When discussing church sound, most of the focus is on the sound system components and technology used in the sanctuary or primary worship center. However, there are several other areas in the church that should be considered when planning or upgrading a church sound system.
Even small churches may have a separate room or space to accommodate overflow seating, special functions, classrooms, or a cry room. And there are always the entryways, hallways, and bathrooms to consider.
Large churches can often have more complex and varied needs when it comes to audio distribution. There can be different zones for paging staff offices, dedicated backstage or production area mixes, a separate youth group hall, or small chapel spaces to plan for.
Planning & Purpose
Determining the types of systems used throughout the building and designing the integration with the main sound system has everything to do with the intended function of each space in the church. The proper planning of auxiliary sound systems should factor in current needs as well as future use of areas adjacent to the sanctuary.
- Is there allowance for overflow seating during special events or conferences?
- Do people in classrooms or separate meeting room spaces need the option to hear what is going on in the sanctuary?
- Is there a room near the worship center that will be used as a nursery or cry room?
- Are backstage or technical production areas equipped with speakers for monitoring the main audio feed?
- Is there another recording, closed-circuit television (CCTV), or live streaming system that requires an audio output from the main system?
Each need should be assessed and prioritized before selecting the equipment required to deliver great sound for each area.
The technical components involved in a distributed audio system are often very different than what is found in the primary sound reinforcement system.
Instead of large speaker cabinets and subwoofers, there are smaller ceiling or wall mounted speakers. Instead of a mixing console for each room, there may only be a simple volume control or on/off switch. And instead of stage monitors, there may be recording or live streaming feeds to mix for.
A lot of simple sound systems only have one mixed feed that goes to all areas. Every loudspeaker gets the same content at the same time.
Today’s digital technology provides much more flexibility and functionality than a single audio feed. And fortunately, the cost component is rather modest when considering the value of digital signal processing (DSP) used in most installed sound systems.
Most audio DSPs can be programmed to route one or more inputs to multiple outputs. Depending on the processor, each output can be programmed with its own crossover, EQ, compression, delay, level control, and other processing functions.
Distributed ceiling speakers in the same area (e.g. hallways or larger meeting rooms) are generally wired together using 70 Volt transformers and smaller gauge speaker wire that would be used for traditional speaker cabinets. This type of speaker system design saves cost in wire and amplification while delivering a lot of flexibility in layout and audio system coverage.
Mixing for Distributed Audio
Although preparing a mix for a distributed audio system can be fairly simple, there are a few important tips that will make a big impact on the audio quality in each reinforced space.
The mix for the worship center should be rich, full, and feature plenty of dynamic range (the difference between quiet and loud audio levels).
The mix for distributed audio systems is generally compressed and less dynamic. And there will be a diminished frequency response when smaller speakers are used. That doesn’t mean the mix for the distributed system won’t sound full, but it is different.
However, the most common way to configure a mix for distributed systems is to run the main mix from the console to the DSP, then EQ and compress the different outputs as needed for each distributed zone.
Compressing the audio signal is critical for controlling dynamic range and intelligibility. Modest compression and EQ settings can tighten up the sound and control audio levels that may be too quiet or too loud.
Delay is another critical element for any loudspeakers covering listeners that can potentially hear the main sound system and the distributed audio mix, as often happens in an overflow seating area. A slight delay on the distributed audio signal allows sound from the more distant main speakers to reach the listener at approximately the same time as the sound from the closer distributed speakers.
Responsible Research & Implementation
As with any technology component, it is important to seek out qualified advice when designing, budgeting, and installing new sound system components.
Visiting other churches and discussing ideas with different pastors or technical directors can provide valuable insight into the planning process. Church technology consultants and contractors can also provide critical perspective and experience for upgrades and future use scenarios.
Some projects and budgets may require the phasing in of different components over time. When this is the case it is critical to follow a well-developed plan and install conduits or cable for future integration phases (e.g. installing a conduit between the main sanctuary sound room to a future fellowship hall space). Thoughtful planning can save a lot of time and money throughout the course of a project.
Experiencing great sound at church is absolutely possible, even outside of the worship center. It doesn’t need to be complicated, but it does require a little bit of planning and organization. Done properly, distributed audio can be the perfect compliment to your church sound system while enhancing the listening experience for your congregation.