The minimalist movement is not showing signs of slowing down.
Small this and less of that, it seems no one wants to own or carry more than they have to.
But if you are on the market for the best portable sound system for events, you likely have more qualifiers than just size.
A sure bet is at the top of your list of must-have features will be an inbuilt rechargeable battery and wireless connectivity.
Yet, every other option out there seems to carry these and even more attractive features, which makes finding the best one for your needs not as straightforward.
I recently set out to research the best portable sound system for events. And today I will discuss my top picks and how I qualified them.
What is a Portable Sound System?
A standard sound system has three key components, namely input (transduction), mixing (and equalization), and amplification.
These three typically work in tandem and need each other for the system to operate optimally.
In its basic form, a sound system, which is also known as public address (PA) or sound reinforcement system, works in the following steps and order:
- Captures a sound using a microphone or receives it through an audio player,
- Processes the sound by mixing in different sources and adding effects to enrich it,
- Amplifies the sound using a power amplifier to boost its volume and weight, and
- Delivers it to the audience (or monitors it for the performer or sound technician) using speakers.
Now, traditionally sound systems have been large, solid and wired installations, with mixers, dedicated speakers and monitors that could not be uninstalled easily for movement between venues.
The systems were, thus, not designed to be portable.
Connections between the input devices, the mixing console, and the speakers and amplifiers were all wired. Bluetooth fixed this in a big way, almost completely removing the need for any cords.
And even though batteries have been with us for a while now, the majority of these sound systems could only be powered using A/C power.
Even what would later be described as portable sound systems were modular towers with array speakers that, even though they could be taken apart for easier transportation, were still too bulky to be portable.
The wireless connections back then were also not very reliable as you would struggle to get a clean sound in the same space there are other wireless signals.
Those days are, thankfully, well behind us.
Consumer Tastes and Needs Have Evolved and New Customer Groups Have Emerged
There is still a market for the larger, immovable sound systems.
But the rapidly evolving needs of performers and the emergence of entirely unique consumer groups have meant growth focused sound system manufacturers have needed to adapt their products to new market realities.
Above everything else, the new sound systems needed to be portable, both in terms of the ease of transportation and accessibility of their power sources.
What emerged are compact, lighter, wireless sound systems that are battery powered.
In the market for these portable PA systems are small performers who see value in going to where their audiences are instead of the other way round.
You will also find portable sound systems used for trade shows, corporate events, wedding ceremonies, as well as sport practice, and many other outdoor events where large numbers of people must be addressed.
How to Choose the Best Portable Sound System for Events
There is a set of attributes that sound systems must have to be deemed truly portable. But how portable should a sound system be?
And what are these attributes we talk about?
Again, you may want to know how important portability is when set against the overall quality of the sound.
Does the all important portability mean sacrificing some of the sound’s quality?
Portability vs Sound Quality?
To be portable, a sound system needs to be light enough to carry. Some portable speakers are even small enough to throw into your backpack.
However, for a PA system, portability may mean something that’s just compact and light enough to travel with. Still, you will find that the bulkier portable sound systems will be no larger than a medium sized suitcase.
What makes a sound system truly portable is, in fact, the ability to have everything you need, including the mixing console, power amp, speakers, and rechargeable battery housed in one portable unit.
If there is anything you need to connect, like a microphone or audio players, it is preferred that they be connected wirelessly using bluetooth.
But portability on its own will not make a sound system great:
The Design of a Sound System’s Speakers Affects its Sound Quality
Whatever the size, every speaker will have three basic components, namely the electromagnetic coil, permanent magnet, and cone.
The size of the cone generally determines how the speaker responds to the different frequencies in every sound.
Smaller cones, which you find on tweeters handle high frequencies better, while the larger cones used on woofers will pronounce bass sounds better.
For that reason, the better quality sound systems will have more than one speaker in the same unit, each one a different size.
When used together on the same sound system, these speakers will produce a more rounded sound that stays clear right through the frequency range.
It thus follows that if you prefer your sound system to be especially compact, it is likely you will be sacrificing some bass response, no matter how much power the system has.
The Best Sound Systems Aren’t Necessarily the Most Expensive
While it is true that you get what you pay for, price isn’t always the best or the only measure with which to gauge a sound system’s quality.
The price usually points to the quality of materials used in the construction of a product. But a manufacturer may still lack the skill to use the available technology to produce a quality sound, despite using the best materials.
A poor design may mean a speaker has a box that is just too big for it, resulting in the sound reverberating inside. On another hand, poor workmanship may leave the drivers loosely secured causing them to rattle.
Another factor to remember is the quality of a sound does not always mean the sound system will be durable.
A more skilled company may produce loud and good sounding PA systems while using cheap materials. The cones for example can be made from paper, aluminium, polypropylene, or ceramic, which all have different strengths.
With veneer and lacquered finishes all ensuring the sound system can look as aesthetically pleasing as possible, your final choice can sound and look good without necessarily being the most durable.
Be Realistic With Your Expectations
There is nothing wrong with searching for a portable sound system with the best of everything. But it is important to temper your expectations.
For example, very few of the available options offer a truly surround sound that hits everyone of, say, the 200 wedding party guests from all sides.
The cheaper portable sound systems usually promise sound quality that barely qualify as a full surround sound.
If you are a five piece band, you will expect your sound system to spot a mixer with more than five channels to take all your instruments, preamps and everything else you may need to connect. But mixers on portable sound systems rarely have that many channels.
The long and short of it is the more compact, portable sound systems will give you less control, are not as customizable, and offer sound that is inferior in both power and clarity when compared to traditional, larger PA systems.
Most portable sound systems will thus only be suitable for smaller gatherings of 100 to a few thousand people.
You May Have to Pay More for Better Tonal Quality and Sound Effects
Again, while the best portable sound system will provide a couple of input plugs, very few will spot more than the one output plug.
So if you are a DJ, for example, and you want to daisy chain a couple more speakers to get a more surround sound, you will have to hook up a secondary mixer to get more line out jacks.
Sound effects come at a premium, too.
Other than a band equalizer and the usual bass and treble controls, the only sound effect you can expect on the cheaper sound systems is reverb. Some don’t even come with any effects.
To get all the functionality you need for your particular needs, you will have to be prepared to splurge on a more expensive option.
Best Portable Sound System Reviews
Up to now we have deconstructed portable sound systems and pointed out their pros and cons. Let’s now consider the best options currently available on the market.
Though not top of the range, the sound systems we will review produce sounds of very good quality and will be adequate as long as your sound amplification needs are moderate.
ION Audio Tailgater (iPA77)
The ION Audio Tailgater is a popular budget choice for portable sound system buyers.
For starters, the sound system has over 2,000 reviews on Amazon, along with the prestigious Amazon Best Choice badge. It is fair to say people are generally satisfied with the ION Audio Tailgater.
They class it as a tailgater and, yes, some may pull a face if you dare call it a full fledged sound system. Pro musicians may not even give it a second look.
But it has all the essential features of a small PA system, including wireless and RCA and XLR input options with the ability to mix in different audio sources. It also packs quite a punch in the power stakes.
Other Features and Benefits
- Reinforced corners is one of several signs the sound system has rugged build,
- 50 watts of power will be about adequate for solo singers who perform for small crowds,
- Battery gives 50 hours of playback on average volume (most people will be happy with less than half that),
- USB charging port will keep everyone’s phone charged so you can stay in touch with friends and family should you happen to be partying at some remote beach.
- Bluetooth coverage of up to 100 feet,
- Gives a acceptably fluent sound.
- Perhaps an unrealistic expectation for the price, but a lack of audio line outs means you can’t connect another speaker to get a more surround sound,
- The included mic is a cheap quality.
BEHRINGER EUROPORT MPA40BT-PRO
You will know from its suitcase-like design that the BEHRINGER EUROPORT MPA40BT-PRO is designed to be portable.
It even comes with a retractable handle and two wheels so you can pull it instead of ‘carrying’ it. So it isn’t just compact and light enough to carry. You can actually travel with it, even with public transport (if you had to).
The sound system has bluetooth connectivity, a four channel onboard mixer, and an inbuilt battery that lasts up to 12 hours. With all these attributes, the sound system can be taken and used virtually anywhere, which makes it truly portable.
But, what about the actual sound?
Other Features and Benefits
- Class D amplifier with 40 watts of power won’t bust guests’ eardrums but is enough for addressing conference guests and players during football practice,
- 4 input channels and 2 mic preamps means you have scope to plug in your mics while you have other sources wired in at the same time, which makes for truly interactive conferencing,
- An A/C power option allows you the freedom to give your batteries a rest where it is possible (power cord is also provided),
- Long battery playback means you can take your wedding after-party deep into the night (the battery gauge helps too),
- Bluetooth streaming is, as always, endlessly convenient,
- With its build quality, the sound system also sells at a great price.
- It probably isn’t for you if you are looking for something to amplify your instruments, or for vocals, since there are no inbuilt effects,
Bose S1 Pro
Personally, I feel the Roland BA-330 is a better option over this Bose S1 Pro Multi-Position PA System, seeing they are pegged at the same price point.
The one friction point, at least where this article is concerned, is that the Roland BA-330 lacks the important attribute of a rechargeable battery.
However, both can be trusted for their reliability, which is what the Roland brand comfortably beats its direct competitors at.
This Bose S1 Pro is lightweight and surprisingly sturdy. It will be a great choice for gigging musicians, DJs and other performers. An onboard 3-channel mixer as well as different reverb effects and bass and treble equalizer give you scope to adjust your sound’s tonal quality.
That the unit has several sitting positions also caught my eye. This smart design allows the sound to travel all over and really fill up a space.
And whether you are streaming spotify or playing personal playlists from your smartphone, this sound system has excellent bluetooth connectivity.
Other Features and Benefits
- Two XLR ¼ inputs allow you to connect a mixer and increase the number of channels,
- Super quick setup makes it a handy mini PA system for coffee shop and small bar performers,
- Remarkably compact, but don’t let the size fool you because it packs quite a punch,
- Has a very quick charge mode, meaning you won’t waste too much time charging it while you rush to be ready for a show,
- It also uses an internal power supply, which means you will not have to worry about hooking it up to a proprietary charger,
- The rechargeable battery is not included and has to be bought separately, which adds to the expense of buying this sound system.
JBL EON ONE PRO
Ever since Bose debuted the ‘line array’ portable speaker rig with the Bose L1, the slender stackable speaker towers that produced better large area coverage has become the standard for pro level portable sound systems.
For something cheaper that Bose L1 is possibly your next best option.
If you are a pro performer or event organizer, you can do far worse than this JBL EON ONE PRO. Compared with other sound systems at its price point, the sound quality of the JBL EON Pro is unmatched.
The JBL EON Pro is a made-to-be-portable sound system, complete with an onboard mixer and amp, that is built to be used in many different environments, including where you have no access to A/C power.
The sound system spots a design that, with a 6-speaker tower - high frequency unit - that’s elevated with spacers, gives it exceptional frequency response.
The inbuilt mixer is one of the sound system’s strongest features. Even though you can hook another mixer to expand your inputs, the inbuilt mixer makes setup so easy and fast.
Other Features and Benefits
- A 6-channel mixer, with the first two accepting both line and mic inputs,
- Channel 1 and 2 also have independent volume dials and adjustable reverb, treble, and bass to really accentuate your sound,
- Bluetooth streaming capability expands your music input choices,
- An RCA out enables you to add a personal monitor or recording device,
- Everything, including the tower and cables can be safely stored away in a cavity on the unit itself,
- Sturdy build quality, with an ergonomic handle that makes it easy to carry the unit,
- Rechargeable lithium battery gives up to 6 hours of playing time.
- The inbuilt mixer isn’t as loud as musicians and DJ may like.
Anchor Audio Beacon Line Array
As you would expect for something selling at almost twice the price, the Beacon Line Array takes the standout features of the JBL EON Pro and makes them better.
It then adds even more features, making it possibly the coolest portable PA system around.
Standing 6 feet tall, the Beacon Line Array focuses your sound right at the crowd, which is where you want it.
With the speaker tower folded and stored away in a cavity at the back of the sound system, the unit looks like a suitcase on wheels. And, using the provided handle, you can easily pull it to wherever you want it.
The 125 watts delivers a loud 120 decibels of sound, enough to address/entertain up to 2,500 people. The line array tower alone has 8 speakers of high fidelity, while the base has 3 woofers. The speakers and woofers are light but loud.
Other Features and Benefits
- Line input options that include RCA, ¾”, and 35mm plugs, along with 2 wireless mic receivers,
- Up to 150 feet wireless microphone range, which means won’t need to worry about the tangled mess caused by cords,
- That the line array speaker tower folds makes the sound system wonderfully portable,
- The retractable handle and wheels also makes the Beacon Line Array easy to travel with,
- Comes with a wireless microphone and a cable for hooking up your iPad or music player,
- Bluetooth range of 200 feet is among the best for a portable PA system,
- Up to eight hours of battery life means it will take more than a few football practice sessions before the sound system needs a recharge.
- It could have benefited from more than the one output plug.
And Our Pick is…
The JBL EON ONE PRO.
Admittedly, the Anchor Audio Beacon Line Array unlocks more features that give you more control and better quality of sound. But at almost half the price, the JBL EON ONE PRO gives you more bang for your buck.
If you have an event you must arrange and are short on budget, the ION Audio Tailgater is our budget pick. But if you can spend a little more, the BEHRINGER EUROPORT MPA40BT-PRO will be the next best option.
Going up the price scale, plenty of good things have been said of the Bose S1 Pro and its stable mate, the Bose L1.
For the overall pick, however, we have to vouch for the JBL EON ONE PRO as the best portable sound system for events.
This sound system won us over with its range of features, sturdy build, and very competitive price.
My guess is you are going to have bundles of fun with it.