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Understanding and selecting Live Sound Speakers


Speakers, the weakest link:

If you do not have good speakers in your church's sound reinforcement system, you can't get good sound out of it.  Poor speakers contribute to muddy sound, feedback problems, and poor sound coverage in the room.

Home Stereo vs. Live Sound Reinforcement:

There are two different categories of speakers, home stereo and live sound reinforcement. The speakers you find in Stereo and Electronics shops are for home stereo use only.  They are "Near Field" speakers for use in a small room and are designed for the dynamics of recorded music.  These speakers are not capable of projecting the sound effectively and evenly in a church.  They are made for small living rooms.  They are also not capable of handling the dynamic range of live sound.  They will distort or burn out under live sound conditions.  It makes no difference how much you pay for these speakers.  A $2000 set of stereo speakers will sound great in your home with recorded music, but they just don't do the job in live sound.

Live Sound Reinforcement speakers on the other hand are designed for just that.  They are a poor choice for home use, but a good one will work well in church applications.  There are still several factors to be considered however.

Differences In Live Sound Reinforcement Speakers:

As with microphones, some manufacturers make some great speakers, others don't.  Most music stores cater to low budget musicians who are more interested in a LOUD speaker at a low cost, than an ACCURATE speaker at a reasonable cost.  These are usually the "Road" speakers in black boxes with handles.  Of course there are some good sounding "Road" speakers, but you need to be very careful what you select.  Electro-Voice, EAW, and Tannoy make some very good ones, but many of the other ones you find cannot reproduce sound accurately or project it evenly throughout your room.

Speakers Selected For Different Applications:

We select the speakers carefully in order to reproduce the best sound for your room. When making a selection, we consider the program material (what it is going to reproduce).  Will it be used just for speech, string and wind instruments, recorded music and vocals?  Will it need to reproduce organ foot pedals or bass guitar?  Our selection is also based on your room size, shape and acoustical characteristics.  The speakers need to reproduce the program material accurately and distribute it evenly throughout the room.
 

Aesthetics is also an important factor with us.  I once read an article which said that with many church designs, the emphasis is on the three "A"s - Aesthetics, Aesthetics and Aesthetics, with little consideration for Acoustics or Audio.  I must admit that I have seen some churches like this.  The speakers we install are usually wood grain, stained to match the decor of the church.  They not only sound great but they look great too. 

Specifications do not tell the whole story:

A complete set of specifications on a speaker can tell a lot, especially if you understand the electronics and physics involved.  Frequency response is a useful specification as long as it is accompanied with the roll-off points in terms of +/- decibels.  You also need polar patterns to relate the frequency response to dispersion angles.  Power handling is meaningless without knowing the efficiency of a speaker. A 100 watt speaker can be louder than another operating at 500 watts depending on its efficiency. Although this is all very useful information, there can be a lot more learned by a careful spectrum analysis, and A-B listening comparison.

Frequency Response and Constant Directivity:

Although these are probably the most important factors, there are few speaker system manufacturers who effectively address accurate frequency response with constant directivity. Because many speakers are made for "road" use where low cost, loud, and lots of bass seem to be the selling features, these concepts are secondary.

When comparing speaker systems, you will find that although many sound good at first, when compared with an accurate speaker, they are in fact missing certain frequency bands. In most cases, a poor speaker will give you lots of bass, and possibly highs (we call them siss - boom boxes), but they are missing the mid frequencies. You will actually hear instruments on a good speaker which you won't on a poor one.

Once you have accurate frequency response however you also need to maintain it throughout the coverage angles required (constant directivity). This really separates the truly professional speakers from the others. Many speakers which sound accurate when you sit directly in front of them, lose their high frequency response as you move off axis. This means that only a very small portion of the congregation receives good sound.

The speaker we use for most church installations is the Electro Voice EVF-1122. It provides 60 x 120 degree coverage with accurate frequency response and excellent constant directivity,

 

At Alectro Systems, we carefully compare professional sound reinforcement speakers in actual church environments.  By comparing one speaker against another, side by side, we can keep up to date in terms of price and performance.  This way we are sure that we are providing the best for each application.

 

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