Outdoor events can be tricky to control, especially in cases where lots of people are in attendance.
In such cases, security workers and other event staff will often need to broadcast instructions and important information to as many people as possible.
This is where megaphones come in (well, this and those police hostage negotiations you see in American movies, but for now we’ll stick with examples like the first one).
A megaphone amplifies the human voice to very loud levels, enabling the user to, essentially, ‘shout over’ noisy situations such as festival crowds, busy events, roadworks and more. In emergency situations, such as in cases of fire or injury, this can be priceless, even life-saving.
By using a megaphone, a security professional can communicate with people across considerable distances, even when lots of people are talking or otherwise making a noise.
In this piece, we’ll take a detailed look at the megaphone; its history and various uses, as well as how it works and how to get the right one for you.
VONYX MEG060 Portable Megaphone
UZI High Power Loud Megaphone
Pyle-Pro PMP50 50W Megaphone
MY Mealivos Megaphone
Why do I Need a Megaphone?
Megaphones focus soundwaves and send them across longer distances than the human voice is capable of reaching unaided. If you’re in a position where you need to address multiple people that are spread over a wide area, or you wish to speak directly to people in an environment which is otherwise too noisy for you to do so, you’ll probably require a megaphone.
An electric megaphone also makes use of an in-built microphone, amplifier and loudspeaker in order to make sure that you can really be heard.
The output of a megaphone usually ranges between about 5 and 50 Watts. Generally speaking, the higher the wattage, the louder the megaphone will be.
An average megaphone (around 15 watts) will only weigh just under a kilogram (about 2lbs). The advantages of smaller megaphones include easier portability, lighter weight and longer battery life, to name but a few. Even these smaller models can still project your voice almost 550 metres (600 yards) away, while 45-watt models will carry your dulcet tones as far as nearly 1830 metres away (2000 yards).
You might see a megaphone being used during political protests, summer festivals, scouting jamborees, guided tours, public events of any kind (such as political rallies or PRIDE parades), sporting events, religious congregations, or even on film sets and Navy vessels. If you’re working at or near any events such as these, a megaphone could prove to be a very wise investment.
Who Invented the Megaphone?
If you’ve ever talked through a used toilet roll tube or rolled a piece of paper into a conical shape in order to talk through it, you’ve probably somewhat re-created the invention of the megaphone, or at least it’s earliest ancestors.
The idea of using certain speaking aids to amplify the human voice is by no means a new one. Accordingly, historians simply don’t know who invented it first. Some of the earliest examples of this technology may have existed as far back as Ancient Greece.
We also know from contemporary accounts that certain Native American tribes were fashioning similar devices from tree bark in the 1670s – and it seems likely that the technology was known to them for a long time before that.
Indeed, the Pre-Columbian ruins of Tiwanaku include what could possibly be stone precursors to the megaphone (they still work as such to this day).
Even the invention of the modern megaphone is subject to some dispute. Two 17th century inventors, the English mathematician, diplomat and sometime spy Samuel Morland and the German Jesuit polymath Athanasius Kircher are both credited with the creation of the first megaphone. It seems likely that both men invented similar devices independently of one another, but at around the same time.
The term ‘megaphone’ was first used to describe an invention by Thomas Edison, who in 1878 was attempting to create a device that would be beneficial to people with hearing difficulties.
Edison’s megaphone worked well enough as to amplify a whisper loudly enough that it could be heard from up to 304 metres (1000 ft) away, with a regular speaking tone capable of traveling more than two miles. There’s no denying that the first megaphone to be called a megaphone worked exceedingly well. There was, however, one key design flaw – it was bloody gigantic!
Eventually, smaller, more portable versions of this megaphone were produced. They were used mainly by the military and emergency services, as well as entertainers, showmen, singers and film directors. Think of the classic image of a circus Ringmaster shouting “step right up, ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls!” and you’re pretty much there.
These types of megaphones, though still in existence today, were effectively replaced by electric microphones in the 1950’s and 60’s, which is a good thing, as it’s hard to imagine our favourite rock n roll icons looking anywhere near as cool when wielding a gigantic metal cone instead of a sleek little microphone.
Electric public address systems first appeared in the 1920’s, but portable versions didn’t emerge until after the invention of the transistor in 1947. The first transistorised megaphone, the direct precursor to the kind we use today, was the EM-202, which was created by the TOA corporation in 1954.
How Does a Megaphone Work?
By far the most important component of a megaphone is its cone-like shape. This shape directs the sound towards an intended target or area. When you’re talking, the sound leaves you and travels more-or-less in the direction that your head is facing.
However, anyone who has tried to hold a conversation in high winds or through noisy obstructions such as traffic, roadworks or loud music knows that it can be hard in some cases for your voice to reach the intended listener.
If you really need to get the message across in such cases, you may find yourself cupping both hands around your mouth and calling in the direction of the other person. To some extent, this is a natural megaphone, as it works on many of the same principles. The sound is less able to scatter as it is directed through the cone, which therefore has an amplifying effect.
Further amplification occurs from the sound waves themselves. Whenever sound waves travel through a narrow area and into a wider one (i.e., from the mouth to the air outside the mouth) some of those sound waves are reflected back towards the source of the sound. This has a muting effect on the overall loudness and clarity of that sound.
However, when sound waves leave your mouth and travel down the length of a megaphone, the size and shape of the megaphone allows fewer sound waves to be reflected back, this amplifies the volume of your voice considerably.
Electric megaphones operate via similar principles, but with the addition of a microphone that converts sound waves into electrical signals which are then emitted by the amplifier, making them louder, but also more compact and portable, than their traditional forebears.
What’s the Difference Between a Megaphone and a Bullhorn?
When reading up on megaphones, you might come across terms such as ‘bullhorn’ or the slightly more antique sounding ‘speaking trumpet’ or ‘loudhailer’. These terms are usually used interchangeably.
For example, if you perform a ‘Google images’ search for ‘bullhorn’, you will get more-or-less the same results as you would if you’d Googled ‘megaphone’.
There isn’t much, if any, difference between the two. Some definitions reserve the name ‘bullhorn’ only for devices that feature electronic amplification, while others may describe a ‘bullhorn’ as being an older, non-electronic device, such as might be used by a golden age film director. It seems that there isn’t a hard-and-fast definition that applies to either word.
Aside from that, the name ‘bullhorn’ is used more in the US than it is here in the UK, where we tend to say ‘megaphone’ more commonly. That’s about it.
How far do I Need my Voice to Travel?
One of your key concerns when buying a megaphone should be how far you will need your voice to travel. This can actually be quite important.
Even a lower-watt model can be heard from relatively far away, so if you don’t need to be super-loud (e.g., if you’re MC-ing a school sports day), you can save both money and battery life by choosing a quieter megaphone.
As a general rule, you should assume that you will need slightly more power than you’re actually likely to use. It is better to diminish the volume on a more powerful model than to push a less powerful one to its limits.
Megaphones designed for indoor use (such as might be operated by a cheerleader) will be of little use outdoors or over long distances, so it really helps to have a very clear idea of what you want to use your megaphone for before attempting to purchase one.
As a final point, consider the weather conditions in which you are likely to be using your megaphone, as sound travels farther in cold weather. Where do you live? What are the average weather conditions in your area? Will you be using your megaphone in summer, winter or both? Each of these questions is worth your consideration.
What Features Should I be Looking for?
As we discussed earlier, a megaphone’s shape contributes a lot to its overall performance. A narrower horn, for instance, concentrates the sound coming out of it, allowing for greater range, while also cutting down on power usage. Look for an overall design that suits your particular needs.
Portability is an important feature if you’re planning on traveling with a megaphone or using it for extended periods. If you’re going to be carrying it around a lot, you’re going to want the most lightweight and easy-to-transport model available to you.
The position of the handle will affect how the weight is spread across your hand. It’s also good to find one with a strap (this can make it easier to hold and carry).
It’s also always useful to handle a product of this type physically before going through with a purchase. If you can’t do that, see if you can borrow one from somebody else, in order to assess if it feels too heavy or cumbersome for your specific needs. That way, when you check the product dimensions online, you’ll have a better idea of what you’re looking for.
Battery life is an important consideration for anybody buying a megaphone. Some megaphones come with their own rechargeable batteries, while others require regular store-bought batteries. If you opt for regular batteries, be sure to recycle them at your local supermarket, as discarded batteries can be very harmful to the environment.
Alarms and sirens are also a useful feature, as these can grab people’s attention far more efficiently than simple verbal commands.
A recording function can be greatly beneficial as well. Although megaphones are not traditional recording devices, some can record and play a short message on a loop. This saves you having to repeat yourself in situations where you may otherwise have to.
A detachable microphone is a really good feature to look out for. This allows for the horn and the microphone to be separate from one another, enabling you to hold the horn over your head, or move it around without changing the direction you’re facing. You can even position the horn in a separate location and speak into the microphone. This can be very useful indeed.
Megaphones & The Law
Here in the UK, there are no specific laws against using a megaphone in public. However, the user may be considered to be causing a disturbance and get ‘moved on’ by police if they persist for too long or become too intrusive. It is possible, if unlikely, that a person using a megaphone will fall afoul of noise pollution laws in some cases.
The reaction of police may also be influenced by what is actually being said by the user (e.g., using vulgar language, profanity or slurs designed to target minority groups will likely see that person arrested for hate speech, if the person were actively threatening others, he or she may also be charged with breaching the peace).
Additionally, using a megaphone on any space that is privately owned would require the permission of the landowner, to do so without said permission may be an example of trespassing.
The Noise Act 1996, the Environmental Protection Act 1990 and the Common Law of Nuisance are the main laws that govern noise pollution with regard to private residences. Under these laws, it is unlikely that the user would be seen favourably in the eyes of the law (or, indeed, the ears of their neighbours!) if they opted to use their megaphone at home, especially if they chose to do so after hours.
UK law also states that employers must provide hearing protection and designated protective zones for any environment where the noise consistently exceeds 85db. Many megaphones can put out between 100 and 122dbs, which does technically put them over this limit. However, workplaces generally use megaphones for things like fire drills, team building events and outdoor activities, but are not considered to be breaking this law, due to the fact that the megaphones are not in constant use in these instances.
Megaphones are useful in many situations and are a form of reliable technology, the basics of which have remained unchanged for many, many years. We hope you have enjoyed and learned something from this guide.
VONYX MEG060 Portable Megaphone
UZI High Power Loud Megaphone
Pyle-Pro PMP50 50W Megaphone
MY Mealivos Megaphone
VONYX Portable Megaphone
This nicely designed, good-sized megaphone has a range of 1.2KM (nearly 4000ft) and weighs just over 1kg (about the same as a bag of sugar). It works well, both across long distances and over loud ambient noise, making it an ideal choice for outdoor use.
Thanks to this megaphone’s 60 Watts of available power and variable volume control, the Vonyx Meg060 can deliver clear, easy-to-understand verbal instructions over considerable distances.
The Vonyx Meg060 also features a detachable ‘anti-howl’ microphone, which connects via a hard wearing coiled lead. This can also be clipped to the megaphone itself for extra convenience.
This is a very nice feature, although it does expose the downside of the detachable mic not being very good when compared to the megaphone itself. Sadly, despite being touted as ‘anti howl’, this mic does howl from time-to-time. Of course, howling is very tough to avoid, but it feels disingenuous of the manufacturers to market the mic as ‘anti howl’ when, in reality, this is not the case.
Another negative point here is the fact that this megaphone isn’t waterproof. For a device designed to be used outdoors, this places the MEG060 squarely in the ‘must do better’ category.
It’s not all ‘doom and gloom’, however. This megaphone features both USB and SD card compatibility, which means it can be used to play audio clips and music (there’s even a headphone jack, should you need one). This neat little feature allows you to record directly into the megaphone, as well as play audio from a portable device and record that as well. However, you cannot record directly from the megaphone onto a phone.
The ability to play audio clips is especially welcome, as the megaphone will broadcast pre-recorded messages so you can save your voice (these messages will need to be short, however, as the megaphone’s recording capabilities only stretch to about 16 seconds). Each playback is also followed by a loud, tape-recorder-esque ‘CLICK’ as well, which can get annoying.
Another area where the manufacturers have been a bit naughty is in the weight. As stated above, they list the megaphone as weighing just over 1kg. This is only accurate until you add the batteries (of which there are 8). After this, the MEG060 practically doubles in weight.
Thankfully, there is a good quality strap that allows you to hoist the thing over your shoulder, which is definitely a plus point for any megaphone.
The battery compartment has a slight bit of water protection added to it (it’s the only part of this megaphone that does), but this makes it difficult to close once opened. It will take rechargeable batteries as well as store-bought batteries, but both options will require you to lug 8 replacement batteries around with you at any given time.
All in all, this is a well-made megaphone that works very well. However, it suffers from a number of nagging issues that stop it being as good as it could be.
UZI High Power Loud Megaphone
The UZI High Power Loud Megaphone looks like it means business. In fact, it wouldn’t be out of place as a prop from an American cop movie. It benefits from a sleek, rubberised finish, which feels nice in the hand, as well as ensuring that it won’t be easily dropped.
This 50-Watt megaphone can project sounds over a range of 500Metres (1,600 ft), which probably makes it better for indoor, rather than outdoor, use. The volume is adjustable, which makes for another plus.
It has a USB port (and can even charge your phone in a pinch) and an SD ports, as well as having a memory time of 16 seconds and the ability to playback pre-recorded messages (but not music). There’s even a conveniently located switch that allows you to jump between the ‘USB’ and ‘SD’ modes.
The detachable microphone works really well, attaching easily to the megaphone, with all the buttons you will need (PTT, siren etc) logically laid out for you. There’s even a strap.
The UZI High Power Loud Megaphone comes with a rechargeable battery, however this can be replaced, if necessary, by 8 ‘C’ batteries. The option to recharge the device is very welcome, as well as slightly more environmentally friendly.
Perhaps regrettably, it comes with no instructions. Additionally, the rubber seal that protects the battery pack often comes off with the pack itself (it’s not hard to put it back into place, it’s just annoying that you have to). Perhaps most damning of all, the diagram for inserting replacement batteries is backwards(!).
In summary, this is a reliable bit of kit that will do a good job. It lacks range and some functionality and there are some irritating oversights with regard to the battery, but aside from that, it’s pretty good.
Pyle-Pro PMP50 50W Megaphone
With a striking blue-grey design, the Pyle-Pro PMP50 is certainly nice to look at. It is also very loud, with the siren especially being nothing short of terrifying (seriously, use caution with this feature). Believe it or not, this thing can broadcast your voice from up to a mile away.
It can also be plugged into a wall socket, although you will need to source the cable for this separately and the manufacturer offers no help at all regarding any technical details.
On the subject of charging, this megaphone offers no options besides the adapter option and the requirement of 8 batteries (the schematics for which are very confusing).
Another issue is the rubber edge of the speaker itself, which is poorly attached and falls off with depressing regularity. You will definitely lose a little of your authority if your megaphone appears to fall apart as you use it!
This isn’t helped by the fact that you need to basically stick your mouth right up to the thing in order for it to pick up your voice at all. This would definitely become uncomfortable if you used it over an extended period.
The Pyle-Pro PMP50 has just two modes of use, siren and talk. It does, however, feature variable volume control.
While the megaphone is relatively lightweight, the battery pack certainly is not and the inclusion of 8 ‘C’ batteries renders this megaphone off-balance, which makes it feel slightly unwieldy.
There’s a very good strap, which allows for safe use and aids portability, but this probably isn’t enough to save the Pyle-Pro PMP50. Cumbersome, hungry for batteries and considerably more limited than its contemporaries, this one is an able performer, but that’s about it.
MY Mealivos Megaphone
With a maximum output of 50 Watts, this jet-black beauty can carry your voice for over 1000 metres, which makes it perfect for events such as school sports days, boat shows and other outdoor pursuits.
The MY Mealivos megaphone is also very neatly designed and lightweight. The battery pack is very light and easy to access, with just one rechargeable battery required. If you prefer, you also have the option to use 8 regular ‘C’ batteries.
The addition of a rechargeable battery is a real plus. Because you can easily swap out the rechargeable battery, you can quickly and simply replace it with regular batteries, should you ever need to. The only real negative point here is the lack of a charger cable. To not include one is just a baffling choice on the part of the manufacturer and serves only to let the product down overall.
On the plus side, there’s a tough, durable strap that should make the device a good deal easier to carry, as well as keeping it safe.
The microphone is detachable, which means that you can use it to project your voice at the same time as you hold the megaphone aloft.
The downside here is that the detachable microphone isn’t particularly good and won’t pick up much sound unless you practically scream directly into it. There’s also no PTT button and no way to use the main unit to control the detachable mic. Frankly, the detachable microphone here is a real let-down.
There are three audio modes overall. These are talk, siren and record (the last one accomplished via USB or SD). The ‘record & replay’ function allows you to record a brief message or a set of instructions and play them on repeat. You also have the option of playing back or streaming audio such as music from your iPod, smartphone or any other compatible device. A disappointment here is the lack of iPhone compatibility, which isn’t ideal.
The siren is very loud and impressive and certainly won’t let you down, while the ability to connect to a phone is very welcome indeed.
A few issues ultimately prevent this one from being a better product. The detachable mic is poorly designed, as well as inconvenient to operate, while the lack of iPhone compatibility is also an annoyance we could do without.
Elsewhere, the manufacturer opting not to include a charger cable undermines one of this megaphone’s best features, which is also a shame.
That being said, the MY Mealivos megaphone is still a decent enough model. It amplifies sound well, has a great siren and benefits from both a lighter weight and a fully rechargeable battery, not to mention no small amount of versatility.
The VONYX MEG060 is a powerful model that genuinely works quite well. It has a few faults, however. It isn’t in any way waterproof, for one. It’s also heavy and cumbersome and the detachable mic could be a lot better. The ability to clip the mic to the back of the megaphone is certainly a plus though, as is the ability to play MP3s.
Meanwhile, the UZI High Power Loud Megaphone is another solid effort, this time scuppered by a particularly inefficient battery pack. It performs its main function ably, however. It also has a pretty decent detachable mic, as well as a number of other nice functions.
The Pyle-Pro PMP50, for its part, is fiddly to use and largely inefficient. This is not to say that it’s bad, just that it suffers from a number of drawbacks, including parts falling off of it and a very confusing battery schematic. It does have a great strap, however. The PMP50 also projects the user’s voice exceptionally well. That, of course, is the most important feature of a megaphone.
Finally,our winner is the MY Mealivos Megaphone is nice and versatile, offering the user a lot of options when all is said and done. The detachable mic really isn’t up to much at all and any charger cable you need will have to be purchased separately, but the ability to plug it into the wall and charge, as well as to opt for regular batteries in a pinch, helps this one to overcome some of its shortcomings.