Alto 110a Professional

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Front view

It was a long-standing need to buy a Public address system for the home. Yes, for the home. So, why would you need a PA system for the home. Well, one reason is party music. You need a PA system if you are going to have an outdoor party/event. See this post for a good discussion. In an open space or a large backyard, it doesn’t help to have a piddly music system blasting at full volume and expect all the guests who are spread out to hear and enjoy the music. Depending on the indoor space, a fairly powerful set of speakers will be required. If you have indoor audio setup, it should be good enough when you just a few people, but with more and the noise the music can get drowned. How ‘powerful’ should the speakers be? That is really a question for the experts and I am not one. Then, how did I go about selecting a set of or  PA speakers? After reading much on the internet and reviewing specs of many PA systems, I zoned in about 300 Watts of sound output for a party of 100 people in the backyard. Wattage output isn’t really what you should go by, but for the layman that spec might be good enough. I had seen a dual Samson, 150W speakers and they did very well in a conference hall kind of setting with 200 people. Thus 300W of mean continuous output should be good for outdoor space, is what I thought. A few confirmations on the net (there is varying opinions though) and I decided I won’t research anymore. Also I have been thinking of buying a PA system for the past six months and had given up on the idea thinking I will at some point get a whole-home audio system done. But what about outdoor events? Recently I got this idea about conducting yoga classes at our backyard in summer and it would help to have a PA system. One place I started with was 123dj.com. They have some great prices, but their customer service isn’t all that reputable. They also sell a little dated material and hence you can find good prices. But looking at Amazon.com, I found what I wanted for lesser price; Amazon charges taxes though and the price came up to the same, but when it comes to returning stuff there is no better place than Amazon, right?

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Back view – two channel mixer, XLR/1/4″ inputs; mixer output and Contour switch

Anyway, which system did I select? I had done some reasearch and had honed in on six systems in the past – see this post. All these were very good choices, this time around I thought I don’t want to spend anymore than $200 and $150 would be great. As I started looking again, I narrowed down on a Pylepro, but reading reviews I found reliability to be a problem. I didn’t want to spend any  money that would be for an unreliable product. I didn’t want to buy a Yamaha, a JBL or a Mackie for reasons of cost. I had almost decided on Behringer 210D /205D EUROLIVE. Both have a class-D amplifier; a class D amp will reduce the heat generated and this is important in long running sessions. Of course, for home use this isn’t so much of an issue, but the feature became a prime consideration. The 205D is very attractive as it weighs the least for a PA system at about 9 lbs. The only issue is its output is 150W which is touch-n-go for an outdoor setting. Also Behringer quality/reliability has been a hit or miss if you read about it.

ts110a_detail3_smallAs I kept looking I came across Alto TRUESOUND series and read good reviews about reliability. Many complaints about the tweeters going bust can be on the forums, but this isn’t unique to ALTO. For $237, I would get 600W of peak power and 300W continuous. It also had a Class-D amplifier and built-in circuitry for protection against excessive inputs. It had a built-in mixer which wasn’t my requirement as I have a Yamaha 102cg mixer myself. But most of the system with built-in amplifiers come with a mixer anyway. Why do you want a built-in amplifier? Because – otherwise you will need an external amplifier. An amplifier basically ‘increases’ or amplifies the volume of input sound. If you are supplying the music through your iPhone or smart phone, the output is good enough to be loud for your ears but not for a large space, right? Hence you need an amplifier. Speakers with amplifiers are called active speakers in that they need power supply of their own. You get a lot of specifications for much lesser money if you go for passive speakers. Passive speakers are driven from output of an external amplifier. With a built-in amplifier, you reduce the amount of equipment.

When you buy an active speaker the input types will be important. If the cabinet can support 1/4″ TRS inputs or XLR inputs, it would be ideal as these sort of inputs are driven by what is called as balanced wires. Balanced wires basically reduce losses of transmission (of sound) when the wire lengths get longer (than say 6-10 feet).  XLR inputs also support phantom power – additional power can be transmitted through the wires to a microphone that needs phantom power. Such additional power is necessary to drive high-end microphones. High-end doesn’t mean expensive, just for your information.

I also wanted a speaker that didn’t weigh a ton. The Alto weighing at about 27 lbs looked attractive. It also has a metal grille and lightweight polypropylene cabinet making it sturdy and damage-resistant for transporting – just in case I wanted to move it around. The 110a is a 10-inch speaker. The bigger the speaker (12″ or 15″), they are capable of producing more output but they also tend to get heavier. With the 12″, the weight goes up to 32lbs. You can check out the detailed specs here. Other attractive features – it is a 2-way speaker, that means it can reproduce both high frequency and lower frequency due to built-in tweeters and woofers. Else you will need a separate woofer for the lower frequencies.

TS110A
ACTIVE 600 WATT 2-WAY 10″ LOUDSPEAKER
  • 600 Watts Class D power
  • 10” low-frequency transducer, 1” neodymium driver
  • Two Mic/Line combo inputs with independent volume controls
  • XLR output to link speakers
  • Lightweight, trapezoidal cabinet with handle
  • Stand and pole-mountable or flyable
  • Clip Limiter with red LED
  • Ground Lift switch
  • Contour switch for increased EQ control
  • Accurate audience coverage, not just on-axis
  • Use as traditional upright loudspeaker or as floor wedge monitor
  • Designed and tuned in the USA
 Once I got the speaker, of course, I couldn’t wait to hook it up and test it out. The connections are fairly easy as in the diagram below.
altoconnections

I have

– 1 speaker

– 1 microphone

– 1 mixer

– 1 music source.

Simply connect the music source and mic to the mixer. Connect the mixer output to the speaker. That’s it! I had another post about connecting in more detail. Once I hooked the speaker up after taking off my Singing Machine-1028N from the equation, the first thing I noticed was vocals from a music track sounded pretty low, in fact startlingly low as to be bothersome. There is a ‘contour switch’ at the back of the alto. If you depress it, it boosts the lower frequencies and that did the trick to some extent. However, it wasn’t sufficient. Then I found out my problem. A single speaker is just half the setup for a stereo sound. So I had to balance the sound either to the left or right on my mixer. Else, the vocals will be output as though they are in the center of a stage and the instruments going to the sides and hence the difference in volume levels.

Inputs on the Alto 110a

Inputs on the Alto 110a

Once I figured this out, then I tested singing. I couldn’t hear the voice at ALL. Frustration galore. I didn’t want to just return a good piece of equipment without checking out every thing. What was happening was that the speaker was behind the microphone and sound from the speakers get absorbed by the microphone and muffles the voice. A key thing to know in sound stage setup (as I learnt) is that the speakers should be place way in front of the mics. Else, you either don’t hear the voice or you get feedback – feedback is that creepy high-pitched sound that you see sound engineers scrambling to put out during a performance. This happens all the time.

When I started hearing my voice well with the music I thought I was done. I took a break as I had to attend to a few calls and webexes. I had turned off the power. I wanted to place the setup aesthetically pleasing as these are in our living room. I moved around the equipment and once I power them all up, I couldn’t hear the voice again. Then I found out that the condenser microphone I was using was turned away from the singer i.e., myself. The condenser microphone I have has a specific sound-capture pattern in that it gathers most sound in front of it but not from its back. After turning it around, I still had to make sure the microphone output from the mixer was turned to the same (left) channel that the music output was turned to (left). Boom! That was it and I could reproduce the music and voice (karaoke) rightly every time. It helped to go through all the above as there were a few lessons learnt.

Alright, how does it sound – isn’t that the main question? Yes, so far so great! I will have to get it validated by some willing audience – waiting for a party 😉 And now my Singing Machine 1028N is up for sale, folks!

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