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Posts Tagged ‘Church Sound Systems’

Can Acoustical Spreadsheets Save Your Church Acoustics?

Posted by jdbsound on June 20, 2016

There are dozens of acoustical spreadsheets that come with the promise of a viable acoustical fix.  Some sheets are for studios and some are for home theatres.  There are also other spreadsheets for larger rooms.  As rooms get larger, (as in Christian Churches and worship centers) those spreadsheets become less accurate.  Sure, the better spreadsheets adds more variable to compensate for the limitations, but the limitations are still there. Furthermore, with all of the spreadsheets, you have to add an additional line to include a fudge factor.  In some spreadsheets you need to add multiple fudge factor lines.

When a person tries to use an acoustical spreadsheet, they are only looking at one parameter of the rooms acoustics.  You are only looking at “time.”  The problem is, for churches, and I MEAN ALL ROOMS WHERE MORE THAN 150 PEOPLE GATHER TO WORSHIP – there are other parameters that are equally or more important than “time.” Acoustical problems always come in layers.  The minimum number of layers of acoustical sound management in a worship space is 4 layers.  As a worship space becomes larger, the more layers you have to attend to.  “Time” becomes only a fraction of the real acoustical problems you are faced with.  Obviously you can’t see them but you can measure them if you are trained to recognize when you hear them.

Romanian Church Kitchener Ontario Pano 1.jpgThe problem with spreadsheets is that they are not looking issues such as standing waves – and every church – regardless of shape has standing waves (unless the space is acoustically managed in the first place which also means this article is not for you.)  Spreadsheets are not looking at excessive noise from early and late reflections.  They are not looking at bass buildup often found in the corners of a room.  They are not looking at flutter echoes and full syllable echoes.  These are all sound effects than can’t be dialed out with equalizers, delays, algorithms and the next miracle digital gadget or software. (Yet that is how most sound system designers try to deal with room acoustics.)

Regardless of a persons acoustical training, knowledge or experience,  a spreadsheet cannot tell you when standing waves are masking flutter echoes.  A spreadsheet cannot tell you when bass build up is masking a standing wave issue.  A spreadsheet can’t tell you how much the early and later reflections are reducing music and speech intelligibility. 

All that a spreadsheet can tell you is how much “time” it takes for a sound to decay in a room either as an average number.  Some spreadsheets are much more detailed and they have been written as an attempt to calculate a room in octaves or by 1/3rd octaves.  If it was only that easy.  Measuring and calculating time is just a sliver of the acoustical signature of a space people worship in. 

church of our lady small.jpg

It takes a lot of training to learn Church acoustics.  The same applies to Studio Acoustics, Recital Halls, Concert halls and lecture halls.  All of these rooms have specific acoustical needs and they all require a unique set of skills to properly fix them.   

What makes a church so complicated is in how a church is used.  When a church is designed as a “church,” it becomes the most multipurpose space there is because of all the ways a worship space is used.  When you say you want the worship space to be more “Multi-Purpose” or more flexible in it use, you are actually limiting what a basic worship space is supposed to be able to do. 

At the end of the day, an acoustical spreadsheet is only a small snapshot into church acoustics.  It can’t help with congregational singing, it can’t help with a noisy stage for a praise and worship team or choir and it can’t help with drum issues or speech intelligibility. 

What often happens is with the spreadsheet, it will guide you to a solution that is based on absorption.  When an acoustical fix is based around absorption, you wind up “killing” the room for all music – especially contemporary music and congregational singing – and the masking effects of the other acoustical issues get worse.  Sure, the room sounds more tame than it was before, but the ability to understand speech is either no better than before or it has gotten worse.  Before you know it, everyone gets in ear monitors and all of the members of the worship team have to sign an insurance liability waver stating that they will not sue the church for any future health problems with hearing loss.  Seriously, is that the kind of acoustical fix you want? 

Front view of creekside church_edited-1.jpgThat is what you get when you turn to an acoustical solution based only on spreadsheet calculations.  To top it all off, the results are not much better when using computer simulation software programs.  Simulation programs only show you the results at one frequency at a time.  The computer generated image may be 3D but the patterns they show are only one frequency at a time – even when it is averaged out.  To see large room acoustics in a simulation, you need to be able to see the results in 4D.  Hologram can’t show you 4D images.  That ability hasn’t been invented yet.  You need to be able to see sound in 4 dimensions because all sounds are complex.  Every sound made on earth is a combination of wave lengths that are generated at the same time. Some parts of a sound are measured in feet and some in inches.  There is no way to visually see 100 Hertz, which is 11 ft long, and 4000 Hertz which is 3.5 inches long, at the same time in the same place yet in real life, that is what is happening with sound.  We all take sound for granted but the complexity of sound is extensive.

But doesn’t sound follow the rules of fluid dynamic and other laws of physics?  Of course it does, but only when you examine one frequency at a time and that frequency is never a pure tone.  It is always complex.  The only place you can measure and see a pure tone is in a machine like an oscilloscope and the moment you launch that sound into the air, it becomes complex.  Just as sound is complex, so are the acoustical fixes for churches. 

jdbsound test room.jpg
This is one way to test an acoustical solution before you recommend it to a church.  Have your own testing facility.  Whatever research is done in this room, it mathematical translates perfectly when it is scaled up into a larger space.

As a mantra, remember this:  for all Christian churches, acoustical problems come in layers and whatever fix you choose, it has to address all of the layers in one step – which is possible if you want an affordable fix.  There are many tools in the Acousticians Tool Box to fix a worship space. There are diffusers, resonators, traps and other devices that can address the needs of a church’s acoustics. There are also stand-alone electronic solutions that work in certain worship spaces. You need a lot of training to know which ones you need, what combinations you need and how to use them, and the last place you want to do your training and experimenting is on your customers. 

If you are doing Church Acoustics or trying to fix your own church, don’t do it as an experiment and you know it will be an experiment the moment someone in your committee say something like, “lets try this as see what happens.”  With those words, the acoustical solution is already doomed.  Experts like myself can tell you the results the second you decide to try something and long before you apply the materials. 

History shows that after a church spends it’s money on a thing such as acoustics, it will not be able to afford to fix any mistakes for decades.  If the results makes the room worse or no better than before, then you are subjecting the church members to more sound abuse for years to come and we don’t want that.  Spreadsheets don’t fix churches, good training and expert help does. (It’s also cheaper in the end to get expert help.)

Finally,  consider this.  The internet has become a treasure trove of knowledge.  That knowledge is often presented as expert information offering sure fire solutions.  I scan the internet often to see what is out there.  There is a lot of great information.  When you collect all of that info, it only holds a fraction of the total knowledge about church acoustics.  If we were to put a percentage on it, the internet holds about 2% of the total knowledge there is for church acoustics.  The books hold another 8% of what there is to know about church acoustics.  The other 90% of the knowledge about church acoustics is held by experts because the church community hasn’t taken ownership of that knowledge yet.  All church can have great acoustics and sound if they were to set-up for themselves “Church Sound Standards” that represents their style of worship.  Once a standard is set, every church will have a great Sanctuary for Worship everyone can enjoy and appreciate. 

Joseph De Buglio
Acoustician and Expert in Church Acoustics.

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New Church Sound System Equalization Schedule

Posted by jdbsound on February 17, 2016

Notice to all Clients of JdB Sound Acoustics.

If you are in a new church building or you have done major renovations in your church, you will have to re-equalize the sound system many times in the first few years.  Here is the Schedule you should follow.

  1. First year – After the 1st month, 3rd month, 6th month, 9th month and 12th month
  2. Second year – After the 4th month, 8th month and 12th month.
  3. Third year – same as year 2
  4. Fourth year – after the 6th and 12 month.
  5. Fifth year – same as year 4
  6. Sixth to tenth year, every 8 month.
  7. After that, once a year.

It take up to ten years for most building to fully cure or longer depending on how much concrete and wood is used.  For that reason, the humidity of the church becomes lower and lower as the church ages which also changes the sound of the worship space.

Also, depending on the climate area you are in, you should be re-equalizing your church sound system for each season.  more so the further you are from the equator.  If you have a digital processor or mixer, you can have presets for the room changes.

Joseph De Buglio

 

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I Hate Mute Switches!

Posted by jdbsound on April 19, 2015

At my church, we still have an analog Mixer.  It has 24 channels, 4 sub groups, Left/Right and Mono out.   We use the sub groups.  Vocal, Drums, Instruments and Leadership mics.  The mixer has mutes on every channel, on each of the mute groups and on the 3 master outputs.  Fortunately, we have a church were the acoustics are stable.  We can run all of the mics open without feedback for normal worship levels. Monitors are stable and so on.  It is also a good sound rig.  When I run the mixer, I turn every channel on and shut off any mute switches.  I control all of the levels with the sub groups.  I don’t want any surprises.

This Sunday it was my turn to run the mixer as we are on a weekly rotation.  Thursday night was rehearsals.  Missed the rehearsal.  Friday night the Youth used the sanctuary and someone used the mixer.  Things were changed but it only took about a minute to set everything back.

As usually, you arrive at the church early for a pre service warmup. Dialed up a great monitor mix.  Everything seem right and as typical, we rehearse and warm up with the FOH speakers off.  When the worship team stopped it was time to turn on some background music.  Turned on the CD player, saw activity on the channel, raiser the fader for the channel and the channel was assigned to the Mono Main Out.  Raise the mono out and nothing happened.  What!!!

Checked the power switch to the powered speakers.  Check to make sure the processor was on and passing a signal.  Nothing.  Called the head tech for the church, he checked everything out. He checked the mixer and he agreed with me and thought that the power switch was faulty.  He removed the power switch and bypassed it.  Still no sound!  Double checked and found that the power lights on the back of the powered speakers were indeed on.  The head tech and I stared at each other confused wondering why there was still no sound.  Then he looked at the mixer again and this time noticed that the Mute switch on the Master Mono Main out was engaged.  He hit the mute switch and the rest of the sound system came to life.

In the year of mixing at the church, the Main Left/Right and Mono outs have never been muted.  The mixer is a spilt mixer where 16 channel are on one side of the mixer, 8 channel on the other side of the mixer and the Groups and master outs are near the middle of the mixer.  For some reason we were blinded in not seeing the red mute lights in that area of the mixer as there are other red lights in the area for other things.

Later I learned that a recently hired youth leader came from a church were the sound system was so unstable that you had to mute everything all the time.  They muted anything that wasn’t needed and because they left the mixer on 24/7, they had the habit of muting the master outputs as well.  The head sound tech and I had a good laugh at the whole experience.  For me, I should have known better as this is about the 3rd time something like this has happened.  This is the first time with powered speakers, but before I had people thinking there was something wrong with the mixer.  So please, unless you have a wonky unstable system, please don’t use the master mute switches.  They are great for a studio but not for live sound.

Joseph De Buglio

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Singing at 105dBa!

Posted by jdbsound on April 10, 2015

Congregations can sing at 105dBa.  At least that is what they do in churches that I have fixed and that does happen in other churches too, that perform well.  When they do sing that loud, what do you do?  Or, what do you do when the congregation is starting to drown out the sound system?

  1. Keep pushing the sound system to keep up with them.
  2. Keep the sound system at 90dB and let the congregations voices dominate.
  3. Lower the sound system FOH levels so that the congregation can enjoy what they are doing.
  4. Push the sound system to drown out the congregation as always regardless if the sound system is distorting or not.

Please tell us what you do when mixing.

Joseph De Buglio

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Question! What would you do to fix the Acoustics of this Church?

Posted by jdbsound on April 1, 2015

You have a church that seats 750 people.  It is a simple rectangle room with 30 ft walls, 40 ft to the peak, 80 ft wide and 140 ft long.  The reverb is 2.2 seconds at 300 hertz and 1.3 seconds at 2000 hertz.  An Energy Time Curve test show reflections over 30dB at one second on the ETC in the 300 hertz range.  The floors are carpeted and the pews are padded seats and backs.  All of the walls and ceiling are insulated drywall on 12 inch centers.  Basically there is about 30dB of excess energy at 300 hertz.  300 Hertz has a wave length of 3.75 ft. The church has already tried 4 different sound systems over 10 years and all of them were designed and installed by companies that are supposed to be the best in the business and they all started off saying that the room needs to be fixed – but church board members vetoed anything that would change the aesthetics of the room – but it was OK to hang 2 ugly line arrays which lasted only 6 months.

The church is now asking for another sound system but this time all of the professional audio companies turned down the project and said to the church don’t call us back until you fix the room.  Now the church board has relented and they are allowing acoustical panels to be mounted on the walls. What acoustical method or system would you use to fix the problem?  What will reduce energy 30dB in this space?

For all the walls in the church, between windows, doors and bulkheads, there is only 35% of the total wall space available to mount acoustical panels on. Major issues are – Stage noise, floor monitors as loud as main speaker system in the first 10 rows.  Only 20% of the congregation is ever singing. Speech intelligibility is below 85% in full range – if you roll off the sound system at 200 hertz speech intelligibility improves to 88%.  Gain before feedback is very poor after 3 or more microphones are turned on at the same time. Subs never really sound right.  Pastor hears echoes all the time off the side walls when preaching. Drummer can never hear himself or the other worship team members – even with the headset monitors. The are currently using electronic drums but they have tried drum shields and booths without much satisfaction.

The church used to have a 40 voice choir but they never sounded very good and now with over $150,000 invested in a praise and worship team with all the latest state of the art technology and higher trained sound engineers, they sound no better than what the choir did years ago – but they are better at entertaining people!

(note: this is a fictional church but this is based on actual events that have happened recently in three southern Ontario Churches.)

Joseph De Buglio

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Church Aesthetics

Posted by jdbsound on March 19, 2015

Acoustics decides the Aesthetics of a church. If the acoustics are bad, the aesthetics looks one way. When the acoustics are good, the aesthetics looks another way. Did you know that the average person without training can virtually tell what the aesthetics looks like in a church by how it sounds? Did you also know that churches with good acoustics when first built often have better aesthetics that lasts the lifetime of the worship space?

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