Church sound system 2020

Report on Multimedia to Church Council, 28th January 2020
by Douglas Brown

The issue

For some time, we have been experiencing amplification issues with a small number of quiet-spoken preachers; members have rightly complained they have experienced problems hearing them, especially if the preacher drops their voice at the end of sentences and/or during prayer. The multimedia team have been trying to improve audibility for these preachers, but there is only so much we can do with the current system.

Replacing the lapel mike with a ‘boom mike’ has helped, but it is unlikely to offer a complete solution that covers all cases. This remains to be seen (or heard), but note that if a voice becomes too quiet, even a boom mic may have to be ‘turned up’ so far as to cause an ear-piercing feedback loop from our current system.

Another issue which won’t be so apparent to members is that our ancient amplifier does not make it easy for an operator to continually adjust the sound levels to suit all speakers, let alone deal with dynamic situations that may arise moment-to-moment within a service. It works better as a system that is setup once and then left to work on its own. This is why some preachers come across as loud (and stay loud) while others are still too quiet (and stay quiet).

We must also mention that the audio part of our system provides no facilities at all to encourage live music in our church: things like extra microphones and a rear-facing ‘fold-back’ speaker which allows musicians to hear themselves over other sounds – e.g. the congregation’s singing. These would all require additional channels in our amplifier (at least three) but ours is already at near full capacity, with only one spare channel.

In conclusion, it is obvious to us—the multimedia team—that these issues could only be addressed by a costly replacement of the whole audio system (not the video system).

Why a full replacement?

Because the entire audio system -microphones, amplifier, wiring & speakers- is ageing. Note that microphones and speakers contain moving parts and thus do wear out; wiring degrades over time, reducing signal quality; and -as mentioned- the amplifier no longer suits all our needs.

The team is not aware exactly how old it is but it easily predates the membership of its operators; maybe by decades. Maybe the longest-serving Council Members may remember when it was installed, but its technology seems old enough for that to have happened when the main hall was rebuilt (with its black wall and raised wooden cross) … well over twenty (over thirty?) years ago.

Fortunately, a solution

We, the multimedia team, have been wishing for some time for a modern amplification system that would allow us to address these issues, and were discouraged by its likely cost. So I am extremely happy to announce that a donor (who wishes to remain anonymous) has come forward offering us this very chance: to implement a total replacement.

Our treasurer, Wendy, has checked with Circuit to confirm there is no reason why we should not accept this offer of help, obtain a quote, and—subject to cost- eventually proceed with installation.

To this end, Jon Bone and I have already met with the chief designer of CAVS, the company which installed and later upgraded our video projection system. We discussed with him our requirements for preachers, musicians and as many other likely uses as we could think of. We have since received a quote from CAVS  and the donor has indicated their willingness to meet this cost.

Digression – Why did only CAVS quote?

CAVS is a local company with a reputation for quality installations at reasonable prices. They have installed equipment in many churches in their geographic area, not just ours. In the past, after assessing quotes from several suppliers, we originally chose CAVS to do all our previous installations on the basis of value-for-money. They have also been very helpful to us over initial teething issues in the past. We are keen therefore for CAVS to do this installation.

The donor is aware of all of this and is happy that we only approached CAVS for this quote.

CAVS’ Quote

The highlights of the new ‘total-replacement’ audio system are as follows…

An amplifier and mixing desk combination to allow dynamic control of sound levels during services, performances, etc.
A signal processor: allows “turning up” quiet preachers; reduced risk of feedback loops.
A ‘Bluetooth’ receiver: accepts audio provided ad-hoc from mobile devices and laptops.
New speakers : two for the main hall, one for the crèche. (Note: all four of the current speakers in the main hall will be taken down and disposed of).
New microphones, including a flautist’s headset mic.
Extra sockets & wiring to be installed near the organ for musicians’ use: for microphones and a fold-back speaker.
New wiring throughout, mostly following existing wiring routes.

Church Council

This report was considered at Church Council in January 2020 and overwhelmingly supported.

The work will go ahead in the middle of March, in plenty of time for the Easter services.