Audio Lessons

Building a Complementary Audio System for Your Church


The two most important components of an audio system are the acoustical diaphragms (the microphone diaphragm and the speaker diaphragm). If you use a quality microphone with a cheap speaker, your audio system will not reach its full potential. If you use a cheap microphone with a quality speaker, it is the same. But, if you use a quality microphone with a quality speaker, you are able to achieve the most out of your audio system, as long as you complement it with the same quality components throughout the signal flow. 

By quality, I do not mean having to spend thousands of dollars. The most popular microphone in the world is the Shure SM58 vocal microphone. It is a quality vocal microphone. You can still purchase it for $99.00 from a reputable Shure dealer. My favorite vocal microphone, the Shure Beta 58, is only $159.00 (you can normally purchase it for less from a reputable dealer). 

A quality 12” speaker cabinet with horn, for example, will normally be priced at around the $750.00 EACH mark. Two of my favorite speakers, the EV SX300E and the EV TX1122 hit right around that price point. You can find good sounding speakers in the $500.00 EACH range, but don’t expect to find anything worth building your audio system around for $200.00 EACH.  

I have too often consulted churches with those very weaknesses. They will have cheap microphones or cheap speakers and they don’t understand why their audio system does not sound good. (Side Note: No audio equipment is going to sound good in a highly reverberant room with bad acoustics. Please see my “Points of Clarity” on Acoustical Treatment concerning this matter.) I understand that church budgets are limited, but there comes a point when it is wiser to invest in quality equipment than purchase “throw-away” cheap equipment. I have worked with churches for over thirty years and understand the tight budgets, but wisdom has to prevail.

So, how do you build a quality system that complements itself with what you have now? There are two things that you should always save on your church computer. One is a comprehensive inventory list of EVERY component that is hooked up to your audio system. I mean EVERYTHING. A comprehensive list including your mixing console, outboard processing, amplifiers, speakers, floor monitors, microphones (wired and wireless), in-ear monitors (wired and wireless), CD players, media players, computers, whatever is plugged into your audio system should be on this list. It should be listed by EXACT manufacturer and model number (serial numbers are not important unless you want to document them) of each item and quantity. (Side Note: You should always keep a list of the wireless systems you have AND the frequency of each of those systems). Having this inventory list will make building a quality audio system simple and easy. Whenever you go to purchase new product, you supply this list to the audio consultant and, if they are a professional audio consultant, they will know what product to point you to that will complement what you have. If it is your desire to begin building a better quality system than what you have, let the audio consultant know that you want to “step up” the quality of the audio system you have and ask which components you can purchase now to begin that process. I have helped churches accomplish this many times over my thirty plus years of experience.

The second thing you need to do in building an audio system that complements itself is to create a signal flow chart of your system. A signal flow chart specifically documents all of the components of your audio system and where they are located in the signal flow of the system. Here is a very simple example of what I am talking about.

- Pastor microphone is plugged into channel one of mixing console

- Worship leader microphone is plugged into channel two of mixing console 

- Keyboard is plugged into a direct box and then into channel three of mixing console

- Guitar is plugged into a direct box and then into channel four of mixing console

- The mixing console left and right outputs are plugged into channels one and two inputs of the  main amplifier

- Channel one of the main amplifier output is plugged into the left sanctuary speaker

- Channel two of the main amplifier output is plugged into the right sanctuary speaker

- The mixing console AUX 1 output is plugged into channel one of the secondary amplifier which is plugged into a floor monitor 

- The mixing console AUX 2 output is plugged into channel two of the secondary amplifier which is plugged into a small wall speaker for the lobby

If you note each of the items by manufacturer and model number, that is even better. You can even draw it out for reference later when you add to your system and for use by any new person that joins your audio team. The most important thing is that this documents EXACTLY the way your audio system is hooked up so that, in the future, you can make wise decisions on expanding it. You can document the signal flow chart any way that you like as long as you follow the signal flow of microphone/instrument to channel in mixer to proper output of mixer to amplifier to main speaker / floor monitor / in-ear monitor / peripheral speakers / recording, etc.

With these two pieces of documented information, you should be able to go to any professional audio consultant and receive proper guidance for purchasing more complementary equipment for what you have or for beginning the process of upgrading your audio system to a better quality system.

Feel free to contact me if you need help on any of this. I will gladly guide you in making wise decisions for purchasing equipment for your church. Have someone work up the system inventory list and system signal flow chart of your system and email them to me. I am here to help.