering.

What type of speakers should I get?

I always recommend that you do your research and visit the store to hear how they sound. Watts do not always matter when it comes to speakers, but what does matter is SPL. For mobile purposes, active speakers will give you the best bang for your buck. I personally use Electro-Voice products as well as JBL and QSC. Mackie has decent PA speakers as well, perhaps for a backup system. No matter what brand you buy, make sure you find one that you feel sounds the best to you.

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Technical Consultant