Church Installs: An Audio Study

In Uncategorizedby tfwm

Why do some churches use their “leftover” budgets to create the masterpiece that is sound?

When it comes to seating, we don’t use what’s left over and run to the local superstore and pick up folding chairs. When it comes to carpeting we don’t head for the remnant section and piece our carpet together.

Yet so many of us take what’s left over in the budget, run down to the local music store, and piece together an audio system made of “folding chairs” and “remnants” for permanent installation into our beautiful new worship center. Why?

As an audio-visual design and installation company, we have found that it simply boils down to not having the correct information soon enough during the expansion/building project.

An audio system can be fussy. It needs to consist of equipment that “plays” well together. It must run on “clean” power, and have the chance to perform with proper acoustics. Equipment needs to be used for its correct application and achieve certain placement to produce quality listening and operation.

This sounds like a lot…and it is. We will break it down for you into some simple examples to help you understand what needs to take place before blueprints.

Let’s start with equipment that “plays” well together. If you piece-meal a system together, you run the risk of using equipment that doesn’t always get along. For instance, wireless microphones operate on frequencies. Should you end up purchasing wireless mics that operate on the same frequency as other equipment, your microphones will not work.

Most lavalieres do not play well with any system. They are used all of the time because they allow the freedom to walk around and use our hands to speak, but yes, their performances commonly produce feedback. This because the mic has to be turned up so much to reach an audible volume, it begins to feedback. You may have heard the term “gain before feedback.” This is one situation where the phrase is used.

Lavalieres were originally designed for broadcast use by newscasters, talk show hosts, etc in a controlled environment. They really weren’t designed for use in a live setting therefore, we encounter feedback.

A great solution to the problem of the lavaliere is converting to a headset microphone. Many won’t even give it a try, as they are afraid of appearance and comfort. Our answer to that is: When what you have to say becomes as important as what you look like, try a headset microphone.

Headset microphones, just like lavalieres, allow the freedom to move and use your hands. In addition, they capture the voice as it comes out of the mouth rather than having to search for it while resting on a lapel 4″-8″ below the mouth. A headset microphone also allows your technicians to set the volume at a lower level, which assists in eliminating feedback. No more clothing noise as a lapel style microphone will rub on your garments and/or costumes with your movement. No more dropping out as you turn your head to speak, because a headset microphone travels with the turn of your head, keeping the volume level even.

Headset microphones have evolved tremendously since they first arrived on the scene. Tiny, minute, strands of wire with a microphone head the size of a pencil eraser or even smaller now exist. The days of obtrusive giant black ball microphone heads are dwindling in the headset microphone arena.

“Clean” power is a term we use to describe some of the unwanted buzzes and hums. If the electrical power from outside is fluctuating between voltages it can cause unwanted noises. Isolated transformers installed between the main power and your equipment helps to fight off annoying sounds.

Your audio design/installation company should be working with your architect, electricians, and others during the conceptual stages of design. For example, if the architect and general contractor are not aware of the size of system you will be installing, this could cause major change orders from the electrical company. It is best to select your audio company at the same time you select your architect/builder.

Moving on to proper acoustics, we will now attempt to convince you to spend some of your budget here. If you are transitioning into a building project that boasts a gymnasium type facility, you will need to consider the fact that a gymnasium – no matter what you call it (gym-natorium, family life center, cafe-nasium, etc.) – is still a gymnasium acoustically. These rooms create lots of what we call slap-back and echo. This can be combated somewhat with acoustical consultation early on. Because acoustics consist of so much more than just the dimensions and shape of the room, we highly recommend contacting an acoustical expert.

Proper application is important. For instance, if you are trying to use speaker cable as microphone line you may encounter buzzing, humming, or it may not even work.

Another example is using speakers without rigging or fly ware pre-installed. Drilling holes and installing eyebolts into speakers on your own brings up a whole other issue – liability. Take a look at the photograph to see what can happen in just such scenarios.

Our last example reflecting proper application is that of music store equipment vs. commercial grade equipment. Buying speakers at a great price – but nowhere near the proper coverage suitable for your seating area – is still commonplace in this arena.

‘A speaker is a speaker is a speaker’ is not necessarily true. Most music stores sell the same name brands as any audio design/install company, but they generally stock the portable versions. Portable and permanent systems are on opposite ends of the spectrum.

Portable systems are normally placed on tripod stands, the floor, etc. and are set up for temporary use. Permanent systems are custom designed, professionally installed, and follow wiring codes.

We think of houses of worship and their audio system settings as live sound permanently installed. Live music, live drama, live sermons; all boast different applications.

Digital consoles are all the rage. They are wonderful for consistency in performance. They work well with other equipment, but may not when it comes to technicians. If your tech staff does not know how to operate and/or configure a digital console, disaster is on the brink of occurring. Why?

Let’s say your lead audio tech is absent and the person who will be taking over has never had their hands on the digital console, much less operated or programmed one. When the order of the service changes without advance notice, your sub-tech may never find the knob or “page” from where the adjustments must be made. This is frustrating enough on a regular console, so why add insult to injury?

Digital consoles are more for a theatrical show or concert setting that remains the same from show to show and where all of the operators know the programming of the console. Services run pretty much the same each week, but we all know there will be constant changes and adjustments throughout every service.

Think it through in detail before you make your final decision to add a digital console to the mix.

In addition to proper applications comes proper placement of equipment. If equipment is not installed in the correct location, the quality of the sound drops off drastically.

Your audio design/installation company should take the time to decipher such positioning. Center clusters, left/right, delay systems, and monitors, all need to be placed properly for maximum performance.

Positioning of monitors and microphones brings up the issue of floor pockets on your stage area. How many inputs are required? This is yet another question you will need to answer for your audio company so they can direct your equipment to the best locations.

Booth location is a sticky subject. Just know this, the best place for a sound booth takes up valuable real estate – therefore, the sound techs are always suffering from what we like to call “listening envy”. It is important that your sound operators hear the sound just as the majorities sitting in your congregation are hearing it to create an enjoyable listening event.

If a finished sound booth ends up in a balcony, a corner, an enclosed room, or under a ledge, we insist that the sound techs take turns mixing, then stepping away from the booth over to an optimum listening area like somewhere near the center of the main floor. Every time this little test is performed, the results are the same. Sound techs return wide eyed and drop-jawed due to the differences between what they heard from their mixing location and what the listeners are hearing.

As you can see, there is much more involved around selecting the correct audio system for your specific venue than just running out and picking up some speakers and microphones.

Invite your audio company to join the ranks of your building project from the onset and you will benefit greatly when it comes time for system performance.

We want to help you make educated decisions when it comes to investing in your church’s audio future and we certainly hope we have helped you gain a better understanding of the audio system design/installation process.

Never be afraid to ask questions.