The technology involved with making a wireless PA system is cheaper and more readily available than it has ever been.
And while it's not the easiest music-related purchase to make, it's an important one, as the PA system is the nucleus of any live performance, responsible for mixing and projecting all audible sound.
In this writeup, we're focusing exclusively on systems that include wireless microphones.
While certain components of the PA system always have to be wired, some PA system packages will provide wireless mics and instrument options, making setup, use and mixing significantly easier.
This gives the performer more flexibility, more comfort on stage and greater range of motion.
They're also surprisingly affordable, and comparable in cost to most wired packages.
I'll cover the details on two packages that come with wireless mics, and then three PA systems that I've paired with compatible wireless mic receivers.
Wireless PA Systems in this List
What is included in a PA system?
You can go about buying a wireless PA system two different ways:
- You can buy a PA system "package" with everything included
- You can by core pieces one at a time, then add periphery items as needed.
Regardless of which direction you decide to go, the core pieces you need are going to be the same.
Let's cover that "must-have" checklist:
- Mixer with enough channels for each sound source (one for each vocal source, instrument, etc)
- Power amp, powered mixer or powered speakers (more on this below)
- Mic stands and microphone cables
- Speakers and corresponding speaker cables
As you can tell, this creates some rather confusing options, particularly when it comes to your power source.
Let's sort it all out.
What are the core components of a PA system?
We can simplify an entire PA system down to four crucial components:
Different ways to put it all together
Within this core list of gear there are a few different directions you could go depending on how you amplify your PA system.
In total, there are three different ways to address amplification.
First, you could go with a standalone amplifier, mixer, speakers and microphone, simply mirroring the core components we've already listed.
Option #1: Standalone Powered Amplifier
In this arrangement, you have a standalone power amp that amplifies the signal coming from the mixer, which is then converted to acoustic sound via the speakers.
Thus, all four components are their own separate entity.
Typically this setup is used by professional bands in environments that demand a large-scale PA system and aren't as concerned with having something portable.
Option #2: Powered Mixer
Your second option is to use a powered mixer.
With a powered mixer, your amplifier and mixer are consolidated into one device, giving you the above arrangement.
The advantage here is that you're saved the trouble of connecting the mixer, power amp and speakers and that you can still use passive or non-powered speakers.
These systems also tend to be more portable and easier to setup or take down.
Option #3: Powered Speakers
The third option is to consolidate power to your speakers, which means each speaker you use will have a built-in amplifier, allowing you to use a non-powered mixer without a third-party power amp.
The main disadvantage here is that you can't then add passive speakers.
However, it's still a decent configurations for those who need a small PA system and don't plan to add any more speakers to the fray.
Once again, portability gets a big check mark.
Option #4: My Preference
My preference (and recommendation) for those who need a wireless PA system for small to mid-sized venues is to go with the powered mixer option, then add a wireless microphone receiver (usually a $100 to $200) at an additional cost.
This is the easiest and most straightforward way to setup a wireless PA system.
As I mentioned, three of the systems highlighted in this post I've put together that way, while two come packaged with wireless technology.
This makes up the nucleus of most PA systems, with just a few other variables that need to be considered, namely, the number of microphones, number of channels on the mixer and the wattage of the power amp.
Number of microphones: The easiest of these variables is the number of microphones, which is simply going to be determined by the number of vocal sources you need to project at once. Most PA system packages come with two to four.
Mixer channels: The channels on a mixer can vary widely, though commonly show up with at least eight. A lot of packages will also provide 12-channel mixers, which is enough for most bands or basic public speaking.
Power amp wattage: If the mixer is powered than you don't need to worry about this aspect. However, if you buy your pieces separately and you buy a non-powered mixer, you'll need to follow that purchase with a power amp that meets the wattage requirements of the mixer.
What price range are we looking at?
Wireless PA systems, and PA systems in general, aren't as expensive as you might think.
The more expensive setups tend to come from Bose, which we'll avoid entirely in this list since they often exceed our cap limit (more on that below).
PA systems (wireless or otherwise) are also more likely to be on the higher end of the expense chart if you buy a separate power amp and piece together the entire system from scratch.
This is part of the reason I'm sticking entirely to packages and powered mixers or speakers.
We'll also leave out packages that come with a large subwoofer, since those aren't typically necessary pieces and tend to add a lot of cost.
In our list, I'm staying within the following prices:
The cap space
- Avoid going below $400
- Avoid going above $1500
As I've researched this topic intermittently, I've found that these two price points tend to represent significant value thresholds.
Going under $400 just gets way too "cheap" and poor-quality.
Anything above $1500 tends to feel unnecessary and overkill for the most typical PA system needs and buyer situations.
To be even more specific, most who need a wireless PA system can do the job for around $700-$800. If you're trying to budget, I'd ballpark your estimate there and move down or up depending on brands and specific needs.
It's pricey, but not an exorbitant investment.
Most mid-range PA systems are cheaper than mid-range guitars.
Other periphery items
Depending on your situation, whether you're planning for a classroom, conference room, church or a live band, some of the following periphery items might be necessary:
- Lapel microphones
- Additional speakers
- iPhone/iPad dock or compatible connection
Most of these items don't come in a standard packaged PA system, aside from an auxiliary connection that will let you run an iPod or iPhone through the system with the right cable.
In your mind, put these items on the shelf for now and revisit their integration, after you've purchased the core PA system.
Let's get started.
I don't like this system as much for live bands and music performances, primarily because the mixer only gives you six channels. While this is enough for small groups (perhaps three-piece bands) and certainly solo artists, it's a tough sell for bands with four members and up.
"Why wouldn't six channels be enough for four people?"
I suppose that in certain situations, six channels could be enough, but you just need to think through the needs of your group and how many channels you'll actually be using.
For example, you might want to setup the following:
- Lead vocals + acoustic guitar
- Lead guitar + background vocals
- Two drum mics
In this theoretical band, if we mic the drum set, we've already gone over our channel limit.
Make sure that you plot out how many channels you know you'll need, before you buy.
Otherwise, this package is well-equipped to meet the needs of small musical groups, single speakers and almost any small to mid-sized venue where channel numbers aren't a major concern.
Who else is it ideal for?
Other similar situations like DJs and parties with music are also ideal.
I'd also recommend this one for any situation where you have a single speaking voice, primarily because of the presence of two wireless microphones.
This lets you use one as your main, while having a second one for a backup.
What size room can it accommodate?
MUSYSIC addresses a similar question directly in their "Answers" section on the product's Amazon page:
Based on their answer, I'd say the cut off point, for the 10" speakers at 800W peak power, is roughly a 5000 square foot room.
Just for reference, the picture below is a room that is roughly that size:
A 5000 square foot conference center at Johnson County Community College. | Image via jccc.edu
If you plan on playing in larger venues, and you like this system, I'd think about going with the speaker upgrade.
This article provides a ton of fantastic info on setting up a sound system for smaller rooms and venues (this size and smaller).
You can get the larger speakers in the exact same system for around $599 (entire system cost).
You get 48V phantom power, support for powered monitors while additional speakers can be plugged directly into the back of the speakers that are included in the package.
Note that the power amp in the mixer means any passive (non-powered) speaker will work with the setup.
One other thing to note about speaker size:
The speaker itself, inside the casing, is 10 inches, while the total size of each speaker with the casing is 20 x 13 x 11.
They'll look bigger than 10 inches.
- Powered mixer
- Two wireless mics and receiver included
- Aux input
This is a rather unique system with three highlight-worthy features:
- Four wireless microphones on their own independent channel(on a four channel mixer)
- DVD, CD and USB playback support for music files
- All-in-one construction (amp, mixer and wireless units all in one box)
For those wanting a wireless PA system, this one gives you plenty in the way of wireless microphones, with four total.
What makes the system more unique is that the wireless receiver is built right into the powered mixer, running independently of the four available channels. It also houses an interface to play DVDs, CDs and MP3s from a thumb drive.
There's no doubt that a big part of the intended market is DJs and those who need a PA system for parties with music or karaoke.
Who is it ideal for?
Despite having only four channels, I can still recommend the unit for small vocal groups or solo artists that don't need more than four channels.
Otherwise, it's a good fit for almost any party venue, DJ or speaking engagement.
In particular, speaking events that have more than one participant, like forums or discussion/debate-style events, could really benefit from a system like this. If this is your particular use for such a system, the karaoke features aren't crucial.
However, I wouldn't let that deter you from the purchase.
For a multi-faceted public conversation, it's nearly the perfect solution.
A seven-band graphic EQ and effects control for each channel are provided, giving you basic manipulation over the sound that you're projecting.
The DVD/CD/USB interface that I mentioned can be removed if you don't want or need to use it.
Each wireless mic is on its own channel which are independent wireless modules, thus freeing up the four channels you see highlighted in white on the front of the board, for other uses.
VocoPro PA Man-II back panel.
The back of the mixer is a simple unit with a video out (for the DVD player) and two quarter inch outputs for the left and right speaker.
VocoPro throws in a remote as well.
- Four wireless microphones
- DVD/CD/USB Interface
- Four independent wireless modules
- Powered mixer
In this case, I've recommended to you two parts:
- The core PA system package
- A compatible wireless receiver to pair with it
Let's talk about the Mackie system first.
The Mackie PA System
There's a 12-channel mixer which is not powered. However, the two speakers that come in the package are powered, which means they have amplifiers in each one and don't need an external power source.
Back of the Mackie powered speaker.
The only disadvantage here is that you wouldn't be able to add passive speakers.
Since most situations only call for two main speakers, that shouldn't be a problem.
The system comes with two microphones (with cables) speaker stands, speaker cables and a three-band EQ for each channel.
The 12 channels is enough for most musical acts and gives you a lot of flexibility for things like adding mics and multiple instruments.
The PylePro Wireless Receiver
Just to make sure I'm being clear:
The PylePro wireless receiver does come with its own two microphones but is a separate purchase from the Mackie PA system.
It's a good option to pair with PA systems that don't come with a wireless receiver because it's only $98 and adds two microphones to your haul while providing eight independent UHF channels.
While the advantage of UHF has been somewhat exaggerated, it does tend to perform better in regards to preventing interference.
Combining this unit with the Mackie PA system gives you the added flexibility of having wireless microphones if you need them, while also being able to rely on the steadiness of the Mackie brand for your core PA system components.
Who is this setup ideal for?
The pairing of these two products should be considered by groups who can check off the following:
- Need the higher number of mixing channels (larger bands, musical groups, etc.)
- Don't plan to add more passive speakers
- Have use for both wired and wireless microphones
Generally, this setup will be more optimally-utilized by bands with four or more members, though the versatility of the mixer can still benefit smaller groups as well.
Otherwise, the basic uses still apply for churches, schools, college classrooms and garden-variety speaking engagements.
- Eight UHF wireless channels (two wireless microphones from the PylePro receiver)
- 12 channel mixer
- Two powered speakers
- Speaker stands
Once again, I've paired two separate purchases to give you a fully-functional wireless PA system. The base is a Yamaha package that comes with a compact, portable powered mixer and some extra features.
First, iPod/iPhone connectivity is easy via a USB input that can go straight from the device to your mixing board.
Easy MP3 connection via USB. | Image via Yamaha
Digital reverb, feedback suppression and evenly-distributed speaker projection are some other highlights that Yamaha adds onto what is already a solid mixer.
At a basic level you have EQ controls for each channel (including reverb levels) and eight total channels to work with.
Since the mixer is powered you can add other passive speakers, but chances are that won't be necessary since the two provided are pretty loud (1000W total), even in an outdoor environment.
Portability also gets a major emphasis in this system, since the mixer has a handle and is small enough to be easily transported. Moreover, the setup and tear down process for the entire package is extremely quick and straightforward.
The only slight drawback is that the package comes with just one microphone, though if you plan to add the wireless unit, this won't matter much. The addition of the GTD Audio wireless mic system will give you three total, plus adding mics is an easy chore.
GTD Audio G-622H UHF Wireless Microphone System
The Yamaha PA system is a little cheaper (around $699) than the Mackie I highlighted earlier, so I moved some of that cost over to the wireless system from GTD Audio.
The GTD Audio G-622H comes with two microphones and 100 UHF frequencies on two different channels.
This system has a reach of around 500 feet, making it a good fit for larger rooms or stages where the user would be walking a lot.
At $169 it's pricier than the PylePro, but a much nicer system that gives you further range and a more reliable receiver with automatic frequency scanning and synchronization.
If you need the wireless mics, it's a great pair with the PAS 400i.
Who is this setup ideal for?
The portability here is a major plus, so anything outdoors or in situations that require a lot of quick setup and takedown could benefit from this pairing.
Eight channels is enough for most musical groups, though not overkill for single performers.
Consider it a good catch-all for most situations, with some extra points given for people who need a wireless PA system that can accommodate a lot of moving around.
- Eight channel mixer
- USB connection
- Powered mixer
This Yamaha powered mixer gives you eight channels, 100 watts of power and four microphones.
Four microphones is plenty for most situations, which is why I've recommended pairing it with the AKG wireless receiver that only comes with one.
If you want more wireless mics, just switch the AKG receiver out for one of the other two I've recommended with the other PA system packages. The wired microphones that come with the PA are Audio-Technica M4000S microphones that are decent, retailing on their own at $50 a piece.
Yamaha BR15 2-Way Main Speakers
The two speakers that come with this package are Yamaha BR15 loudspeakers, which each retail on their own for around $290. That's nearly $600 worth of speakers, accounting for half of the package's retail cost.
If you decide to invest in this setup, that's where a lot of your money is going.
These are passive speakers, each with a nominal impedance of 8 ohms which, when both connected, will give you 350W of power on each side.
We can tell this by looking at the specs list for the EMX512SC powered mixer, which tells us that the amp produces a 350W output for each 8 ohm speaker:
Maximum output for the EMX512SC powered mixer. | Image via Yamaha
If we connect our two 8 ohm speakers, this will give us 350W per speaker, for a total of 700.
Diagram that shows the impedance for two 8 ohm speakers connected to an amplifier. | Image via Yamaha
So, how loud are these speakers?
If we use a wattage to decibel converter, we get the following:
This tells us that the system is capable of approximately 55dBm per speaker, or 110dBm total.
This means that at its peak, this PA system is capable of being as loud as an MP3 player maxed out, or roughly the volume of a chain saw at close range, according to the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association.
In other words:
They're pretty loud speakers and will give you plenty of volume for any of the following venues:
- Mid-sized to large conference rooms
- Church sanctuaries
- Mid-sized outdoor stages
- Large ballrooms
The AKG Wireless Receiver
The WMS40 Mini is a simple wireless interface that's a quick plug and play solution if you just need to add one wireless mic (though you can get the system with multiple microphones).
As I mentioned, pairing it with the Yahama PA package means you'll have a total of five microphones with one wireless option.
This could make it an ideal fit for those who need to support a band and an MC that might have to move around a bit.
Setting it up is just a matter of picking a channel on your mixer, then using the balanced TRS output from the back of the receiver to connect everything.
Back of the AKG wireless receiver.
- Eight channel powered mixer
- 350W of power from each speaker
- Four microphones
- AKG wireless system is a quick plug-and-play job
Is renting a better option?
Since the price of a full-fledged PA system has come down so much in recent years, I'm always a bit hesitant to recommend rentals.
That said, it's a question that's highly contextual, with some rather obvious parameters.
The most obvious issue is simply this:
How often are you going to need one?
If it's a one-time thing where you're not sure you'll need the system again, or at least not often, then renting might be the better option. Though even in this situation I can't be certain about pricing, as I've never rented a PA system and would be suspicious that the cost is fairly high.
Check around with local music stores (I know Guitar Center locations rent live sound equipment) and see what the cost is.
If it's more than 30% of the retail value, I wouldn't want to go that route.
It's just a judgement call you'll have to make.
There are usually two different tracks that churches will take when looking at a PA system.
- Permanent PA system installation
- Portable PA system for as-needed setup
If it's the second scenario you're after, any of the options I've listed should be optimal for most sanctuaries and church buildings. As I pointed out in my first recommendation, 5000 square feet is sort of the max or "ball park" room size for these smaller systems.
Since most church rooms are smaller, I would just make sure to check the wattage and impedance of the speakers. If you can get two speakers at 350W each, that's about the same as running a chainsaw in church.
My guess is that in most church buildings, that would be audible in nearly every corner.
At that point, basic AV sanctuary best-practices are easy to nail down.
Before you shop, I'd advise collecting the following information:
- Sanctuary square footage
- Number of channels you'll need (for musicians, speakers, etc.)
- Number of wireless microphones you'll need
Our pastor always uses a wireless microphone, while those singing and playing instruments go hard-wired.
Chances are that for most churches, one wireless mic and a handful of wired mics will do the job. But, in your situation, things might be different, so these are some of the numbers you'll want to get nailed down before you buy.
I'd be particularly interested in hearing about folks who know of PA systems that come with a wireless receiver, like the first two I've listed.
If you know of one, drop it in the comments.
I'd also love to hear from you if you know of speakers or PA system setups that you've known to be too loud or too quiet in certain environments.
You can go by wattage, but it's always somewhat of a dice roll, since you never really know how a system will respond until it's setup in a particular place.
Let me know what you know.
Other Wireless PA System Resources
Introduction to Wireless Microphone Systems: Shure's guide to wireless microphones and receivers is a good, quick crash course to figure out exactly how they work and what kind you might need.
Yamaha's PA Beginner's Guide Resource: This section of Yamaha's website is an excellent resource for people who need some background or technical info on just about any aspect of their PA system.
Wattage to Decibel Converter: When shopping for any kind of speaker or power amp, this is something you might want to keep in your back pocket.
ProSoundWeb Church Sound Basics: A section of prosoundweb.com devoted to helping those running sound and AV in a church or sanctuary.
Sound Design Live Blog (smaller venues article): An extremely detailed an informative article on setting up live sound for small venues.
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Best USB Microphone Roundup: A collection of our favorite plug-and-play USB microphones.
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Church PA System Guide: Setting up a PA system for a small to mid-sized congregation.
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Flickr Commons Image via Lee Jordan