“Church tech on a budget.” Is that an oxymoron?
It doesn’t have to be!
Having great sound at your church doesn’t have to be a luxury reserved for large building budgets and a tech department with deep pockets. Even if your church has an older sound system, there are likely some budget-friendly ways you can enhance the quality of your sound.
1) It all starts with… the inputs
Microphones, to be more precise. You can’t reproduce good quality audio if you aren’t capturing it well in the first place. Using the right mic in the right location is a crucial first step in achieving great sound.
Is your pastor’s lapel mic causing problems? Try moving it closer to his/her mouth (~8” below the chin). Or consider using a new low profile headworn microphone. Point Source Audio makes a slender earworn mic that looks and sounds great (~$325).
Having trouble getting good sound from your old selection of microphones? Shure Beta 57a mics are reasonably priced, readily available, and quite versatile – great for drums, horns, guitar cabinets, and some vocals.
Have a special event and need more wireless mic channels or recording mics? Instead of buying, maybe it makes sense to rent for a one-time event. Companies like MicRentals.com can help with selection and pricing.
And don’t forget about your cables. Sometimes damaged or poor quality cables cause signal quality issues between the platform and the mixing console. Repair or replace bad cables that cause intermittent signal issues.
2) Mixing consoles – digital, analog, or hybrid?
Let’s face it. Digital consoles are cool. Flying faders, recallable presets, digital effects libraries, assignable group outputs, etc. What’s not to love?
But does every church need one. No!
If you’re in the market for a new mixing console, consider this one question: Who is going to run the console on a regular basis? And a follow-up question: Who is going to be the point person for training other sound team members how to operate the sound system?
Digital consoles are amazing, but some of them require a significant amount of training in order for the user to benefit from the console’s features and utility. When choosing a digital console, consider your day-to-day sound system needs and the operator behind the console.
Want to harness the power of digital on a budget? Check out the popular PreSonus StudioLive series (~$1,500-2,300). The Behringer X32 digital console (~$2,300) has also been performing really well for a number of churches needing more than 16 or 24 inputs. And if you want to step into digital in a really small format, check out the QSC TouchMix series (~$1,300 for 16channels)
Want to go with a more analog approach. Great! There are some solid consoles out there that can help you deliver great sound. One of my favorite “hybrid” consoles in this category is the Yamaha MGP series (~$700-1,200). (Hybrid consoles provide an analog approach to mixing and the desk layout, but have built-in digital features like reverb/effects, on-board recording, and other simple digital signal processing options.) Other solid analog consoles for church sound include the Allen & Heath ZED-series (~$400-900) and the Soundcraft Signature-series (~$350-800).
Regardless of the console you choose, make sure you select a size that allows for some growth in your mixing needs. Don’t overdo it, but leave yourself some channel space for special requests.
3) Speakers – and the great line array myth
This one might be the biggest budget buster out there.
“If you want great sound, you need a line array.”
For some facilities, it’s the only way to go. And like digital consoles, well-designed line arrays have some great features and benefits. But nothing is truly one-size-fits-all, especially when it comes to loudspeakers.
A speaker upgrade can definitely help you get getter sound. Just make sure the loudspeakers you select are designed for your room and application. When it comes to loudspeaker selection and placement, you may consider calling on a qualified audio contractor or consultant. Paying for an overview of your space and a professional opinion about what is suitable can save you a lot of money on purchasing and re-purchasing the wrong loudspeakers.
If you think your space can benefit from line array loudspeaker technology but you still want it on a budget, check out the TOA HX-series.
And you might even be able to employ the “less is more” concept to loudspeaker selection by using a single loudspeaker to cover the listening audience – if it is appropriate.
(Note: I hesitate to give any advice on loudspeaker selection without knowing more about the room and application. Just because a speaker brand or cabinet is popular or fits the budget does not mean it will automatically sound great in your application.)
4) Working in harmony
Your sound system components should work together to provide a stable system with quality results. Sometimes you just need to fix the weakest link instead of a big-ticket item (i.e. tune up the EQ or loudspeaker crossover, add a vocal mic compressor, repair blown horns or loudspeakers, fix that broken mic cable, etc.).
Remember, there are lots of ways to get great sound at your church, and on a budget. But perhaps the best way to get consistent results week-to-week is to keep learning and practicing your skills as a sound system operator. Invest in your sound team’s training, even if it is a team of one.
Here’s to your great sound!