June 21, 2017

If you read parts 1 and 2 of this series, you should have a better idea of which format your church's PA system needs to be for your present needs. You should also have a plan for investing in equipment today that can grow and meet your needs tomorrow. What other factors do you want to keep in mind when planning a sound system? In this article we'll explore some other systems and accessories you'll want to incorporate into designing your system.

Will you use recorded or live worship music?
If you use recorded music, sound reinforcement will be a lot easier. But many congregations prefer live worship. A live worship group will need a much more complex system and an operator in order to sound as good as a recorded music. If you have live music, is it contemporary or traditional? Do you want contemporary worship music at very modest volume levels? How will you handle stage monitoring? Are personal in-ear monitors the best solution or will you use live stage monitors? Do you need a drum screen or will you use electronic drums?

The most common complaint encountered by church sound technicians is, "It's too loud," followed closely by, "I can't hear what they're saying." Reinforcing the spoken word to a large audience is a challenge and you need complete control of the overall volume level. And you don't want the sound of your worship band to be so muddy or harsh that it distracts from the worship. Make the stage volume the lowest possible comfortable level a high priority. This is crucial to a clean balanced controllable system. Consider this when planning for your stage monitor system. Small powered monitors on stands or up close to the musicians can provide good levels for the stage without competing with the front-of-house speakers. Maybe your musicians can run direct out of their keyboard or guitar preamp straight into the system and you can use stage monitors or personal in-ear monitors like Carvin Audio's EM900 wireless personal in-ear monitors. Going direct does require good monitoring, because the musician totally relies on the monitors to hear themselves and each other. The benefit to the overall system can be an improved worship experience for all.

 Wireless In-Ear Personal Monitor System

Carvin Audio's EM900 wireless personal in-ear monitor system

Frequency Response: How Balanced Are Your Speakers?
A rock band or nightclub might prioritize maximum volume or a powerful bass response when selecting a sound system. But in the first article in this series we learned that intelligibility is the most crucial aspect of reproducing your message. For this reason you may want to look closely at line array or column array systems like Carvin Audio's TRC and VELA systems. These systems offer full range balance and enhanced midrange projection to the full audience from the front to back of the room. Array systems often cost a little more than their conventional counterparts, but the difference in intelligibility and coverage from a single source is a noticeable difference worth weighing in your decision. Equal coverage without over powering some and not getting to other locations in the audience can have a drastic effect on the worship experience. Line and column array speakers project the sound with less difference in level over further distances.  This also allows the placement of less or simpler systems up front without the need for delay cabinets if the listeners are still in line of site of the array.  This may actually reduce cost over adding extra delayed conventional speaker to reach the back of the audience. Also an array is more focused in the vertical directions reducing floor and ceiling reflections when aimed at the audience.

VELA System for churches

A VELA Active Column Array System can be scaled to meet your church's needs.

How Important Are Aesthetics and How Will You Accommodate Them?
Will your speakers need to be an unobtrusive color? Will you permanently 'fly' them to keep them out of the way and get optimum coverage? Will you install them in structural enclosures to make them blend in? How will the sanctuary typically be lit during the service? Can you make use of decorative plants and other interior design elements to camouflage less attractive sound systems? These questions can only be addressed for your particular needs, but they are much easier to work in they are part of the original plan and not after the purchase.

Is the system for permanent installation or do you need to move it around? Will it have auxiliary uses elsewhere during the week? If so, do you have people with the skills to move and set it up properly? Which brings to mind another important factor with complexity- you will need a good team of operators.

Do you have a trained sound technician? How simple is the system to operate? How easy is it to troubleshoot, repair or maintain with your available staff? This is one instance where simpler may indeed be the better option if it can meet your needs. As we learned before, a complex system can be an advantage in solving a wider variety of sound reinforcement challenges- if you have someone to run it properly. A complex system run by someone that doesn't understand it is a recipe for frustration.

Multi-media Support and Live Recording
Do you need to record the service? Does your style of worship presentation use audio/visual elements that need to interface with the sound system? If these kinds of program material have a place in your ministry, a larger mixing console with a wider variety of inputs and outputs can be a big asset. Try making a list of the possible scenarios you can imagine and discuss it with your audio designer or sales consultant. Maybe you need it or maybe you want to keep it simpler.  It’s better to discuss it now.

Don't Forget the Basics – Accessories
Filling up the church van with a large new sound system can be a pretty uplifting experience. You can't help but get excited about the potential. Long lists of unfamiliar equipment can also make it easy to miss the forest for the trees. Remember: a PA without microphones will not do you much good, and you usually need more than you think. And microphones are not useful without stands and cables. With mics ranging from under $70 to several hundred, and stands and cables commonly costing in the area of $25-$30 each, you can see how these accessory items add up very quickly. If you're providing amplifiers for the band (commonly call the back line) you'll need cables for those as well. To make certain you don't leave part of your program unsupported, make a list of every channel you will be using and what kind of mic or input it will utilize. Do this early in your PA planning process and establish a nominal accessory budget that you will set aside, no matter how big or small the PA itself is going to be. Remember if you plan to run some instruments straight into the PA you will probably need direct boxes for those channels. Do yourself a favor when investing in cables. Do your research so you know how to buy quality cables that will last and you'll save many times the difference you might have saved by getting the cheapest possible solution. Before you buy a bunch of mic stands get your hands on one and ask yourself how sturdy it is. They take a lot of hard use on a daily basis. Cables and stands are to sound what a good rope is for mountain climbing; it's just not a good place to cut corners if you want a good outcome. Carvin Audio provides several quality stands and cables at affordable pricing to help fill out your system needs. 

Putting it All Together
A smart and well thought out investment in your church sound system can be a big job. Chances are, you already know a lot of the answers to the most important questions you'll encounter. Sit down ahead of time and ask yourself the "What if?" questions and walk through you worship services. Get professional input when you aren't sure what you need. Create the best plan you can. Then use all this like a roadmap to building your system. When you reach the next stage of growth in your church PA needs, you will find the transition much simpler and more efficient, because you took the time to imagine the big picture from the very beginning. And while we can't speak for those other companies, when it comes time for the story of Noah's ark your Carvin Audio mixer has the right kind of echo built right in. Better check with the pastor first! For a free sound system consultation for your church, call us at 800-854-2235.

What experiences have you had with church PA systems and what did you learn from them?

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