Taming Your Church Sound System

Church Sound Systems: Reining in the Volume

Sound engineers struggle against overly loud mixes every time they’re in front of the mixing console of their PA system. And while providing a satisfying mix at non-lethal volumes in a club or concert hall is one thing, mixing on a church sound system is entirely another.

A congregation can include a wide range of listeners. What might be an appropriate volume to a teenager may seem shockingly loud to a septuagenarian or a toddler.

The church sound system must also work within limits established by the US Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). These recommendations protect listeners against overexposure to loud sounds, which can cause Noise Induced Hearing Loss (NIHL).

What are some of the hazards that lead to a dangerously blaring church sound system, and how can the sound engineer avoid them?

Why Your Church Sound System Keeps Getting Louder

Traditional church sound design is built around the voices of the choir & congregation, as well as the organ- and the minimal amplification these things require.

With this in mind, it’s easy to guess what happens when you bring drums, guitar, and bass into the sanctuary. Loud drummers and over-amped guitars require that your church sound system work harder to boost keyboards and voices to an audible level.

This means that if your guitarist and drummer are cranking away at 100 dBs (which is not uncommon), your church sound system has to pump out 110 dBs just to overcome them.

According to OSHA guidelines, this level of volume is safe for about 30 minutes- but other sources (like the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health- NIOSH) claim that damage can set in after a mere 2 minutes.

Of course, this doesn’t even consider the fact that many in your congregation are going to be running for the exits with their hands over their ears the second the sound creeps above 90 dB.

3 Ways to Tame Your Church Sound System

Here are 3 simple steps you can take to insure a pleasant (and safe) listening experience for everyone in your congregation:

Purchase an inexpensive sound pressure level (SPL) meter for your church sound system. Keep your instruments down at around 85-90 dBs before you even turn on the PA- and keep the entire mix at 95 dB. Even conservative NIOSH standards stipulate this as a safe level for about an hour of listening.

Check your monitor mix before turning up the front-of-house speakers. This insures that you can set a comfortable level for the audience after you meet the musicians’ needs.

Know your church. A small chapel requires far less amplification than an auditorium in a mega-church. Mix with common sense, and with the assumption that everyone is there for the service, and not necessarily a rock concert.

If you really want to be safe for extra-loud events, consider handing out earplugs!

Have questions about church sound systems or hearing loss? Send us an email or call our trained experts at 407-757-3326!