Impressive Portable PA (PPA) Components

Featuring AmpliVox, Electro-Voice, Mackie, and Peavey
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Today, the best live sound reinforcement products generally categorized as Portable PA (PPA) are all over the proverbial map in feature set, size, and even weight, yet what they should all have in common is impressive portability in relation to their individual capabilities. The four products I review here—from AmpliVox, Electro-Voice, Mackie, and Peavey, respectively—are each defined by certain attractive features and remarkable performances. As such, they are four unique products useful to a particular subset of potential customers. Read on to discover which may be perfect for your needs.

AMPLIVOX SW925 Travel Partner Plus Battery Powered PA System

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More closely resembling a rolling Pullmanstyle suitcase than any portable PA (PPA) product I’ve used on the market, AmpliVox’s feature-packed SW925 Travel Partner Plus Battery-Powered PA System is incredibly flexible and sounds great. Backed by a six-year limited warranty, the SW925 provides a string of key features in its 35 lbs., 23 x 11.5 x 11-inch enclosure: 250 Watts of power; a rechargeable/replacable battery capable of 6-10 hours of untethered use; built-in USB/SD card media player with remote control; Bluetooth connectivity features; 16-channel UHF wireless microphone system with variable channel select (584-604 MHz range); three Neutrik XLR/TRS combo input channels with phantom power; RCA, eighth-inch and quarter-inch inputs with separate level control; Voice Priority background music ducking and Voice Enhance “karaoke-friendly” features; and much more. Optional equipment for the SW925 abounds, including a 16-channel wireless speaker transmitter; an electret headset microphone; a wireless companion speaker for stereo use; and a notably well-designed, water-repellent outdoor protective cover featuring an acoustically transparent panel for use over its “speaker side” in questionable weather.

In review, the SW925 package has proven to be incredibly “outdoors-friendly.” I’ve placed it in damp busking scenarios and similar party situations; it performed flawlessly everywhere I utilized it, garnering many compliments on its sound along the way from musicians, performers, and clients alike.

Considering its extreme flexibility and ability to cover small to medium-sized club or conference hall settings, the SW925 is an ideal PPA for corporate venues, schools and houses-of-worship, as well as singer/songwriters and acoustic duos, scrappy DJs/ KJs and more. It is worth noting that AmpliVox’s American-made products are not low-cost options; there are, indeed, more affordable products on the market that may do most of what the SW925 can do. However, buying into the company’s Travel Partner Plus line allows customers to build out a truly modular portable PA system, one that is relatively future-proof, rugged and upgradable. That said, I don’t look forward to shipping this review unit back, as it’s a real joy and comfort to use with its trustworthy industrial (nearly military-grade) design elements and components.

Electro-Voice ELX200-10P and ELX200-12SP Powered Loudspeakers

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Electro-Voice never disappoints me in the Portable PA category. Why? Its designs and materials are straightforward, user-friendly and rugged; built-in amplifiers are generally powerful and dependable; I/O is logical and useful; and the DSP-sculpted sounds are open, clear and hype-free. In my experience, E-V offers the largest collection of truly “workhorse” PPA products in the marketplace.

Reviewed here, E-V’s new ELX200 Series full-range powered loudspeakers and accompanying powered subwoofers are descendants of the ELX100 Series, yet with many significant updates and changes; these include more power (all ELX200 cabinets gain 200 W, jumping to from 1000 W to 1200 W), redesigned LF and HF drivers, polypropylene cabinetry for its full-range models (formerly plywood) and much more. Yet the most significant features of the ELX200 Series resides it its DSP offerings, allowing ELX products to be more flexible than ever.

My review package from E-V came complete with two ELX200-10P loudspeakers ($549 street, each), the series’ 10-inch, two-way powered enclosures, and two ELX200- 12SP powered subwoofers ($649 street, each) featuring a 12-inch LF transducer—the most compact “stereo with dual subs” rig available within the ELX Series. I/O includes two input channels accepting mic or line-level input via Neutrik XLR/TRS combo jack, or stereo RCA (unbalanced and summed) signal; and mic or line-level input via Neutrik XLR/TRS combo jack, respectively. A XLR output is also provided, carrying the balance of inputs 1 and 2.

Cutting to the chase, the system provided an aural quality in line with the best E-V systems I’ve experienced over my years reviewing so many PPA systems—open, full, powerful and smooth, yet accurately strong and punchy—in a surprisingly compact system. E-V’s latest version of its PPA DSP—QuickSmartDSP— provides four presets and adjustment of five user-programmable presets alongside sub/top system match, three-band EQ, input level and master volume control via LCD display and an intuitive turn/push physical knob user interface. It operates much like E-V’s previous generation DSP parameters, yet is further refined in its display, metering and overall preset, and, at least to my ears, EQ quality. The ELX200- 10P is useful in both main and stage monitor applications, featuring both three M10 threaded points for suspension as well as pole mount placement.

Considering placement, what if these ELX200 Series components are purchased to be installed and otherwise out of easy reach? E-V’s QuickSmart Mobile app is a godsend in these and many other applications. Case in point, I auditioned the ELX200-10P pair at a local house-of-worship (HOW) as installed speakers overhead and was able to dial in precise EQ curves, levels and various other settings—such as muting—from both my iOS and Android devices via Bluetooth connectivity. As I was already mixing via tablet GUI, having this freestanding app to fine-tune the E-Vs was incredibly valuable. The app is notably well designed and user-friendly, thus, I believe, it adds much to this significant ELX Series relaunch.

Together, these features and the ELX200 Series’ proven performance make it a top “affordable PPA” contender. It is ideal for portable as well as out-of/hard-to reach applications, all potentially well served by its clever QuickSmart Mobile flexibility.

Mackie Thump 15BST Powered Loudspeaker and Thump 18S Subwoofer

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Alongside its good-sounding, affordable and intuitive mixing products, Mackie has long built some remarkable powered loudspeakers for both portable PA (PPA) and installed live sound applications. Over the years, I have reviewed and regularly used many of these products, and, throughout this time, I experienced Mackie’s continued refinement efforts, as the brand effectively became the leader of the burgeoning PPA marketplace. Mackie closed in on this market from all angles: from the trailblazing, high-end and pro tour-worthy HD Series, to the unique all-in-one mixer, main and monitor powered enclosure called Reach and its little cousin, the battery-powered mixer/stereo speaker “personal PA,” FreePlay.

Though never the cheapest option available in powered loudspeakers, Mackie has made concerted efforts to serve budget-restricted yet discriminating customers with its Thump Series, now redesigned and relaunched with compelling modern features and, via its full-range offerings, in two forms: standard and “Boosted,” with the latter providing a builtin digital mixer with full-color LCD screen, “turn/push” input knob, and a range of super useful Bluetooth-enabled wireless adjustment flexibilities. General Thump Series full-range enclosure highlights include 1300 W per box (1000 W for LF, 300 for HF); dual mic/line inputs via combo XLR/TRS jacks featuring Vita preamps; XLR thru-put; remarkably good build quality and portability; and a notably open, extended and surprisingly voluptuous sound.

For this evaluation, I received two Thump15BST (Boosted) full-range two-way powered loudspeakers ($499 street) and one Thump18S powered subwoofer ($699 street), also providing 1300 W of power; a smaller full-range enclosure, the Thump12A, is available in both standard and Boosted forms, too. The full-range enclosures are robust, scratch-resistant polypropylene, surely decreasing overall weight, while the 18S is made of standard 15 mm plywood.

In use, this three-piece Thump Boosted rig reminded me of the delight of discovering Mackie’s Pro DX Series of wireless digital mixers. After downloading the simple and free Thump Connect app for both my iOS and Android devices, I was able to adjust the Thump15BST pair remotely, even gaining an additional Bluetooth channel for music streaming. Between house-of-worship (HOW) applications, a high-volume DJ/KJ job and a range of live performance gigs, I can’t quite express how valuable Thump Connect’s wireless channel EQ adjustments, mute features, and more became while already mixing and controlling audio via tablet, wirelessly. Add in the system’s portability and superb sound, Thump—and specifically, Thump Boosted— products have become top contenders in my book for permanent or semi-permanent installation environments such as HOWs, theaters, and various other performance venues and/or users that must consider the bottom line.

And speaking of bottom—even without the Thump18S sub engaged—a Thump15BST pair is remarkably capable of delivering powerful, lush lows. As such, at approximately $1,000, I must say that a Thump15BST stereo pair will leave a mark as one of the most versatile yet affordable PPA options available on the market today.

Peavey PVXP 12 DSP Powered Speaker System

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Peavey is a brand that spans more musical and pro audio products than any other I can name; instruments, instrument amplifiers, and a broad range of pro audio products are all under the Peavey umbrella. As such, Peavey has comprehensively empowered the musicians of America for generations. I’ll bet that, in total, I’ve used more Peavey PA components than any other brand, ever. Growing up and now living in a rural area means I have a mom-and-pop music store—not a Guitar Center—close to me, where I can buy a high-quality, American-made HP2 guitar ($1,999 street), a beloved 6505 guitar amp, powered loudspeakers, mixer, and microphones, all branded Peavey, from the same store.

Yet considering the competition, there’s little doubt that Peavey has been challenged in recent years within the portable PA category, so it has introduced its latest line: the PVXp Powered Speaker System featuring the PVXp 12 DSP ($399 street), a two-way, 830W biamped full-range enclosure.

The speaker delivers a range of notable features, including a fan-cooled amplifier delivering 630 W for LF and 200 W for HF via 12-inch woofer and 2 3/8-inch titanium diaphragm tweeter, respectively. Its coverage area is wide thanks to Peavey’s Quadratic Throat Waveguide technology, delivering even 100 by 50 degree high-frequency sound. Enclosed within a well-made polypropylene cabinet with flying points and pole mount, it is flexible in placement, offering a better-than-average range of I/O, too: balanced XLR/TRS combo input, unbalanced dual RCA inputs (summed), and XLR and paralleled quarter-inch thru-put.

The rear panel of the PVXp 12 DSP also boasts an intuitive LCD display screen for access to its Advanced Digital Signal Processing (A.D.S.P.) parameters. The multiple factory EQ presets are well chosen, and users may tweak via treble and bass parameters. One particularly wise feature is a recessed mic/line switch, effectively avoiding accidental changes of input type.

But how does it sound? Directly compared with competing products costing anywhere from $100 to $250 more per enclosure, I will say, “Very impressive.” Monitored flat without adjustment, the PVXp 12 DSP’s high frequencies are just slightly forward, in my opinion, thus I dialed the HF adjustment back approximately -2 to -3 dB and was quite pleased. That said, in some highly absorbent environments—such as heavily carpeted houses-of-worship (HOW) and theaters—some natural HF boost may come in handy. That said, the PVXp 12’s touted waveguide delivered notably even coverage across the HOW where it was auditioned for several weeks. In both HOW as well as portable PA applications, I found the no-frills PVXp 12 pair to be a powerful and bargain-priced stereo rig at an impressive $800 street. 

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