The audio industry has made dramatic technological advances in the realm of digital application. Wireless microphones can now run on digital bandwidth, analog stage snakes are being replaced with CAT5 cables, and eight foot wide mixing consoles are being replaced with digital consoles running twice the channels and a quarter of the desk space. With all of this advancement in technology comes an understandable level of intimidation, especially in church applications. I would like to explain why not only the church should not be intimidated by digital mixing technology, but how it can improve service flow and quality of sound, while make mixing easier for volunteers.
Arguably the greatest relief of using digital processing is, well, it's digital. Racks, cases, and tables for analog audio processors such as EQ's, compressors, effects and so on, are typically the things that take up a massive amount of real-estate in your church sound booth. The worst part of it is, once the equipment is installed, typically there isn't anyone with the skill set to maintain or properly utilize the equipment you have. As an audio engineer specializing in houses of worship, I often find church volunteers overwhelmed or not even totally aware of what equipment they have, or how to properly use it. More often though, I meet volunteers who don't have the proper equipment, or enough of it, to run the service that is being asked of them. That's where digital consoles make such an impact. Most digital mixers come pre-loaded with EQ's, compressors, gates, effects, and more on EVERY channel. This not only frees up lots of floor space, but also gives volunteers all the processing they need to run anything from a single microphone during a sermon, to a full band with just the processing inside the console. That means cleaner sound, better control, and no feedback. But what if we want to record the service? Most digital consoles also have built in recording technology, or can easily and quickly be configured to record to an existing CD or MP3 recording device. A digital console is a great first step into creating a much cleaner sounding worship environment for your congregation. With the digital console tuned and ready for service, what if something happens to it or someone changes something in the processing? Let's explore what would happen in an analog consoles worst case scenario.
Tuesday night band rehearsal
comes to an end and the choir sounds great, the piano has never felt more alive, and the organ is filling the church with angelic sounds. We walk away ready for service, only to return Sunday morning to everything seemingly fallen apart. What happened? John Doe teenager decided those EQs just weren't right for the Wednesday night youth band and went to town on your console. Now there's only precious minutes to get everything in working order, and come service time you're fighting feedback and a choir that sounds like it's singing in a train tunnel. How can I run multiple services on one console without manually resetting every channel between services? Go digital.
Most digital mixing consoles being built today have the capability of saving "scenes." A scene, sometimes referred to as a "snapshot," is a digital file that saves all the set parameters (EQ, compression, gain structure, etc) of a console across all inputs and outputs to a hard drive inside the console. The Behringer X32 console for example has one hundred available scene saves that can be saved and recalled at the push of a button. That means scenes can be saved for Sunday morning services, prayer meetings, weddings, youth groups, plays, and more. It's not uncommon for experienced mix engineers to change scenes multiple times during a service, or even multiple times during a single song. Need more than one hundred scenes? Most consoles also allow you to export your saved scenes to a computer or thumb drive. It's always a safe play to back up your scenes in case something happened to your console. For example, a pastor called me several months ago saying his console was damaged by lighting during a storm. The console was not repairable. Fortunately, the lead sound volunteer had saved all of the churches scenes to a backup thumb drive that was kept in a drawer on campus. They ordered a new console, and five minutes after getting it in place they were back up to speed. While digital consoles may save some headache and the occasional disciplinary conversations with the teenagers, smaller churches just can't afford the mega-church budgeted digital mixers, right? Wrong.
Over the last decade, there's been an explosion of affordable digital consoles. World renown manufacturers such as Yamaha, Midas, Allen and Heath, Behringer, and more have created a market of low cost, yet still great sounding digital mixers. The most popular console by far being the Behringer X32. With thirty-two inputs and sixteen outputs, and a price tag of only $2000, the X32 has become the leading console in church sound installations. Need more than thirty-two inputs? The Yamaha TF5 digital console has forty-eight inputs and twenty outputs for only $3600. As an mix engineer, I get asked all the time, "Is it all worth the money?" My answer is undoubtedly yes. To put it in perspective, there are thirty-two inputs on a Behringer X32, each with its own built in compressor. Behringers cheapest rack mounted compressor is $130. If you were to buy a compressor for every channel, you would already be over $4000, and that's not including the compressors on the outputs, mains, etc. Digital consoles are the most economic choice in terms of processing.
Digital mixers are an appropriate and affordable solution for any house of worship. With an incredible amount of processing, a small footprint, and at a great price, it would be hard to justify anything else in a church sound booth. As both a volunteer that learned to run sound on analog consoles, and now as a professional, I can testify to the massive difference it makes in church sound quality.
Interested in a free consultation for your house of worship? Fill out the form below to talk to one of our trained engineers about your sound, lighting, and video needs.