Church Sound System Types

From the JdB Church Sound Series

Update 1996 - Church Funding of Secular Sound System Designing and
Engineering Declines for the 10th year in a row.

Since about 1952, churches were forces to involuntary take over full funding of R&D (research and development) for a lower cost church sound system alternative. Sources tell us that until about 1952, tax incentives from both U.S. and Canadian Governments were funding church sound systems up to 50% of the equipment costs.

Prior to this time period, churches either invested about $30 to $45 per person for a new church sound system or they experimented. Although current costs of a proper church sound system still stands at $30 to $45 dollars per person, many church are instead spending over $70 per person. When inflation is included in the picture, and an average sound system price of $40 per person for 50 years, means that church sound costs have dropped between 400 to 600% while experimental system costs increase.

Originally, such experimental systems were so lean, that churches attempted systems costing as little as $5.00 per person. Before 1952, all attempts at low cost church sound systems failed. Since 1952, the hidden costs in these experimental system began to surface. Things like room noise, noise pollution, road traffic noises and an aging population has revealed that the hidden cost of experimental systems were increasing at an alarming rate. Also, these hidden costs were associated with church attendance declining, which also has been added. The results of church sound systems experiments has been very discouraging.

This high cost approach to church sound has been supported by an estimated 90% of all the churches around the world. There isn't any denomination that is not involved in this on going, undocumented experiment. The methodology behind this R & D has been totally random.

To try and rectify this problem, churches have tried out and bought two or three other experimental systems to see if alternative designs would work. This has also proven to be ineffective. Statistics show that on average, churches invest in at least 3 sound system designs before install a permanent "HIS System" (H ighly I ntelligible church S ound S ystem) or "THE CHURCH SOUND SYSTEM" as designed between 1943 to 1947. Please note that we are only talking about system design, and not the equipment - except of cost figures. In document case histories, proper church sound systems have shown to have a design life for the life of the building and an equipment life of 18 to 25 years. Experimental sound systems have shown to have an average design and equipment life of 3 month to 8 years.

Since churches have no method of pooling there research discoveries, any sound system design breakthroughs go largely un-noticed. However, the secular community has an excellent network of businesses and magazines to capitalize on new discoveries. One of these very visible benefactors has been Broadway.

Although churches are the largest owners of fixed sound reinforcement systems for speech and music in the world, the secular community has taken some of our best ideas and success and created sound presentations the world is running to hear. Shows like Phantom of the Opera and Joseph use a sound system design first invented by churches before 1952. True, these systems are enhanced with other church sound system successes and new technological gadgets, but the foundations of these successful high profiled productions are base on the "THE CHURCH SOUND SYSTEM".

Since the beginning of this uncoordinated effort in the 1940's, churches have been constantly trying to seek ways to side step the laws of physics God gave us to work with since the beginning of time. These prevailing Laws have been on record since about 2,000 years BC. And when churches try to ignore them and try a new experiment, the costs are often much higher than expected.

To date, the Laws of Physics are winning 99.2% to .8% for the experimental systems. These experimental systems are really just major Band Aid jobs that are cover ups of the real issues. Often, such systems are in churches that are so ill conceived that they really need reconstruction. Since most of these churches are poorly funded, they continue with the sound system experiments out of desperate hope when they really need to rebuild or do major acoustical rehabilitation.

What have churches learned so far? Today there are 7 basic sound system designs and many variations of each. Since there is no written official standard for trades people to follow, the performance of a system's design can vary tremendously.

These 7 basic sound system designs are:

  1. Cluster / Point Source Systems

    1. Speaker or speaker system is generally located central over the alter/pulpit area.
    2. When ceiling height permits, the speaker is mounted between 25 to 32 feet high.
    3. Generally this gives excellent coverage and first reflections are off people and not back walls. This coverage pattern greatly reduces common feedback problems.
    4. Lowest costing system
    5. Highest performing system
  2. Split L/R Systems
    1. Speakers are typically mounted 10 to 15 off the floor on either side of the altar/pulpit area.
    2. Speakers creates overlapping interference patterns which creates dead spots.
    3. For best performance, expensive, high quality, well behaved speakers should be mounted as close to the ceiling as possible.
  3. Pew Back Systems
    1. Very high cost system to do.
    2. Generally not very good for music unless you can double the cost of an already system design.
    3. System requires 70 volts distribution
    4. An amplifier for ever row of speakers
    5. Not recommended for minister who like to roam around with wireless microphones.
    6. Speakers creates overlapping interference patterns which creates dead spots.
  4. Corner Split L/R Systems
    1. Speakers are typically mounted in each corner of the room.
    2. Speakers creates overlapping interference patterns which creates dead spots.
    3. A delay for the back speakers are a must for reasonable performance.
    4. You need two channels of amplification.
  5. Multiple Split L/R System
    1. Speakers are typically mounted on each row of pillars or beams down the sides of the church.
    2. There are usually more than three rows of speakers.
    3. Column speakers are generally used but not effective.
    4. A delay is needed for each row of speakers.
    5. For each delay circuit, you need a separate amplifier.
  6. Soundsphereℛ" or center of room type systems.
    1. A Soundsphereℛ" is an omni directional speaker.
    2. It bounces sounds off all of the walls which limits gain before feedback
    3. Great for shopping malls and warehouses
    4. Not very musical for the high cost
    5. Many people find them very disorienting
  7. 70Volt & non 70Volt distributed systems
    1. Expensive system
    2. Labour intensive
    3. A delay is needed for each row of speakers.
    4. For each delay circuit, you need a separate amplifier.
    5. Low cost transformers limit frequency response.

(See Chart)

The high cost of this world wide church effort has gone largely un-notice. This is due to the simple fact that churches do not have to give an account for sound system and acoustical performances. There is no record of how well or poorly a church does when it comes to sound or of sound have an impact on a churches long term growth. Records of church growth patterns have been recorded by audio companies and through general mailing requests by JdB Sound, Acoustic Lab..

This small, random sampling of 500 churches from around the world showed some very interesting fact.
  1. It doesn't seem to matter what country your in, the sound system learning patterns are the same.

  2. Churches are doing the exact same experiments in exactly the same church designs
  3. The Typical church is buying 4 sound systems
  4. Almost every industrialized nation cites average hearing losses in a given population to be 12 to 21% and 10% of these people are profoundly deaf.
    1. The rest of these people could be going to church but don't when hearing is a problem.
    2. With proper promotion in a community, some churches have seen a sustained attendance growth between 8 to 16%, three years after getting a permanent sound system installed.

When most of these factor are accounted for, it is believed that these experimental sound systems are really costing about $1.3 billion per year to maintain in North America alone. This is not the cost of buying a new sound system. This is the lost revenue of people not going to church because of their minor hearing loss. Getting details of the European and Asian church market has been difficult.

In an effort to curb some of this high annual drain on church fund, some church have indeed invested in proper sound from day one. The results have been very promising. As a result, secular sound system experimental funding has dropped. It is believed that the funding reduction is happening at a rated of .4% per year.

As a fringe benefit, many churches with "The Church Sound System" have discovered that fund raising to meet church annual budgets have been less of an effort. Some churches have stated in written and oral testimonies that a reasonable investment in a permanent sound system has been a profitable adventure. As more is invested, the better the profit. (Go figure!).

Another area of lowering cost is in new churches. It seems that a few churches have discovered that when they as there Architect to have a less dominate row in the design of the Sanctuary, the church was more likely to get what they wanted. Furthermore, this effort by church members has reduced Architectural fees by as much as 30%.

The results of this approach has been very impressive. New church designs are now starting to emerge that gives a church high performance and high usability of the sanctuary. For the local communities, it has meant that the church can once again be the focus of attention since the facilities are meeting congregational needs and community needs.

The future of churches funding secular experimentation of sound system and acoustics seem to be secure for a while. It seem that since churches or denominations do not have any guidelines or standards for sound, they have no way of knowing if what they own really meets the local church community needs. Furthermore, since there is no standard to follow, Architects and Sound System providers are free to experiment on the churches with no possible action of recourse for the church to protect themselves. The results of this wholesale experimentation is evident everywhere.

In light of this information, many ministers have suggested that their respective denominations should adopt a guideline that represent their style of worship and review it ever 7 years. Such suggestions are generally rejected by church leaders - citing that church autonomy was paramount, regardless of the lost revenues from poor sound and acoustics. When church leaders were press on the issue of lower church attendance from these experiment sound systems and Sanctuary designed, there was no comment.

Joe De Buglio,

JdB Sound, Acoustics. © Jan. 1996

Some statements and Specs have been blanked out under the understanding that it is part of the "intellectual Knowledge" guidelines and were not part of the original article. Such knowledge has value and can be purchased through investing in the book ""Why Are Church Sound Systems and Church Acoustics So Confusing?"Info on a book on Church Sound System & Church Acoustics

Back to

Church Sound Network
63 Lockerbie Avenue, Toronto, Ontario Canada M9N 3A3 PH. 416-248-9007

For questions or comments, our e-mail address is -

Copyright (c) 1996 JdB Sound, Acoustics.

* To be proof read. Feb/96