Church Acoustics & Sound Systems

Why is Church Sound and Acoustics so Confusing?

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    Churches are the most complicated spaces to tame. There are no short cuts to church sound. The information presented here just scratches the surface of how large rooms have layers of sound that creates either constructive or destructive reflections and energy management. Most of the information here is based on years of experience and thousands of hours studying, research and testing. Every church can have great acoustics and worship experience. Knowledge has taught us that whenever aesthetics is chosen over performance, the congregation loses out. Whenever worship space performance outweighs the aesthetics, everyone benefits.

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Posts Tagged ‘leadership’

What are your Church Priorities about sound when it comes to preaching the Gospel?

Posted by jdbsound on February 25, 2020

Is the performance of your worship space a priority?  Is the message always crystal clear in every seating position, and over 60% of the congregation is singing all the time?  If you say no to either or both questions, and you want your church to sound right for speech and music, the biggest obstacle is often the acoustics.  The second is money.  The third is aesthetics.

Fix the room!  How?  Follow what the Bible says, and you will not be disappointed.  After all, it is God’s plan, not man’s idea.  Do you think that the results will be less than perfect if you follow His plan completely? Isn’t the Bible the Living Bible?  Since when did the Bible stop teaching us new things about science?  Check out Solomon’s Temple, and the answers are there.  They always have been. It’s just taken a while to join the dots.

But it costs too much!  Oh, you mean the cost of a few floor monitors or a couple of wireless microphones considered too much?  That is often the cost of the Bible’s way of fixing the acoustics or about $3.50USD per seat for a 300 seat church. (Not including the price for the knowledge of knowing what to do.)  Replacing a mixer costs about $15.00-21.00 per seat.  Replacing pews for chairs cost about $75.00 per seat.  Buying 10 Shure SM58 mics with cables and mic stands – costs about $1,500.00.  Fixing the acoustics of a church is cheaper than you think.

If the look of any acoustical treatment is a concern, ask yourself this.  Are you there to worship God or the building?  Fixing the acoustics is like saying you are more interested in hearing what God has to say through your minister.  Putting up with acoustical problems, poor quality congregational singing, and accepting a sound system with limited performance is like saying the building is more important than the message and having fellowship with other believers.

It all comes down to priorities.  The primary purpose of any building that is a dedicated House of God is the preaching of the Gospel.  A place where the Gospel message can be spoken without distortion or interface.  That includes making the room behave as God would want us to have it.  The second priority is the breaking of bread and drinking of wine in remembrance of what Jesus did for all of us.  The worship space has to support this event as often as each church chooses to remember.  The next priority is congregational singing.  There isn’t any other experience that can replace the joy and excitement of a room where more than 75% of the audience is singing.  Songs that tell stories of Jesus, his atonement of our sins, and of people who follow Jesus are powerful in bringing people together.  It takes the same quality of acoustics to hear clear speech as well as great congregational singing.  These are the things that matter when you are a part of the Kingdom of God.

While I do have a business about church acoustics and sound, there is no possible way for one person or one company to fix all of the churches out there that need help.  By making this public, it means that no one can patent it and force churches to pay a license fee. It means that no one can control it and inflate the cost of fixing existing and new churches.  Churches should use the Bible’s methods with confidence, to apply in faith what God teaches, even without expert help.  When churches take such a leap of faith, in most cases, the results are outstanding.

This information is being shared because I care more about winning people for Christ through better sound than creating a business empire.  By revealing what the Bible teaches, by showing that science backs it up, that it is affordable for every church to have excellent acoustics, this is all part of the Great Commission.  If more people with a passion and skills like mine, were to apply what the Bible teaches about sound, we could make a difference.  Mat-7:15.  Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves. (KJV)  If you have the chance, read the rest of what Jesus said in Mathews 7:15-20. Don’t trust me.  Trust the Bible.

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Is your minister preaching a distorted message unintentionally?

Posted by jdbsound on February 17, 2020

When sharing the Gospel, so many times, someone has said that they didn’t like what the minister said during a worship service, so they left the church.  They thought the minister was preaching a false message.  Some people have told me that they walked out of a worship service upon hearing the distorted message.  I would ask them if other people left the service at the same time.  In every case, they said no.  That is when I try to retrieve the audio record of that specific service.   As it turned out, on the recording, the minister said the right things, but why was it heard in the sanctuary as something else? 

The next step was to play the recording over the sound system and sit in the same spot the person complained about what he heard.  Sure enough, the same gibberish that got the person upset was heard in that spot.  When you moved several feet over in any direction, the sound was clearer, yet in other places, different words were being twisted.  With the recording on a loop, we found dozens of other places where the minister’s words were warped into something else.  Doing this exercise did get one person to try church again, but in most cases, when something like this happens, most people will not return to a church where the Gospel is preached.

Sound quality matters.  What good is excellent speech intelligibility in one spot and a failure in another?  Sound quality can save people and their souls.  I have never met a person who was saved by a song, but I had met many people who were saved when they heard the clear and undistorted message of Jesus Christ and become followers of the Messiah because the message was clearly understood. 

I often wonder how many other people have experienced hearing something different than what the minister said in a sanctuary. For many ministers and church leaders, it would never occur to them that the sound system was the cause of some people not returning to church.  The unfortunate truth is, many churches have questionable acoustics, and when a person sits in a spot where words, syllables, or the sound volume is too low, what was said and what is heard were not the same.

Sound systems cannot fix the acoustical problems of a church.  Adding more speakers or applying the latest state of the art technology tricks are no match to Architectural failures in room design and unmanaged sound sequencing around a room.  Absorptive panels are often the first weapon used to tame a room.  Cutting down on the noise and reflections with absorption cannot fix deadspots or hotspots.  Absorptive panels cannot change the path of sound reflections that causes uneven sound distribution. Absorptive panels have been known to make the sound harder to understand in those poor locations throughout the room, not better.  What is needed is a different weapon to defeat poor sound.

To eliminate hotspots and deadspots, you need to be able to distribute sound more evenly.  Scattering the sound is the most effective way to create a unified sound field throughout the whole sanctuary.  When sound is managed in this way, not only does it eliminate deadspots and hotspots of any speech problems, but it makes congregational singing, praise and worship bands clearer, the stage sound is corrected, and for many churches, they bring back choral music because it sounds better than what a worship team could do before the room was fixed.  In most cases, scattering the sound costs less to do than absorbing sound. 

Acoustical solutions for churches that work should be common knowledge as these concepts have been around for years. Fixing a church can often be restricted by how a solution may look. It is high time that the aesthetic police take a back seat from preventing the Gospel message to be preached clearly.  If aesthetics are a big deal, alternatives are always possible.  In the end, it is all about priorities. You have to choose between hearing the Gospel or have a Church that looks good.  What will your church do?

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Church Sound and the Gospel

Posted by jdbsound on January 28, 2019

The goal of any worship space and the church sound system is not about loudness, gain before feedback, intelligibility, special sound effects for the organ or choir, having the most talented performers in the worship team, how many wireless mics, number of channels the mixer has or the name brand of equipment you have. The goal of a church worship space and the sound system is to be a safe place where the Gospel can be presented clearly and with little to no blemishes. Where every person within the worship space can hear and understand the Gospel as clearly as when having a conversation with someone only 4 feet away and sharing the Gospel. Anything less than that goal means that the spoken word can be corrupted in the journey between the minister’s mouth and ears of all those who are listening. The Gospel needs to be broadcasted and understood as clearly as reading God’s written words.

If your church has hot spots, dead spots, good sound in these seats and poor sound in those seats, then the Gospel is not being presented equally to everyone. If your sound system has technical problems during worship often, then it is a distraction, and it can make the difference of understanding something important.

The chart below shows tangible results when your worship and sound system are tested. There should be three tests.

The first is with a test speaker. It is a point source speaker that is small enough to mimic a person’s voice.

The next test is feeding a signal directly into the sound system and test those results. This test is just about the playback quality of your sound system.

The third test is to use the test speaker 30 inches from an open microphone such as a pulpit or any microphone on a stand and test the combined results of the worship space’s acoustics direct interaction of the sound system and open mics. You can also do a second version of this test and place the test speaker 4 inches from a microphone where the microphone is 45 degrees off axis.

If all three tests are not in the Yellow section, the results will let you know if it is your sound system, the acoustics or all of the above.  This is also a better indication predicting if upgrading your sound system will improve the results you are looking for. This is also a strong indicator that your worship space needs some kind of an acoustical management system

sti alcons chart conversion

You can get your church tested. It doesn’t cost much, and the results can save a life or many lives, depending on your point of view. As an independent consulting company, we offer church testing and results with no obligation to use our services in the future.

Share your comments.  Was this article helpful?

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Church Ceiling Height Chart

Posted by jdbsound on December 26, 2018

There are three key parts to what happens in church worship.  There is the spoken word, there is collaborative/congregational singing, and there is performance singing.  For a worship space to support these three events where speech is first, then congregational singing and performance singing, you need a specific design and dimensions to support these functions well.  High-quality speech should not come at the expense of the music.  Music should not come at the cost of speech.  There is a balance and part of that balance is to have enough ceiling height to support both speech and music in a contained space. 

Unfortunately, churches these days are building lower and lower ceilings in their worship spaces.  A person can assume that when so many churches have experienced only poor quality acoustics, many wonder what is the point of building a taller worship space. 

When a church builds a low ceiling, it limits congregational singing and it makes you more dependent on technology, but guess what!  The same things that limit congregational singing are what also limits the performance of the technology we affectionately call the sound systems.  So, instead of getting 100% out of your high quality, expensive sound system, you’re getting only 40 to 60% of the sound systems true performance abilities.  It is actually cheaper to build higher than the added cost of un-needed audio technology to make up the difference.   The chart below should clear the air as to the minimum height your next church should be. If you can afford to build higher, do it.  Also, a taller worship space does not mean being stuck with longer reverb times. A higher ceiling means natural room reverberation can be adjustable, and is tune-able.  With a taller ceiling, you can change the frequency response of the whole room without needing a sound system or equalizer.

Minimum Church Ceiling height Chart.JPG

Church height is important for a worship space.  One of the biggest parts of worship is singing.  Congregational singing to be specific.  When singing as a group, several elements are required for a good and healthy worship experience.  There is chorusing, harmony, sound volume or loudness of the singing and being able to hear yourself as well as the people around you.  When all of these elements are in balance, the worship experience is like no other.  The majority of people get a lot of satisfaction from the singing experience during worshiping in rooms that have ceiling heights that match the size of the seating capacity of the worship space. The above chart are minimum interior ceiling heights.  If you want to build higher, you can as the singing experience gets even better.

High ceilings allow for better sound system performance with less expensive sound equipment. (A lot of pro audio contractors, installers and equipment manufacturer don’t like hearing this.)  Higher ceiling permits better gain before feedback and it becomes easier to isolate drums and floor monitor. The performance of the sound system is much better too when that is coupled with a good quality acoustical management system.

There are economic advantages too.  The higher the ceiling, the cheaper it is to heat and cool when using a vertical displacement HVAC type system which is specifically designed for large gathering spaces for people.  Such systems cost less to install, they use smaller HVAC components and cost about 30 to 40% less to operate.  In addition, the cooling systems last 2 to 3 times longer before needing to be replaced. In a way, building higher cost less both in cost and in operation over time.

Another thing to consider. If building new, don’t build a flat ceiling that is parallel to the floor. (and it doesn’t count of you put in a sloping floor.)  Many churches that are moving into commercial buildings are learning the hard way that flat ceilings limit the quality of live musical performances and congregational singing.  Sure, there are acoustical panels that can slightly improve the room for amplified sound, but the cost doesn’t justify the returns.  There is little that can help congregational singing even if you have the height. Vertical standing waves are harder to manage than a horizontal standing wave. If you know what you are doing, horizontal standing waves can be controlled to create an outstanding room.  It is part of the formula for that perfect worship space.  Funny though, most concert musicians that perform in a church that I have fixed, they often make comments like, “I wish our concert hall sounded and performed as well.”  That is almost like saying, “concert halls make for lousy worship space but worship spaces can perform better than a concert hall.”

*Note* In most countries that have freedom of religion laws, the worship space portion of a church building has no roof heights limits regardless of local city building height restrictions. 

**Note** The data is based on 1200 churches from around the world. 

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Before and After results of a Real Multipurpose Hall

Posted by jdbsound on December 4, 2017

This is a before and after test results of a multipurpose room.  The room is a converter steel factory.  The purpose of the room is for multi use including banquets, acoustical and amplified musical performances, teaching and general meetings.  While the room has a fixed sound system, the  room performs equally well regardless of the orientation of the seating or event layout.

sandbox B-A results

From the graph, it shows the before and after.  Before the room had an average of 2.1 seconds of reverberation.  That said, at around 400 Hertz, the reverb time was 2.85 seconds. This made the room unacceptable for all uses.  It was hard to have a simple conversation with someone only 5 feet away.

The acoustical treatment in this case require 3 different acoustical system.  Tube Radiators were used for controlling sound from 200 to 2000 Hertz.  The tube radiators have only a profile depth of 4 and 6 inches and the idea that something so small can control sound down to 200 Hertz is amazing.  The tube radiators only covers 12% of the total wall space of the room.  

The second system was outround diffuser panels.  They covered another 10% of the available wall space.  These panels were used to manage sound from 100 to 500 Hertz.  By combining these two system with the limited wall space, we were able to cut the reverb time at 400 and 800 Hertz 1.8 seconds.  That is a massive amount considering that 400 Hertz is a wave length of about 33 inches long and 800 Hz is about 17 inches.

The third acoustical was a fiber absorber.  The fiber absorber covered 40% of the ceiling and 10% of the side walls.  The fiber panels covered the outrounds on the side walls.  It is rare to need absorption in such projects but when you have a concrete floor with no carpet, you have to replace the carpet with something similar.  Here is the thing about carpet.  Carpet, which is always within 4 to 7 feet of our ears works very efficiently.  The shallow angle of most sounds we hear in a large room event gives a 1/2 inch of carpet the acoustical performance of 2 inches of a typical wall panel absorber.  Since one of the requirements of this room is to include music that can reach 100dB, it was planned to have a reverb time of 1 second, +/- .2 tenths of a second.  That goal was met and the range it was met is typical of our acoustical fixes.  If you look at the before and after, the room now meets that goal from 150Hz to 4,000Hz.  Before, using the same criteria, the room had a average reverb time of 1.8 second with a +/- of 1.1 second variance.

percent alcons 4 sandbox

The critical question is, how does the room sound for speech, talking and for music.  For speech, the change was from 14% Alcon’s (rated as poor) to 4% Alcon’s.  At 4%, it means that you can talk to someone from end to end of the 55 ft long room with a slightly raise voice.  When you add a properly equalized sound system, you can better the speech intelligibility to 3.5%.  For talking across a table during banquet or social events is easy in this space.  You can talk to someone 15 ft away while the person next to you is talking to someone across the table without having to raise your voice to compete with other conversations.

As for music, so far, for the high energy high SPL events the room has been well received by musician and audience members.  That has meant fewer events with drum shields, fewer events with IEM (in ear monitors) and very little floor monitor spill that degrades the sound for the audience.

At the other end there have been a few recital type performances where the even was all acoustical.  One person who was a graduate of a royal conservatory of music remarked that the room was similar to recital rooms at a well known royal conservatory school in Toronto, Canada.  One violinist said that while she would have liked a longer reverb time, the quality of the sound of her expensive instrument was amazing.  The last time she heard her violin sound so great was at a high end recording studio that was  acoustical treated.  She was also stunned that it didn’t matter where in the room she performed, the violin sounded great.

There is one down side to the new room.  Since there is no carpet, when the room is empty, you do notice the reflection off the floor. This does make the room a little challenging for those who do rehearsals when the room empty and before any table and chairs are set up.  Once tables and chairs are setup, the room behaves well.

In the real world, there are a lot of rooms that are used as multi purposed spaces but perform poorly.  Most facility owners don’t worry about acoustics because they may have the only place in town that can accommodate such events.  That said, if they were to get 10 to 20% more bookings per year, they would recover the cost of investing in an acoustical fix in less than a year.  Furthermore, it would allow the facility owner to charge a hire fee if the place gets too busy.  There is no down side to having an acoustically friendly community center, convention hall, rental hall or banquet facility.

 

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Pastor Guide To Acoustics

Posted by jdbsound on December 20, 2012

Here is an article I recommend reading.  It sings the same story share at this website.  Don’t know about the results but if it is similar, it would be amazing.

Pastor’s Guide to Acoustics
link: http://www.worshipfacilities.com/go.php/editorial/19635

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