I'm not sure if I've ever done this before, but in lieu of an actual post today I need to solicit advice.

If you have any experience as a DJ, sound guy/girl, or anything dealing with pro audio, your opinion may be valuable to me. Or feel free to chime in if you just happen to have any useful experience with PA systems and the like.

I've got the opportunity to host a trivia game at a local bar. It's exciting and I expect it to be a ton of fun. What I need is to figure out the simplest, cost-effective way to set up the audio. The sound system in the bar is…limited. There's an old jukebox, basically, with speaker wire outs to two unpowered PA speakers. There are speaker wire "ins" in the jukebox, for whatever that may be worth. The space itself is not particularly large – long, narrow, and with a 15' ceiling.

What I have is a laptop I'm going to use for the music (note: suggestions for free or reasonably priced DJ software welcome). I need to mix the music with a single microphone, and then…find a way to make the results audible. My trivia host friend uses and suggested a full DJ setup (including $1000 powered speakers, a multi-track console, etc) and I'm not willing to go that far for something that will be fun but isn't going to pay.

As you can no doubt tell, I have little experience with audio equipment. Talk to me like I'm stupid, please. I'm starting from scratch here, other than having the laptop (with the usual outputs: HDMI, USB, etc).

Tips? Recommendations? Snide comments?

39 thoughts on “MAYDAY MAYDAY MAYDAY”

  • A quick stop at your local RadioShackTM or similar should do the trick. Find out what kind of Input/Output jacks you need (take picture if necessary), plus a mic. Then you can use your laptop as your mix deck and music/audio samples.

    Lots of software choices. From shareware to f###Ijustblewmyannualsalary!

  • I'd suggest asking any friends or students you know that are in bands, if they have a small PA, like the Yamaha ones, or a little Fender Passport system. These things are dead easy to hook up and use- you will be able to do it with virtually no help. And anyone who has one is bound to have a couple of Shure SM58 mics and stands or something like that. The whole setup is pretty indestructible so they shouldn't have any worries about loaning you the gear.

    I have no idea where you are, but if you are in the Los Angeles area, we could help you out.

  • duckbilledplacelot says:

    Try: your local charity/consignment shop. Decks, speakers, and boards often end up there when people upgrade or get tired of playing with them. Otherwise, consider free/cheap karaoke software which should let you adjust music/'vocals' with reasonable flexibility. I second the radioshack advice for wires and connectors.

  • "There are speaker wire 'ins' in the jukebox, for whatever that may be worth."

    What sort of ins? If you literally mean screw terminals or binding posts that look like you would attach speaker wires to them, then that's probably useless.

    Otherwise, just how are they labeled? (How do know they are "ins"?) What sort of connector? If they're RCA connectors, phone connectors or (maybe) XLR connectors, there's a good chance you can use the jukebox to amplify the output of your laptop and feed it to the speakers.

    (If you don't know what those connectors look like, Wiki RCA connector, phone connector and XLR connector.)

  • A laptop with a $40 microphone will get you through this. The inputs are probably RCA. You can spend $5.00 on a 1/8" headphone to RCA converter and have the sound pipe directly from the laptop. The audio can be from any source from the laptop including stuff you probably have. Think iTunes and sound player. If you can make it happen on your computer, you can make it happen on the existing speakers.

    Just find the audio source option on the jukebox and you're in business. All it will function as is an amplifier in this case.

    Good luck!

  • Aaron Schroeder says:

    Ed, there are a few stores nearby you that may be able/willing to in some way discount a PA rental for you. I've dealt with each in doing some home audio projects, and they have always seemed nice enough to help locals out, cheaply, if they can.

    There's Stan Byerly Sound Systems on West Glen, and also Flores Music on War Memorial Drive. Flores also has an office in Pekin, on Caroline St, if that's closer for you.

    I hope your event goes well – and if you need to put bodies in seats, I can guarantee probably four or five regular readers from the NIU area.

  • Agree with the karaoke suggestion. Extra speakers? Didn't another school year just end? Craigslist is your friend. Put out a want ad, as some frat or landlord probably has one around.

  • c u n d gulag says:

    I was waiting for someone to say about me, that I "know nothing" about a whole hell of a lot of things, but that's never stopped me from leaving behind several hundred word-turds here. :-)

  • i just want to make sure I'm following this correctly.

    You're playing music in bw and during the different questions, etc right? if it's just simple stop and play stuff, stick with iTunes or any other playlist player. DJ software is really used to manipulate different music tracks in real time. If so, you'll need a 1/4inch to 1/8thinch converted bc the PA will likely only have a 1/4inch input and the output on your computer is probably 1/8th inch. Just make sure you get the correct adapter so the audio on both the left and the right come through. Go to radioshack and ask them.

    As for a PA, see if you can get something like this used:

    Buy a budget one that is newer. PAs last awhile but buying super old ones could put you in a shitty spot during a performance. That happened at a trivia night I was at a month ago and I've seen it happen countless times at DIY shows where people just use old junk. Newer, smaller wattage, budget ones won't be powerful enough in a loud band, but will suit your needs fine.

  • Did that just happen? One sentence, one line.

    That had to have been the single shortest comment that CU has made since I've been following. ;)

  • Your friend, with the $1000 worth of equipment, isn't willing to help you out for your first night or 4?
    I second taking pictures of all in/outputs (including your laptop if you don't take the whole thing) to a shop. I rent sound equipment regularly and just mostly point and grunt. "Make sound go laptop – board – speaker. Need cables, here credit card."

  • You can rent this stuff. Go to a local audio/music/equipment rental store, talk to them, rent the stuff for your first gig. Later you can decide what, if anything, you want to buy. Even if the store doesn't advertise rentals they probably do rentals. There's a big market for rental of this sort of stuff (weddings, fundraisers, meetings, etc.).

  • Oscar T. Grouch says:

    Dunno whether this is worth mentioning, but it seems damned odd to me that YOU'RE the one on the hook to provide PA, etc for a trivia game you're hosting for a local bar that they're wanting to put on to entertain THEIR customers.

    My suggestion is to tell the bar owner all they need to do to make this fly is invest in a cheap self-powered speaker that has an integral 2-3 channel mixer (something like this: ), a cheap SM-58 knockoff mic (something like this: ), a couple of cables, and maybe a stand for the speaker.

    They're (probably) not topping off your mug every night for free because its fun for them to do so and it helps you out; why should you top off theirs? More importantly, why should it be OK for them to assume its on you to do so?

  • the trouble is that your speakers are not amplified, and the sound out of the laptop will likely be noisy. Any cheap USB soundcard will do for solving the latter problem. You don't need full duplex operation or particularly low latency. To amplify the speakers you can use any old amplifier. Just a half-working 70s hifi amplifier will do, if it has enough wattage. You will need adapters, probably 1/4

  • bah, terrible, half-eaten post.
    You will need adapters, probably 1/4 inch TS to RCA. Now, you could mix your music using something quite simple like two or three concurrent sessions of winamp, but this requires learning to mix, which I don't recommend in a short period of time. Much easier is to grab a freely downloadable DAW like Reaper, and learn to use its most basic functions. You basically just drag and drop your mp3s to the track and then decide how you want them to overlap. You can right click the fades to adjust the fade curve, and go into each item's properties to adjust the playback speed of each track separately. You can adjust the volume on the fly and add a limiter plugin to the master track to make it impossible to blow the speakers. Best of all, you can do all of this IN ADVANCE so there are few surprises. If there is a request, you can always slide everything to the right further down, and drag a new mp3 into place. Feel free to email me if you have questions.

    If your interface doesn't have a mic input, it may be cheapest to add a cheap mixer — I bought my ancient Mackie 8×2 for $50 on the local ebay equivalent. The nice part about not renting is that, although all this stuff might set you back $150, you will have $150 worth (actual worth) of stuff to sell at the end. Plus you will have learned a few things! Good luck; sounds fun!

  • Doctor Rock says:

    @Xynzee Every time I walk past a RadioShack my first thought is "The fuck is that still around?" But it has it's uses. They should really rename the place ObscurebatteryShack or IneedthisrandomcablShack

  • Here's my snide comment:
    Ed admitted he has little experience with audio equipment. Then all you yahoos start blathering on about RCA connectors, TS, 1/8 inch to 1/4 inch, blargle blargle yup yup yup. Geez, dudes. Way to make someone even more confused/intimidated.

    However, all of you who suggested he take photos and his laptop to RadioShack or a local sound equipment store, good on you. Best solution.

  • Can't you just yell really loud?

    Sorry, I am a smart ass cheapskate, things like that just come out.

  • I you're looking to do Karaoke on the cheap, you'll have to spring for a low-latency external sound card. Otherwise the audio gets delayed and tragically out of sync. Like delayed just enough that the echo shuts down people's verbal centers. It's hilarious in the right circumstances.

    If you're looking to just get some tunes onto a sound system, you need to check the inputs you're dealing with, preferably digital: optical s/pdif, hdmi audio, coax s/pdif. Then buy an appropriate USB sound card.

    If you're connecting analog, then your USB sound card might need a preamp.

  • You might be able to grab an old analog receiver at a garage sale as an amp for the unpowered speakers and just use the headphone jack on your computer to connect it up.

    If anyone has a USB headset laying around you can use it as a simple external sound card. This avoids the noise internal to the laptop case.

    Laptop — USB Sound card——- 1/8 stereo to 1/4 RCA —- old receiver—> bar speakers

  • I want to recommend against the Harbinger system mentioned above. We bought one of those for rehearsals. It sounded bad and almost immediately broke. Guitar Center let us upgrade to a 500w Yamaha system which has worked flawlessly for years now, but cost about $1000 new. I am afraid that, if you spend less than $5-600 new for one, you are not going to be very happy. But there are lots of PA's floating around in that class, which is why I thought you probably know someone with one you can borrow.

  • Mr Microphone+Stereo receiver+RF Modulator. Pipe your voice over their TVs. That can be done for under $100

  • As someone mentioned above, the Fender Passport is probably the best way to go. I'd push towards the 150 for $399 new (could probably find it used somewhere).

    Another question, and this is how I actually build a sound system for small venues when people call me to rent one (I work for an A/V company) is "How many people are going to be there?"

    My standard go-to is a JBL Eon powered speaker. I send that out when about 75 people need to be able to hear. That Passport would probably work for about 80-90 people, but then again, you're doing this in a bar. So who knows.

    More importantly, trying to find a cost effective way to do this is going to be tough. Someone else mentioned it but you can probably rent it for cheaper then it is to buy it. Hell, you could probably rent it and have their A/V tech come set it up and show you how to work it for cheaper than it is to buy it.

    There are options out there. Good luck.

  • I think you're looking at the output transformer assembly & not the power amp. Page 27 of the manual at this link shows a similar power amp that has line inputs accessed via RCA plugs which are the common phono plugs which should be familiar to anyone who has ever setup a component stereo system. A 1/8" stereo plug to two RCA plugs is a very common cable and should you be able to access the power amp that cable plugged into the line out of your PC should work just fine. Likewise a dynamic mic plugged into the mic input of your laptop should work very nicely, at least on windows XP you can mix the mic in w/the line out & get both your voice & music into the jukebox amp.

  • Ya already got some good advice, and some crappy advice, but I'm thinking there's not enough specificity in the question. You're asking a couple different questions.

    If you wanna do this for a hundred bucks, you want a crappy used bass amp, a cheap microphone, and a cable that'll go from the headphone jack in your laptop to the 1/4" guitar-cord inputs on the crappy bass amp.

    If you can spend $300, you want a crappy used multichannel powered mixer (I have an authentic Stan Getz model Shure 'Vocaldisaster' 6-channel 150w mono) a couple crappy used speakers, and a better microphone.

    If you can spend $500, get the same stuff in the previous paragraph, only less crappy. Look on Craigslist for out-of-work DJs and bands who have been thrown out of mom's basement, or check the local music store where those idiots hang out. I dunno where that is in your neighborhood, but if you wanna drive for two hours, I've bought similar-grade stuff from Modern Music in Lisle:

  • Late to the party, but another suggestion would be to find a local band whose practice PA you could borrow. Cheaper than rental, and you may be able to pay them in beer. :)

  • For the music:

    Honestly, a lot of people who host trivias I've gone to just use iTunes to play their music. If you have that, you should be in good shape. Better yet, if there is internet access, you could use Spotify (if you have Spotify premium, so you don't get ads), which would make it a lot easier to take requests.

    Please note that there is a chance this violates one or several intellectual property laws. Also note that no one really gives a shit.

  • ConcernedCitizen says:

    Not related to the audio issue: collect people's phones at the door, if that's at all feasible. Or have them place their phones in clear view on tabletops. I can't stand trivia cheaters!

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