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Loudspeaker Location 101

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Placing loudspeakers and having them sound good involves a lot more than just pointing some speakers in the general direction of the listening congregation. While your church might hope that it would be this simple, it isn’t. There are many “rules” for loudspeaker placement that are blatantly violated every week — especially with portable church sound systems.

Sound system design and loudspeaker placement can be a rather complex scientific affair, and it would be unfair to simplify everything into just a few basic rules in one post.

Instead, it may be more helpful to cover the most important tips for placing your loudspeakers.

Let’s take a closer look at church loudspeaker placement to avoid making some rookie mistakes. Don’t fret if your church has already made some of these blunders – they can be remedied with these three placement tips:

Loudspeaker Placement 101

The first order of business is to know your loudspeaker’s coverage pattern.

The “high” frequencies are what we are concerned with here. Low frequencies (below about 400 Hz) can be somewhat difficult to control and aim with a conventional horn or loudspeaker assembly.

But higher frequencies, and especially those in the speech intelligibility range (800–2,500 Hz), are easy to control with a good horn or similar “wave guide” system.

Perhaps the most common coverage pattern for portable loudspeakers is a 90 x 60 horn. This provides 90 degrees of horizontal coverage and 60 degrees of vertical coverage.

There are other common options available as well: 90 x 90, 90 x 40, 60 x 60, or even 120 x 60.

For line array or column array loudspeakers, coverage patterns approach 180 degrees of horizontal coverage and 10 degrees of vertical coverage.

Interesting Note

One of the fascinating aspects of loudspeaker physics is that if speakers are stacked vertically, the coverage pattern gets horizontally wider and vertically narrower. That’s large churches and concert venues often stack speakers on top of one another. This allows audio engineers to direct sound with very precise levels and coverage.

It doesn’t matter what the coverage pattern is, it matters that the speakers are pointed in the right direction.

Be aware of how much acoustic energy is bouncing around the room. This typically confuses the listener and takes away from the service.

For example: using a wide horizontal coverage pattern will cover seats in the listening area and a narrow vertical coverage pattern will keep higher frequencies from hitting the ceiling or the back wall (hopefully).

Here are three best practices to help you understand loudspeaker placement and hopefully improve your church sound:

Placement Tip #1

Spend some time doing a little mental geometry using your church’s room size and loudspeaker coverage pattern to try and get the best coverage.

The goal is to get good coverage of the seating area without directing too much sound at the walls and ceilings.

Placement Tip #2

Keep your main loudspeakers in front of the stage and those leading worship.

If you must have the loudspeakers on stage, ensure that the coverage patterns of the horns are not directed at any vocal or instrument microphones. Violating this rule will surely lead to feedback problems.

Placement Tip #3

Elevate your speakers. Use sturdy speaker stands or hang them from the ceiling (using proper rigging hardware!) in order to achieve a better coverage pattern.

Placing subwoofers on the floor is fine and normally preferred because bass frequencies are not easily controlled or absorbed in most rooms.

High frequencies, on the other hand, are easily absorbed and reflected, so you need to aim these very carefully. Getting your loudspeakers in the air will help with this.

When possible, I prefer hanging speakers because I can point them down at a slight angle. Elevated speakers pointed straight to the back of the room can cause very harsh acoustic reflections off the back wall, especially in a short room.

So, there are some basic tips to get your church started.

And … here’s one of the biggest mistakes your church can make with its portable or permanently installed sound system.

The Biggest Rookie Mistake

The biggest rookie mistake your church could possibly make is…..thinking you can just add a few more loudspeakers to increase coverage or volume in the room. Don’t do it! It won’t sound good.

The best sound system is the one that uses the fewest number of loudspeakers to adequately reinforce the sound for the audience, room, and meet the technical performance requirements.

DO NOT add more loudspeakers thinking it will increase your sound quality.

Sure, you may achieve more sonic coverage of the listening area, but that may come with a decrease in overall sound quality.

If you can use only one or two loudspeakers to cover a room, then you should do it.

Adding more loudspeakers will add more acoustic complexity. There can also be serious timing issues if you’re not careful. This can dramatically reduce the intelligibility and articulation we need from a church sound system.

EQ and digital processing magic cannot fix fundamentally bad speaker placement.

There is absolutely a time and place for using several loudspeakers in your sound system. It’s important to be very thorough in how you select your loudspeakers and plan your loudspeaker locations.

Some speaker manufacturers provide tools to help you with this, but it is best if your church works with someone that does it every day.

That’s not a sales pitch for some high-priced contractor or consultant. It’s a massive time and money saving tip so that you get the best sound possible with the fewest number of speakers.

The Role of Acoustics

A discussion about loudspeakers would be incomplete if we didn’t talk about the acoustics of your room.

Getting “the right loudspeaker” will not always solve your sound system problems. The acoustics of your room play a huge role in determining how clear and balanced your system sounds.

If you or anyone else is considering your church sound system needs, you must first assess the acoustics of your room. It is not uncommon to find that an investment in acoustic treatment is more valuable than purchasing new loudspeakers to fix a sound system intelligibility problem.

There are entire books and engineering courses on loudspeaker design and placement, so we’ll avoid getting much deeper here.

Are you thinking about tuning your system or getting new loudspeakers for your church sound system?

You might want to check out this Great Church Sound blog post about how you can save time and money on your church sound system.

And if you think you need new speakers but have a very small budget, check out this post: 4 Basics to Great Church Sound on a Budget.

James Wasem
James Wasemhttp://greatchurchsound.com
James Wasem is the author of "Great Church Sound - a Guide for the Volunteer." James has been designing, installing, and operating sound systems for 20+ years and he has a passion for helping church sound team volunteers deliver great sound. Connect with James at his informative site, Great Church Sound.

11 COMMENTS

  1. Hey guys, we are planning to upgrade our 20 years old pa system of our 20 × 40 feet, with 15′ ceiling church. Should we place our two loud speakers in a stand at left and right infront of our stage, or should we mount our speakers on the ceiling?

    • I think using stands in this room is totally acceptable. You could mount them from the ceiling too, but with such a low ceiling, that might cause an issue with lighting or shadows on stage. If you’re using subwoofers you could try using a pole mounting configuration similar to what you see here: https://amzn.to/34j1H3O

    • Hi Craig, the number of speakers and location will really depend on your stage layout and seating arrangement. As a rule, I think a left/right configuration with the speakers hanging from the ceiling could probably work well in your space. You may need to mount the speaker so the horns are on the bottom of the cabinet. This can provide a little extra coverage for the front rows of seats and reduce the energy being directed at the back wall.

      I also like center cluster arrangements, but you might need three speakers in the cluster to cover your room, depending on the type of horn pattern you have. Your ceiling height might support a center cluster, but you have to be careful where that is placed relative to the stage and pulpit – it could cause feedback if not done correctly.

      See my response to John’s question below for a few more thoughts on this type of arrangement.

  2. Could you address speaker placement – center cluster above a low stage versus having left, center, right placement. We are looking into changing over to stereo versus the current mono system. Thanks.

    • Hi John, that’s a great question.

      The big issue to consider in this scenario is how the speakers affect the feedback potential on stage, especially regarding the location of the pastor and/or pulpit. Low ceilings with speakers mounted over the pulpit (or even just in front of it) can increase the risk of feedback. In that scenario, it is best to use a left/right configuration in order to minimize the risk of feedback.

      The other concern is that of coverage pattern. Loudspeakers are provided with a variety of high frequency coverage patterns (like 60˚x90˚) that need to be considered to achieve the best frequency coverage in the room. Pattern overlap can also be an issue. You typically want the geometric patterns to overlap in an aisle or other non-critical listening area.

      The left/center/right configuration can be a great way to go. It adds some complexity to your mixing workflow, but it can provide some amazing separation in the mix. (I always like to put instruments in stereo and vocals and certain other instruments in the middle.)

      Ultimately, loudspeaker placement comes down to negotiating compromises based on your priorities. Eliminating risk of feedback is the first priority, then you need to have good coverage in the room, and then you can consider whether a certain loudspeaker configuration can help you achieve those goals.

      Every room and speaker combination is different, so it’s impossible to give a good blanket answer to this.

      If you’ve got a low ceiling and have to position speakers somewhat close to the stage, then I’d probably recommend a left/right configuration. If you can keep a center cluster far enough away from the center of the stage, then it may provide some great coverage for your room.

      I hope some of those thoughts help!

  3. James,
    Thanks for the great post, very helpful. I wish you were able to say even more about acoustics. Many of our buildings have been built only for esthetics or people’s movements. But every room should be acoustically designed for what it was meant to hold since, as you stated, sound reinforcement cannot overcome bad acoustics.

    • Thanks for the comment Michael. Yeah, acoustics and building design can present an interesting battle of compromises at times.

      Old churches, cathedrals, opera houses, and other performance venues built before electronic sound reinforcement existed look great and sound beautiful for organ, choir, and other purposes – until you energize the room with more energy than it was meant to deal with!

      We can combat some of the high reverberation times and harsh acoustic reflections by using very defined loudspeaker patterns, precise placement, and time alignment techniques. But there really is no substitute for a properly engineered acoustic space. This should be done in the early stages of building design, but often is conducted as an afterthought, or is entirely sidelined by a budget committee in preference to other more “relevant” architectural concerns.

      Sometimes an acoustics or sound engineer’s job is to make the best of an existing situation with the tools available. Fortunately, we have some pretty sweet tools available to achieve some rather remarkable results when it comes to battling challenging room acoustics. It may be a bit of an investment upfront (aka not a “cheap fix”), but the quality sounding results are often well worth it. After all, being able to hear and understand the Word is… priceless.

  4. […] There are many “rules” for loudspeaker placement that are blatantly violated every week — especially with portable church sound systems. Sound system design and loudspeaker placement can be a rather complex scientific affair, and it would be unfair … ( read original story …) […]

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