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Selecting Loudspeakers for Religious Applications
By: Rick Kamlet

How do I select loudspeakers for my religious facility?
Unless you’re just looking for a small portable event system, the first step should be shopping for a qualified professional sound contractor and/or sound consultant.  There are so many considerations – the size and shape of the space, what kind of worship experience you want to provide, how loud you want it to get, whether it’s mostly for speech or if it’s also for music and (if so) what kind of music, how much bass capability is required, what the fidelity expectations are, where the speakers need to be mounted, and so many more – that it’s best to get someone experienced in these areas to help you determine what the best possible solution is for your congregation.

More often than not, the best way to find a reliable sound contracting professional is via word of mouth. Most congregations tend to be part of larger organizations (whether liturgical or social), and it is very likely that one of these groups will have had experience in hiring the services of a sound contractor in the past.

A sound contractor and/or consultant can assess your building and loudspeaker system needs based upon your worship style and system performance goals. The sound contractor/consultant’s job is to ensure that you get the right product, equipment training, and/or acoustical treatments to achieve better sound in your facility. Loudspeakers are a long-term investment, so do not be reluctant to ask any and every question you have before, during, and after the purchase and installation process.

Why should I use professional loudspeakers instead of consumer speakers?
Because of the high demands placed upon them, professional loudspeakers are designed to offer greater performance and flexibility than loudspeakers designed for the consumer market. Professional loudspeakers often provide higher sound output, can handle more power, and are typically designed for the performance requirements of large-venue applications.

One of the main performance characteristic differences between professional and consumer loudspeakers is that professional loudspeakers are designed for more consistent sound throughout the coverage area. In addition, reliability is often the biggest consideration for choosing professional loudspeakers. After all, the demands placed on them will likely far exceed the demands placed on loudspeakers designed for the consumer market. While many consumer loudspeakers will play loudly and for extended periods, they may not have the robust components or designs to handle the rigors of weekly services.

What are the different types of loudspeaker systems?
The most common type of loudspeaker is often referred to as a “point-and-shoot” system.  As the name suggests, these loudspeakers, when installed, are simply aimed toward the intended audience. Depending on the desired coverage pattern (the area where the sound needs to be directed), point-and-shoot loudspeakers can be used individually or as part of a larger loudspeaker cluster.

For very large sanctuaries, line array speaker systems have become a popular solution because of their clean appearance, excellent control of coverage patterns and their ability to provide consistent sound levels at a distance. However, a line array requires many speakers to be used together, so the system can be expensive.

For highly reverberant rooms where speech intelligibility is a challenge, column loudspeakers are a great solution. They have a clean, simple form factor, which makes them easy to integrate into most any décor, but columns may not provide enough sound level or bass capability for some needs.

For ancillary areas (vestibule, cry rooms, fellowship hall, etc.), commercial sound loudspeakers are an excellent option. Designed to be discreet in appearance and cost-effective, commercial loudspeakers are available in a variety of sizes and performance configurations and can be flush mounted (installed into a ceiling or wall structure with only the grille exposed) or surface mounted (mounted to a wall or other surface) via a bracket.

Many commercial loudspeakers also include transformers in their designs that allow them to be incorporated into 70-volt/100-volt audio distribution systems, which allows for long runs of smaller gauge speaker cable (saving you money), allowing many loudspeakers all on the same power amplifier channel, and the ability to adjust individual speaker volumes without affecting other speakers on the same distributed line.

And for temporary events or locations that do not typically require a permanent sound re-enforcement solution, portable loudspeakers allow users to quickly set up an interim sound system.

Of course, the higher the quality of your speakers and the more thought and work that goes into selecting the right speakers for your facility, the better the results will be.  

Rick Kamlet is senior manager, installed sound for JBL Professional, www.jblpro.com. This article is adapted from JBL Professional’s Selecting Loudspeakers Guide for Religious Facilities.

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