Understanding what type of speakers your house of worship needs can become very involved as each house of worship has different structural designs and different audio needs, including additional programs from movies and stage plays to concerts, presentations and other speaking events. For each of these, the audio component is just as critical — if not more — as the visual component. Audiences process significant amounts of information through sound, especially if they’re auditory learners. Unfortunately, poor sound quality due to an underperforming speaker system can distract the audience and prevent them from achieving the experience they desire.
When it comes to choosing a theatre speaker system for your church, you need a dynamic sound system and speaker design that caters to your unique space.
TYPES OF SPEAKER SYSTEMS
When choosing a speaker system to integrate into your build, you have plenty of quality options to choose from. Although many types of speaker systems will deliver crisp audio, you should familiarize yourself with each type, their advantages and their potential drawbacks.
1. LINE ARRAY
If you attend a large indoor or outdoor concert in an amphitheater space, you’ll notice a variety of speakers used — particularly a series of vertical speakers suspended above the stage in a J-shape. These types of speaker systems are known as line array speakers. All of the speakers in the line will usually be exactly the same speaker. Although they are stacked vertically, they’re designed to narrow the vertical spread of sound and increase the spread of sound across a horizontal plane.
Line array speakers point directly towards the audience and use sound diffraction. Typically, this type of diffraction works best with low-frequency sound waves, which is why many line array speaker systems may use a column of bass speakers. They can also help increase the acoustic gain of the sound in a large space. Horizontal line array speakers are available as well. If you’re considering line array speakers for your event space, there are plenty of advantages for larger venues, but also a few drawbacks.
Line array speaker systems are designed to project sound across long distances, which means they’re well-suited to large venues like amphitheaters that have seating or standing areas that extend far beyond the front of the stage. As more speakers are added onto a single line, this grants increased control over the sound’s vertical pattern transmission — this prevents sound leakages from occurring. Line array speakers are also equipped with multiple drivers that increase their sound pressure level capabilities.
With line array speakers installed vertically down from an overhead structure, there is naturally a height requirement needed for proper use. The more speakers that can be vertically stacked, the more control of the sound you have — unfortunately, this could cause sightline issues in smaller venues. Although a venue may be wide in size, a shallow length can also prevent vertical line array speaker systems from operating optimally since they are designed to project sound long distances.
2. POINT SOURCE
Unlike a major concert, you may find that a small or intimate production only uses a minimal number of speakers. The lone speakers that you see placed farther apart from one another are point source speakers. A point source speaker system produces the entire range of sound from a single source. Unlike a line array speaker system that sends sound out on a horizontal plane, a point source speaker system sends sound waves out in a spherical pattern.
Point source speakers are sometimes referred to as “traditional” or “point-and-shoot” speakers. Because these loudspeakers can be used individually, they are convenient options that can adapt to a variety of spaces and needs, provided the facility has enough point source speakers to deliver even, clear sound throughout the space.
Since a point source speaker is designed to broadcast the entire range of sound from a single speaker, it’s an ideal option for small or mid-sized venues that frequently host events like speaking engagements. These speaker systems also require a less invasive installation compared to line array speaker systems and are a great option for smaller venues that simply need to amplify the sound stemming from a microphone. A worship service, for example, would benefit more from a point source speaker system.
Perhaps the most significant difference between a point source speaker and other types of speaker systems is how the sound is directed through space. A line array speaker system, especially with multiple speakers arranged on a single vertical line, will have far more control over the direction of the sound than a point source speaker. This can be a problem when attempting to ensure that audiences throughout a large venue hear even levels and sound quality.
3. HORN LOADED
Even if you’re not familiar with a horn loaded speaker, you’ve likely seen one in person or even in old movies or cartoons. Horn speakers were designed to increase the sound of low-powered amplifiers using a horn. Although you may see some speaker systems with a polygonal shape, many horn loaded speaker systems now look similar to other speakers. However, they still use a flared transmission channel inside of the speaker cabinet to create a louder sound.
Like a horn, horn loaded speakers use a compression driver, which is a large diaphragm system that creates pressure variation to increase the efficiency of sound production. A folded horn design can also be used to accommodate smaller speakers. As the sound passes through the compression chamber, the diaphragm places pressure on the sound and surrounding air, forcing it through the horn’s wide mouth and amplifying it. If you’re considering a horn loaded speaker system for your event space, consider the following points.
Horn loaded speaker systems are often considered exceptionally efficient due to their ability to amplify sound through different sized drivers. Even a small driver in a moderately sized speaker can produce substantial amplification and exponentially more sound power than a typical cone speaker. At frequencies below the top octave of the treble, the sound is delivered in a natural tone.
While you may achieve a louder sound without the influence of an alternate power source, a compression driver isn’t without its drawbacks. Because the driver compresses the air and sound, it has the ability to naturally distort the final sound delivered. Plus, professional-grade horn loaded speaker systems may not easily integrate with other conventional drivers or sound systems within your facility.
TYPES OF SPEAKER DESIGN
There are three types of speaker design: mono, stereo and LCR. It’s important to understand how each design will benefit or limit your facility’s sound system. Though every design has advantages, each design also requires compromise.
Mono sound, also known as monaural or monophonic sound, is a sound design format that uses a single audio channel for its audio output. It’s a very basic sound design that essentially creates audio output by receiving signals and encoding them into a single stream of sound. When many consumers hear the phrase “mono sound,” they tend to think of older, outdated equipment since it was one of the first types of sound systems created. However, mono sound design has plenty of valid applications in contemporary spaces, like worship centers.
Many consumers may choose a stereo sound design system over a mono system for at-home use. However, in many commercial or specialized settings, mono sound design is actually more effective. This format is designed to produce the same sound levels through any number of speakers.
The greatest advantage that mono sound design systems have over others is the sound clarity delivered, especially with a single stream of sound coming from the spoken word. Speaking into a stereo sound system, which is designed to provide a wealth and depth of sound, can cause speech to become lost or hard to decipher. However, mono sound systems deliver great speech quality and can even be implemented into more contemporary sound systems to ensure sound travels at equal levels to all areas of a space.
A mono sound format may be ideal for contexts in which the primary sound amplified is spoken word. This is the reason why many worship centers and other small public event spaces use mono formats. However, the downside to mono sound design is the loss of clarity when playing music. Because musical performances are best enjoyed with the full range of sound amplified accordingly, mono sound design can actually make music quality suffer.
Most people are familiar with stereo sound formats via their personal audio devices. While a mono sound format uses a single channel of audio, a stereophonic — or simply stereo — sound format separates sound across two channels. Two independent sources record sound and then are mixed, so some sounds are played out through a left channel while others are played through a right channel. Though this type of technology was developed over half of a century ago, it’s still a popular and effective sound format for consumers and professionals.
Stereo sound system formats are designed to replicate sound and are particularly effective in mimicking the sensation of listening to live music. The two independent sound sources create a depth referred to as audio imaging. Essentially, when you hear sound through a stereo format, the variations in sound are sent to the left and right channels to immerse the listener in sound rather than present them with a “two-dimensional” experience like mono formats.
Stereo formats are the standard for music recording, and most personal home audio systems use a stereo amplification. It’s also a trusted system used in a number of event spaces, especially those that host live musical performances, as the stereo format’s two channels can replicate the sound of the instruments on stage. Compared to mono sound design systems, investing in a stereo sound system is better suited for theaters prioritizing musical performances.
One drawback of using a stereo format would be in specific venues that have unnatural seating arrangements. To achieve the best audio output, a stereo sound design must have equal sound output and position from the left and right channels around the room. If an audience space is uneven or if the room itself is shaped awkwardly, the sound will not disperse equally, and the overall quality may be disrupted for some audience members.
LCR, or “Left Center Right,” is a sound design format that panes audio to either the left, center or right speakers. This is a relatively new sound design format that is gaining popularity because it is a hybrid of mono and stereo sound design. Operators can either isolate or mix these three channels to direct or restrict sound to certain speaker systems. For example, spoken word can be isolated to center channels, while music can be sent to the left and right channels.
When an LCR sound system is integrated into a venue, the results can be exceptional. These systems have the potential to deliver the best of both stereo and mono. It can provide an immersive experience by enhancing musical performances while also delivering crystal-clear sound for spoken word engagements. An ideal setup for an event space that hosts a number of diverse events, the LCR system can be considered an “all-in-one” solution.
An LCR strategy is not recommended for those who want to provide exceptional audio quality in their venue without professional mixing. While using an LCR sound system can deliver amazing results, it’s more complicated to use than stereo and mono formats. Event spaces must also be designed to accommodate both stereo and mono speaker systems to effectively use LCR. As a sound system that requires a particular space and a trained board operator, it’s likely that this investment is not practical for many smaller or private venues.
I always recommend attending trade shows like CFX that host a loudspeaker demo, you can hear two to three different sound systems from numerous manufacturers. You will get to meet the sales people and system techs that can answer all of your questions and place an order. Hope to catch you at the next one!