HIS Systems - Church Sound Standards
Setting Minimum Standards all Churches and Denominations Can Use
If you read this, you will be one of the thousands of people who know about this standard. Remember, this is only a minimum standard. Some audio contractors, Architects and acoustical expert can do better - and we welcome that.
What does a Church Sound System and Acoustics standard mean?
Since the mid 1960's, churches have been sold all kinds of sound systems. In Canada and USA there are over 300,000 church sound system. Expect for a small number of churches, (about 2000 of them) all of the other churches have sound systems that were designed with no standards. Without a standard, a church can not always tell if they have the best they can have or is they were sold snake oil.
This is interesting as churches seem to have many standards about most things they do while using the bible as their road map. However, the bible seems to have been written is such a way that it can be applied to people with all kinds of personalities and dispositions. This makes Christianity unique and a wonderful way to live. Within the framework of Christianity, there are standards such as worship, hymns, communion, leadership and the organizing of groups of people. It is a common thread that all churches follow.
When you take a closer look at all of the different churches, styles of worship and so on, they are all very much the same. As one person said to me, "the only difference between most churches is about 5%." Think about it. This statement speaks volumes of truth. Almost all of the different churches do agree to about 95% of the scriptures. It's that last 5% that keeps most church groups miles apart. What I find interesting is that because of such a strict effort to follow as much of the scriptures as possible, we have so many different denominations. Therefore, one could say that a standard creates creativity and expands our culture and knowledge. Then again, you could say I'm out to lunch too.
However, a standard should not be used like a whip to keep people in line. Under those cases, I would suggest that the use of a standard can degrade or stifle growth and limit knowledge. Sort of like the medieval times in mans history. So what does this have to do with church sound? Plenty!
Privately Funded Research
What happens if you follow the design experience
of a number of professional sound experts,
test their sound systems, and chart their
results. If average church was not average
but unique, then these professional audio
designers would design every church sound
system as a one of a kind. Well, that is
not what I discovered. I have tested over
200 sound systems designed by other professional
church audio and acoustical experts. I have
also designed or installed 300 other systems
as a consultant or contractor. After about
30 systems, I started seeing a pattern. But
before I could say that more churches should
follow this pattern of system design and
room performance, I had to test more churches.
In all over 500 churches have been tested
in one form or another and more churches
are being tested all the time.
Having a standard for church sound has some real advantages.
First of all, it lets the whole church community
know how good all church sound systems should
perform. For example: It lets churches know
that it is reasonable to expect a minimum
of 90% intelligibility and nothing less which
is what the average audience listen is comfortable
with. At 88% people start complaining very
strongly. At 90% the complaints drop to 2
to 5%. Usually those with profound hearing
loss or those you have to speak much louder
to while in a small office or living room.
With extra money, you can increase that performance.
However, that extra funded could be very
high to get just an added 2 to 4%. Often,
getting that extra performance will mean
acoustical sweetening of the room.
Wouldn't it be wonderful if you could walk into any church and hear speech and musical sounds as clearly as though the minister was standing only 4 feet in front of you. For 300 churches in southern Ontario Canada, that is the case. These systems and more have demonstrated that while there are differences in equipment, buildings and styles of worship, for the listener, that joyful experience can be enjoyed no matter where they go. What is also apparent, these system follow the same pattern or system design to get these results.
If you notice in this partial detailing of the HIS System, it is not based on equipment. Rather, it is based on design. As a design, it does limit the equipment that goes into a church sound system. Just as you wouldn't use a bicycle wheel on a car, there are certain audio products that should not be used in a church sound system, even though the manufacturer and many audio companies claims it does.
This pattern was also found in church acoustics
too. As a standard, it can also help Architects
to create new church designs to meet the
HIS System standard. Recently, I asked an
Architect why so many churches looked the
same and sounded awful. He said something
like this. - "Current church designs
are based on existing successful churches."
If that is true, then all church should sound
great. But this has not been the case.
The facts far out way any statement any Architect
can claim to explain the results. In North
America, there are over 400,000 churches.
Of that many church, less than .8% or about
3,200 of them are happy with the results.
What many Architects want you to believe,
is that the other 396,800 church buildings
that fail to meet the acoustical needs of
a typical church are based on the designs
of 3,200 churches. This does not speak very
highly of Architects. To me, it means that
- according to Architects, acoustical successes
are as predictable as spinning a wheel at
a gambling table. This is not true as some
have tried to use such terms on me.
It has been our task to write such a standard. Not from the audio and acoustical experts point of view, but from the churches point of view. It has be our hope that is has been written in such a way that it encourages creativity. By churches giving specific acoustical goals to Architects and acoustical experts, it forces them to rethink their approach to church acoustics. Furthermore, we encourage churches to make the acceptance of their new sanctuary conditional on the performance of the space. A church should be able to use their house of worship without compromise, whether it is new or old.
If your church is changing it's current sound system or is building a new church, then you should adopt this standard, or check with your denomination to see if this standard meets your needs. If it doesn't, write one that does. Then design your church sound system or sanctuary to meet such a goal. Make the goal conditional in your purchase contract.
Meeting the HIS System Standard in not hard to do. It is simple enough that any church can reach it and any audio contractor to meet as well. Remember also that this standard is a minimum requirement your church needs. The HIS System Standard was also written so that any church can afford a sound system. While there are many church sound experts who can design better systems at a higher price, this standard was also written for churches who have church members who want the challenge of installing the sound system themselves. It is our hope that the information provided below will help you church get the sound system they need, not what someone wants to sell you.
Is the HIS System Standard Perfect? No
Setting a Standard
The HIS System Standard has been based on the following:
The following is a partial description of the performance criteria as outlined in the Book Why are Church Sound Systems and Acoustics So Confusing?
2. Maximum working distance from a regular dynamic microphone (such as a Shure SM58 or better) before feedback - 30 inches (In a room with NC 40 or lower)
3. Average sound pressure coverage within the seating area +/- 3dB
4. Intelligibility score +/- 2% of 92% in all seats. (A Computer should be used for this or you can use the oral speech test.)
5. When eyes are closed, turn your head to the source of the amplified sound. When you open your eyes, you should be looking at the person speaking or in their direction from any location within the sanctuary.
6. At 18 inches from the mic, have enough sound pressure level (SPL) to be around 25dB above the room noise or to have an average SPL of 66dB in all of the seating. (The NC of the church has to be below 45dB to reach this goal)
7. To have a sound system that does not increase the reverberation time of the room.
8. To have a sound system that does not degrade the performance of the Organ or competes with congregational singing when a microphone is left on.
9. To have a sound system in which the sound operator can quickly change the controls without people in the audience noticing the changes.
10. Have a sound system that is stable with 3 mics open and micing at 12 to 16 inches without feedback.
11. To have a sound system that will not introduce a signal or noise when using the maximum mic gain for a single open microphone. (that means no hissssss or radio stations)
11a. To have a sound system that will not introduce a signal or noise when using 4 mic open and micing at 12 to 16 inches without feedback. (that also means no mixer hissssss)
12. Have enough SPL in the sound system and without distortion so that a person can be heard clearly when needing to speak to the audience during congregational singing.
13. To place the speaker system in the "sweetspot" of a sanctuary to achieve the highest level of intelligibility and best coverage.
14. All microphone lines shall be balanced type II (Two conductors, a ground wire and tin foil shield) using a 3 pin connector. All lines shall be wired - Pin 1 ground, Pin 2 Hot signal or positive signal (Red or White wire), Pin 3 cold or negative signal (Black).
15. All microphone lines shall continuous from the platform to the mixer position without any breaks. (DO NOT use multi pair cable or snakes that are not individually jacketed)
Needs and Wants
Next is filling the needs of the basic church system.
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 &
Copyright © 1982-98
Originally written in 1982 and revised in 1986, 89, 91, 96, 99