- Michael Fay
Audio System Design Philosophy
Updated: May 9, 2020
Three main building blocks make up the foundation of a good sound system for worship. They are:
A. The acoustics of the room, building or facility
B. Thoughtful electronic systems design and integration
C. The people who operate the systems
A. THE ROOM AND ITS ACOUSTICS
Providing quality sound reinforcement for the spoken word and for varying musical styles is an ongoing challenge -- a challenge with a catch. There are factors relating to room acoustics that significantly influence, and often limit the impact of messages and musical presentations, regardless of what microphone, loudspeaker or amplifier is connected.
Music directors, worship leaders, musicians and sound operators seldom have control over the acoustics of a sanctuary. Yet, the geometry, building size and the materials used to finish the interior are the primary factors controlling the room's specific tonality or reverberant "signature". Look at it this way; design a room with good acoustics for the application, and everything seems to work well. Design a room with no thought to the acoustics and watch as an endless parade of consultants, music directors, sound operators and worship leaders struggle to find ways to provide consistent sound coverage.
You may not have thought of it this way, but most, if not all worship centers are used as performing arts auditoriums. As such, the building and its sound system must accommodate a wide variety of applications; be they sermons, solo, ensemble, choral, orchestral or dramatic performances. Unfortunately, few architects are trained to design with a mind toward architectural acoustics. Therefore, they too often design worship spaces that acoustically resemble gymnasiums, classrooms or office structures, when in fact they should be designing performing arts-style facilities.
Providing even, natural-sounding sound reinforcement, coupled with the highest possible speech intelligibility is the goal of the acoustician and the sound system designer.
B. THE ELECTRONIC SYSTEMS
Once the room geometry and acoustics have been worked out, the system designer can select and install appropriate equipment to meet the goals and requirements of the client. The following outlines our priorities when designing a sound system.
Intelligibility and reliability. Most importantly, a good sound reinforcement system must provide maximum intelligibility and reliability. This is primarily accomplished through the careful selection, integration and installation of loudspeakers, power amps and digital system processing.
Proper coverage. Proper coverage means that the room receives an even distribution of sound energy at all frequencies. It also means the system distributes the greatest percentage of it's sound in areas where it is wanted and, therefore, is capable of operating without feedback. Room acoustics, and loudspeaker selection and placement are keys here too.
Headroom is the reserve capacity of the system to handle momentary peak demands without distortion, overload or failure. Thoughtful hardware selections and proper gain structuring will insure maximum headroom and signal-to-noise ratios for any given system. Gain structuring is the process of adjusting each electronic device in a system so that it can operate within its optimum range.
Proper wiring. If the equipment is not wired right, it won't perform the way it was designed to perform. Reliability suffers too. There are easily a half dozen different ways that two devices can be wired together. There is a reason and technique for each. If the right wiring scheme is employed throughout, the system will perform cleanly and consistently for years. But, if you've ever heard complaints of "gremlins" in the system (problems that seem to come and go, from week to week), you can generally point to poor wiring as a likely cause.
C. THE PEOPLE
Probably the aspect most overlooked when evaluating the overall performance of an existing or new sound system is the people who operate the system. For most churches, the duties and responsibilities of the sound operators are demanding and continually changing. Expectations are generally high, while training and experience are often minimal.
It takes a unique blend of talents and personality traits to serve in areas of technical support. Doing a consistently good job as a sound operator is much like singing or playing a musical instrument with virtuosity; it takes knowledge, experience, practice, patience and wisdom well beyond that which may be perceived as the basic skill required to "push a few buttons and flip a few switches".
Even if a great deal of money has been spent on the design and development of a wonderful acoustic space and sound system, the human interaction with these systems is equally vital. We encourage investing in these people with equal passion.
Copyright - Michael Fay 2015 - All Rights Reserved
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