We here at B&H realize that all religious services, as varied as they are, share one fundamental property: sound. A message needs to be heard. Luckily, we carry pallets of items to suit every need, both ecumenical and religious. You might even say you’re blessed in this regard—so blessed that the cornucopia before you can seem daunting. That’s where this article comes in. We’re here to help you figure out how to stock up your house of worship on an audio level. Let’s map out the basics of what you’ll need.
At most gatherings, people will be speaking; to hear them, you’ll need microphones. The microphones will need to be sonically balanced; that’s where the mixer comes in (if you’re using instruments, they will have to travel into the mixer, as well). The sound must be heard, and for that, we have speakers (for the purposes of this article, we’re going with self-powered options). You’ll also need stands, mounting brackets, cables, stage boxes, outboard gear, and other accessories to keep it all in order. If your sanctuary offers a house band every week, you might also want to invest in instruments for them.
That’s the gist—but the items that best suit your situation depend on the constraints of your space and needs of your congregation. So let’s break up this article by the categories listed above and dive in.
When it comes to microphones for singing and speaking, you cannot go wrong with the Shure SM58, a mic that needs no introduction. If a podium mic is what you’re after, popular choices include the Shure MX418DC and the Electro Voice PolarChoice, both of which offer a wide frequency response, an adjustable gooseneck, and built-in desktop mounting fixtures.
Maybe you’d prefer a wireless mic, since people tend to move around while delivering the good news. Here’s where the options begin to multiply, with lapel mics, headset mics, handheld wireless mics, or accessories to turn your wired microphone into a wireless device. The choice depends on budget and application. For speakers, a headset mic might be best, because the quality of their voice pickup is often considered more natural compared to lapel mics. For looking like you’re not wearing a microphone, a lapel mic is preferred. But if the wireless mic is for a singer, a handheld mic might be the better option, because a singer with solid microphone chops won’t need to adjust technique to accommodate the mic.
This is one of the most important parts of your rig, because all audio will be routed through here and sent back into the house as balanced, glorious signal. The mixer can also send audio into a variety of other places, but this is usually the concern of medium or larger arenas, where people need to monitor their own sermons/performances from the stage.
Then comes the question of analog or digital—and this is harder to answer than you’d think. Up until a few years ago, smaller sanctuaries usually went with analog, while larger spaces used bigger budgets to secure digital boards. Now the prices have come down, and it’s become a matter of functionality versus ease of use. If yours is a small and simple service—with volunteers running the boards—you can’t go wrong with a good analog board. Check out the Mackie ProFX series, which can give you between four to 30 inputs, depending on the model. They provide main and monitor outputs, as well as serviceable EQs and reverbs. Having instructed lay people on these boards, I can tell you they’re easy to learn.
If you’re set on digital, there’s a panoply of options to recommend, from Behringer for the budget conscious, to the marquee names—Midas, Allen & Heath, Soundcraft, and Yamaha, to name a few. All have something to offer, addressing different needs in different ways. But it’s also a matter of personal taste; having watched some of the best Front of House engineers mix at various venues, I’ve seen one top-dog swear by Midas while another could take or leave the five-figure console. So rather than get into the nitty-gritty here, if crème de la crème boards pique your fancy, allow me to point you toward this roundup of digital mixers.
For houses of worship, speech intelligibility is a key element, and this needs to factor in to your speaker choice. Keeping in mind that people need to hear the words of the message clearly, you must also decide between different types of speaker systems: line array or point-source. Point-source can deliver loudly on phase-coherent sound over good distances. Line-array systems, on the other hand, can be more directional, offering many people in a large space a similar sonic experience, and avoiding the reflections of common sanctuary fixtures such as stained glass and tiled floors.
Both have their applications. For a smaller venue, a great point-source choice might be the Fender Fortis F-12BT, which offers an SPL of 135 dB, a frequency range of 50 Hz to 20 kHz, a peak power rating of 1300W, and onboard EQ switches for tuning the speakers to the room. If you have a larger space, you might want go the line-array route, so check out the Toa Electronics HX-5W, the JBL VRX-928LA or the Yorkville PSA1 models.
Whatever you choose, you’ll need to learn the characteristic frequency responses of your room and tailor the resulting audio to the space. You might do well to purchase a measurement microphone kit, take a frequency reading of audio material pumped through the speakers, and EQ the outputs of your mixer to accommodate problems.
Depending on the size and shape of your sanctuary, you’ll need to choose between one and a plethora of speakers. This, combined with the purchasing of subwoofers (another room-dependent option to consider), will lead to quickly piling costs. For a smaller room, you might want to select a bundle offering everything you’d need for speaker dispersion in one setup—some like the Peavey P2 or the Bose L1 Compact Audio PA system. The Bose system also includes a mixer, so for the most simple of setups, it’s a good bet.
Accessories and Instruments
You’ll need microphone stands, speaker stands, music stands, mounting brackets, and cabling. Also, consider how you are going to get sound to travel from the stage to the mixer; depending on your needs, you’ll need to invest in a wall-mounted XLR panel or go the simpler (and less pleasant-looking) rout of a stage box to run signal into your console. If you’re working with a digital piano or an acoustic guitar, you’ll need a few DI boxes. You’ll want to put instruments like drum sets behind a clear plastic shield so that their sound won’t bleed into your pulpit microphones. And if you’ve got a house band that shows up week after week, you might want to invest in digital keyboards, guitars, and basses too.
This is a deep and meandering subject; we could easily go on for another 2,000 words. And perhaps, someday, we will. But for now, think of this as a primer to get you started. If you’d like to know more, we can address your specific questions below, in the Comments section. Shoot us any question regarding your house of worship setup, and we’ll get you an answer.