Good Church Sound System Design Gets The Message Across Clearly

By Marylou Forbes

Nearly all bodies of worship congregate in a central location, which may include elaborate, soaring spaces reminiscent of cathedrals, or unassuming strip mall storefronts re-purposed for meetings. No matter what room is used, its acoustics determine whether or not the experience is inspiring or irritating. Good church sound system design encourages enthusiasm, while poor acoustics create fatigue and frustration.

Many people have experienced the frustration poorly amplified sound can cause, and realize that simply pouring money into an already inadequate setup may indeed eliminate some issues, while making others even worse. Volume may become agonizingly loud in one corner, and fine in another. Speech may be loud enough, but clearly understanding the words might become difficult. The pulpit may seem quite distant, or be obscured by feedback.

Some congregations must cope with too much reverberation, or meet in a room so deadened with panels and carpeting that all echo disperses. The people sitting up front may hear adequately, while those back a few rows might feel that they are not even present. Some microphones pick up spoken words reasonably well, but cannot handle the extended frequency range of music, creating irritating overtones, distortion and muddiness.

Church members sometimes attempt to correct these issues without outside help, even though acoustically fine-tuning a room for both music and sermon may be best accomplished through professional analysis and necessary equipment improvements. Most churches have limited resources, but the costs involved are only one factor in selecting the best components and controls. While sometimes necessary, spending a great deal may not be effective.

An experienced analyst relies on digital equipment to obtain an interior acoustical signature, but depends on the human ear for final judgement. In addition, many use specialized audio software designed for solving these issues. It can accurately determine where problems spots are located, and where the sound will disappear or reverberate. The goal is a dynamic listening experience for everyone attending.

Many rooms require more than one speaker, and that can create regions where there are acoustic hot or cold spots. When properly balanced and timed, those spaces are eliminated, providing clean signals to every single location. Calibration may be difficult to achieve without the proper equipment, but an experienced consulting and installation firm takes the guesswork out of optimization.

Most services are a combination of speech and music, and a well-designed configuration should be able to reproduce both equally well. Speech amplification needs microphones that clarify specific types of output, but those same devices must also be capable of reproducing musical tones without listeners noticing or complaining. Both speakers and microphones should be chosen based on reputation, not necessarily on cost.

Professional installation can help ensure that there are no inadvertent electrical errors that may violate local codes, or that may cause inductive humming noises. The process also includes properly concealing all the wires and connections, and making sure that any hanging speakers are not a safety hazard. Most consultants will also train designated church members in electronic control panel operations during services.

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