Can't you use a wireless speaker instead?
So why won't wireless speakers work in a church environment?
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.