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:
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:
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:
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.
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.
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:
Now let’s look at some of the disadvantages of analogue mixers:
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:
And looking back to the disadvantages of analogue, digital offers:
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.
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.
We are often asked if it is possible to use wireless speakers to form a church sound system. this is because churches, especially the older ones, are not very suited to running cables. It’s not something that we can hold against the people who built them all those years ago, but it does present a real challenge when installing any new audio-visual equipment. Often these buildings are Grade 1 listed or higher, which makes it necessary to pay extra attention to cable runs and fixing positions.
Newer church buildings do not usually have the same constraints as running plastic trunking is usually permitted, or cable routes have been thought about in the original design of the building, which saves our engineers a lot of time during an installation.
But a question we are often asked when installing sound systems, in particular, is one which we think deserves a further explanation, as we hear it so often. That question is this:
Why can’t you use a wireless speaker instead of running all those cables through the church?
Now, at first glance this might seem like a very valid thought; after all, in today’s world, most people have a wireless speaker in their house, whether that be a smart speaker in your kitchen so that you can dance while you cook, or a portable speaker you take to the beach with you to play some summer hits while you sunbathe.
I, myself have a portable Bluetooth speaker, which I use all the time for all sorts of things - even when I want some accompaniment while singing in the shower. It’s brilliant and sounds great, so why wouldn’t I want to use it for a church sound system?
Well for a start, I would need a lot of them to give the kind of volume I would need for even a small church. As a comparison, the portable speaker I use has a power rating of 30 watts, which is impressive considering its size. However, when you compare it to a typical loudspeaker we install in our installations which is rated at 240 watts, you can see that there is quite a large difference in the amount of volume we are going to achieve. It’s a bit like putting a Smart car up against an Aston Martin; there is only one winner.
Another problem with using a wireless speaker in a church is that it would be very unreliable. Churches are generally made of lots of stone and other reflective surfaces, which is why they are often so reverberant. But as much as this is great for concerts, it does not work in favour of wireless connectivity, which will struggle to clearly communicate due to all the reflected signals it will receive.
Bluetooth, which is the technology most wireless speakers use, relies on line of sight to give a reliable connection between the two devices paired together. As soon as you add columns and thick walls in between, that signal will struggle to reach our wireless speaker on the other side of the church and we will end up with very jittery audio. Adding this on top of all the signals it is seeing come back from off the hard surfaces in the church and you have little hope of it ever working reliably.
“But my Alexa is on the wi-fi network and I connect my phone to it that way!”
This is true, but often churches do not have a wi-fi network to connect to, coupled with the fact that this will only allow you to play music, so will not allow us to connect all the microphones and other elements of the sound system to it too? Some speakers have to be physically wired into the network, which then defeats the point of using it over a conventional loudspeaker in the first place.
Another problem with wireless speakers is that they either need to be constantly connected to a power source or if they have a battery, then they will go flat and need to be recharged after a certain period of time. That is fine at home when the speaker is sat on your bedside table, but not so easy when it’s sat on top of a column in church.
The main reason why you would not use a wireless speaker in church is because that is not what they are designed for! They are designed to play music and give an impressive sound output for their size, but they have not been created to sit as part of a church sound system. Installed sound systems are capable of clearly reproducing speech and music, and the products we use have been (in most cases) purposefully designed for this environment, with specific characteristics that make them ideal for the church environment.
For example, the loudspeakers we select have been designed to focus their output on a limited area, which greatly reduces the amount of reverberation which will occur when the system is used. Wireless speakers spread their sound as widely as they can, but this will bring down the intelligibility of the sound when in a church with lively acoustics.
Ultimately then, as good as the idea of using a wireless speaker as part of a church sound system may first seem, there are a number of reasons why this is not a good idea and why spending time finding appropriate cable routes to loudspeaker positions is worth the headache.