“How do I get the biggest change in my sound quality for the smallest investment?”
I am often asked this very question from cash strapped churches that need to replace their sound system but don’t have the funds to accomplish it all at once.
If the sound person at the church first approaches me, his goal is often to get a new mixing board.
If it is the worship leader that first calls, his concern is typically microphones or monitors. Then there’s the pastor, they’re most often interested in the solution that will get everybody to stop harassing them.
So what is the answer?
Personally, I would go about solving this dilemma by looking at the number of people which can potentially benefit from each upgrade. With that in mind, what follows is a suggestion of how you can determine your next best upgrade.
First and foremost, I always look at what I call the heart of the system. That is; speakers, amplifiers and signal processing.
Not only are these usually the biggest ticket items (though the mixing board may compete dollars wise) they are also the items that in most cases will bring the largest improvement to a system.
In surveying the heart of your sound system, first check out your speakers to ensure that they are working properly. Are there any blown drivers? Do you hear any rattles or other strange noises?
Next, do a little research and find out the coverage pattern of the speakers and map out the coverage over the seating area. Is the coverage adequate or are there spots that are missing?
Continue with your research and determine the frequency response of the speakers. If the speakers roll off at 180 Hz it’s not likely that you will get a nice thump out of the kick drum or any good lows from the bass guitar.
While you’re on a research bent, find out the power handling of the speakers and match that up with the power available from your amplifiers. If you don’t have enough “head room” (available “extra” power), the system will always sound mushy and like it is being pushed.
Not to mention that if you overdrive the system you will get distortion and potential failure of the drivers in your speaker system.
Finally, give the signal processing a good look. If it consists of a number of analog devices (eq, crossover, delay, etc.) I would say it’s time to upgrade to a quality digital processing unit. With the price of todays multiple I/O devices this would be a great place to start your upgrade.
This is because the upgrade is likely to be affordable and when you do upgrade speakers and amplifiers this device should be able to move forward with you.
Once you’ve done your homework it’s time to price out your options.
1) Determine the type(s) and quantity of speakers required. You will need to take into account frequency response and coverage patterns. It doesn’t hurt to get some professional help with this.
2) Calculate how many channels of amplification you need and what the power requirement is of each channel.
3) Take a careful look at digital signal processing units. In general, I suggest that you purchase a unit with enough outputs to feed each amplifier channel separately. This will give you maximum control and flexibility in processing the system.
Once you have “the heart of the system” taken care of, then feel free to move on to mixing boards, monitors, microphones and other accessories.
I look at it this way; the best sounding microphone is only going to be as good as the speakers that it comes out of.
I wish you the best on accomplishing the next improvement that you have planned for your system!
Have you recently upgraded your church sound system? Be sure to let me know in the comment section below!
Gary Zandstra is a professional AV systems integrator with Parkway Electric and has been involved with sound at his church for more than 25 years.