Just put a couple speakers near the front of the room and point them at the audience.
That was easy! Talk to you next time.
Well, obviously it isn’t that simple...
“So tell me something I don’t know, James!”
OK, yeah, that’s a pretty rudimentary concept, I know.
But there are many “rules” for loudspeaker placement that are blatantly violated every week – especially with portable church sound systems.
Sound system design and loudspeaker placement can be a rather complex, scientific affair and it would be unfair for me to simplify everything into just a few basic tips in one email.
Instead, it may be more helpful if we just cover the most important rules for placing your loudspeakers.
And then I’ll try to help you avoid a few rookie mistakes. (I’ve made a few of those!)
Loudspeaker Placement 101
The first order of business is to know your loudspeaker’s coverage pattern.
The “high” frequencies are what we are concerned with here.
Low frequencies (below about 400 Hz) can be somewhat difficult to control and aim with a conventional horn or loudspeaker assembly.
But higher frequencies, and especially those in the speech intelligibility range (800-2,500 Hz), are easy to control with a good horn or similar “wave guide” system.
Perhaps the most common coverage pattern for portable loudspeakers is a 90˚ x 60˚ horn. This provides 90˚ of horizontal coverage and 60˚ of vertical coverage.
There are other common options too: 90x90, 90x40, 60x60, or even 120x60.
And when you get into line array or column array loudspeakers, you can see coverage patterns approaching 180˚ of horizontal coverage and 10˚ of vertical coverage.
It doesn’t matter what your coverage pattern is, you need to point it in the right direction.
And you need to try to prevent too much acoustic energy from bouncing around the room. This just causes a confusing listening experience!
For example: using a wide horizontal coverage pattern will cover seats in the listening area and a narrow vertical coverage pattern will keep higher frequencies from hitting the ceiling or the back wall (hopefully).
Placement Tip #1
Do a little mental geometry using your room size and loudspeaker coverage pattern to try and set your speakers in the best spot.
You’re looking for good coverage of the seating area without directing too much sound at the walls and ceilings.
Placement Tip #2
Keep your main loudspeakers in front of the stage!
If you must have the loudspeakers on stage, ensure that the coverage patterns of the horns are not directed at any vocal or instrument microphones. Violating this rule will surely lead to feedback problems.
Placement Tip #3
Elevate your speakers. Use sturdy speaker stands or hang them from the ceiling (using proper rigging hardware!) in order to achieve a better coverage pattern.
Subwoofers are normally fine (and often preferred) sitting on the floor because bass frequencies are not easily controlled or absorbed in most rooms.
High frequencies, on the other hand, are easily absorbed and reflected, so you need to aim these very carefully. Getting your loudspeakers in the air will help with this.
When possible, I prefer hanging speakers because I can point them down at a slight angle. Elevated speakers pointed straight to the back of the room can cause very harsh acoustic reflections off the back wall, especially in a short room.
So, there are some basic tips to get you started.
And… it’s important to avoid a few rookie mistakes.
Here’s one of the biggest mistakes you can make with your portable or permanently installed sound system.
The Biggest Rookie Mistake
Please, add a few more loudspeakers to increase coverage or volume in the room.
NO! Don’t do it!
I’ve made the mistake of doing this before. Trust me. It doesn’t sound good.
The best sound system is the one that uses the least amount of loudspeakers to adequately reinforce the sound for the audience, room, and meet the technical performance requirements.
DO NOT add more loudspeakers thinking it will increase your sound quality.
Sure, you may achieve more sonic coverage of the listening area, but that may come at with a decrease overall sound quality.
If you can use only one or two loudspeakers to cover a room, then you should do it.
Adding more loudspeakers will add more acoustic complexity.
This can also reduce the intelligibility and articulation we want from a church sound system.
Now, don’t get me wrong. There is absolutely a time and place for using several loudspeakers in your sound system.
You just need to be very thorough in how you plan your loudspeaker locations.
Some speaker manufacturers provide tools to help you with this, but it is best if you work with someone that does it everyday.
That’s not a sales pitch for some high priced contractor. It’s a massive time and money saving tip so that you get the best sound possible with the fewest number of speakers.
There are entire books and engineering courses on loudspeaker design and placement, so we’ll avoid getting much deeper here.
Are you thinking about tuning your system or getting new loudspeakers for your church sound system?
You might want to check out this blog post about how you can save time and money on your church sound system.