Problematic Sound in Your Sanctuary?

An example of acoustical panels installed at Crossroads Community Cathedral in East Hartford, CT.

How the most important part of your PA system may not actually be a part of your PA system.

Jim Kumorek  ·  April 9, 2018

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Audio production is the most complicated and subjective area of technical production ministry in a house of worship. It also is one of the most non-intuitive areas. What may seem to be obvious answers to an audio challenge can easily make the problem worse.

When the sound in your sanctuary or auditorium is problematic, the first thing to get blamed is the PA system—or the second, if the audio techs aren’t being blamed first. But as often as not, the problem isn’t with the PA system—it may be the room itself.

PA systems have two major components: the electronics and speakers; and the acoustical properties of the room in which it’s installed. The room has a huge effect on how effectively the PA system works and how well the room sounds. Sadly, oftentimes one of the first things that gets cut from the budget of a new building project or renovation is work relating to acoustics.

The Problem

So, what do bad acoustics sound like?

“If a pastor’s in a space where the acoustics are not conducive for preaching,” says Robert Rose, a senior consultant with Idibri in Dallas, Texas, “you can have echoes that are distracting to both the congregation as well as the pastor. In fact, you can have echoes just from the spoken word without the sound system involved at all. This is a detriment to the intelligibility of what’s being said. You may also have a room that’s just overly reverberant—the words all start to run together. This results in the destruction of enunciation and clarity—you simply can’t understand what the words are that are being spoken.”

Acoustics problems are also not uniform throughout a room. “Sometimes the sound coverage in one area is lacking compared to other areas of the same room,” says Neil Shade, president and principle acoustic consultant at Acoustical Design Collaborative in Towson, Maryland. “We do a lot of speech intelligibility measurements when evaluating a room. We often find that the worse spots within a room are frequently in the center and center front seating areas; the better areas are often at the rearmost seats. This is because you have a localized sound reflection off the back walls that arrives at your seat at a time that improves intelligibility instead of hampering it.”

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Jim Kumorek
Jim Kumorek is the owner of Spreading Flames Media, providing video/media production and writing services to the A/V/L, technology, architectural and hospitality industries. He has led audio, video and lighting teams in churches as both staff and a volunteer for over 10 years.
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By Anna on April 17, 2018

Thanks to the author for the article! Very pleased!
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By SaulBurke on April 16, 2018

Woah!This is really good.I will definitely share these tips on my best esay. This is the first time i am reading something on this topic.Well done!


By funnyjokes on April 15, 2018

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By Teqniqal on April 11, 2018

No mention of noise masking communications (both speech and musical instruments); no mention of sound diffusion materials vs. sound absorption materials; and half truths about speakers and sound ‘spilling onto walls’ (which was off-topic since the gist of this article was about room acoustics, not sound systems).  Does anyone vet these articles for technical accuracy and/or subject focus?  If this article is intended as a guide for those trying to get a handle on their room acoustics issues, it could lead to some undesirable outcomes.