When we were starting our DJ company, we spent a lot of time trying to think about what kind of system would prepare us to be ready for just about any situation. After 5 years, dozens and dozens of weddings, it hasn’t missed a beat *knock on wood*, and we’ve been very lucky with the components that we chose. We get a lot of questions from couples that we help about what kind of sound system they’d need if they were planning on doing the music themselves, and this seemed like a great time to discuss what you need, what factors you should consider, and things you should ask the A/V Rental company when you’re investigating where to get your sound system rental.
First, let’s talk about a thing called ‘wattage.’ Wattage is a unit of power. You’ve no doubt seen light bulbs that are measured in wattage, and you may be familiar with the power ‘consumption’ rates of some of your household appliances. We’re not here to talk about power ‘consumption’, we’re here to talk about ‘output power’, that is – how much power/energy the system is able to put into the air in the form of sound. When you *double* the wattage of an audio system, you increase the amount of decibels it can produce by 3. It’s kind of weird, but the difference between the maximum sound level on a 50W system vs a 100W system? 3dB. Difference between a 100W and a 200W system? Another 3dB. That might not mean much to you now, but it’s important to understand that just because you’re being quoted a 500W system, that doesn’t mean that it’s literally 10 times as loud as a 50W system – it just requires ten times as much power to raise the volume, in this case, by 9-10dB.
Another note about wattage, that’s along the same lines. Don’t think of power as ‘volume’ – think of power as ‘clean coverage’. A 100W System, cranked to the brim, will be nearly as loud as a 200W System turned up 75%. But the 200W system will sound better – the 100W System will sound distorted and bad. Also, the power of the unit allows the speakers to ‘throw’ the sound further in a clean way. So think of more wattage as clean sound that covers more area – not just ‘volume.’
Second, let’s talk about speaker size. Speaker sizes are measured in inches, and in a smaller system, you may see 8″ to 10″ speakers. Smaller speakers like this might be able to handle high power, but they’re not the best for putting out serious bass-heavy dance music. In a larger system, you’ll find larger speakers, 12″ and 15″ in size. These two sizes, and the 15″ in particular, is great for playing the bass-heavy songs that you may want to be dancing to later in the evening.
Third, let’s talk about indoor versus outdoor. I’d estimate that somewhere between 30 and 40 percent of our weddings are outdoors, and that’s a little bit more challenging than doing one indoors. Doing a wedding indoors, you get a lot of help from the walls, keeping the sound contained. When you’re outdoors, you have to increase the volume significantly – just to make yourself heard! It’s a pretty dramatic difference. If your ceremony is outside or your reception is in a tent, I’d consider upping the equipment spend a little just to make sure that you’re not pumping the music to the point that it distorts and sounds bad.
As professional DJ’s, we use a power amp that is 300W for each speaker, 15″, and we’ve never had ANY situations where we wish we’d had more power under the hood. We’ve worked weddings as large as 300 people indoors, and weddings as large as 200 outdoors. Never an issue. As a point of reference, there were about 300 people in this room shortly before this photo was taken, and our 600W, 15″ Speaker System is loud enough to fill this room with sound – it’s a college gymnasium.
Chances are good that you’re going to be using something different than we are, but I’d check out the little scenario list below for my personal recommendations as to what sound systems would work well for your purposes. Make sure to ask for Speaker Stands, too!
Indoor Ceremony/Reception – 50-75 people
- 50-100W System
- 8″ to 10″ speakers
Indoor Ceremony/Reception – 75-150 people
- 200W to 400W System
- 10″ to 12″ Speakers
Indoor Ceremony/Reception – 150-300 people
- 300W – 600W System
- 12″ to 15″ Speakers
Outdoor Ceremony/Reception – 50-75 people
- 100-200W System
- 10″ to 12″ speakers
Outdoor Ceremony/Reception – 75-150 people
- 200W to 600W System
- 12″ to 15″ Speakers
Outdoor Ceremony/Reception – 150-300 people
- 600W – 800W System
- 15″ Speakers
Just to be triple sure, don’t be afraid to ask the person you’re renting from if the system you’re looking to rent is large enough for the application. We hope that this is helpful, and please don’t hesitate to ask us questions about this or anything else. Have a great weekend!