In my last post I put up a LONG-overdue video. Now it’s time to jump back on the “Ask Joe” bandwagon.

If you’re new to HSC, I make it a point to regularly answer reader questions here on the blog. I can’t answer EVERY question, but I try to cover as many as I can. Got a question? Fill out the Ask Joe form.

Jon asked:

Hey Joe, how about a piece on basic, fairly low cost, live stage setup, for the beginning group:

  • 2-4 mics
  • mixer and/or DAW (with basic reverb, dynamics, EQ)
  • amps
  • floor monitors
  • what else?

I haven’t talked a lot about live sound here on HSC, but that will probably change soon. My new gig down here in Tennessee involves a lot of live audio and video production.

This is a good question, Jon. You may find that my answer may not be as low-cost as you were hoping, but I just can’t recommend really cheap equipment. It just doesn’t sit well with me, because it doesn’t last.


There aren’t a lot of good ways to blend your live sound rig with your home recording rig. However, there are some options. The first thing that comes to mind is the PreSonus StudioLive mixer (click the link to read my article on the StudioLive). It’s an awesome live digital mixer with dynamics, EQ, and effects. Plus, it doubles as an audio interface, recording AND playing back audio directly to and from your computer.

The StudioLive will cost you around $2,000. It’s certainly not cheap, but if you add up the cost of a 16-channel mixer, 16 compressors, 16 EQs, 2 effects units, AND a 16-channel audio interface, you’ll spend well over that.

On the less-expensive side, you can look at the Alesis MultiMix mixers. These low-cost mixers provide up to 16 channels of recording, and they’re decent little live mixers as well.

Multi-Track vs Stereo Recording

Multi-track recording a live concert is a really difficult thing to do well. To do it REALLY well can cost thousands (or at least $2,000 if you go with the StudioLive), so think carefully about how important multi-track recording is to your live rig.

If you really don’t need multi-tracking capabilities, stick with something like a Zoom H4N. This awesome little recorder will let you record the main outputs from your live mixer (via the TRS/XLR combo jacks) and also the crowd noise with the built-in condenser mics. That’ll run you $300.


Unless you’re playing some huge shows, I’m a big fan of powered PA speakers. I personally love the JBL PRX line. Something like the PRX515 would be phenomenal. However, Peavey has some pretty low-cost options that would work.

I like powered PA speakers for a portable PA rig because in my mind it makes things easier. Rather than needing a power amp and passive speakers, you just need one speaker, one power cable, and one audio cable. Done deal.

If you’re playing big enough gigs where you need floor monitors, then at that point I might consider an amp/speaker solution, because there aren’t a lot of good powered stage monitors solutions. (One comes to mind – TC Helicon VoiceSolo.)

If you really need floor wedges, then get an amp and some Peavey or Yamaha wedges. I like Peavey and Crown amps for the low-power stuff. At this point, if you’re running amps for your monitors, you might consider running amps for your mains, too, and use passive speakers for the whole rig.


As far as effects go, you can get a decent rack-mount reverb for a couple hundred bucks. However, a lot of mixer have some semi-decent built-in effects. I would try the mixer first, see if the effects are okay, then decide if you need to buy a dedicated reverb.

This is by no means an exhaustive list of everything you’ll need. What you should take away from this is that you have quite a few options. Keep in mind your long-term goals for the system, and you should be just fine.