Checklist: Planning A Church Sound System

Answer these questions honestly to be off and running on your next church project.

by Peter Patrick


In every project there are always a number of driving factors. However, determining the importance of each is key.

Use this checklist to carefully assess your system needs and you’ll be well on your way to a successful church sound system project.

Priority of room purposes?
This is critical when room acoustics are considered.

Congregational singing benefits from strong room reflections, which naturally reinforce the singers voices. An acoustically “dead” space makes singing uncomfortable.

On the other hand, the strength of the reflections directly affects speech intelligibility in a negative way.

If the priority is the spoken word then room acoustics should be so weighted. A space designed for both requires some compromise and careful attention to the design of the speaker system.

Presentation styles?
Consider whether various styles of events such as plays, orations, bands, choirs etc are to be presented. Choirs require the use of long-range “choir mics”.

There is simply no way a choir can be amplified when located right beside a drum kit/bass guitar/rock band or any loud sound source without also amplifying the other sound as well. This produces a very poor mix of choir voices and backing instruments.

Communication needs?
Plays and musical shows require stage management and coordination by a stage manager who needs paging and announcement facilities in dressing rooms etc from a backstage location.

This can be managed on a budget through the main house mixers auxiliary send system or bus system in conjunction with a “Push To Talk” style mic for the stage manager, but the wiring needs to be in place first, rather than last.

More communication??
Following from the point above… IF pantomime style shows are contemplated please consider the need for headset comms between stage manager, sound and light controllers, stage hands (scene changes etc).

There are wired and wireless comm types available in a great range of capabilities. It is therefore worth working through your needs carefully.

Building shape/layout?
This is obviously a job for an architect. There is, however, great merit in getting a sound system consultant involved at the drawing board stage.

This work, along with that of an acoustical consultant, provides very valuable input to the process of simple things like whether choir mics will work or not. If you can locate a consultant with dual capabilities, so much the better.

Early budget by negotiation?
A PA system consultant should be able to give a fair idea of just what options are available at what approximate costs. Determine what you want your sound system to be capable of, and budget accordingly. Broad-brush figures should suffice early in the planning stage but be prepared to be flexible.

There are more than enough sad cases wherein too little money was allocated to this discipline in the first place and a second rate or simply inadequate outcome results.

This either means people have to live with a bad system or find another sum of money to retrofit new equipment. Retrofitting is always more expensive than getting it right the first time.

Installation process?
Consider whether you want to install the sound system yourself. For example, determine if there will be loudspeakers/equipment mounted overhead in public places. If so, do you have the skills and resources to ensure the mounting system meets engineering safety requirements?

Another example: are there skills and workforce power available to correctly connect the cables and test the sound system after completion to ensure all id’s functioning properly?

For some systems (where there are multiple speakers and possibly with digital delay requirements) this can involve specialized test equipment.

New or second hand?
Some items don’t suffer much with age and sensible use.

Buying a good quality mixing desk or amplifier second hand can often get you a much better unit than you would otherwise be able to afford.

Testing will usually reveal any problems and the risk of buying a bad unit minimized. Loudspeakers are not so easy to test and they do suffer mechanical stress. It pays to be extra careful in buying second-hand loudspeakers.

Music style?
Rock music usually demands higher sound levels, especially at the low end of the spectrum in amplified bass guitar and drum sounds. There is often an associated need for volume limiting to protect loudspeakers and equipment.

Range of instruments to be amplified?
A list of all instruments likely to be part of the show/service will help determine the system capabilities. An electric organ, for instance may create a need for special speakers capable of reproducing the bass pedal notes.

Style of amplification?
List all the different types of arrangements for getting the sound of the instrument into the sound system. Bugs on acoustic instruments, small microphones attached near the sound source,

Instrument mic on a boom? Note that every microphone contributes it’s own contribution towards feedback. The fewer microphones in use at one time, the cleaner the sound.

Number of inputs?
Please take care in accounting for all the sound sources/instruments that will need simultaneous amplification. Sound system components like mixing consoles loose value very quickly. Trading up to a larger unit can be expensive.

Room size?
This relates back to music style to some extent. Amplified drum sound in a small room is usually overkill. Low ceiling heights can cause real difficulties for even sound distribution sometimes requiring ceiling speakers to resolve the problem.

Vocal needs?
List all the different speaking and singing styles. For example, will there be a choir? Will there be need for a lectern mic or lapel mics?

Room layout?
The shape of the room and layout are extremely important to the business of avoiding feedback.

Orator mobility?
Is there a need for roving microphones? This has a strong effect on the type of equipment that will be suitable and the price and effectiveness of feedback elimination systems.

Wireless microphones?
Modern UHF wireless microphones are of two basic genres: fixed and frequency agile. The fixed frequency units are much lower cost but might not survive the introduction of a new TV station or translator to the area.

Will the whole system need to travel?
Relates to wireless microphones Fixed frequency units may not work at all if taken to another location.

What are the environmental requirements?
Noise pollution statutes can affect the design of a building to contain sound.

Special requirements will apply if you intend to use the auditorium for events requiring licensing permits, for example, multi-purpose assembly halls.

Ditto from your own perspective…
Nearby traffic noise, for instance, can be a real distraction.

What level of expertise does the average operator have?
System designers can make adjustments to cater to some extent for novice operators. Experienced, skilled operators, however, demand and make use of a wider range of facilities.

A high-power, complex system can serve to confuse novice operators and mitigate against the likely success of the system.

Is there a need for foldback?
Foldback loudspeakers allow vocalists to hear their own voice, instruments, etc. The use of loud foldback systems can be quite detrimental to the delivery of good sound in the listening space, however.

Placement of acoustic treatment at the rear of the dais can assist in controlling stray acoustical energy ("echo", “reverb”, and etc.)

What are the architectural restrictions?
The sound controller should ideally sit in a position which reflects an average of the sound in the listening area. Ideally, simply in the middle of the listeners. Because the whole audience hears the whole service through the sound engineers ears.

Light dimmers?
Whilst it is useful to co-locate light and sound control desks it is wise to maintain separation of audio and high power light dimmer cables.

Will there be multi core “snake” cables used?
Drawing snakes through ducts can be difficult. Consider your capabilities in removing the connectors, which, in a bunch, are usually too large to fit through a conduit.

Ducting size?
The use of audio “snake” cables is cost effective but the diameter of the cable is large - and arge radius bends are needed in ducts.

It is also better to put too many ducts into a concrete slab than risk under-doing the job.

Loudspeaker location?
Needs to be chosen carefully to plan not only for pre-cabling and audience coverage but also for ensuring adequate support structure is in place.

Loudspeaker cable routing?
The length of a speaker cable run is a determinant in wire size required. Long runs require larger diameter cables.

A proper design includes wire size calculations to maintain proper “damping factor” of the speaker to avoid excessive cone excursion.

Power distribution and nearby radio/TV?
The requirement for separate power cable feeds to different parts of a sound system can bring about a need for specially chosen “hum resistant” equipment and/or isolation devices and special cabling techniques in severe cases. Radio frequency interference (RFI) needs to be considered in the same vein.

Physical access?
Physical access to cabling and equipment is crucial to future serviceability, Try to ensure that ample removable panels are provided because every sound system needs updating sooner or later and all equipment made and installed by humans has a failure rate.

Electronics (generally) and power amplifiers (especially) require generous air movement to maintain temperature stability. Try to ensure generous ventilation gaps are provided top and bottom of racks/cabinets to facilitate thermal air movement.

by Peter Patrick
from ProSoundWeb

used by permission

Survey: How Has The FCC Impacted Your Wireless Microphones?

The world of wireless microphones is changing. Any wireless using 700 Mhz is now illegal and subject to thousands of dollars in fines. But the FCC is not through with us: the White Spaces issue is likely to threaten us further.

How much has the FCC impacted your organization's use of wireless microphones? How much will they affect you with the next transition? Please take a minute to give us your opinion.

If you have received this as an email, please click on the title to fill out the survey.

Any questions or comments?

Studio Live: "My First Digital Mixer"

I really should have put this up some time ago. It has been a long time since a new audio mixing board has generated as much hubbub and interest as the PreSonus Studio Live boards have. And in a significant departure from previous "exciting new" consoles, these boards are actually affordable! Imagine that!

Their first board has already become an industry standard as a transition console from the analog world to "my first digital mixer". Many churches and touring groups are choosing the Studio Live board because they want the power, the audio quality, and the recall-ability of a digital board at the price of a small analog board; users particularly love the concept of a digital board that is as easy to use as an analog board! They've been delighted to learn that with a single cable, you can quickly and simply record up to 16 channels of digital audio on a computer, either Mac or PC; the raft of on-board compressors and effects just sweeten the deal (and save $$ on outboard gear)!

That original board was the 16.4.2, is a 16 channel board, and we sold many of our first few shipments of the 16.4.2 as standalone, 16-channel mixers. Gradually, people became aware of the fact that two of the boards could be slaved together to make a 32 channel board. An interesting thing happened: first, most sales were now for two of the boards, not for singles, and second, many of the folks that had bought a single board called back for a second one.

(The connection of two boards is remarkably simple: a FireWire cable connects the two boards. If you like, there is a gadget to physically attach them together to make one physical console as well.)

But the transition from analog to digital hasn't been without some challenges. A fair number of dyed-in-the-wool analog guys have had difficulty wrapping their mind around a digital board. More commonly, I get questions from users of earlier digital boards made by pioneers in the digital mixer world: they are afraid that the Studio Live boards will be as difficult to use as those boards.

And it was with these two scenarios in mind that my friend (and president of the sound company where I work) made this video to introduce the Studio Live board, not from a sales perspective, but from an audio engineer's perspective. Listen while Ron walks us through the Studio Live console:

More recently, PreSonus has introduced the big brother to the Studio Live 16.4.2, the 24 channel 24.4.2. It's not just "8 more channels" (though it is that), they've added quite a number of new features, and now people are having trouble deciding: do I choose the 24 channel board, or do I slave two 16's together to make a 32 channel board. And now two of the 24's can be slaved together to make a 48 channel mixer (though there are some recording limitations due to the 32 channel capacity of FireWire), so churches are beginning to buy this board in pairs and slaving them as well.

This is Rick Naqvi of Presonus introducing the 24 channel Studio Live 24.4.2 digital mixer. He really understands the board well (he should; he works for PreSonus), and can point out the difference between the boards.

If you're interested in one (or two) of either of these boards, give me a call (800/426-8664) or an email (churchsoundguy(at) we have "Try it Free" units for you to test, and we have the boards in stock, each with a "satisfaction guaranteed" warranty in addition to PreSonus's product warranty. Or call if you just want to talk about your sound system hopes and dreams.

Compression in the Live World

In the good old days of “making records,” compression was mostly used as an envelope modification tool. But around the beginning of “the great loudness wars,” some famous studio mixer dudes found they could get more work done in a shorter period of time by removing all the dynamics from the music, then equalizing it into place in the sonic arrangement.

Seeing as many of these dudes are charging several thousand dollars per song, and don’t really care how the final product hits the street as long as they can wail through a couple/three songs a day, it’s a great idea. Unless you happen to like music.

Unfortunately, the actual product – a hyper-compressed, no-dynamics ball of ick – is now viewed as normal for the presentation of music. The real irony is that this all started with the advent of the compact disc, which was heralded as the Next Great Thing due to it’s extended dynamic range.

So here we are in 2k5 with racks and racks of “studio quality” compressors traveling with so many live shows. Lately I’ve also been in clubs that had more Empirical Labs “distressors” than many studios.

The original problem with “live” compression was that it “sucked up” the stage sound between songs, which often caused feedback. But with the proliferation of “personal monitor” rigs, this is no longer the case. So squashing the heck out of the music has become perfectly acceptable.

Now, in addition to compressing the bass, in addition to compressing the drum sub, in addition to the studio trick of using parallel compression on the drum sub, in addition to compressing the vocals, the backing vocals and a maxi sub mix of all the vocals, I’ve seen more and more of the brothers compressing the “2 Mix” bus.

Why do I care? Because many of my live sound brethren employing this technique have been doing it in such a terribly inappropriate manner, and with such ineffective tools.

I know, I know – you’re just trying to get the show as “loud” as possible while living within the 98 dB (A-weighed; 105 dB C-weighted) SPL ceiling imposed by the local constable who just loves to hang at the FOH position with his little un-calibrated “Rat Shack” meter.

The harm, at least from my perspective, is that this often does not properly serve the artist, because the dynamics of the music are directly linked to the emotion of the performance.

There are some compression units that excel at allowing the emotion of the performance to creep through the reduction of dynamic range, and there are units that should never be used in this application.

Generally, if a compressor has a low-cut filter prior to the detector circuit (this keeps low-frequency energy from driving the gain reduction), it’s probably a suitable unit. If there is one set of controls governing both sides of the unit (true stereo versus linked dual mono), then it very well may be an appropriate unit to strap across a mix bus.

It has nothing to do with “toob” versus “squalid state” – there are great 2 Mix compressors that apply to either (and sometimes both) technologies. It has more to do with the internal headroom and overall frequency response of the unit (DC to light is about right). This, along with the ability of the unit’s gain reduction cell to control the dynamics of the presentation without pumping, wheezing, begging for mercy, nor removing the intensity and emotion.

During production rehearsals, simply listen to the mix with the compression engaged, and then disengaged, while making a concerted effort to knock down the dynamics of the presentation as seamlessly as possible.

When the pumping and wheezing ceases, you’re on the right track.

from Live Sound International. Used by permission.

David McLain | The Compressor Guy | CCI SOLUTIONS
Be seen. Be heard.
PO Box 481 / 1247 85th Ave SE
Olympia, WA 98507-0481
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