Best PA speakers 2023: Compact and mobile active sound systems for bands and buskers

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Acoustic guitar next to BOSE L1 Compact PA system

(Image credit: Future)

1. The list in brief
2. Best PA speaker overall
3. Best all-in-one system
4. Best for solo performers
5. Reasonably priced option
6. Best personal line array
7. Best workhorse speaker
8. More options...
9. Buying advice

How we test
We've spent hours testing every set of PA speakers in this guide to ensure they are worthy of their place in our round-up. We will only suggest a set if we believe they are worth your hard-earned cash. Read more about how we choose.

PA Systems - the world would undoubtedly be a whole lot quieter without them and definitely more boring! Now, with how critical these large boxes are to live music, you'd think more musicians would take an interest in what the best PA speakers are on the market and which are suitable for their needs. Sadly, this isn't the case. Many players underestimate the importance of the humble PA speaker and end up with a system that isn't fit for purpose, and this will always lead to a bad-sounding event - and no one wants that! Luckily for you, we've put together this handy guide to help steer you in the right direction. 

We've all been at arena gigs or festivals and looked up in awe at the gigantic hanging speakers above us. But, as cool as these are, they might be overkill for that intimate wedding gig you just landed. That's why we have chosen to focus purely on compact active PA speakers that would suit anyone playing in small to medium venues. This includes full bands with drums, solo artists, duos, and trios.

We've made sure that all the PA speakers in this guide are incredibly user-friendly, simple to set up, and, more importantly, easy to transport. So without further ado, let's dive into the best PA speakers on the market right now.

Recent updates

06/11/23: We have recently improved the navigation of this page, so hopefully it is now easier than ever to find the perfect pair of PA speakers for your next show. Want to get to the good stuff without reading walls of text? Use the "quick list" section to get to know our top choices without any fuss. There are also links to read a more detailed review of each speaker if you'd like to learn more. 

Quick list

Want to get straight to the best PA speakers on the market right now? Below, you’ll find a round-up of our top choices. You can jump to a more detailed review of every pick and better yet our price comparison tool will help you find the best deals.

Best PA speaker overall

The best PA speaker overall


Power output: 200W
Speakers: 2-way, Bi-amped Powered Speaker, Bass-reflex
Connectivity: Analog IN: Combo x2, Line level (Maximum +24dBu), Input impedance 20kΩ, Analog OUT: XLR3-32 x2, CH1: THRU (fix), CH2: THRU or DSP OUT
Effects: No
Power supply: Mains

Reasons to buy

Built to last
Clear and precise sound
Rotatable horn  

Reasons to avoid

Not a cheap option
May be overkill for some situations 

First and foremost, PA speakers have to be reliable. A failing speaker could be disastrous for a gig, and not to mention lose you money! With the Yamaha DZR range, that need not be a worry, as Yamaha offers a whopping seven-year warranty on these high-tech loudspeakers.

No matter the application, there is plenty of horsepower in these 2000W bi-amped speakers, and when we've used the Yamaha DZR, we certainly never thought they lacked volume. The ability to rotate the horn allows you to hang these speakers from the ceiling, mount them on speaker poles, or even use them as floor monitors. The convenient LCD screen located on the back of the unit allows you to easily adjust a wide range of DSP functions, from loading venue-specific presets to adjusting the EQ balance of the speaker. You can also save your setting on a USB drive and transfer them between speakers. 

So if you're looking for one of the best PA speakers on the market and one that will stand the test of time, the Yamaha DZR12 is the perfect speaker for you. 

Read our full Yamaha DZR12-D review

Best all-in-one system

The best all-in-one system


Power output: 1400W
Speakers: 8x 2" Full Range Speakers, 12" Bass Reflex Subwoofer, 2.5" Voice Coil
Connectivity: 8 Channels, Bluetooth Digital Mixer
Effects: 80 Effects
Power supply: Mains

Reasons to buy

Bluetooth digital mixer 
All in one system 
Fantastic sound 

Reasons to avoid

Avoid if you don't want to use the mobile app 

If the thought of setting up a PA system breaks you out in a cold sweat, then the RCF EVOX system is the perfect solution for you. This all-in-one, small line array is super easy to set up and comes with a myriad of effects - and even amp modelers so you can plug your electric guitar or bass guitar directly in. 

The entire system is controlled by the highly intuitive EVOX mobile app. This app allows you to manage all the features of the in-built eight-channel digital mixer, from gain, levels, EQ, and effects. This also allows you to mix from anywhere in the room - and even from the stage if you wanted to.

In our tests, we found the RCF to be incredibly intuitive to use, very reliable and most importantly it sounds superb - it makes sense then that we would feature it in our guide to the best PA speakers. 

Read our full RCF EVOX JMIX8 review

Best for solo performers

3. Bose L1 Compact system

The best for solo performer gigs


Power output: 130W
Speakers: 1 line array speaker with 6 x 2-inch HF drivers, 1 x 8-inch LF driver
Connectivity: XLR input, 1/4" instrument input, RCA (phono) stereo input, minijack stereo input, 1/4-inch output, RCA (phono) stereo output
Effects: None
Power supply: Mains (IEC connector)

Reasons to buy

Easy to set up with no cabling
Nice spread of sound that may help with on-stage monitoring

Reasons to avoid

No effects or EQ
Mains power only

The smallest and easiest to move around of the company's L1 range, the Bose L1 Compact System combines a PA and monitors in one unit, with interlocking components that Bose that we found can be set up in minutes. 

The main component is a slimline array speaker that's about 2m high and features six small drivers mounted at precise angles. This is placed vertically and slotted into a power stand with an integrated bass speaker. The advantage of a line array is that it disperses sound spatially, not only to fill the whole room for the audience but also onstage for monitoring.

Reasonably priced option

4. EV ELX200-12P

The best reasonably priced option


Power output: 1200W
Speakers: EVS-12M 300 mm/ DH-1C 1-inch titanium compression driver
Connectivity: Stereo RCA Input, 2 XLR/TRS Combo Jack, 1 XLR Thru
Effects: No
Power supply: Mains

Reasons to buy

Reasonably priced 
Not too heavy 

Reasons to avoid

The master volume control is also the DSP control 

Electro-Voice has been in the live sound game for over 90 years, so it's safe to say they know a fair amount about sound reinforcement. Famed for their high-quality and reasonably priced speakers and microphones, EV sure makes some of the best PA speaker systems on the market. 

For this guide, we have chosen to single out the ELX200-12P. For us, the 12" powered speaker delivers a fantastic clear and articulate sound - and is more than capable of hanging with the more expensive entries on this list. 

Like the Yamaha DZR, the EV also features an LCD screen for navigating through EQ presets and giving a visual meter for both input one and two. This can also be accessed through the EV QuickSmart mobile app. 

Best personal line array

5. Yamaha Stagepas 1K MKII

The best personal line array with effects


Speakers: 12” Subwoofer/ 10 x 1.5" Line Array Speakers
Connectivity: 3 Mono Mic/Line Inputs, 1 Stereo line Input
Effects: Reverb (4 types)
Power supply: Mains

Reasons to buy

Easy to set up

Reasons to avoid

Not great for full bands  

Now, some of you may be familiar with Yamaha's previous Stagepas system. The ultra-portable PA was incredibly popular with solo performers and duos and this new system builds on that legacy and turns it into a personal line array system. 

If you're entirely new to sound reinforcement, then this is the PA for you. We found that this unit couldn't be any easier to set up. Simply insert the two spacer units into the 12" subwoofer, and top with the line array head, and that's it. Even making adjustments to the EQ and effects is also super simple - with the use of Yamaha's one-knob EQ and simplified controls. 

Although we feel the Stagepas 1K is a little small for full band setups, this sleek and well-built PA is perfect for singer-songwriters, duos, or even spoken word applications such as speeches, schools, or worship. 

Read our full Yamaha Stagepas 1K MKII review

Best workhorse speaker

6. Mackie SRM 450

The best workhorse speaker


Power output: 1000W
Speakers: 1.4-inch HD driver, 12-inch LF driver
Connectivity: 2 x XLR inputs, 2 x 1/4-inch jack inputs, RCA (phono) stereo input, XLR Thru output
Effects: None
Power supply: Mains (IEC connection)

Reasons to buy

Plenty of power

Reasons to avoid

No effects

The SRM range is, according to Mackie, the most widely-used mobile loudspeaker ever and, while the SRM450 by itself is a self-contained PA, it can also be used as part of a larger system and can have a subwoofer added, so may be a starting point for someone looking to eventually expand their facilities. 

There are two channels, so you can comfortably have two vocals or a vocal and instrument. Channel 2 also has connections for a music player. Onboard DSP provides voicings for PA, DJ, Monitor, and Soloist with various bass roll-offs and mid-cuts, but there is no other EQ.

We found the Mackie SRM450 to have a fairly punchy sound with plenty of low-end - even though it can lack a little high-end definition - and a pair would provide plenty of volume for most situations. 

More options...

So those are our top picks, but there are many more great options to choose from that offer something a little different in terms of features and performance. We've selected some more of our favourites below.

Best PA speakers: LD Systems Maui 28

(Image credit: LD Systems)

7. LD Systems Maui 28 G2

The best line array for small band set ups


Power output: 2000 W (peak)
Speakers: 2 x 8 " low mid drivers, 16 x 3 " mid high drivers
Connectivity: RCA, XLR/6.3 mm jack
Effects: None
Power supply: Mains (IEC connection)

Reasons to buy

Very quick to set up
Easy to use

Reasons to avoid

No reverb

LD Systems' Maui range is loaded with quality line array solutions for various events. Regardless of the size of show you are putting on, you'll be sure to find a PA in this range to cover it. We decided to go with the LD Systems Maui 28 G2 for this guide, as for us, it's the most versatile. 

Like the other all in one systems on this list, the Maui 28 is straightforward to set up. Simply slot the columns into the base, and you're ready to go! We found the sound to be very natural and clear. The twin 8" woofers provide a powerful low-end that will easily handle 808 kicks to the deep bass of rock n roll and everything in between. 

It also has to be said that there is plenty of volume on tap as well, and with DynX DSP onboard, you can be assured that the sound will be distortion-free. So if you are looking for a simple all in one system with an incredible sound, then you really should check out the Maui 28. 

Best PA speakers: JBL EON ONE MK2

(Image credit: JBL)
A simple, powerful and lightweight option from JBL


Power output: 1500 W (peak)
Speakers: 8 x 2" tweeters, 10" woofer
Connectivity: XLR Combo Jacks, 1 - 1/4” Hi-Z, 1 - 1/8”/BT Summed, 1 - X1/4”
Effects: Yes
Power supply: Mains/ Rechargeable battery

Reasons to buy

Incredibly easy to set up
Lightweight and super portable
Clear and punchy sound

Reasons to avoid

The mids can get boxy if you're not careful
The JBL app is rather basic

Building on the previous generation, the new and improved EON ONE MK2 is JBL's latest column PA. Coming fully loaded with user-friendly features such as Bluetooth streaming, a mobile control app and a slew of studio-quality effects, this plucky little PA system is the full package. 

Better yet, you'll be hard-pushed to find an easier system to set up. The EON ONE MK2 literally takes minutes to go from boxed up to gig ready, with each of its components slotting together like Lego. Even if you've never used a PA before, we're confident that you'll be up and running in no time. 

What's more, this lightweight JBL unit comes with an integrated rechargeable battery - hidden inside the column - meaning it can cleverly transform into the ultimate busking rig whenever you are out of reach of mains power. 

Read the full JBL EON ONE MK2 review

Best PA speakers: Buying advice

Close up of HK PA speaker

(Image credit: Future)

Choosing the right PA can seem complicated, but it doesn't have to be. If you follow this simple advice, you should be able to quickly find the best PA system for your situation. 

How many inputs do I need on a PA speaker?

First of all, think about how many instruments will be running through the PA – unlike at large concerts, you're unlikely to be amplifying every instrument on the stage. You'll most likely need enough inputs for the vocals, acoustic guitars, bass, and maybe a keyboard. If you do want to play everything through your system, then you'll need to consider purchasing a mixing console

Look at the total number of XLR mic inputs and any instrument and line inputs and see if it's going to provide everything you need in the immediate future, but also for any projects you might get involved in down the line. Some even come with built-in Bluetooth, which is very handy if you want to stream music throughout the gig.  

What wattage does my PA need to be?

Well, there's no hard and fast rule for how powerful your PA system needs to be. Think about the size of venues you'll be playing regularly (and don't forget your rehearsal space) and consider the rated power output. There are so many variables that will change how loud a speaker will appear. The room size, indoors or outdoors, and the number of audience members, all affect how a speaker performs. So check the manufacturer's guidelines for a rough place to start.  

How easy is a PA to move around?

Suppose you're a solo artist, a busker, or just prefer the easy life. In that case, portability may be a significant factor to consider. All of the systems on this list are easily transported, some more so than others. If you want to minimise the amount of gear you're carrying around, then it's worth checking out an all-in-one system. Some of these even fold down into an easy-to-carry unit.  

What features does my PA system need?

It's worth thinking about how much control you need over the audio. For speech applications, it's not all that important to have an array of effects. Still, for music, you may want to have good quality reverb and a decent EQ section so you can really shape your sound. Many systems these days come with a mobile app. This is very handy if you need to mix the sound from on the stage or even if you want to make adjustments on the fly. 

How much should I spend on a PA system?

PA speakers come in various shapes and sizes and therefore vary wildly in price. However, when it comes to deciding how much to spend, it really comes down to the application of the PA system. 

If you are a working professional playing in a wedding or function band, then your PA system is one of the most essential elements of your setup. At the end of the day, you could be the best sounding band in the world, but if you play through a sub-par PA system, you’re not going to sound as good as you could. Therefore, it’s imperative that you invest in the best PA speakers you can afford. Professional systems can cost anywhere from $/£1,200 - $/£2,000. 

It’s worth noting that if you are a working musician, your shiny new speakers will eventually start paying for themselves. A better sounding band will get more bookings, and if you go for a larger system than you have now, you could also take on larger events. 

For more casual bands or performers, you may want to spend a little less and opt for a system around the $/£800 mark. This will still get you a powerful system, but it may not have the same features found on professional speakers.

Solo artists, or buskers looking for a battery-powered option, can easily pick up a system for around $/£300 to $/£500. But again, you do get what you pay for, so be sure to check if the model you are looking for has all the features you need - if it doesn’t, you may need to go up to the next price bracket. 

How we test PA speakers

The way in which we test a speaker is crucial and will ultimately show off the PA system's strengths and weaknesses. Our first port of call is to collect a selection of reference tracks. These songs need to be professionally produced, cover several genres and display a wide range of frequencies to ensure we are testing the system fairly.

We will then play the PA speaker at various volume levels - paying close attention to the low, mid and high frequencies and how they change at different dB levels. 

Lastly, we will plug in a microphone, acoustic guitar or keyboard and test the sweep of the EQ as well as any other tone-shaping features that may be present, such as compressors and effects. 

All of the above factors, along with the overall built quality, weight and ease of use, are then considered when deciding if a product makes the grade and is worthy of being included in our guide to the best PA speakers. 

Read more about how we test music making gear and services at MusicRadar.

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Trevor Curwen has played guitar for several decades – he's also mimed it on the UK's Top of the Pops. Much of his working life, though, has been spent behind the mixing desk, during which time he has built up a solid collection of the guitars, amps and pedals needed to cover just about any studio session. He writes pedal reviews for Guitarist and has contributed to Total Guitar, MusicRadar and Future Music among others.

With contributions from