Getting the Biggest Change in Sound Quality for the Smallest Investment

“How do I get the biggest change in my sound quality for the smallest investment?”

I’m often asked this question from cash-strapped churches that need a sound system upgrade but don’t have the funds to accomplish it all at once.

If it’s the sound operator who approaches me first, his goal is usually to get a new mixing board. If it’s the worship leader, he’s usually focused on microphones and/or monitors.

Then there’s the pastor, who’s most often interested in the solution that will get everybody else to stop bothering him.

So what’s the answer?

I go about solving this dilemma by looking at the number of people who can potentially benefit from each upgrade. With that in mind, what follows is a suggestion of how you can determine your next “best” upgrade.

First, look at what I call the “heart” of the system. That is, loudspeakers, amplifiers and signal processing. Not only are these usually the biggest ticket items (though the mixing console may compete), they’re also the items that in most cases will bring the most significant improvement to a system.

In surveying the heart of your sound system, first check out the loudspeakers to ensure that they’re working properly. Are there blown drivers? Hear any rattles or other strange noises?

Do some research to find out the coverage pattern of the loudspeakers, and map that coverage over your seating area. Is the coverage adequate or are there zones that are being missed? (You can also hear this by slowly walking through the coverage area with the system playing tracks.)

Continue your research and determine the frequency response of the loudspeakers. If they roll off at 180 Hz, it’s not likely that they’re producing the nice “thump” out of the kick drum or any of the deeper lows from the bass guitar.

Next, find out power handling of the loudspeakers and match that up with the power available from your amplifiers. If you don’t have enough “headroom” (available “extra” power), the system will always sound mushy and like it’s being “pushed.” (As in pushed too hard.)

Finally, give the signal processing a good look. If it consists of a number of analog devices (EQ, crossover, delay, etc.), it could be time to upgrade to a quality digital processing unit. Even better, have a new digital processor implemented by a qualified professional who knows how best to use it to maximize the performance of your loudspeakers.

And that leads me to an important point. If you find any of the above aspects lacking during your research, consider bringing in a qualified professional to help make the most of what you have.

While you may be able to address some of these aspects adequately, it’s not a game for amateurs. Quite often, the use of professional assistance, combined with a new component or two, can make all of the difference in the world while still fitting within the confines of a tight budget. And it’s almost always money well spent.

Once the “heart” of the system is taken care of, feel free to move on to mixing boards, monitors, microphones and other accessories.

I look at it this way: the best sounding microphone is only going to sound as good as the loudspeakers reinforcing it.

Biggest Facilities Failures

Often in life it’s the little things that can make the biggest difference. As we enter the season of higher church attendance, be sure these little things don’t ruin the experience at your facility.

Often in life it is the little things that make the biggest difference.

As related to a facility this can be so true!  Listed below are somethings that I have experienced that have made my visit somewhere less than pleasant.

While none of the items are cardinal sins they did make an impression, not a good one on me.

Dirty bathrooms

Okay I said that none of these were cardinal sins.  Yes, that is true but in my opinion dirty bathrooms come awful close.

I have written about and often talk about the need for bathroom ambassadors. It really is not that difficult to keep bathrooms clean and presentable.  Someone just has to care enough to make sure it gets done!

Strange odor/aroma

I am sure Proctor and Gamble, the makers of Febreze could do well if they marketed to churches.  I have run into or should I say experienced the strangest odors at some of the churches I have visited.  The scents have ranged from enticing but poorly timed to just plain disgusting.

The enticing, the smell of a chicken dinner being prepared in the kitchen during the message had me so hungry that I couldn’t wait for the service to be over as I was literally drooling.  The bad, the smell of raw sewage in a bathroom where the floor looked like the drain had been backed up for weeks and the crusty state of the floor was giving evidence that it had just dried up.

Now if the sermon had been on the satisfying taste of good food and how God provides and blesses us with good things, the chicken dinner smell could have been a great illustration! Provided that we would get to partake of it after the service.

Inappropriate or outdated décor.

Through the years I have seen my share of well shall we say it, bizarre décor or too old to be retro finishing’s.  I know that interior design is a form of art and also very subjective.

So yes our tastes can differ, but I will say that when done well and appropriate there is a wide range of acceptable interior designs.  One strange case that I experienced recently was not even church related.

A new restaurant that opened in our town I am sure took its decorating and design cues from the Apple Store. Yes, white, clean, really clinical looking works great for the Apple Store, I will attest to the fact that it does not work that well for a restaurant.  There is something unsettling eating food in a place that is lit up and feels like a surgical room.

Crappy coffee…area

Like the bathroom, this example really bothers me.  Why can’t someone be the coffee ambassador and simply make sure the counters are wiped clean of coffee drips and spills? It’s also important to make sure the cream and sugar containers are filled. Also, while they are at it, could the outside of the coffee pot and handle be clean and dry?

One more thing, not facility related, why does church coffee also have to taste so crappy? There are plenty of hearty coffee roasts to choose from. Why not make your morning cup-of-joe one that’s eagerly anticipated?

Bad signage

Why is signage so difficult?  Just put it in a visible area, keep it simple and use common names for things.

When we use names like narthex, gathering area, the commons… how is someone not familiar with church supposed to know what that is?  Why not just call it the Lobby?  The Sanctuary? The Gym?

KEEP IT SIMPLE…I suppose one good thing about bad signage is I may not be able to locate the bathrooms, which could save me from a potentially stomach-turning experience.

As I said at the start, it’s the little things that make a big difference.

Plus, in this case the little things come with a little price tag. It doesn’t cost anything additional to keep the bathroom tidy, keep the coffee area clean or freshen up the smell.  Additionally, décor updates and signage can be done well on a very modest budget.

As we enter the season of higher church attendance, be sure these little things don’t ruin the experience at your facility.