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Digital stage-box vs analogue snake - what is the difference?

The main difference between a digital stage box and an analogue snake is how they transmit audio signals. Here's a breakdown of each: Analog Snake: An analogue snake, also known as an analogue multicore or analogue audio snake, is a physical cable with multiple channels used to carry analogue audio signals from a stage or […]

The main difference between a digital stage box and an analogue snake is how they transmit audio signals. Here's a breakdown of each:

Analog Snake: An analogue snake, also known as an analogue multicore or analogue audio snake, is a physical cable with multiple channels used to carry analogue audio signals from a stage or performance area to a mixing console or audio interface. It consists of individual balanced audio cables bundled together in a single jacket or enclosure. Each channel of the snake carries an analogue audio signal, typically using XLR connectors.

Key characteristics of an analogue snake include:

  1. Analog Signal: Analog snakes transmit audio signals in their original analogue form. The electrical voltage of the audio waveform varies continuously, representing the audio signal's amplitude and frequency.
  1. Simple Connectivity: Analog snakes connect directly between the stage or performance area and the mixing console. Each channel of the snake needs to be physically patched or connected to the corresponding input or output on the console. This direct connection requires manual routing and management of cables.

Digital Stage box: A digital stage box, on the other hand, is a device that converts analogue audio signals into a digital format and transmits them over a digital audio protocol or network. Instead of individual analogue cables, a digital stage box uses a single digital connection to carry multiple audio channels between the stage and the mixing console.

Key characteristics of a digital stage box include:

  1. Digital Signal: A digital stage box converts the analogue audio signals into a digital format, typically using converters built into the stage box. The audio signals are transmitted as digital data packets over a digital audio protocol, such as Dante, AES50, or AVB. This allows for the preservation of audio quality and enables additional features like remote control and signal processing.
  1. Remote Connectivity: With a digital stage box, the physical connection between the stage and the mixing console is established using a digital audio protocol or network. This eliminates the need for long analogue cable runs and provides more flexibility in terms of distance and routing. The stage box can be placed near the stage, while the mixing console remains at a convenient location, connected via a network switch or direct digital connection.
  1. Enhanced Features: Digital stage boxes often offer additional features beyond audio signal transmission. They can include built-in preamps, remote control capabilities, integrated signal processing, and the ability to send control data alongside audio signals. These features provide advanced functionality and streamline the setup and operation of audio systems.

Summary

Analog snakes transmit audio signals in their original analogue form over individual balanced cables, while digital stage boxes convert analogue audio signals into digital data and transmit them over a digital audio protocol or network. Digital stage boxes offer remote connectivity, advanced features, and more flexibility compared to analogue snakes. They are instrumental in larger setups where long cable runs and enhanced functionality are required.

Digital Stage Box Source

Analogue Snake Source

Are digital snakes only a single CAT 5e/6/7 cable?

The choice between analogue and digital systems depends on various factors, including your specific needs, preferences, and the nature of your non-permanent audio setup. Both analogue and digital systems have their advantages and considerations. Let's explore each to help you make an informed decision:

Analogue Systems:

Advantages:

  • Simplicity: Analogue systems are often simpler to set up and operate. They typically involve fewer components and may be more user-friendly for those who are not audio professionals.
  • Signal Continuity: Analogue signals experience a continuous waveform, which some argue can produce a more natural and warmer sound. For certain applications, such as certain types of music, this might be preferable.
  • Cost: Analogue systems can be more cost-effective, especially for basic setups. If you're on a tight budget and don't require advanced features, analogue equipment might be a suitable choice.

Considerations:

  • Signal Quality: Analogue signals may be more susceptible to interference and degradation over long cable runs. This can result in a loss of signal quality, especially in non-permanent setups where cable lengths may vary.
  • Flexibility: Analogue systems might be less flexible in terms of signal routing and processing compared to their digital counterparts. This could be a limitation if you need to adapt to different setups frequently.

Digital Systems:

Advantages:

  • Signal Integrity: Digital signals can be less susceptible to interference and degradation over long distances. This makes them more suitable for non-permanent setups where cable lengths may vary.
  • Flexibility and Processing: Digital systems offer greater flexibility in terms of signal routing, processing, and manipulation. This can be advantageous if you need to adapt your audio system to different environments or requirements.
  • Compactness: Digital systems often allow for more compact setups since signal processing can be handled within the digital domain, reducing the need for multiple analogue components.

Considerations:

  • Complexity: Digital systems can be more complex to set up and operate, requiring a certain level of technical expertise. If simplicity is a priority, an analogue system might be more suitable.
  • Cost: High-end digital systems can be more expensive than their analogue counterparts. However, there are affordable digital options available, and the cost difference may be justified by the additional features and capabilities.

Conclusion:

For a non-permanent audio system, the choice between analogue and digital depends on your specific needs, budget, and familiarity with audio equipment. If simplicity and cost are primary concerns, analogue systems may be a suitable choice. However, if you prioritize signal integrity, flexibility, and advanced processing capabilities, a digital system could be more appropriate.

Ultimately, it's essential to consider the specific requirements of your audio setup and choose the system that aligns best with your preferences and goals. If possible, test both analogue and digital systems in your intended environment to determine which one meets your needs more effectively.

Dealing with a lapel microphone catching on garments and causing disruptive noise is a common issue in audio setups. Here are some tips to help mitigate this problem:

  • Positioning:
    • Ensure that the lapel mic is properly positioned on your clothing to minimize contact with the fabric. Clip it securely in an area where it won't easily snag, such as the centre of your chest.
    • Experiment with different attachment points to find the most secure and least obstructive placement.
  • Use a Tie Clip or Windscreen:
    • Consider using a tie clip or a small clip designed for securing lapel microphones. These clips can help keep the microphone in place and prevent it from moving around on your clothing.
    • Adding a foam windscreen to the microphone can also help reduce friction and prevent noise caused by the mic rubbing against fabric.
  • Secure Cables:
    • Make sure the microphone cable is neatly secured and tucked away. Use cable clips or adhesive cable organizers to minimize cable movement, reducing the chances of the mic catching on clothing.
  • Clothing Selection:
    • Choose clothing made of materials that generate less friction. Avoid materials that are prone to static or create a lot of noise when in contact with the microphone, such as certain synthetic fabrics.
    • Opt for smoother textures and designs that won't easily catch on the microphone.
  • Adjust Clothing Fit:
    • If possible, adjust the fit of your clothing to minimize contact with the lapel mic. Looser or differently styled clothing may reduce the likelihood of snagging.
  • Add Strain Relief:
    • Attach a strain relief loop to the microphone cable near the connector. This loop can absorb some of the tension if the cable is tugged, reducing the impact on the microphone.
  • Secure Excess Cable:
    • Coil or secure any excess microphone cable with a cable tie or Velcro strap. This can prevent loose cable ends from getting caught on clothing.
  • Microphone Mounting Accessories:
    • Explore additional mounting accessories designed to minimize clothing noise, such as magnetic mounts or suspension mounts.
  • Body Movement Awareness:
    • Be mindful of your movements, especially when adjusting clothing or turning. Avoid sudden, jerky movements that may cause the microphone to catch on clothing.

By implementing these tips, you can reduce the likelihood of your lapel microphone catching on garments and causing disruptive noise, ensuring a smoother and more professional audio experience.

Introduction:

Creating a memorable and spiritually uplifting church service involves more than just powerful sermons and heartfelt worship; it also requires support from a reliable and well-designed audio-visual (AV) system. Selecting the right AV system for your church is crucial to ensure that every member of the congregation can fully engage with the message and worship experience. In this article, we will explore key considerations and recommendations to help you choose the best AV system for your church service.

Assessing Church Size and Layout:

  • The first step in selecting an AV system is understanding the size and layout of your church. Larger spaces may require more powerful audio systems and additional display screens to ensure that everyone can see and hear clearly. Consider the acoustics of the space and any unique architectural features that may impact sound distribution.

Audio System Components:

a. Microphones: Invest in high-quality microphones for pastors, worship leaders, and musicians. Consider both wired and wireless options based on the church's needs. Remember a wired microphone will always be more reliable and cost effective than wireless.

b. Mixing Console: A user-friendly mixing console is essential for balancing and adjusting audio levels. Look for a console with sufficient channels for all instruments and microphones.

But overall look for a console that your users will feel confident and comfortable operating.

c. Speakers: Choose speakers that match the size and aesthetics of your church. They are the one part of the audio system that is always on display so they mustn’t dominate visually. Ultimately there may be a trade-off between looks and performance, some congregations will be happier than others sacrificing one for the other.

Visual Display:

a. Projectors and Screens: Select high-resolution projectors and screens for displaying lyrics, announcements, and multimedia content. HD resolution is good to have but not essential, widescreen format is essential as all content is this shape. However, 4K resolution is fairly pointless as most viewers will be too far from a screen to see the difference.

Consider the size and placement of screens to maximise visibility for the congregation. Sometimes there are several options for this, especially old buildings there may seem to be no obvious option, that's where a specialist church installer will have experience and solutions to offer.

b. Cameras: If your church would like to broadcast services online, Quality cameras will provide better long-term value for money and greatly increase low-light performance over basic webcams for live streaming. As control and operation of cameras and streaming equipment can be a lot more complicated than using say a laptop or phone to stream, finding a supplier who has experience working with churches will always produce a simpler-to-use system tailored to your needs.

Lighting:

a. Stage Lighting: Enhance the worship experience with well-designed stage lighting. Consider intelligent lighting systems that can be programmed to create dynamic atmospheres during different parts of the service. These can be programmed to allow push-button recall of lighting scenes enabling anyone to operate the system. Stage lighting can also improve the quality of your streaming output as most cameras perform better with higher light levels.

b. House Lighting: Ensure proper ambient lighting for the congregation, allowing them to read hymnals or follow along with scriptures without straining their eyes. A specialist church lighting designer will understand the unique requirements of lighting older buildings sympathetically.

Integration and Control:

Choose an AV system that allows seamless integration and control. This includes the ability to control audio, video, and lighting from a central location, making it easy for operators to manage the entire system during services. This may now include wireless operation from a tablet allowing control from the minister if operating solo.

Budget Considerations:

While it's crucial to invest in quality AV equipment, it's equally important to stay within budget. A professional church AV contractor will help you prioritise essential components and explore cost-effective options without compromising on performance.

Conclusion:

Selecting the best AV system for your church service requires careful consideration of your church's size, layout, and specific needs. By investing in high-quality audio, visual, and lighting equipment, you can create an immersive and spiritually enriching experience for your congregation, fostering a deeper connection with the message and worship. Two key components of this are 1. Selecting a provider who has a proven track record in the church sector and 2. Good communication between the church and contractor ensures that the project is delivered to your expectations and the operational capabilities of your team.

Stereo and surround sound are two different audio formats that provide distinct listening experiences.

https://www.quora.com/What-is-the-difference-in-sound-quality-between-3D-stereo-and-true-5-1-surround-sound-using-the-same-speakers

  • Stereo Sound:
  • Channels: Stereo sound typically involves two channels of audio: left and right. Each channel delivers a separate audio signal to create a sense of directionality and spaciousness.
  • Setup: It is commonly used in two-speaker setups, where the speakers are placed on either side of the listener. 
  • Perception: Stereo sound provides a sense of direction and spatial separation between the left and right audio channels. It is widely used in music playback and many forms of audio entertainment. However in a non domestic venue most listeners will not be in the ‘sweet spot’ and so their ‘stereo’ experience will not be ideal, but still likely to offer a more engaging sound stage than a mono setup.

                   https://www.electronicshub.org/surround-vs-stereo/

  • Surround Sound:
  • Channels: Surround sound involves multiple audio channels (such as 5.1, 7.1, or even more). The most common formats are 5.1 and 7.1, where the numbers represent the main channels, and the ".1" denotes a separate channel for low-frequency effects (subwoofer).

Eg 5.1 has front left and right plus centre for dialogue and rear left and right (effects mostly) plus a subwoofer.

  • Setup: It is used in systems with multiple speakers strategically placed around the listener, including front, rear, and sometimes overhead speakers. Common configurations include 5.1 (five speakers and a subwoofer) and 7.1 (seven speakers and a subwoofer).
  • Perception: Surround sound aims to immerse the listener in a three-dimensional audio environment. It is commonly used in home theatre systems, gaming, and movies to create a more immersive and realistic audio experience. Different channels provide a sense of directionality and spatial positioning of sound. In a public space such as a hall it can still be effective but it can double the cost from a basic stereo system.

https://www.electronicshub.org/surround-vs-stereo/

Conclusion

In summary, the main difference lies in the number of channels and the spatial configuration of speakers. Stereo is a two-channel system, while surround sound involves multiple channels and speakers to create a more immersive audio experience with a sense of directionality and spatial awareness. 

So a stereo system in a hall could work well and is much cheaper to implement. Surround sound can give more of a sense of immersion even if you are not in the sweet spot seats, but can also take away from dialogue intelligibility in a more reverberant building due to the additional sources of sound creating multiple reflections.

Ultimately room acoustics are the limiting factor for any kind of reproduced sound.

Image Source:

https://www.electronicshub.org/surround-vs-stereo/

In the ever-evolving realm of studio recording, achieving optimal audio quality is the cornerstone of success. We recognize the significance of choosing the right equipment and setup for a stellar recording experience. Whether you're a seasoned studio professional or just embarking on your audio journey, discovering the best approach to studio recording is pivotal. In this guide, we delve into the fundamental elements that contribute to an outstanding studio recording experience.

1. Premium Microphones: The Bedrock of Superior Sound

Embarking on a journey towards audio excellence begins with selecting a top-tier microphone. Choose a microphone that aligns with your recording environment and budget. Dynamic microphones excel in minimizing background noise, making them ideal for home studios, while condenser microphones offer sensitivity and clarity. Renowned brands such as Shure, Audio-Technica, and Rode provide a diverse range of options to cater to different studio recording needs.

2. Audio Interface: Seamless Integration for Unparalleled Clarity

An audio interface serves as the linchpin between your microphone and computer, converting analogue signals into pristine digital data. This critical component ensures a clean and clear audio signal. Trusted brands like Focusrite, PreSonus, and Behringer offer reliable audio interfaces tailored to various studio recording requirements and budgets.

3. Precision Headphones: Monitoring Your Artistry

Choosing the right headphones is paramount for monitoring audio quality during recording and post-production. Closed-back headphones are preferred for isolating sound, enabling you to focus on the nuances of your recording. Esteemed brands like Sennheiser, Beyerdynamic, and Audio Technica offer high-quality headphones designed with studio recording in mind.

4. Acoustic Treatment: Mastering Room Ambiance

Crafting a controlled acoustic environment is often underestimated but plays a pivotal role in achieving professional sound. Invest in acoustic treatment solutions such as foam panels, bass traps, and diffusers to minimise echoes and ambient noise. This is crucial for those operating home studios and professional environments. Room colouration in both the recording and mixing phases often gives a low-budget feel to the product..

5. Mixers: Fine-Tuning Your Sonic Landscape

For advanced studio setups, integrating a mixer can elevate your recording experience. A mixer allows you to manage multiple audio sources, adjust levels, and introduce effects in real-time. Well-regarded brands like Yamaha, Mackie, and Behringer offer user-friendly mixers suitable for diverse studio recording needs.

6. Recording and Editing Software: Sculpting Your Sound

Choosing the right recording and editing software is essential for creating a polished recording. Popular options include Audacity (free and open-source), Adobe Audition, and GarageBand (for Mac users). Select software that aligns with your proficiency level and provides the features necessary for your artistic vision.

7. Remote Recording Solutions: Embracing Connectivity and Flexibility

In an era marked by remote collaborations, exploring platforms like Zencastr, SquadCast, or Riverside.fm can facilitate high-quality audio recording for artists and collaborators situated in different locations.

Conclusion: Elevating Your Studio Recording Experience

Achieving success in studio recording hinges on meticulous equipment selection and thoughtful studio setup. From premium microphones to sophisticated mixers, each component contributes to an immersive recording experience. By investing in the right tools and staying informed about the latest advancements in studio recording technology, you can ensure that your audio productions stand out, creating a seamless and captivating experience for both creators and listeners alike. Remember, the key to optimal studio recording lies in the fusion of passion and precision, resulting in an unforgettable auditory journey.

In the ever-evolving world of audio technology, digital mixers have become indispensable tools for sound engineers and music enthusiasts alike. They offer a plethora of features that analogue mixers simply can't match, with one standout advantage being the wireless connectivity options they offer. This opens the door to a range of control options, allowing users to harness the power of their digital mixers remotely through smartphones, tablets, or computers via a Browser Graphical User Interface (GUI).

When you're in the market for a digital mixer, it's essential to consider the control options available to you. Some digital mixers come equipped with physical controls on the device itself, or in-built Wi-Fi while others rely solely on remote control options through external wireless hardware. In this article, we'll dive into the various control avenues provided by digital mixers, as well as essential safeguards to prevent unintentional changes that could affect your sound.

In-built vs external networks

You may have picked up from the introduction that some digital mixers have their own Wi-Fi built-in. This is a very useful feature where you are controlling the mixer from the side of the stage or nearby, as it means you do not have to connect any external hardware to get up and running.

However, lots of mixers also (or only) have the option to connect to an existing network or external wireless hardware. This is important if you are going to be a long way from the mixer, as the in-built Wi-Fi will not have a very long range, so connecting the mixer to a larger network infrastructure will allow you to be further away and still have control through your mobile device. If we install a mixer, we will always use external hardware or connect to an existing network to ensure reliability.

Control Options for Digital Mixers

1. Smartphones and Tablets

Most digital mixers come with dedicated apps that can be downloaded, granting users the ability to control the mixer from anywhere within range of its Wi-Fi signal. This convenience allows sound engineers to mix audio from various locations within a venue, even from the audience area. This means they can experience precisely what the audience hears, resulting in a more accurate mix.

2. Browser GUI

Connecting to the mixer's Wi-Fi network allows users to access a browser-based GUI by entering the mixer's IP address. This GUI replicates the mixer's physical controls in a web interface, enabling users to manipulate settings remotely with ease. This flexibility provides the same control capabilities as being physically present at the mixer.

3. Laptop Direct Control

For digital mixers like the Behringer XR18 X Air that lack physical faders, direct control via a laptop is an option. By connecting your laptop to the mixer's Ethernet socket (usually labelled "remote"), you gain control over the mixer's functions. This feature is particularly useful when the mixer lacks onboard physical controls.

Safeguarding Your Sound

Now that we've explored the diverse control options digital mixers offer, it's crucial to address the concern of unintentional adjustments that could disrupt your sound. Thankfully, many digital mixers come with protective features.

Locking Mixer Functions

Some digital mixers feature a locking function, ensuring that once the mixer is closed or locked, any changes made to settings are temporary. When unlocked, the mixer reverts to its previous state, preserving your previous mix and preventing accidental alterations. This function is especially valuable during live performances, where sound consistency is paramount.

Complete Settings Lockdown

Many digital mixers also provide the option to lock down all settings entirely. This feature is a fail-safe against unauthorised access. If you need to step away from the mixer temporarily, activating this lockdown ensures that no one can make changes to critical settings in your absence.

Restoring Original Settings

In the event that settings are inadvertently changed, digital mixers offer a range of solutions for restoring your original configurations including:

Preset Saving

One of the standout benefits of digital mixers is the ability to save presets for each channel. If someone makes adjustments you wish to undo, simply access your saved presets and restore the desired settings. This feature streamlines setup and sound checks, making it a valuable tool when working with multiple bands or musicians.

Backup and Restore

To provide an extra layer of security, digital mixers often allow users to create backups of their settings. If unwanted changes occur, accessing the most recent backup can swiftly return everything to its intended state. However, this option may vary depending on the specific mixer model, so it's wise to consider this functionality before making your purchase.

In Conclusion

In summary, digital mixers offer a wealth of control options, from remote access via smartphones, tablets, and browsers to direct control through laptops. They also incorporate safeguards like locking functions and settings lockdown to protect your sound. Additionally, the ability to save presets and perform backups ensures you can swiftly recover your original settings if necessary.

When choosing a digital mixer, take the time to research and select one that aligns with your specific needs and preferences. With the right digital mixer and control options at your disposal, you can achieve unparalleled precision and flexibility in managing your audio.

When installing microphones on lecterns or pulpits, we typically opt for a type of microphone known as a gooseneck microphone. These microphones are characterised by their elongated design and adjustable tops, allowing them to be pointed in any direction. This feature enables the speaker to position themselves freely in front of the microphone, eliminating the need to stand in a specific spot.

The gooseneck is plugged in on the lectern or pulpit via an XLR connection point that is discreetly wired and secured to the top of the lectern. The benefit of this is that it can be unplugged and packed away. 

Here are some pros and cons of using a gooseneck microphone:

Pros:

  1. Directional Flexibility: Gooseneck microphones can be easily adjusted and positioned to point directly at the sound source. This makes them ideal for situations where precise directional control is required.
  1. Reduced Feedback: Their focused pickup pattern and directional control help reduce the likelihood of feedback in live sound reinforcement setups, such as in churches.
  1. Unobtrusive Design: Gooseneck microphones are often designed to be discreet and blend into the environment, making them less visually obtrusive than other types of microphones. Not needing a floor stand avoids clutter.
  1. Durable: They are typically built with sturdy materials and can withstand a fair amount of physical stress and bending, which is useful in high-traffic or busy environments.

Cons:

  1. Limited Mobility: While the flexibility of the gooseneck allows for precise positioning, it also restricts the microphone's mobility compared to handheld or lapel microphones. 
  1. Size and Aesthetics: While the discreet design can be a pro, it can also be a con, as some users may find the appearance less appealing or may struggle to locate the microphone in a crowded room.
  1. Installation and Mounting: Installing gooseneck microphones can be more involved than simply placing a microphone on a stand. They often require specialised mounts or fixtures.
  1. Cost: High-quality gooseneck microphones can be more expensive than other types of microphones, especially when you factor in the cost of accessories like mounts.

Conclusion

Gooseneck microphones are perfect for use on a lectern or in the pulpit, they allow for any speaker to position the adjustable head in any way they need so they do not have to stand in a specific spot, goosenecks can be unplugged for storage and security and plugged back into their XLR mount with ease. They are perfectly designed for capturing speech. They can also perform well in capturing acoustic, especially orchestral instruments.

 When it comes to audio systems in houses of worship, choosing the right microphone is crucial for delivering clear and impactful sound. Two popular options are headset and lapel microphones. In this blog post, we will discuss the pros and cons of each to help you make an informed decision for your church's audio needs.

Headsets are worn around the head, with a small capsule positioned near the mouth. Here are some pros and cons of using headset microphones in a house of worship setting:

Pros:
  1. Stability: Headsets provide excellent stability, ensuring that the microphone remains in place even during dynamic movements, such as preaching or singing.
  2. Hands-Free: With a headset, the speaker or performer has their hands completely free, allowing for natural gestures, holding props, or using presentation aids.
  3. Consistent Sound Quality: Since the capsule remains consistently positioned near the mouth, the sound quality remains consistent throughout the performance or sermon.
Cons:
  1. Visibility: Some individuals may find headset microphones more visible or intrusive, especially if the microphone boom is in front of the face.
  1. Comfort: Wearing a headset microphone for an extended period may cause discomfort for some individuals, particularly if they are not accustomed to wearing headsets.
  1. Limited Applications: Headsets are primarily designed for speech and vocal performances. They may not be as suitable for certain musical instruments or group performances.

Lapel or lavaliers are small, clip-on microphones that are typically attached to the collar or lapel of the speaker's clothing. Let's explore the pros and cons of using lapel microphones in a house of worship:

Pros:
  1. Discreetness: Lapels are small and discreet, making them less noticeable to the congregation. This can be particularly beneficial for speakers or performers who prefer a minimalist appearance.
  1. Versatility: Lapels can be used in various applications, including speeches, sermons, musical performances, and panel discussions.
  1. Natural Sound: Placed close to the speaker's mouth, lapel microphones capture a natural sound without obstructing the performer's face or gestures.
Cons:
  1. Pickup of Environmental Noise: Due to their placement, lapel microphones may pick up more ambient or environmental noise, such as rustling clothing or background sounds. This can affect the overall sound quality.
  1. Limited Movement: Since lapel microphones are fixed to the clothing, excessive movement or turning away from the microphone may result in inconsistent sound levels or loss of audio clarity.
  1. Potential for Clothing Interference: Lapel microphones can sometimes be accidentally covered or obstructed by clothing, affecting the sound quality or causing unwanted rustling noises.

Conclusion

Choosing between headset and lapel microphones for your house of worship depends on several factors, including the specific needs of your speakers, the type of performances or sermons, and personal preferences. Headset microphones offer stability and hands-free operation, while lapel microphones provide discreteness and versatility. 

Consider the pros and cons outlined in this blog post, and test different options to find the microphone solution that best suits your church's audio requirements. By investing in the right microphone, you can enhance the worship experience and ensure clear and impactful sound for your congregation.

Good sound quality very rarely just happens ‘out-of-the-box’, but takes a number of different components to achieve. Part of this is the quality of the equipment used, but another large element is the ability to tune or equalise (EQ) the sound system to make it sound as good as possible. This is where DSP comes in.

But what is DSP and why does my church sound system need it?

Traditionally, lower-cost church sound systems only have very basic bass and treble controls for the main output, with no ability to adjust this individually for each input channel. This can lead to very poor performance as there are no means to compensate for the particular frequency characteristics of budget loudspeakers. Typically cheaper loudspeakers will reproduce some frequencies far more or far less than others, due to their cheaper materials and lower design values.

As a result, two things will happen when you turn the volume of the system up. Firstly, the tone of the sound will change, with music and speech sounding thin and nasal. Secondly, when using microphones to capture speech, the microphone may start to pick up reflected or direct sound from the loudspeaker and re-amplify the loudest frequencies which will lead to nasty acoustic feedback (that piercing ringing sound we have all heard come from loudspeakers at one point). The acoustic response of the room can further compound this issue of feedback and poor audio quality.

Happily, there is an effective way to reduce these undesired effects and make the most of even fairly budget loudspeakers. The answer: Digital Signal Processing, or DSP for short. In a very basic sense, this is a small box which will sit between the output of the mixer and the input of the amplifier powering the loudspeakers. It contains audio processing that allows for very accurate mitigation of the frequencies causing the problems of feedback and gives an opportunity to compensate for the frequency response of the loudspeakers.

During the installation phase APi uses test equipment and importantly our experience of working in lively church acoustics to make the system sound the best it can, meaning that even our lowest-cost systems perform well.

So if I can make even a budget church system sound good, then why should I pay more?

DSP is a valuable tool and does allow for an increase in quality when using budget equipment, but it does not make a system which will compare to one where more capable loudspeakers have been chosen. DSP will be used even with higher-end systems, but for fine-tuning rather than fixing difficulties with limited speaker performance.

At some point applying a lot of DSP will have an effect on the overall quality of reproduction you may fix one issue and create another. For example, boosting the bass output will make a speaker sound better at low volume, but turning it up with this added bass could end up exceeding the limits of the speaker driver and causing damage.

Ultimately, adding DSP to any system will improve the achievable volume before the onset of feedback and smooth out the frequency response, making the system sound more natural and making the operation of the system far easier on a week-to-week basis.

Digital signal processing also gives possibilities to add delay to loudspeakers and other advanced features which allow even further fine-tuning of a sound system for maximum performance.

Digital mixing desks have been in widespread existence since 1987 when Yamaha introduced their first digital desks. From then until about 10 years ago they were seen as the province of the recording studio or touring company.

Since this time with processing power ever increasing and manufacturing costs decreasing they have filtered down further into the whole of the marketplace. In the last few years pricing has fallen further so now we would say they are the only option except for very small or ultra-low-budget installations.

Digital mixing desks have all of the same functions of an analogue desk but all incorporate additional features such as graphic equalisers, compressors, and other effects that would normally require a stack of additional black boxes and cables to achieve.

First, let's look at why you might not have considered a digital desk:

  • Not aware of this as an option
  • More expensive option (not any more except for very small mixers)
  • Perceived as more complicated
  • Adds features not seen as important in church operations
  • "We don’t need studio-quality digital sound in our church"

Now let’s look at some of the disadvantages of analogue mixers:

  • Too many knobs and faders to be easily understood and operated
  • Inexperienced users fiddle with controls and make things worse, with no way to quickly and easily return to the original settings
  • Bulky units that have to live out in the church to be operated
  • Often covered in sticky labels to show what controls what
  • Controls get ‘noisy’ living in an often damp environment
Now we have described what they are and some of their attributes, let’s look at why now is a great time to upgrade to digital for your system.

Your prime concern is ease of use, but you need more inputs than a traditional ‘one knob per input’ mixer amplifier can offer. We can supply units with a simple user interface from 8 to 32 inputs and beyond without getting buried in hundreds of knobs you don’t use. 

Every time you use your current system the previous user has changed settings and you want a simple way to go back to the default ones. All digital desks have multiple memories that can simply be recalled with a single button push or sometimes by turning the power off and on.

You would like to be able to have wireless control over the system so that you can sit anywhere or the minister can operate it from their seat, this is also good for security as the mixer is safely locked away. All mainstream digital mixers have wireless control apps that work with a variety of tablets.

You would like a simple way of recording services without having a rack full of equipment; most digital mixers have a record-to-USB stick function. 

Your music group would like to have individual control of their foldback (monitor) levels - with some mixers up to 10 tablets or smartphones can be connected simultaneously to allow for individual control.

You would like to have a variety of options for where your stage box for music group input connections could be located to give flexibility for different services and events. Some mixers are completely wireless and take the place of the traditional stage box, others have a single low-cost connection using a network cable from the mixer to the digital stage box allowing several connection positions to be installed.

APi Sound & Visual has wide experience in the church market and our staff use a variety of digital mixers in their own worship settings. Our systems are always focused on delivering the best match to our customers' requirements and operational skills.

So returning to our list of objections to digital we can now say:

  • You have more of an awareness of the options available
  • The user interface is more straightforward with generally fewer controls presented (others not required or set up on installation are out of sight)
  • You will never use all of the functions but being able to group channels and save all of your settings is a lifesaver if someone has been fiddling.
  • Studio sound quality processing comes as standard no one ever complained that the sound was too good.

And looking back to the disadvantages of analogue, digital offers:

  • Less non-essential controls on the surface, and return to default setting with stored memory.
  • Unique simple user interfaces can be created with only the useful controls displayed.
  • With wireless control, the mixer can be in the vestry or the choir area.
  • With control via tablet, the input channels are clearly labelled on the screen and can change when different memorised service setups are recalled. Eg. you can save the best settings for each musician and these can be applied to any channel.
  • With all controls being digital encoders these products are more resilient in damp environments.
Summary

Digital mixers now offer far more value for money and a more flexible and simpler user experience with a complete backup of important settings.

Over the years, the technology in loudspeakers has evolved greatly, especially in the area of creating speaker cabinets which allow for the sound to be thrown over increasingly large distances.

Before getting into the detail of what makes line array loudspeakers clever, we need to start by explaining the difference between them and conventional loudspeakers, plus some handy terminology. 

Conventional speakers have been around for years, with the first loudspeaker appearing in 1876, which was patented by Alexander Graham Bell, who invented it for intelligible speech for use in the first telephones. They come in many different shapes and sizes but are most commonly used for band PA systems or are installed for background music in venues such as restaurants, bars and nightclubs.

The size of a loudspeaker depends on the size of the driver. This driver is not the sort who will chauffeur you to a dinner party, but a crucial element of a speaker. It is often also referred to as a loudspeaker cone.

Sound from conventional speakers tends to spread out in a wide pattern, resulting in uneven coverage and potential sound reflections and interference. Often, speakers have a 90 x 90 dispersion, which means that the sound travels 90 degrees vertically and 90 degrees horizontally from the front of the speaker. This is fine in many locations, but for churches and large, reverberant spaces, this hinders sound quality and speech intelligibility.

So dispersion is how wide or narrow the sound radiates from a loudspeaker. The narrower the dispersion, the more controlled the sound from the speaker is going to be.

The primary advantage of line array speakers over conventional ones lies in their ability to control sound dispersion. These utilise a technique called vertical line array wavefront shaping to achieve a controlled dispersion pattern. That’s quite a mouthful, so what does it mean?

Simply put, the drivers in the speaker are precisely arranged in a vertical line within the cabinet, and each one is carefully angled so that when sound waves are emitted from the driver, the sound waves sum together to push the sound further out from the speaker and in a more directional manner.

Some (very expensive) line array loudspeakers, both in the installed and live performance markets, allow you to change the directivity of each speaker, which gives the sound engineer incredible control over the dispersion of sound. This is useful in particularly reverberant spaces such as a cathedral, where the speakers can be tuned to focus on the audience with the accuracy of a laser beam, maximising the coverage across the congregation and minimising issues caused by the sound reflecting off the large space.

Summary

Overall, the controlled dispersion of line arrays helps to minimise echoes and reflections, leading to improved speech intelligibility, especially in acoustically challenging environments. However, it is important to note that while line array speakers excel in certain applications, they may not always be the best choice for smaller venues or situations where precise control over sound dispersion is not a priority.

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