Churches: a dumping ground for orphaned equipment?

Often, when I get called in to advise a church on what they can do to upgrade or repair problems with a sound or video system, I encounter a variety of equipment.  It can be the cheap products sold by the local music store, intended for “garage bands”, or over the top gear best suited for mission critical broadcast venues.  In both situations, I can usually envision the logic that led to the installation.  However, this was the first time I could not figure out the ideas used at first glance.

It started with the main speakers. They appeared to be hand built, high power speakers intended for live concerts or nightclubs, hanging from the ceiling of a church that holds under 500 people.  I then looked at the equipment rack, and could not find a mixing console.  Upon closer inspection, I noticed an Ashley multi-room contractor’s mix processor.  This is what you would find in a restaurant to automatically allow the staff to adjust the volume and source for different areas of a facility.  For example, the ball game playing in the bar, energetic music in the lounge, and dining music in the dining room—different sources and different volume levels.

To mix a church service, the sound person would connect a laptop via a technician’s programming cable and adjust the programming of the level presets using the laptop, which is a very unstable way to try to mix.  To add to the problems, this processor was set for “ducking”, so whichever microphone was dominant, it would be featured and other mics would be suppressed.  This is ideal for announcing “Jones party of 7, your table is ready”, but for a church, it is a disaster.  Whenever someone would cough, or shuffle papers too close to another mic, the pastor’s microphone would be suppressed until the preset delay time expired.

So, this system had no mixing console, rock & roll loudspeakers, no subwoofers, and little to no ability to integrate with various sound sources like laptops and iPods.  To me, it looked like a dumping ground for someone’s equipment leftovers from other jobs.  We are now working on a proper design that will alleviate all the problems and still be easy to operate.  Stay tuned!