Over the past decade, we’ve seen the proliferation of digital consoles in both live and recorded sound. This is not to say that analog consoles are going away at all, particularly with respect to house of worship systems.
In fact, it’s a very safe bet that the vast majority of church systems are still headed by an analog console.
Hector La Torre, Managing Partner and producer of the national HOW-TO Sound Workshops, notes that while digital consoles are a major topic of discussion at his organization’s audio education seminars presented to more than 1,500 church sound personnel annually - largely volunteers - throughout the U.S., most churches are still hesitant to dip their toes into the digital technology stream.
“There are two primary factors with respect to the bulk of the church sound market - cost and complexity,” La Torre explains.
“Digital consoles have largely been out of the price range of all but the largest churches, and while digital mixers are not necessarily more complicated to operate, keep in mind that about 95 percent of church sound system operators are volunteers who have limited experience, and that’s who is being asked to take on a new learning curve.
“Although most churches and volunteers who take on digital consoles find that they become more efficient and proficient at their job, some still hesitate because of the initial learning curve and overall lack of knowledge of the technology.
“A board for a higher end professional application like a tour or a performing arts center is usually an upgraded version from what you’ll find being used in your average church service,” he adds.
“And in the mainstream of the professional audio marketplace, new technology often wins out over cost issues, but it’s pretty much the opposite with the majority of churches.”
“That’s why education is the key to the future of digital consoles in worship. If church folks don’t know or understand a technology, they won’t adopt it.”
Both aspects are changing, with manufacturers now increasingly introducing digital models in line with church budgetary needs while maintaining functionality and feature sets to meet all but specialized applications.
Affordable digital consoles cited by La Torre are the Yamaha LS9 Series, as well as models from Tascam and Soundcraft, and he’s also talked with a number of other manufacturers who indicate they’re quickly moving in the same direction.
On The Upswing
Some context about the church market is in order. There are an estimated 450,000-plus churches in the U.S. alone, and three-fourths (and likely more) of that number is comprised of venues offering seating for 500 or less, with the norm in this range being 250-300 seats.
While we read about sophisticated church sound systems (that often include one or more digital consoles) on a regular basis, these are often deployed at larger venues ranging in scope up to the “megachurch” realm.