Auctioneers often ask about sound systems — which system, what components and certainly price. We have sold and serviced sound systems for over 20 years and know plenty about auctioneers’ options. For now, here’s some material considerations before you buy anything:
- Company. Does the manufacturer stand behind their products? Some companies only service systems for 5-7 years and then discontinue all service and support. Some manufacturers service and maintain support for equipment over 40 years and beyond.
- Grade. Is the equipment commercial grade or consumer grade in quality? Is the main case protecting the mother board and other key components metal or plastic? Do knobs turn smooth and switches move cleanly and consistently? How well does the system sustain abuse? How stout or rugged is the overall system?
- Wireless and/or wired. In this day and age, wireless is much preferred than wired for most applications, but the ability to connect both wired and wireless is important. Choose a system that can do both.
- Portable. Does the system use batteries so it can be used without being plugged in? How long do fully charged batters last under normal conditions? Are the batteries built-in and rechargeable or does the system use standard replaceable batteries? Can the system also work from AC power if necessary?
- Reach. How many people are you trying to reach? 100? 1,000? 10,000? While higher watts produce more/louder sound, efficiency is far more important (dB from one watt at one meter.) Don’t count on the number of watts being the only measure.
- Frequency. Ensure any wireless frequency is legal to use in today’s environment — many frequencies used over 10 years ago have been outlawed for public use. Some systems allow you to select a specific VHF or UHF frequency. VHF is better than UHF in most scenarios as it allows the transmitter to be much farther away from the receiver.
- Headset/Handheld Microphones. Can headset, lavaliere and handheld microphones be used with this system? Do any transmitters separate [disconnect] from the microphones to allow replacement/change outs?
- Weight. How heavy is the actual speaker? Some speakers weigh less than 15 pounds and others weigh much more. Is the system light enough to lift up on a tripod or easily transport otherwise? Can the speaker be checked at an airport and/or carried on?
- Battery Power. How many batteries does the system use? How long do they last before needing replaced? How easy are they to replace? How long does it take to charge batteries from complete discharge to fully charged?
- Extra inputs. Does the system have one or more USB ports and/or accommodate Bluetooth connectivity? Are there RCA jacks and 1/4″ jacks for other accessories or auxiliary speakers?
- Price. There is the phrase “You get what you pay for …” and it usually applies to sound systems. You can buy a system for $500 or less — but don’t expect it to last or be serviceable long term.
- Warranty. Does the reseller or manufacturer warranty the system such that repairs/replacement are no charge for a period of time? Many systems have no warranty whatsoever, while others extend up to one year.
Our most important features aforementioned (#1, #2, #3 and #4) are indeed more important than anything else. If the company doesn’t support their products or the quality of the system is less than commercial-grade, it’s best to avoid if possible.
As well, any system today should provide for wireless and wired use and for most auctioneers be light and durable enough to be portable from location to location.
Lastly, specific different sound systems are proper for installed configurations — such as “in place” at a car auction, livestock barn and the like where there is a fixed block location. Typically these are wired systems and have additional considerations.
Mike Brandly, Auctioneer, CAI, CAS, AARE has been an auctioneer and certified appraiser for over 30 years. His company’s auctions are located at: Mike Brandly, Auctioneer, RES Auction Services and Goodwill Columbus Car Auction. He serves as Distinguished Faculty at Hondros College, Executive Director of The Ohio Auction School, an Instructor at the National Auctioneers Association’s Designation Academy and America’s Auction Academy. He is faculty at the Certified Auctioneers Institute held at Indiana University and is approved by the The Supreme Court of Ohio for attorney education.