Over To You: Should I Buy A Sub-Woofer With My New PA System?

PA system

A sub can add considerable "thump" to your PA system, but at often considerable additional cost too. Is it essential, asks our reader today?

Reader Jon Baker writes: "I'm relatively new to the digital DJing scene, and as such haven't got my own PA system yet, although I plan on investing in one shortly. I tend to play predominately music which is very bass-heavy, yet only have a budget of around £350 for a pair of preferably powered PA speakers (poor student times). I usually only play gigs in small to medium sized venues. As my music is so bass-heavy, would it really sound OK on such a budget system, ie one within my price range, or should I wait considerably longer and purchase a powered sub at the same time? Any views appreciated."

Digital DJ Tips says:

It's true that you can get away without one. Speaker positioning is a real essential, and get this right and even with a modest PA it is possible to cover a small area - ie your dancefloor - reasonably effectively. However, especially when you haven't got much raw power to spare, having the extra warmth in the bass can make all the difference.

Bass is not very directional, so the full 'thump' of you sub-woofer will carry throughout a venue, then you can use your mid/top cabinets to provide the clarity and fill the sound in where it matters most (again, decent positioning will cover your dancefloor). This way, a modest PA can actually just about suffice in situations where a two-speaker PA without the extra bass wouldn't.

For weddings and such? Definitely not worth it. For bass-heavy music like you play? I'd instinctively say it's worth having the sub.

Over to you: Should Jon add extra bass in the form of a powered sub, or invest in a sub-less PA and maybe add it later? Have you done one or the other? What was your experience? Please let us know in the comments.

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  1. Honestly - keep on saving until you have more money to spend. You won't find anything that doesn't sound like ass in your pricerange.

    I know, being a student and not having the money sucks, but we've all been there. Only I can't get rid of the feeling that these days everybody has to get everything right-f***ing-now.. It took me several years until I could buy the equipment I wanted.

    You should at least double your budget, but having £1000-1500 at your disposition won't hurt either...

    If you want to make it as a DJ not only your skills count. You may be the best mixer in the world, if the screaming highs of your clipping speakers keep on hurting your guests' ears while the bass is virtually non-existent you probably won't get too many bookings

    • sameoldsong says:

      totally agree^^

      speakers are the most important part of your setup. transducers (e.g., speakers, headphones, phono cartridges) are considerably harder to get right than other components (e.g., audio interfaces, cd players, turntables, mixers). unfortunately, high-quality transducers can be pretty expensive.

      when it comes to PA, what you get for GBP 350 is trash. as the previous poster said, what at least until you have GBP 1000-1500. (even with solutions in that price range, you're gonna have to make quite a few compromises). for now, you're better off by not providing the PA yourself (or by renting it if you have to).

  2. DJ Squared says:

    Well the one big question is how many people are at a normal party for you? If the answer is 20 - 40 people then you can probably find a solution in your budget. Like a Mackie SRM-450. They (IMHO) are not the cleanest sounding speaker but they do have quite a bit of bass for the size/price of the box. Get one of those and then start saving.

    However, if the answer is 100+ people then there is really no good solution in your price range that I can think of. At this point then your best bet would be to start saving money and doing research on what you really want and then start saving and/or applying for credit if you think you can get the gigs to pay it off on time.

    In the mean time, you can always look to rent/hire out a PA when you need it.

  3. I think you should start small and think long term. What I mean by that is buy one quality speaker at a time. Look at the best you can afford and just add them as the funds become available. I would start with a good 15" then buy a second. 2 normal PA's should be fine for most applications. Then buy the sub (or two) and build it up.

    The most important thing is not to rush. Quality of quantity will always win. You could also borrow speakers until you get your own.

  4. oh got one mate, being a student myself i can tell you buying a sub is such a bonus to your system if you play to your own age range, and
    i imagine you are if your playing bass music.

    They don't have to be expensive either. You can get a 1kw skytec sub for around £100 with a decent frequency cut off, and i know skytec isn't the best made but for a student on a budget i'd definitely consider it.

  5. Short and sweet.....A sub isn't crucial but it helps out a lot when you have people on the dance floor. Some times a track you are playing might have really high mids which can sound great with a sub but can just be annoying without one. You can always look into renting speakers, it is normally very cheap and if you do it often enough the dealer will take care of you; making sure you get the best they have, maybe even lower the price. Always worth a look. Good Luck To You

  6. Bill Dunn says:

    I've got two Mackie Thump active speakers and I can't recommend them enough for small/medium venues. Great bass (a little too much actually), not too big and very loud. They cost £250 each though so you'd have to stretch your budget a little...

  7. id rent 4 now and save for the long run ... oh and why buy new 2 ??? <<<

  8. Great question and one I was asking when I picked up the first part of my PA. My problem is deciding on a decent make/model of powered sub-woofer since most reviews say they aren't as good as non-powered ones (too heavy, etc.) or they are super expensive.

    I agree with other commentators, definitely consider buying one good 15" 2-way powered cab to start. That's what I did. I output in mono and have plenty of power & bass for even a small outdoor space.

    Once you have that one speaker you can start throwing small parties and once you start throwing small parties you can start collecting $ (as cover, tips/donations, bar %, etc.) and if you're half-decent at getting people to show up you can have the money for the next solid addition in two or three months!

  9. rattfink says:

    I've been looking at bolstering my PA system with a subwoofer but I'm not sure about brands or sizes. Should I go 15" or 18"? are the Behringer 1500D/1800D kits any good? I'm looking for something with good value and durability but not too pricy 😀

  10. I wouldnt get one simply because as a student I would be worried about getting the gear to the gig! i had a shit box sedan and could barely fit in my flight cases and 2 studio monitors, throw in 2 PA speakers and theres not too much space for a sub... subs are typically maaaaasive

  11. Dj Lyts Out says:

    I have a behringer b315d and it kicks a$$. Currently trying to find a great deal on a second

  12. I have an inexpensive solution :

    I got around this by buying a subwoofer in a wedge from car radio store for about $100 (15" Sony Xploda or something...)


    Then bought a powered subwoofer amp unit (about $80) from Jaycar electronics, cut a hole into the wedge and fitted that in & wired it up (wasnt too difficult).


    As everyone knows those car stereo subwoofers are ridiculously loud. The amp has volume control and also you can filter how much bass frequency is output.

    Go forth and throb !

  13. I trust JBL's period. SOLID company. I run one JRX 100 + a 15' Sound Factor and it powers a room for 100-250 easily. I bought an amp and speakers for $1100 then added a 12in Resound from Samson for $50.
    My concern at this stage isn't a sub but an EQ.

    Personally, I have come to realize that an EQ is the next step in the equation because you want certain frequencies to be more present at different periods of the night. Especially if your at a gig where there are different genres being played.

    Our Saturday nights feature a wide range of styles:

    (Hip/hop/reggae/electro/breakbeat/Berlin Glitch/Techno/Deep House)

    Does anyone have any suggestions for a relatively cheap EQ that costs between $150-350.

    I heard Dbx is decent

    • dbx is good value and often available at discounted prices. I use one of their active crossovers and it does the biz, low noise, and never given any trouble for all the years I've used it.

  14. Thomas Scott says:

    A subwoofer will make so much difference to the bass heavy music that you play, it lets the audience not only hear the bass, but also feel it as well! I bought an 18inch yamaha sub and I dont regret it at all, it has given me an incredible edge over the other DJ's that play where I'm from and I'm from the Gold Coast Australia and theres a lot.
    So yes.

  15. Get used gears! Twice the quality for half the price. If you don't use subs, the speaker MUST have 15" woofers.
    Mackie's "Thump" have a lot of bass, but the don't play very loud (122dB).

    Get a pair of decent 15" speakers and wait with the subs. You can always get subs later, but is you buy shit stuff now just to get the subs, you have to change ALL of the speakers when you realize they suck......

  16. Try boosting perceived bass with full-range cabs by using the Aphex Aural Exciter (with Big Bottom). I use one if it's the sort of gig where lugging a sub or two isn't appropriate, but I still want more bass than the full-range cabs are capable of on their own. I still use it when I do take the subs (Ho! Ho!!) No extra amp is necessary. See if you can borrow one to try out, or get a demo at a good studio gear store.

  17. Get a sub. No questions, you need it.

    Electronic music needs the bottom end for the crowd to enjoy it. Producers spend a lot of time creating it and it creates the basis of the music.

    Save for the sub.

  18. DJ Sean Crawford says:

    One thing to remember is you can have the best mixer, software etc that money can buy, but that all means nothing if you don't have quality speakers to get your sound out to your audience. I agree with some of the other posts about starting out piece by piece as you can afford it with some decent speakers. As for a sub woofer it really depends on the type of venues you're going to be playing in. For smaller venues you could probably get away with a pair of quality 15's to start with. For larger venues you would probably need the sub. Also something to think about when planning out your speaker system is purchasing a dbx drive rack unit later on, it makes all the difference in the world in helping you get the best sound out of your speakers :-)

  19. Our company has about 6 pairs of powered subs. QSC, Mackie and some JBL. We actually bought a new set of cheaper subs at Guitar Center. They are the Harbinger 18s and WOW! Only $599 each and they sounded killer! We were kind of concerned with the quality of a cheap sub, but they really are nice. I highly reccomend checking them out.

  20. I often get asked by younger DJ's what speakers to buy....and I tell them....don't....don't buy untill you have tried....go hire speakers from different sound hire companies or I would even hire them stuff...untill they know what they like, and untill they have money enough to buy good stuff....it may sound cool to buy cheap stuff and even use stuff from back of the wagon...but when you get well paying gigs..you want to look good like you know what you are doing and the clients want to know they have spent their money well. Old sub wedges from back of the wagon are ok for bedroom dj parties...and parties at your friend place...but please think twice about going out in the real party world where clients are willing to pay thousands a nite for you to work for them. Personally after 35 years in this industry I still do what I was taught to do when I started in the 1975...look good, sound good and play good....as for subs or not....I use double 15's...used to have JBL's when I could get them cheap....and now I use Behringers VP2520...still plenty of punch and easy to carry....and if I have a big wedding or event where I want background music before the dancing in the floor starts...I use 4 single 15's on stands, Yamaha's in this case...got them at a good price....when it comes to thumping the dance floor, I just wind up the double 15's and have fun.
    On bigger jobs like club gigs where people expect to see Subs...I haul out my WRX 18' subs horns...too big to carry normally and not always necessary, not much more bass than double 15's but they look good with double 15's on top.
    Now if you only use single 15's on a stand then 18' subs..even a single 18' ported sub will give better bass kick than your 15' on a stick will do and you will get even better response if you get two 18' subs and use a pole for your single 15's on top of each sub...they look cool like that.
    Because of how much gear I have...3 pairs of dble 15's, 4 pairs of sgle 15's and 1 pair of WRX 18' subs....I can set up different rigs for different jobs in the same evening...a wedding would get dble 15's for the floor and 2 or 4 sgles for the background music...a teens party would get a pair of 15's & 18' subs combo and the general dance party would just get dble 15's...sometimes 2 pair of dble 15's around a dance floor...heaps of thump and easy to set...mean while for a new DJ...go hire gear untill you can afford good stuff ok..

  21. YES. Here's my reason. By having a sub you will save yourself A LOT of trouble from blown speakers. When your tops have to push because of the bass it will cause your (budget) speakers to blow out! No one ever told me this when I first started djing and I couldn't understand why my speakers (Mackie HD1531's) would keep blowing out. After I added a sub I never had the problem again. I've also switched to the QSC K and KW series and couldn't be happier :) But for the type of music I play, and the type it looks like you'll be playing, GET A SUB!!

  22. DJ Jay Crisp says:

    Hi DJ Jon Baker,

    I also worked on a low budget and I can tell you that everyone is going to tell save save and buy buy buy, but at the same time you can't pass up on the opportunities presented to you as music artist and trust me it is no fun having to borrow your someone's stuff all the time. Renting will probably (at lease where i live) cost as much as your income.

    What I did was research some real cheap speakers with good reviews, I found a pair GLi 12 inch, @300 watts and 1400 watts peak (each); these were passive speaker cost less. Then I got Bridgeable 4 channel amp from Pyle. Finally i got passive sub with a built-in crossover a none major name brand. This was not something to rock the great outdoors or any major clubs, but it did rock out small to mid size environment.

    This cut my cost major. Placement of the PAs is the key to success. Make sure your PA covers the room elevated enough over the crowd, so you sound travel stray across the room. the sub bass is bidged and it took care of itself so you don't have worry to much about that.

    This should get you bye till you start collecting enough to upgrade. We all have to start somewhere. The quality and the selection of you music is what will get you paid. The bigger speakers will call for bigger mean of transportation (more money).

    This is a starter system not something u will when any awards with.

    DJ Jay Crisp

  23. I picked up the MATRIX B-52. 2 12" pa speakers and a 18" sub. ALL powered. I do parties. IT DEFINITELY IS A GREAT STARTER KIT. Plenty of BASS and mids and tweets are are all there. I love this set up. I was extremely sceptical when buying. I looked and listened to everything out there. I did a lot of research and this setup kept coming up. I trusted the reviews and went ahead and ordered it. I am so happy with it. Not one complaint from any of the parties I've done. Looking to buy at least another sub or entire 2nd kit. But as a starter this is great....

  24. Has anyone considered new active TS112/5A 12/15" range from ALTO or Samson Auro D12/15's? with or without Subs? - coming in at around £500 for a pair

    Obviously we would all like a pair of EV, Cewin Vega, HK or RCF, but I'm hearing very good feedback from both ALTO and SAMSON's new gear but before I take the dip I wan't some 'REAL' feedback from DJ's.

    I've been a mobile DJ doing weddings and parties in the UK for around 10 years, I used to have a pair of mid range passive speakers but have been using a friends pair of Mackie active 450's now for a few years..

    I've heard the Alto's in a few stores, and wouldn't jump in and buy anything, so let's hear some feedback!

  25. As Matt I would also like to know about these ALTO active subs. Would the 12" one (TS112sub) be just "ok" for a very small venue/room??

  26. The wonderfull thing about music equipment is that you can keep adding to it. Your money never has to go to waste. You can buy a moderate pair of speakers and then later when you have the money you can run the new and the old pair! Then later you can add a sub or two into the mix. You can always find a gig within your current quality. Then as you pay to add on to your system more gigs will open up to you which will pay off your upgrades!

  27. Sorry to hijack an old thread, but...

    I'm wanting to add dedicated sub(s) to my system, though I'm old enough to know better than committing to anything too heavy.

    I run two pairs of 15" full range speakers (one pair for small gigs). Behringer Europro B1520's.

    So my question would be...
    Is running a dedicated 15" sub going to be "underkill" while running 15" tops?

    Looking at Alto TS SUB 15 (refurbs with warranty $295 shipped makes it cheap enough to give it a shot), though I'm concerned that I should be looking at 18's. Again, though, trying to keep the weight down. The TS SUB 15 (powered) is only like 60 lbs (the 18 is less than 80lbs, though)!

    Mostly play 50-150 people in smaller auditoriums, though occasional a high school gymnasium or courtyard.

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