Sound Advice, Part 1

When I started performing stand-up magic professionally, I quickly realized that providing quality sound was both essential and a significant challenge. I knew that people needed to hear me and that adding musical tracks before, during and after the show could double and even triple the strength of the magic. I needed my own sound system. Moreover, because of my market, I could not always depend upon my clients to provide a competent sound technician.

Therefore, I needed to be able to control the music myself. I wanted the system to be suitable for my club, cabaret and stage audiences of 50 to 500 people or more. If I were performing for a much larger audience, using the facility’s built in sound system or hiring sound people would probably be a safe option. Another very practical challenge is that my entire stand-up show needed to fit in my Honda Civic.

To accomplish my sound system goal, I needed the following:

  • PRACTICALITY: The system must be portable, convenient and compact.
  • PUBLIC ADDRESS (PA): Have a mixer, amplifier and speaker system
  • MICROPHONE: A wireless lapel microphone is a must.
  • MUSICAL SOURCE: Tape, CD, Mini Disk, MP3, etc.
  • REMOTE CONTROL: I needed to be able to start, stop, and control the volume of the music.
  • AFFORDABILITY: The system had to be affordable — well under $1500.

Having studied and tried a number of options, here is what works well for me. I hope you will find these things helpful.


What we solo performers really need for performing for 50-500 people is a portable public address system that is a single, self-contained unit. This rugged but not too heavy piece of equipment needs to contain a wireless microphone receiver, a mixer with various inputs and outputs, an amplifier and a speaker. Other options might include an internal CD or tape player and outputs for additional speakers.

Fortunately, we happen to fit into a particular niche market of the audio industry that generally serves people who do business presentations. What works very well is called a “portable PA” system. From a short distance they just look like a mid-sized speaker. The Ronald McDonald in Connecticut used the first one I ever saw.

There are various units on the market, which range from $200 to $1800. There are numerous manufacturers, but I have found that the most reliable and practical mass market systems are made by two companies: Anchor and Apollo.

Anchor makes the higher quality and more expensive units. They can include the highly praised and supremely reliable Sure wireless microphones. I even have the option of adding a heavy-duty rechargeable battery (and tape or CD on some units). This means your system could be completely wireless — something to think about if you perform outdoors. The Anchor models include the Voyager (20 watts, 400+people), Explorer (25-50 Watts, 500+ people), Liberty (50-70 watts, 1000 people) and Extreme (130 Watts, 2500 people). Their web site provides valuable information on the different configurations and capabilities. Some units include a switch to customize your setup for primarily speaking or music, and all of them can be mounted on a tripod. Anchor products can be found for as little as $650 for a basic Explorer system (no microphone, battery, tape, cover or tripod) to well over $2000 for a fully decked out Liberty Extreme system with two Sure wireless microphones, CD, cover, tripod and additional speakers. However, at Long’s Electronics (see below) the Liberty Extreme starts at only $599.

References: Look under “Products” -> “Sound Systems”

Apollo makes numerous presentation products, including excellent high-end overhead and video projectors. Their portable PA systems include the PA5000, PA5400 and the PA6000. You do not have the customizing options that Anchor provides, but they come rather complete.

The PA500 (street price $199) has a wireless microphone but no tape deck and is rated at only 7 watts, so it can even run on standard batteries. It would be good for up to about 100 people. The sound quality is excellent, though, because of the broad frequency range, and there are numerous inputs and outputs. This is probably designed for a larger classroom or boardroom. Many boom boxes are more powerful.

The PA5400 (street price $399) has all the functionality of the PA500 but with a much beefier 25 watts of power and an auto-reverse tape recorder. It could cover 300 people.

However, I purchased the PA600 (street price $649) because it works well for an indoor audience of 500+ people with 40 watts of power. It has a built in wireless microphone and a DJ quality auto-reverse tape deck that I use for pre-show and post-show music. It has been a rugged, dependable unit. The NiCad battery lasted for three years, and I replaced it for $100. The lightweight tripod cost me less than $100. HINT: The vinyl cover for the Anchor Explorer fits the Apollo PA 6000 perfectly.


© David Reed-Brown, 2001

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