Problem - The wrong speaker system

The wrong speaker system will exhibit these common symptoms:

- Feedback problems with choir, lapel, and pulpit mics
- You cannot clearly hear the words of the choir
- Hearing children and drama is impossible
- Microphones will seem to have no gain
- You have to “eat” them to be heard
- The sound mix varies from service to service
- Uneven sound levels over the seating
- Too loud in the front, can’t hear in the back
- CD’s / sound tracks sound great. Live music is terrible
- Constant frustration with the sound system
- The music director is about to loose his or her mind and is just fed up with it because sound system problems hold them back and ruins their best efforts.

Without doubt the wrong speaker system design is the primary cause of the majority of sound system issues. I harp on this all the time. Get the speaker system right. Spend whatever money it takes to make sure the speaker system can radiate the same sound quality to every seat in the house. Then spend the rest of your budget on microphones, mixers, etc. Do NOT do it the other way. You will fail every time.

Just being able to hear the speaker or sound system from any seat is NOT what I’m talking about. You can put a boom box on the platform and hear that from anywhere in the room too. But we all know a boom box cannot possibly cover an audience or fill a room with articulate dynamic sound.

Every speaker system projects sound over distance. No big shock there. But there is a “sweet spot”, an area that when you are in it, you can hear every word crystal clear. There is no effort at all to understand what was said. The size of the sweet spot or how many seats it will cover depends upon the speaker system design (how it’s built) and how high it is suspended above the seats.

If you move out of the sweet spot, you can still hear the speaker system just fine. But it becomes more work to figure out or comprehend the spoken or sung word. The words start to sound a bit muddy and unclear. You will hear more bass and less treble or clarity. It’s that crisp sound that we humans rely on to understand what we say to each other. It’s how our ears are built.

How large the sweet spot is has nothing to do with name brand or price but relies completely on how the speaker is made and where that speaker is positioned in the room. Just because the salesperson says JBL is better than Peavey has absolutely nothing to do with how the proposed speaker will cover your audience! It’s an engineering problem – not a brand choice. If you buy a system based solely on brand, you are making a grave mistake.

The way we determine how large the sweet spot is from a specific speaker system is from engineering math and design documents supplied by the manufacturer. We can also use a computer generated model of your space, stick a speaker in that model, and then “see” the radiation pattern of the speaker. This is how all of my systems start out. I map the room and then “install” speakers in that model to determine the most cost effective way to get maximum clarity of speech and vocals at every seat. If it takes $8,000 worth of speakers to get the job done, so be it. If a $1250 speaker system can get the same results that a far more expensive speaker, why spend the extra money? Who cares what the brand is! Of course we want to use products that are going to be in business years from now, but besides that, there is no reason to spend more than you need to.

Solution or how to know if you have the right speaker system

If you are planning a new system install or upgrade start out with getting the speaker system design correct. Demand what is called an SPL (sound pressure level) map and estimated RASTI or %ALCONS rating at every seat. These measurements give you a figure of merit or estimated clarity of speech. Every seat in the room should be about the same number. This is not an exact science but it gets pretty darn close – close enough.

Often the only major thing wrong with an existing system is the wrong speaker system. If you are happy with the features of your system all we need to do is rework the speaker system and you should be fine. No need to replace the whole thing. After all it’s not the mixer’s fault the speaker system isn’t covering the audience.

The speaker system is selected by the acoustics and layout of the room – not brand, not price, not “we like this better” selected by the "it looks better" committee.

To help you understand more about articulation and coverage issues regarding the correct speaker system, request my ARTICULATION AND COVERAGE © test. In just a few minutes we can test your system and teach you the acid test of the right system design. Once you know what you’re listening for, it will become dead obvious what the right sound system design should do. You’ll know what to look for and expect in a proposal and how to call the contractor in on the carpet if the system does not perform as expected. You will KNOW. You will be an informed buyer!


copyright 2013 Cathedral Sound