A Venue’s Guide to Live Sound: Sound System Design, Setup, and More

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People’s appetite for live events is now soaring after a series of lockdowns in 2020.

After all, 96% of adults in the U.S. are looking forward to attending live events, especially ones with live sound and music.

Setting up a sound system for a 300 to 500-person audience requires careful consideration of different factors. Those will include both the strategic and technical aspects.

Thankfully, sound reinforcement equipment and procedures have never been as diverse as they are now. Keep on reading for our full breakdown of how to use the live sound equipment and technologies on the market properly.

This way you get to truly knock your event out of the park when it comes to your audio quality.

Live Sound and PA Systems Explained

Let’s start with the basics.

There are several different types of PA systems (also known as public address systems). A microphone, mixer, and loudspeakers are common components of a sound system. Sound pressure is converted to electricity via the microphone. When someone sings into it, the magnetic force generates a little quantity of electricity.

A powered loudspeaker or amplifier subsequently amplifies this voltage, which has been changed and equalized on the mixing console. Sound loudness may be increased by dispersing more voltage via speakers.

A speaker’s Sound Pressure Level (SPL) determines the level of sound that can be heard at various distances from the speaker. Trapezoidal speaker configurations are more convenient to put than square or rectangular ones because they are more flexible.

Prior to Setting up a Sound System on Stage

You’ll also come up with a method that works for you and that you can adapt to any new situation. Preventing feedback is a simple rule-of-thumb: put speakers in front of microphones rather than behind them.

Mics take up too much of their signal, which results in feedback. In order to break the amplifier’s feedback loop and stop the signal from becoming louder, you must turn off the speaker or microphone. In the same manner, you’ll want to keep the main amplifier away from the microphones at all costs.

Start by Choosing a Good Speaker

The size of the venue and the number of attendees should guide your selection of speakers. The geometry of the space and the speakers’ interaction with limits like the walls, the ceiling, and the floor need to be taken into account.

You want the greatest speakers you can afford. Begin by determining your budget, and then narrow down your choices based on your preferences. Before making a purchase, make sure to listen to the speakers.

Not all speakers are created equal. Most respectable manufacturers will make available a specification sheet to help you choose a speaker. SPL, frequency response and dispersion are the most critical specifications to understand.

Passive speakers need an understanding of wattage and impedance (ohms resistance).

Many styles of music, such as country, folk, and folk-rock, don’t need a powerful kick drum and bass. Therefore, a full-range speaker with a frequency response of 60 Hz to 18 kHz may suffice.

You’ll need a subwoofer if you listen to rock, metal, pop, hip hop, or electronic dance music (EDM). A subwoofer boosts the power of full-range speakers by providing more headroom and lowering the frequency response to 45 Hz or below.

Understanding Passive vs Active Speakers

In terms of sound quality, active speakers have an advantage over passive ones. An active speaker has an amplifier incorporated into each of its three drivers (woofer, midrange, and tweeter—typically compression drivers) making it the simplest to set up and use.

The drivers are safeguarded by built-in limiters and crossovers, which isolate and route certain frequency bands to each component. A three-way active speaker will have two or more built-in crossovers that separate the high, middle, and low frequencies.

Active speakers have the benefit of being simple to set up and use. To power them, all you’ll need is a line-level input. You won’t need an external amplifier for this. You can always go for a great quality speaker like JBL at Big Jeff Online.

Amplification, speaker wires, and maybe an external crossover and other signal processing are all needed for passive speakers. An internal crossover network, similar to that found in active speakers, may be used by certain passive speakers.

It is possible to have better control over the speaker components by using bi- or tri-amped speakers. However, this needs a separate amplifier for each component of the speaker.

If you choose a passive speaker design, you’ll need to consult the manufacturer’s specification sheet to figure out which amplifier to use.

A Comparison of Analog and Digital Mixers

Audio systems cannot function without analog mixers, which come in a variety of pricing points and capabilities.

Some analog purists are adamant about avoiding switching to a digital mixing board because they feel the analog gear produces a better sound. The sound of each instrument may be modulated with the help of extra signal processors while mixing a live ensemble.

The built-in four-band parametric EQ on most analog mixing consoles aids with tonal sound balance and gives each instrument in the mix its own area. Analog consoles featuring on-board dynamics are quite uncommon.

The extra signal processing for each channel, such as compression and gates, will need many racks of gear for an all-analog arrangement.

Stage Snakes and Stage Boxes: Streamlining Your Process

You can simplify your setup onstage with a stage box or multi-channel snake.
For bigger stages, you can use a splitter to distribute the sound from all of the stage’s sources between the front of the house and the monitors.

Because most mid-level bands do not have a specialized monitor engineer, the FOH engineer is expected to do both the primary mixing and the monitor tasks.

Analog setups need a 100+ foot wire length for a 16- to 24-channel audio snake. A dedicated sub-snake allows for shorter mic-cable runs and a neater stage setup when recording with a drum kit with 8 to 12 mics.

Becoming a Live Sound Engineer Overnight

If you’ve never been responsible for setting up the necessary equipment to provide clean live sound at a venue, you might be feeling a bit overwhelmed.

Hopefully, our guide has shed some light on the nuances of setting up the right tech for live sound and how to do so. And, if you liked reading our article, then you’ll love checking out our additional tips and tricks. All of them will be available on our products page.