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I've got to be honest. Around here, at least, an awful lot of the coffee shop trade is too damned loud.
When I want to go to a concert, I go to a concert. I am respectful of others there and keep my conversation, cell phone calls and so on to a minimum. I am mostly focused on the performer, the performer that I paid to come see.
But when I visit a coffee house I have much wider goals in mind. I'm usually looking for a good cup of coffee and a good conversation. I want a big window I can stare out of and I want some good music in the background to help me or to make me think. I dislike going to a coffee house and having to shout over the "talent" to even place my order, let alone discuss The Issues Of The Day.
So, with that in mind, my goal to take over the world is to become a coffeehouse singer who doesn't overpower the room. You can come in and either listen to me, or just hear me, in other words.
With that in mind, how much amplification do I really need?

Tags: Amplifiers, Coffeeshop, Mic, Open

Views: 377

Replies to This Discussion

How much amplification depends on what your trying to drive. If it's always just you and an acoustic guitar is much simpler to address than to say it's sometimes you and an acoustic guitar but sometimes a keyboardist or another guitarist/vocalist. In the case of always you can get away with most anything, but if you answer sometimes the answer can get quite different. Adding a drummer changes everything and is whole topic on it's own.

The type of venue you are expecting to play at has a great influence as well. Coffee shops in general (at least around here) have their own PA systems in place. There is no need to bring your own.

Back when I purchased my first PA I was playing in a grand ballroom of a hotel along with someone else. This was a fairly large room. There were 2 mics, 2 acoustic guitars and 1 mandolin. I ended up (and forgive me for doing this) with a Bose L1 Model I system along with a Behringer 1202FX 12-ch mixer to feed the Bose a mix of everything I wanted amplified. I was also taking into account that I'd be playing outdoors during the summer and at parties and locals pubs.

One of the factors in considering a PA system should be overhead. Will it be able to handle everything you expect to throw at it at a reasonable level without pushing it near its limits. You can expect some issues when you push a system near it's limits. It's almost like computer hard drive size about 4 years ago. Figure out what you need then double that need to cover future needs.

Finding the right balance among volume, dispersion and sound quality in any venue is the task of any solo performer. Having gear that can accomplish this is obviously helpful.
Wow, this is question that can have so many facets, but it is a great one as well! Here is what we are doing...I play solo and with two other guys, both as duos with me and each of them and finally all three of us as a trio. When we play as a duo or trio in a small to medium size venue, we each have our own vocal mic and then each has a submixer for his instruments. This is necessary because we each switch off on as many as four different instruments in the course of a show...for me it's 6 and 12 string guitar, bass, and sometimes mandolin. All of this gets put through a larger mixer with an Alesis Midiverb outboard reverb unit routed through it's AUX BUS. We send the two mono lines coming from the Master out on the mixer into a BOSE L1 system for amplification. We have found this to be a great system and rarely have problems getting what we need out of it. For larger or outdoor venues, we used the same system for mixing and the BOSE becomes out monitor system, so for us the sound remains pretty much the same, just tweaked for the bigger venue...but we then route the main outs of the BOSE system to a larger amp/speaker system pushing the signal to a FOH (Front of House) amp and four cabinets, each with a horn and a 15" woofer. Those close to the stage will hear two of the main cabinets and the BOSE system, those farther away will hear only the four big cabinets. So far, knock on wood, we have been happy!
In terms of the volume level at the venue, we try to make a decision as to what we are there for versus how loud we will be...if it's a concert or venue where people have come to see us, then we bring it up to fill the house...if we are more part of the environment (I prefer to think of it that way as opposed to background music:-)) then we keep the level down there. However we have one rule that we set with the venue owner or manager when we book the job...they are hiring/paying us and so they get the last word...they usually like that idea when we are signing contracts...we tell them, from where they are in the room while we are on stage, to give us a thumbs up if they think we are not loud enough, or a thumbs down if they think we need to turn would be surprised how many times we have been asked to turn it they feel like they still have ownership over their charge. Eventually experience and the ability to read people tells you what to do. Anyway, thanks for making this discussion available!!! I am really looking forward to learning from what others do!
I started the original Bose L1 discussion but agree that there needs to be a place to discuss all set-ups and systems so I am all for this group....of course I still feel, at least for me, that Bose has, by far, the best balanced systems even for the price they charge. My last "conventional" system consisted of a 250 watt/8 channel MP8 head I got used for $800, 2 Elite EX161 main speakers @$400 a piece, 2 monitors used @ $150 a piece, 2 aluminum speaker stands @ $150 for the pair. I'm not sure how much it weighed in total but it took a few trips back and forth to get it all in the venue then an hour or so to set up. I traded it all for a used Bose L1 Classic and 1 bass bin. Everything fit in the back of the car and a couple of trips and maybe a half hour I was ready to go. Now....I'm getting older and most crowds I play to are less than 100. I traded this for the Bose L1 Compact - not as powerful but has a built in bass speaker so you don't need the extra bass units and it's scaled down so you can carry it in one hand (35 lbs) and it sets up in 5 minutes. It sounds great! I've had people ask me where I'm hiding the speakers. They can't believe I can get that kind of sound out of a little stick.

I totally agree with the other comments that have been made on this topic. The challenge is to find a system that can match the types of venues you are currently and likely to be playing in the future. Most of the coffee houses in our area don't have a house system. Most of the coffee houses I play for are small and I play as a solo act. For these I use a small system (Carvin AG100D). It is an acoustic guitar amp (100 watts) with three channels (two guitar and one vocal), 12" woofer & tweeter in a ported enclosure, 24 bit effects, 5 band EQ, and capability for two extension speakers (I use 0 - 1 depending on the size of the place). When I play bars or larger clubs (we have a few outdoor cafes and bars) I use a larger system with 1200 watts and pole mounted speakers (2 - 4 depending on the location) and an 8 channel mixer (usually playing as a duo or trio). This system is a Carvin RX 800 and has been a reliable, easy to set-up, self contained system, and I have been pleased with the acoustic sound from my guitars.
I use a similar system sometimes when I am not using the BOSE we have. I have two large Carvin two-way cabinets (one 15" and a horn) for mains and two wedge monitors with the same speaker arrangement, and a Carvin head, which I had removed from the case and integrated into my rack system. Here is a picture of it with my typical setup...Edward

I'm interested in this since I will soon be getting some PA / amp combo for some gigs.

In the past I have been inclined (and still am) to set levels no higher than that which is comfortable for folks close the the speakers / amp. It's pointless is seems to me to fight the "ambience" - I've found that if you crank the PA / amp up to compensate, that just causes people to talk louder and pay less attention to disturbance cause by clinking glasses, plates, etc. People that want to listen will get closer and those that don't won't and hopefully will respect those that do and migrate away from the performer and the listeners. Doesn't always work out like that, but whatyagonnado? We take the gigs and play for those that want to hear in the knowledge that there will most of time be those who just want background "piped" music as a background for their conversation.
Yep, I agree with what Dave has to say...I play for those who want to listen and figure the rest are doing what they want and enjoying it. I have always played what I enjoyed and just hoped they enjoy it too, I don't do top 40 now and never have...I feel I play the music I love and believe in the best. I have had people sit right next to the speaker cabinet, when there was other seating, and complained it was too loud. I just smile and say "Yep." I don't have to be nasty because I know they will move if it bothers them. I will admit though that I have sometimes pretended to be turning it down for someone like that and 9 times out of 10 when I ask if it's better they will say yes! Most of the time I feel a core group of people are listening and those are the ones we aim the show to. Although sometimes people who I thought were totally doing their own thing will come up to us during a break or on their way out and say how much they enjoyed it! AND they will site specific songs or something specific within a song that we did, so I know they were not just being nice! I have even had the club owner or manager tell me that they stopped to compliment us, which is really weird! Recently the club where my trio has a regular monthly gig, renovated and now they have the "sports bar" part with all the TV's at one end of the building, and us about 100' away at the restaurant/music end of the building...we just love it! Our regular folks don't have to sit close to us with the sports fans yelling behind them, or even worse taking the seats in front of them and yelling, and people who just want to talk stay more middle of the's been great and our fan-base has actually grown and even better is that our regulars as well as new listeners have been telling the that's the key! Oh well, there's my two cents!

I play solo gigs in coffee house-size venues. For that size (and larger) my LR Baggs Core Acoustic Reference amp is spot on. 200 watts, two channels. flat speaker technology w/140 degree sound dispersion. I connect vocal mic (Shure SM58) and guitar (w/K&K Pure Western Mini) through digitech Vocalist Live 4. This requires me to keep the gain down on the amp because the Digitech has its own pre-amp. The resulting sound is wonderful, and I don't need to push the volume louder than about "4" to fill a coffee house loud enough for people who want to listen, and not too loud for people who want to carry on a conversation.

Hi, Mark,

Just found this fourm so my comments may be rather too late, but, for posterity...


I understand exactly what you're saying and agree 100%.


The comments below are all very good (tho I'm still not sold on the Bose -- sorry, Downtown).  The L1 family is, however, typical of a reemerging trend in PA - the powered speaker.  Thankfully, modern electronics have made them much easier to handle than the old Altec Voice of the Theater boxes (I had a pair).  And I'm coming around to liking this idea.  So much so that my rig consists of a pair of Fishman Soloamp SA220s and a Behringer Eurorack MX2804 mixer I originally bought for (radio production) studio use. (I'm saving my pennies for a Soundcraft Si compact digital mixer that'll let me record to a DAW while performing.


The concept is modularity.  The 220 watt Fishmans have more than enough power for a coffeehouse and will even adequately project throughout a church sanctuary that seats 200-250 (assuming you're doing mostly acoustic music).  They're also small enough to fit into my Yukon along with the mixer, mics and cables, a couple of stools and 3 or 4 instruments without having to put down the back seat.

But, should I need to fill a larger space, I can add powered speakers as needed.  I don't even have to own them, as they can be rented.  For this, the Mackie SRM450 (300w LF/100w HF) is good middle ground and if you want lots of juice, the QSC K or KW 12s pack 1000 watts.  Using an un-powered mixer lets you run as many speakers as you need for coverage.  As long as there are power outlets available.  And keeping the power amps away from the mixer preamps makes for cleaner sound.


The issue really isn't how much 'horsepower' you need, it's how much you USE.  I've done outdoor work at fairs with an old, 1st generation 100w Peavey head driving a pair of 412 columns and not been disappointed.  But I also had to push that tube amp awfully hard to overcome the sheer space and the ambient noise.  It's nice to have a bit more power available when you need it.

The power rating of the amp(s) isn't necessarily about loudness, but rather, headroom.  You don't want to be running any amp out near its limits, since every 3dB increase in sound level at a given frequency (that's the minimum detectable by the human ear) requires 2x the power output from the amp.  So, if I normally used just 10 watts from that old Peavey, a 3 decibel change in the volume of my voice would pull 20 watts, a 6dB change 40 watts, a  9dB increase 80 watts, and if my dynamic range exceeded 12dB, I'd be pushing the amp beyond capacity and it would clip.

For that reason, I'd rather have 1000 watts at my disposal and set the knob at 0.5.  The amp is then just idling along during normal use and has plenty of headroom for when I belt out a phrase.  It'll be loud enough to get people's attention without shattering windows and cracking plaster.


What you're running into is one or both of two issues on the part of the performers.  One: they are distracted by all the inattentive chatter that goes on in coffeehouses and clubs so they crank it up, and/or, they want your attention - they worked hard on their music and they object to being just background music, they want people to listen.  It also may be that they don't have a good engineer who knows what's enough and what's too much, or, they don't have adequate monitors and have to hear each other over the FOH PA.


Bob M



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