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Selecting an Audio Console for Your Church and Knowing When to Say When
By: Gary Greyhosky

As a company that designs, installs and services all types sound systems, we frequently find ourselves working in churches. No surprise there. Houses of worship have become a major consumer of professional grade audio systems. What has come as a bit of a surprise is the number of churches purchasing systems that, for all practical purposes, are far more sophisticated than they need to be. When choosing audio equipment for your church, there are some issues to consider that are often overlooked but, when factored into the early stages of the design process, can save substantial amounts of time, money and stress.

It's a given that some churches have larger budgets than others. Our company has provided design and installation services for some large churches with substantial budgets but we've yet to have any tell us that "money is no object." That said, it's important to spend your production dollars efficiently. In order to do so, you have to understand exactly what your real needs are. There are some fixed criteria that must be met. For instance, the number of inputs and outputs that the system must handle, stage monitoring requirements, loudspeaker coverage areas and so on. Once you've met these fixed criteria, the number of options (and variance in cost) become staggering.

The company you choose to design and install your system (ours included) is quite likely a dealer for numerous equipment manufacturers. As they are in business to turn a profit, they're likely going to specify equipment that they are dealers for. It's also likely that they're going to try to sell you the most sophisticated equipment they can, citing its superior sound, extraordinary functionality,  durability, etc. The one thing that may get lost in the sales shuffle is that you may not have anyone on your technical staff capable of realizing the full potential of such sophisticated equipment. This fact begs the question, "Do you really need it?"

For the purposes of this discussion, let's exclude the really large churches that have professional engineers on staff and concentrate on the far greater number of churches that use volunteers to operate their sound systems. As the production needs of churches become more complex, it becomes unreasonable to expect volunteers to effectively understand and utilize the advanced functions of professional grade audio equipment, specifically mixing consoles. The rapid development of digital mixing consoles has flooded the market with equipment ranging in price from a few thousand dollars to tens of thousands of dollars and beyond. How do you know when to say when? If you utilize volunteers that do not have considerable audio production experience, you'll likely not see an efficient return on the large investment required for a state-of-the-art mixing console.

Let's say your main audio tech is an insurance adjuster by trade. A smart guy, who has a real interest in audio, but also has a life outside of mixing sound.  He works 40 hours a week in his profession, has a family, coaches little league, etc.  Is it truly reasonable to expect him to have the time or experience to understand advanced subgroup and VCA/DCA routing? Parallel compression? Dynamic EQ? Correct use of multiple dynamics processors?  You get the idea.  From the number of training sessions that we do in churches, I can safely say that the answer to all of those questions is almost always no. It's not that you have to be a genius to understand sound mixing, but like any other profession, it takes years of training and experience to develop the knowledge and skills necessary to correctly utilize the advanced tools available in today's most sophisticated (and expensive) mixing console. These devices are designed and built with highly trained professional audio engineers in mind, not volunteers that may mix a service once or twice a month. The good news is that you no longer have to spend tens of thousands of dollars to get the functionality you actually need.

We use several digital mixers in our company. Some in the $2,000-$3,000 price range and some that are ten times that amount. The reality is that other than the number of inputs and outputs available and the layout of the mixing surface, our less expensive consoles have 90% of the functions of the larger, expensive ones, which is more than enough to handle just about any church service outside of the largest, most technically dependent. Additionally, advances in digital processing have made the less expensive consoles capable of incredibly high quality results. How good is good enough? It depends. Are you interested in clearly communicating a message to your congregation or winning an engineering Grammy? That's for you to decide.

The real point of all this, is that there has never been a wider selection of equipment to choose from. With careful consideration, and with a realistic set of expectations, you can find a mixing console that meets your needs, and is easier to understand and operate to its fullest potential, and at a much lower price point that you may realize. Just take a little time, consult a professional you trust, and decide when to say when. In the long run, you'll be glad that you did.

Gary Greyhosky is a partner in Alliance Audio & Event Technology LLC, www.allianceaudio.biz. He has worked in live sound, recording and as a performing musician for 27 years.

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