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I'm torn between buying an acoustic amp or a portable PA system. My challenge is that I'd like the flexibility for certain uses:

  • Would like to do karaoke nights with kids and/or adults in the basement. I already have mics but we don't have a good stereo system (yet!) Acoustic amp is limited to 2 inputs so we can duet and that's probably sufficient.

  • Playing music with friends in the house for "mini-gigs" where we'd need 1-2 mics and possibly acoustic-electric/keyboard amplification. Depending on the room we'd might only use the amp for vocals. This seems like a PA system would win if I wanted to accommodate 1-3 instruments + 1-2 mics or my friends need to bring some equipment over.

  • Solo performances where I self-accompany on a digital keyboard. I was thinking acoustic amp here wins because it's a lot less components/complexity and sufficient sound for small venues (either in my house or coffee shops).

The struggle I have here is that it seems like the PA system is the best bet for maximum flexibility and allows me to supply most of the equipment for a small band in the future (my 1 year goal right now). However, the acoustic amp is less expensive, less complicated, less weight, but less flexible (for my future goals!)

I'm looking at these products currently Fishman acoustic amp with combo inputs for 1 instr/1 mic or 2 mics or Fender acoustic amp VS Yamaha STAGEPAS 600BT Portable PA System with Bluetooth. All 3 of these would also allow me to connect bluetooth/aux for backing tracks for performances or karaoke.

Thanks for your help!

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Hi and welcome to the site! Thanks for asking this question!

For your case, it seems like you've already identified the PA system will be the most flexible to your immediate and future needs.

Even in your last use case, using the amp as accompaniment while playing piano, will be more easily accomplished using a PA system. This is for three reasons:

  • Your acoustic amp may not have two separate inputs to supplement a backing track + piano input, and
  • even if it does have two inputs, it most likely won't have mixing (volume leveling) capability for the two inputs independently. Most PA systems will have mixer channels with EQ and Volume knobs on each mixer input, allowing you to more easily mix your outputs' volumes, by adjusting the PA instead of the volume levels on the instruments/computers in use.
  • Finally, aside from the most intimate settings (single room, 20-30 people) a single amp will likely not give you enough power to broadcast at a high volume and clarity to an audience, especially in a "noisy" (bar-like) setting with conversations. In fact, some amps will sound worse (subjectively) as you increase the volume, because the gain running through the amplification circuits can cause some distortion of the signal. This may be a desired effect in some settings; in fact, this is why some vintage amps are so expensive, they have a natural character to their distortion that is difficult or impossible to reproduce; but you probably won't want that if you're just putting voice + piano through the amp.

The only advantages I can think of to having an acoustic amp for your use case would be the price factor and the lug factor. Depending on your choice of brand and vintage, you can likely find an amp for far cheaper than a PA system, and the amp (if a combo amp) will have speakers built in, reducing the amount of gear to lug around and keep track of.

I hope this advice helps you! Best of luck in making your purchase!

  • Just wanted to comment and follow up: After looking at your links, it looks like the acoustic amp you're looking at has two inputs and EQ/leveling for each input. So that invalidates points 1 and 2 above for that Fishman amp specifically. They're still good things to keep in mind regarding amps in general, so I'm leaving it. :) – 3d12 Nov 13 at 16:33

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