Choosing Sound Reinforcement Equipment

Christopher Rath



In church settings, the person or team charged with constructing the sound reinforcement system often has no experience or detailed knowledge on the subject.  This lack of knowledge and experience is not an insurmountable barrier, but it does indicate that such teams/individuals should go slowly and take small steps; or, they should hire-in an expert.


When I am asked for a sound system recommendations, my answer really depends upon the size of church building being fitted. If it is a very large room and you have a 5 figure budget, then you should check out the resources that companies like Bose offer; where you submit a plan of the room and usage information (how you will be using the room) and Bose provides you with a system layout. You are not obligated to buy from one of these vendors, so obtaining input from them is very helpful to the process.

If you are a smaller congregation with more modest/basic needs, then consulting with a local PA equipment dealer (or more than one) is probably a better way of getting information about equipment capability and matching equipment to your specific needs.

In either scenario, build a plan: that is, put into writing your desired goal. You then use that end-state description as you work with your equipment supplier to decide what steps to take and the timeframe in which to implement the plan.

Assuming that you need a complete system, here are some questions to consider as you develop your plan/goal:

  1. How much money do you have to spend and how long do you have to get to the final end-state?
  2. What equipment do you already have?
  3. Mixing board requirements:
    1. How many inputs to the mixing board do you need today (mics, instruments, TVs, tape/CD players, etc.)? Note: don’t assume very much sharing of inputs.
    2. Is there any potential for growth in your need for mixing board inputs?
    3. Do you need monitor outputs, tape outputs, or effects inputs/outputs?
  4. Room requirements:
    1. Is the room an odd shape (L-shaped, very long, very wide, etc.)?
    2. Is the ceiling high or how?
    3. What have you experiences been with the room (with respect to amplified sound in the room); echo, ring, muddy-sound, etc.?
    4. What material is on the floor, ceilings, walls, chairs, etc.?
  5. AV requirements:
    1. Do you use CDs, DVDs, videos, in the room you are fitting-out?
    2. If so, where do you locate the screen (in relation to where loudspeakers might be placed)?
  6. Sound requirements (what kind of sound do you need to amplify):
    1. Someone speaking (for example, giving the sermon) ?
    2. Choir?
    3. Live band; if so, what kind of music is played?
    4. Do you have an organ; if so, what type (pipe organ or electronic)?
    5. What specific musical instruments will be played?
  7. Who will be operating the system/equipment?
    1. Volunteers? Unless you are an unusual congregation, those volunteering to operate the equipment will not be technically trained and will be baffled by anything except the simplest of controls.
    2. Professional staff?

Take all the notes you put on paper as you answered those questions when you consult with your equipment vendor or other expert.  In most cases your existing system can grow into the full system over a period of time. Even in brand new installations one doesn't always have to purchase everything at one time.

Key Recommendation

Whatever your sound system aspirations, be certain that you design and purchase a system that aligns with the technical capability of the operators. If you purchase equipment that is complex, difficult to set up, or has too many knobs to turn your system will be judged a failure. People don't generally get involved at church because they are highly trained sound technicians looking for a place to minister; rather, operating the sound system is just one of the many jobs to be done and the volunteer is keen to help out.

For example, in my own congregation the more advanced musicians are starting ask about the new personal monitor systems that are being shown off at worship conferences (for example, Hear Back or Aviom); however, the majority of the musicians and singers in our two bands have trouble remembering how to operate the small monitors we already have on stage. Adding the complexity of mix creation to their worship team role is not going to be a positive experience; so, we have not embraced this new sound system development.

©Copyright 2006, Christopher Rath
Telephone: 613-824-4584
Address: 1371 Major Rd., Ottawa, ON, Canada K1E 1H3
Last updated: 2015/02/14 @ 21:33:57 ( )