by Andres Caamano

After spending months (or longer) doing research on a new audio system, there comes a time to begin buying. As with most house of worship gear, your current audio system has likely done heavy lifting in the space for eight years or longer. Even if it’s tempting to get the latest and greatest quickly, supply chain and budget realities remain as ongoing challenges.

Having gone through the time to research it may seem logical to dive into buying the gear on your own. To get a grasp on that part of the process it’s best to turn to knowledgeable people, including integrators.

When crafting a wish list of what you’ll want the new system to include, think beyond your needs of today.

Your worship team may have grown over the years, since the current system was put in place years ago. But do you anticipate continue growing in the coming years? If so, having enough inputs and outputs today, but not in a few years, isn’t wise stewardship or planning.

Upon going through the work of ordering gear, make sure to account for a timeline. Some top-quality speakers on the market are still contending with supply chain realities, where waiting can extend beyond a year. If you try to handle all the ordering on your own, you’ll likely confront problematic delivery timelines on some items. Working with someone will go a long way toward being able to start the install in an organized fashion.

Taking the First Steps Toward Success

With so many gear choices, making a final decision on each item can seem exhausting prior to ordering one piece.

“The first thing is to find a reputable partner. One that has access to the gear you want,” noted Duke DeJong, president of integration for Vantage Pro AV. “They can work with you on ordering products. But they can also communicate lead times well, along with discount possibilities, and other logistical needs for delivery,” he added.

In a similar fashion, Kirk Denson, production development director at Willow Creek Community Church said, “Reach out to an integrator. Get the assistance you need on your system.” In having those initial discussions with your integrator, account for updates that would likely bear fruit in the near future.

With the upcoming upgrade, you may be wanting to shift from mono in-ear monitoring to stereo. That alone will require a doubling of your channel count. If your worship band is expected to continue to grow, then your demands will be even more.

The discussions about lead time and on the wait for your new gear, should also be had with the church’s leadership. That way you avoid unrealistic expectations regarding how quickly some items could arrive, while providing some reality to the calendar.

“That way (the leadership) understands the time it will take for the gear to come in,” explained David Leuschner, executive director of Digital Great Commission Ministries. The leadership discussion should have taken place prior to ordering, but it can be organized after as well.

When composing a timeline it shouldn’t be limited to accounting for waiting on the gear to arrive. “You’ll also want to schedule soundchecks with your worship team,” said Leuschner. “You want to make sure the new system is functioning how you want.”

Don’t Let Saving A Few Dollars Derail Good Planning

For Denson, it’s key to have a solid relationship in place to make the ordering process a successful one. “If it were me, generally, I’d want to establish a relationship with a catalog/online store, like a Sweetwater,” he said. “The objective’s saving the ministry money, and you’ll do so if you have a relationship established with an account manager.”

Having a reliable company, like a Sweetwater, Full Compass, or Sound Pro, serves as a worthwhile option on smaller projects, according to Golden Preciado, audio engineer and A/V campus coordinator for St. Andrews Presbyterian Church in Newport Beach, California. “My experience has been with small integrations, I stayed with that one company. (The account manager) knew me and could lower the price as low as he could on items.”

Even when focused on saving a few dollars in the short term, set yourself up for when you need help. “Going with a local integrator, if something goes wrong or breaks, they can send someone out to troubleshoot,” Denson explained. However, for many complex systems having virtual systems can close that gap if the integrator isn’t local. “I have a longstanding relationship with Clair Global, but they’re not based here. Every (Willow Creek) location has VMware, and we can troubleshoot and get a problem fixed.”

On larger projects, Preciado found integrators a great help. “A lot of churches are struggling financially. I’ve found integrators super helpful, giving options for items in different price ranges,” she detailed. Among the other benefits, as explained by DeJong, “We have more experience and expertise making sure a system is deployed well and safely.”

The safety aspect isn’t something to take lightly. “I’ve seen a lot of stuff hanging from chain in churches, and that is not safe.”

However, DeJong added that if the new audio system is small or portable, purchasing from a retailer should be feasible.

Avoid Being Locked in By Prior Research

The temptation is after spending months combing through options for your next audio system, that you’re locked in on product.

Upon having a conversation with an integrator, you might find those supposedly locked in plans can shift markedly. Too often, the seemingly great product turns out not being a fit for your space. “Personally, I wouldn’t buy a sound system that hasn’t been modeled for my space,” noted DeJong. “It also has to be a proven solution for my needs.”

In discussing possibilities with an integrator, you may learn completely more effective solutions. “On a project, I will first ask the integrator, ‘What are your thoughts?’ And have found that they had better ideas than what I was thinking,” Preciado shared.

To get a good idea about a product, turn to those you know who may have a similar system. This way, before requesting to demo a product in your space, you can hear it for yourself. Is it as good as everything you’ve read up to that point?

Understanding that each product won’t be able to be demoed in-house, you should anticipate product suggestions if working with an integrator. Even if the integrator has many years in the business, Leuschner said, “Have them prove it. Have them show it on virtual software or by demoing it.” Especially if your research doesn’t match with the integrator’s choices.

If wanting an unbiased opinion on what to include in your system, a consultant can help firm up those decisions. “For a consultant, they’re not bound to a product, and can give an even answer,” Leuschner noted. “When looking at the options, the consultant could determine that “‘No, you need to try something else.’ Or ‘Yes, your research is good, stick to that.’”

As a result of supply chain issues and high demands for some audio gear, a wait on a set of speakers or amplifiers can extend to about a year, and sometimes longer.

Supply Chain Still A Thing

Even after researching a particular product, and with your integrator in agreement, the wait to get your gear can cause heartburn. Do you go in another direction and go with something else simply because the alternative’s available now or much sooner?

As explained by Denson, “Across the board, supply chain issues are being experienced.” Despite that frustration don’t let the added wait derail your plans unless it’s necessary. “You’ve waited this long (replacing the gear), it shouldn’t matter (waiting a little longer) unless you’re replacing something that’s failed.”

If there are two quality choices where if you went with either, you wouldn’t be disappointed, consider being flexible. Especially if one choice has a much more favorable timeline. For example, let’s say you learn that company A has a particular line of speakers available with a reasonable wait. Originally, you had your mind set on a comparable set of Company B arrays. Unfortunately, you learn of an overbearing wait on those speakers, where such a switch shouldn’t be considered a deal breaker.

Be Prepared to Be Patient

At the same time, if you can wait, it’s best to go with the equipment topping your list. As a result of supply chain issues and high demands for some audio gear, a wait on a set of speakers or amplifiers can extend to about a year, and sometimes longer.

When it comes to project planning for the new audio system, enduring a wait should be factored into the mix. “If you have patience, you will likely get what you want. If you don’t, you will likely not get what you want,” noted Leuschner.

How long should you anticipate waiting to receive all the system’s gear in hand, before starting an install? With lead times running on many products ranging anywhere from three months to over a year, there’s no concrete answer. When asked about anticipated wait times, Preciado said, “People are waiting three to six months. For wireless, even longer.”

For Leuschner, it would be best to build in the needed time. Avoid putting yourself in a position where a system is “installed frantically and foolishly.” Based on recent projects for “full systems, getting gear typically runs a minimum of six months,” he added.

Regarding the prospect of waiting, DeJong concluded, “I wouldn’t personally let the supply chain dictate what I end up buying. I find that the right solution is the right solution when it becomes available.”

Andres Caamano is a writer and editor with nearly 20 years’ experience, including over four years bringing attention to the latest news in audio, video, and lighting technology for houses of worship.

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