Get good advice before you buy musical equipment

Buying musical equipment can be a minefield if you don’t know what you’re doing. One of our customers came a little unstuck – I wish she’d contacted me sooner. The rule of thumb is, always seek advice from someone in the know BEFORE you go spending money on equipment that may not be up to the job. Better still, ask more than one person – ask a few people, search the internet, look for reviews from people who’ve already bought the same equipment and read their opinions…

Hi Kenny, Just purchased an Ion Rock Blocker with ipod dock, which is a portable speaker/pa system. I thought it might be good to use in small venues, does have quite good reviews. Still to buy the ipod yet but wondered if you thought this system is a good idea? If the ipod is docked on the Rock Blocker, surely I would need to use a remote control. Do you know if I could use the apple remote with this? Also, which ipod would you recommend? Any advice would be much appreciated. 

Hi Karen

I took a look at the Ion Rock Blocker and it looks like a very neat and compact little unit. Of course I can’t tell the quality of the sound without actually hearing it but if they have created it specially for an iPod then I would imagine they would need to give it a fairly decent hifi quality of sound.

My only reservations are with the power output though. I see they rate it at 22 watts and that’s not very much.

It would probably be ok for singing in your living room but I doubt you would be able to use this in public, even in a very small venue. The noise alone of people talking in a room would easily drown out 22w of music. Also I see there’s no effect unit built in so you will need to use a separate reverb or echo unit for your microphone.

Regarding the best iPod to buy, I personally like the iPod classic as it is robust and was designed specially just to play music (they designed the classic long before Apple decided to make all their devices do a million different things like on the iPod Touch etc). Either way though, the iPod classic or the iPod touch should slot in to the Ion Rock Block fine.

There are lots of remotes for iPods on the market and you will have a problem if your particular remote needs to connect to the port at the bottom of the iPod to work (because you’re already using that port to slot your iPod in to the Ion Rock Blocke). But if you have a remote that doesn’t need to use that port then you should be fine.

Hi Kenny
Thank you for your response and comments on the Ion Block Rocker. Disappointed to learn that the power output of 22w would not be adequate even for a small venue. Being a complete technophobic and with no knowledge or know how on the equipment needed for performing, I thought the Block Rocker would be ideal for me, buy the ipod, download the backing tracks, connect to the Block Rocker and hey presto, I’m ready for performing! NOT! Apparently you can connect two Block Rockers, would the power output of two linked Block Rockers be adequete for small venues? Noted your comments on the lack of effect for the microphone. If the Block Rocker x 2 linked was suitable for small venues, could a reverb or echo unit be conncted to it.? Thanks again Kenny for taking the time to look at the Block Rocker for me and also for your recommendation of the ipod classic, much appreciated. 

Hi Karen

Unfortunately I don’t think two Block Rockers together would suffice.

For a small venue with, say, 30 or 40 people you should really be looking to have around 100 to 200 watts at least.

As a rule of thumb, you should always try to have a bit more amplification than you need because if your sound system is putting out it’s full output then you risk getting really bad distortion or poor sound quality of sound (or both).

For a small venue (e.g. a venue which is maybe two or three times the size of your living room and can hold 20 – 40 people) you could probably get away with something like the 160 watt Yamaha StagePass entry level system.

Obviously for bigger venues of 50 – 70 people, you would really need the bigger 300 watt Yamaha StagePass system.

For a venue with 100 people you’d need the bigger one again – the 500 watt Yamaha StagePass sytem.

I’ve just picked the Yamaha Stagepass systems above because they come in different models and sizes so make it easy to illustrate the type of power you need for different size venues, but there are actually thousands of different PA systems out there, all shapes and sizes and prices (although I have to say the Yamahas are really good quality for their price and I would recommend any of them to anyone on a budget).

Word of mouth is always a good thing to go by before buying something, so ask other entertainers who perform in the venues you intend performing in what kind of PA system they use, what power output it has, and how good it is at doing the job (for example can they detect it starting to struggle by the end of the night when volumes are higher, audiences are noisier and it’s working a bit under pressure)?

Another thing to watch out for is power/volume ratings for speakers which are sometimes given in watts PMPO instead of watts RMS. The only power rating you want to take notice of is the watts in RMS. For example, a speaker manufacturer may claim their speakers have 1000 watts PMPO and you may think that’s a lot, but it could be the equivalent of only 40 or 50 watts RMS (there’s no real industry standard for measuring PMPO so converting the numbers is pretty much a guessing game).

Bottom line is, if a manufacturer is not willing to publish the power output of their product in watts RMS you have to ask yourself why. Give these speaker manufacturers a wide berth if you come across them…!