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Letter to the Audio Team

Audio Team,

How many times have you set up the perfect levels and the perfect mix during rehearsal, only to find that 10 minutes into the service everything sounds awful? How many times has the kids choir sung from the front steps of the platform and no one heard a word they sang because you couldn’t turn the microphones up enough without having feedback? What about micing an instrument like the piano – do you have to put the microphone in a specific location just to pick up the sound, or can you put that microphone in many different locations so you pick what kind of sound you want to hear from the piano? How about this – how many times have you been asked to turn up the platform monitors only to hear that doing so causes the sound in the congregational seating area to sound muddy and unclear? In fact, many times you’ll find you don’t even need the main speakers on because the sound is so very loud (though it’s not clear or intelligible at all). Finally, if you use an acoustic drum set in your worship service, how do you deal with ensuring the drummer doesn’t drown everyone out or that the choir mics don’t pick up the drums? Can it be done? Sure!

Any audio system, no matter how much money is invested in it, is limited by the acoustics of the room. That is to say, the acoustics of the church sanctuary determines how well the sound system can perform. It’s not the amount of equipment you have; it’s not how much you spent on your mixer or your speakers. Sure, these all factor in, but the biggest player is the acoustics.

Improper reflections off surfaces in the room can hinder intelligible sound, they can reduce your gain before feedback, and produce some rather odd effects when the sound system is turned on. The acoustics of the room will limit how much bass energy you can have as well. If the audio system isn’t designed or installed correctly, the result is poor intelligibility, dead spots, and poor gain before feedback, not to mention uneven coverage or lack of sound coverage at all.

With proper acoustics, your audio system can perform much better. Even a poorly designed and installed system will benefit from good acoustics. There have been many times when a church has decided to improve both their acoustics and audio system. The acoustical work was done first, and many people thought the new audio system had been installed as well.

With proper acoustics, you don’t need to find all sorts of tricks to make the audio system work. All those micing techniques outlined in the user manuals will in fact work, and many of them will work extremely well. With good acoustics and a well designed audio system, you’ll end up with an audio system that’s very easy to learn how to operate and you don’t need to learn bad tricks to make it ‘get by’ and work. When using a mic to pick up an instrument, you can actually choose where to place the mic to pick up the type of sound you want rather than putting the mic in the only place you can get enough gain before feedback.

As an audio engineer, you need to learn the difference between an acoustical problem and a problem caused by the sound system. If the back wall of your platform is curved and the drums are on one side and the piano on the other, that piano mic is going to pick up the drums very well – this is an acoustical problem, nothing to do with the audio system. If however, there are dead spots in the sanctuary where people can’t hear very well, and if you have a left-right speaker system, then that’s an audio system problem, not the acoustics.


A concerned Christian and church audio/acoustics professional

-Blake Engel,
All Church Sound