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Expert Roundtable: Church Sound Trends

Jul 1, 2008 12:00 PM, By Dan Daley

Six experts weigh in on what matters in house-of-worship audio systems.

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Roman Catholic Cathedral of Christ the King in Atlanta

At the Roman Catholic Cathedral of Christ the King in Atlanta, Clayton Acoustics Group implemented a CobraNet-distributed Peavey MediaMatrix Nion DSP system for mixing and routing.

Has the credit crunch affected the technology or construction budgets at houses of worship?

Dempsey: Smaller churches are affected more than those with large congregations. We are seeing retrofits as much or more than new construction.

Carlson: We haven't seen the economy affecting HOW technology budgets. If anything, budgets continue to go up. People are looking for production values, and they've been able to get them as some technologies — like projectors — get better as their prices decrease, allowing them to spend more money on switchers and cameras.

Thrasher: There is an effect being felt. New facilities projects are being put on indefinite hold due to uncertainty about the economy, the [presidential] election cycle, oil/gas prices, and so on.

Westra: We have had one case where a church project was delayed because of the current financial situation. Budgets are always a problem these days with new construction for a variety of reasons. Typical examples are churches [being] forced to pay for affiliated highway improvements; code writers and inspectors demanding facilities that wouldn't ignite even if drenched in napalm; and recently, huge increases in the cost of steel. Most of our clients place a high priority on the media, so they are most likely to cut back on other parts of the building such as less costly ceiling tiles in corridors and offices, etc. Budgets are less of a concern for retrofits, but retrofits are only about 10 percent of our work.

Dewees: Overall, the budgets are growing — so if credit is having an effect, it is masked by the increased spending for AV. Although I have seen several churches decide not to build new but just renovate due to economic concerns.

What are the things that worship facilities tend to do wrong when it comes to AV systems? Do expectations always exceed budgets?

Budd: The most significant problems tend to be placing priority on factors other than the AV and then making the AV fit that package. Examples are locating speakers or screens based upon aesthetic values rather than performance values or locating mixing positions to be out of the way rather than where the sound engineer can hear what is going on.

Dempsey: Not understanding the technology and what is available as it relates to the needs of the church. Not working with the right consultant or design build firm. The dream wish list is almost always value-engineered.

Carlson: They don't get AV designers into the picture early enough in the project. We find that [architects] design for aesthetics, not necessarily for the fact that a house of worship is about communication and fellowship. The design is permanent, and if they're not building rooms that are conducive to sound and video, they'll have a problem that can last as long as the building does.

Thrasher: Regarding budgets, most often yes, occasionally not. Most church administrators, architects, construction managers, [and] owners' representatives have no real idea what any of this stuff costs; they just want it. And they often don't care at all about life expectancy, just that it works acceptably on the opening day. They have little understanding for the long-term operations of the facility.

Westra: We find several primary problems: They don't hire the acoustician until the architect has already gone too far to recover properly. Church staff or media team members with just enough knowledge to be dangerous: They know all of the terms currently in vogue, but don't have a real understanding of any of them. The influence of the IT industry: Too many clients are disposed to want products that they can control with their computers, which is a guarantee that system settings will be tampered with by people that know how to move their mouse but have no real understanding of why they are moving it. Also, a trend toward self-amplified loudspeaker systems, pushed by the manufacturers. The alleged rationale is a savings on loudspeaker cable or an enhanced damping factor for bass drivers. The savings is a myth, as it costs far more to have an electrical contractor put in the AC power circuitry and conduit to the loudspeaker locations than would ever be saved in cable or cable installation.

Dewees: What I see on the more advanced systems is underestimation of the level of technical expertise required to operate the system. Some churches still believe they can get a totally volunteer staff to operate the AV equipment. Most church committees do have higher expectations than their budgets allow for. This has improved in recent years, but even with budgets in the six-figure range, the expectations are often unrealistic.

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