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Location, Location: Loudspeaker & Microphone Placement Basics

All the processing in the world won’t solve your problems if bad placement creates a system with inherent sonic errors.

However, keep in mind that only full-range loudspeakers belong up in the air. For example, a unit (or units) with a 15-inch woofer and a compression driver/horn should be elevated. But any separate subwoofers should remain at floor level, where they actually operate more efficiently (and get louder). Put subs in the air and there’s a loss of half of their output, and many times we need all of the bass we can get.

Caution: when elevating loudspeakers, always proper loudspeaker stands and mounting hardware. Be smart – don’t put heavy enclosures on folding chairs, light furniture or “rickety” structures.

Also be sure to properly splay the legs of stands, and never exceed load limits. Use sandbags or old gym weights on the legs so that wind (at outdoor events) or jostling from those passing by won’t tip the stands over. Tape down cables and route foot traffic away from stands to avoid injuries. You can never play it too safe.

The Right Direction

As with microphones, sound reinforcement loudspeakers have a directional pattern and tend to beam mid- and high-frequency sounds in specific directions at varying angles. These angles/patterns can be grouped into two general categories: longer and shorter throw.

Longer throw loudspeakers, which have horizontal projection patterns as narrow as 20 degrees, are usually deployed in concert sound systems targeting crowds hundreds of feet away. By comparison, most loudspeakers in church/worship applications are shorter throw, with dispersion patterns of (for example) 60 degrees horizontal (or wider) by 40 degrees vertical. This means that most of the mid and high frequencies project outward in a sphere approximately 60 degrees wide by 40 degrees high. If the audience strays outside this range, they’ll mostly hear booming bass sounds and miss much of the vocals.

As a very general rule, if you can’t see the throat of the horn, you can’t hear it. Try to aim loudspeakers toward the most important part of the room. And if, for example, there’s a group of listeners seated directly beside the platform/stage, additional loudspeakers may be needed to cover them (Figure 1). These loudspeakers don’t require a lot of bass response, but they should have a wide dispersion pattern if possible.

Figure 1: This typical loudspeaker arrangement shows mid/high-frequency dispersion patterns and includes an additional small loudspeaker that’s been added to cover seating at one side of the platform/stage.

An increasingly popular option is column arrays, which are thin and portable columns that can deliver very wide horizontal coverage, more than 120 degrees in some cases. This, combined with narrow vertical coverage (30 degrees and less), helps focus output on the audience while keeping it from reflecting off of the floor and ceiling. For this reason, I regularly carry a set of RCF EVOX 8 columns in my production truck because they’re ideal for covering people directly to the sides of a stage.

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