Finding the Right Sound System for Your House of Worship

by | Audio, Production, Worship Facility Update

I received a question from a subscriber last week, who asked “What’s the ideal sound system for my house of worship? Line Array or Point Source?”

When looking to purchase a new sound system for your sanctuary, there are a number of factors to consider. How do you choose the correct loudspeaker type from all of the different options on the market? Knowing that each type of loudspeaker was conceived with a specific application in mind may help weed out products that aren’t a good fit for your project. While there are many factors to sift through, some of the primary considerations include:

  • Size and shape of the sanctuary and seating area. This will be one of the primary factors determining the location and quantity of loudspeakers required to provide even coverage of the seating areas.
  • Ancillary areas/spaces that require coverage.
  • Acoustically reflective surfaces and room reverberation. “Live” rooms require more control of sound dispersion to maintain clarity and speech intelligibility.
  • Sightlines and aesthetics. Loudspeakers must be located to provide the necessary audio performance while minimizing visual intrusion.
  • Performance goals. The style of worship and type of music the system will need to support is an important consideration.

PA systems come in all shapes and sizes, Today’s large-scale PA systems feature a wide range of innovations, many of which eventually trickle down to their smaller, portable models. One of the latest systems to make that transition is the line array speaker system, an improvement on the traditional point-source PA system.

What is the difference between a line array and a point source loudspeaker, and when is one better than another?

A line array is a vertically-stacked group of individual full-range speaker modules, typically suspended in a J-shaped array. Note that the individual modules within a Line Array are specifically designed for this purpose and possess unique acoustical attributes that allow them to work together in this type of array. Due to their large size, line arrays are typically hung from the ceiling in the vicinity of the stage/altar. While a popular solution for high-output music applications and large format concerts, line arrays are not suitable for every space. They tend to excel in rooms that are deep and not too wide and require suitable ceiling height due to their vertical size.

The exact shape of the array and number of individual modules required is based on the specifics of the deployment. The curve of the array helps to tailor the coverage based on the throw distances, location of nearest seats, etc. In wide rooms, multiple arrays may be required to achieve satisfactory horizontal coverage. Due to the number of modules required along with the supporting number of amplifier channels, Line Arrays tend to be a more expensive solution than other approaches. However, there are certain room types that can benefit from the broadband vertical dispersion control that a properly-sized line array can offer. The sonic properties of line array PA systems have been known since the fifties, but it’s only been in the last two-and-a-half decades that they’ve become commonly available for consumer use.

Look up at the next huge concert you attend, and you’ll likely see a hanging, curved vertical arrangement of speakers

But keep an eye out at smaller conferences and events too, and you’ll see PA systems designed specifically for outdoor events.

What is a PA system with point source loudspeakers?

For years, these were the most common loudspeaker types used in worship spaces. Point source loudspeakers (sometimes also referred to as “point and shoot”) are intended to be used individually, or possibly in small groups (or “arrays”) depending on their design. This type of speaker typically incorporates a horn (or multiple horns). The horns define a specific vertical and horizontal coverage angle. Generally speaking, smaller horns can only control the dispersion of high frequency sounds. Larger horns are required to control middle and lower frequencies. Broad-band dispersion control is particularly important in larger, more reverberant spaces. Point source speakers are available in a variety of sizes, dispersion characteristics and output ranges. Systems can be found that will fit many budgets performance criteria.

A point source loudspeaker is just what its name suggests: a single speaker, or multiple speakers placed far apart, broadcasting a full range of sound from a single point. (Actually, a true point source speaker is impossible, but we’ll retain this description for simplicity’s sake.)

Unlike the line array system, a single speaker radiates sound in a spherical pattern and therefore has less range.

What advantages does a line array system offer over point source?

The main advantage of a vertical line array system is described above. When correctly installed, a line array allows even frequency response and clear sonic coverage throughout the range of the system (except for the nearest and farthest seats).

And unlike traditional point source speakers, you can add more volume to a line array by adding to the line.

In closing, working with sound engineers and designers to get the right system for your sanctuary, taking your time and doing right is well worth the extra time and money.  Many companies are making numerous products for Houses of Worship. Research what you think you like and reach out to them so they can help suggest what available, always look at a few options.  One way to see many options in person, and hear for yourself how they compare, is to go to CFX and visit the Loudspeaker Demo, it’s a great experience!

Talk to you next month! As always, if you have any questions, please email them to me at bdipaolo@worshipfacility.com.

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