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In-ear Monitors Help Churches End Volume Wars

Mar 2, 2006 8:00 AM


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A growing number of churches are turning to in-ear monitors to help combat a serious and often under-appreciated problem, volume creep.

“Stage volumes in churches have gotten out of control. In church, suddenly you have a heavy metal concert going on. People are literally leaving the church because of the volume,” reports Craig Sibley, marketing product specialist at Aviom and himself a worship leader.

At the root of the problem, Sibley says, is the age-old need of performing musicians to hear their own instruments and those of their ensembles realistically. “The minute you introduce drums, the guitarist turns up his volume so he can hear himself, then the vocalist needs more volume,” he adds. Next thing you know, it’s “volume wars,” with unfortunate impacts on worshippers.

“You end up with about 105dB on stage, and the front-of-house guy has to mask that, so you have to have 115dB in the church. There’s just too much sound in the space.”

Doug Gould, senior market developer at Shure, agrees that in-ear monitors (IEMs) help to quiet down the sanctuary. "Any good in-ear will reduce volume levels by 20 percent,” he says.

Gould reports, “The church market is a great market for personal monitoring.” He adds that in-ear personal monitors are often combined with a personal monitor mixing system to give each performer control over what he or she is hearing, without requiring the FOH console to deliver these personalized mixes.

Although contemporary musical groups are the most frequent users of IEMs, the systems are also often favored by choir directors for cueing or music tracks, as well as by worship leaders and even preachers.

Aviom’s mixing system gives each performer a small, lightweight box through which he or she can control and adjust up to 16 feeds, controlling not only their volume but also their apparent position in a stereo sound field.

“There’s a tremendous acceptance of in-ear monitors in churches,” says Sibley. “It’s the hot buzzword. Personal monitor mixing, in turn, is something they need if they’re going to go to in-ears.”

By isolating the in-ear mix from outside sound, IEMs can enable performers to get by with less volume. But often, this isolation creates an unwanted sense of being disconnected from the congregation.

The answer is ambient mics, picking up sanctuary sounds and adding them to the mix.

Sensaphonics’ 3D Active Ambient system is designed for the touring sound market, according to company spokesman Jack Kontney. “However, with the strong trend toward IEM systems in churches, it’s definitely something to be aware of. The 3D allows users to selectively hear ambient sound while maintaining acoustical isolation from it, giving the user all the benefits of an in-ear system while still allowing normal communication.”

Capturing this ambient sanctuary sound can be a simple matter, Sibley says, but one in which many churches still make mistakes—using the wrong kind of microphone, for instance, or positioning them so that they don’t really capture the ambience of the room.

Growing reliance on IEMs also demands that users be more aware of the hazards of excessive volume and the appropriate steps to protect their hearing—more on that topic in the next issue of HOW Focus.



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