If you are task to design a sound system for your church or anywhere else, here’s a simple guide for you. Most often, sound guys assigned in many church are not actually technical people. So I made this simple guide for many to understand. I will make this as simple as I can.
Here are the things to consider:
- Budget – set the most realistic budget you can spend for your sound system project. The budget can vary depending on what is your goal and what equipment you already have. This will dictate what equipment what you can buy.
- Mixer – start with the heart of the sound system, the audio mixer. Mixer prices can vary from few thousand pesos up to a million pesos. That is why it is important to set the budget first before shopping for your sound equipment’s. There are several factors to consider in deciding what mixer to purchase:
- Number of channels – the number of channels is the number of inputs. This means that a 12 channels mixer will have 12 inputs. But take note that some channels of the mixer will have stereo channels. A stereo channels will consume 2 channels primarily intended for music players. Those channels usually can’t be used to connect mics, but on some mixers you have a choice to connect a mic or a music player on this channel. A 12 channel mixer can have 8 mono(mics) inputs + 2 stereo inputs. On some mixer, those stereo channels can also be used to connect mics, so some 12 channels mixer can have a maximum of 10 mics inputs. For church use, I recommend a minimum of 12 channels mixer. For larger churches, where you need to connect all the musical instruments including drums, a minimum of 24 channels should be fine.
- Equalizer – Bass and Treble controls is not enough for most situations. You should have at least 3 band equalizer with sweepable mid frequency. A graphic equalizer is also a big help. Consider buying a mixer with graphic equalizer if you have a very limited budget.
- Aux channels – Aux channels are used to connect monitors, effects and other output that need a different mix from the main mix. For small churches a minimum of 2 aux channels should be fine(1 for effects and 1 for monitor mix). Some mixer have built-in effects so a 1 aux channels is ok for small churches. For big churches it depends on how many mix channels you need.
- Powered or not – powered mixers have a built-in amplifiers on board so you can connect a speaker directly to it without the need for an amplifier. This kind of mixer is ideal for small churches will a limited budget.
- Digital or Analog – Digital mixers are basically more than twice the price of analog mixers. The biggest advantage of digital mixers is that they have built-in sound processors like gate, expander, compressor, limiter and equalizers. Considering those features, digital mixers are actually cheaper than analog because you don’t need to buy separate sound processor. Most digital mixers also have capability to record channels individually. This means that you can edit each track after recording. I don’t recommend digital mixers with no physical controls like the Behringer X Air series. You need a PC or a tablet to control this kind of mixer and it doesn’t feel right if you are used to the usual mixers with physical controls. It is faster to make adjustments on mixers with physical controls because you can adjust several controls at the same time.
- Amplifiers – Amplifier is used to amplify the signal coming out on the mixer to drive the speaker. There are some speakers that have amplifiers built-in. They are called powered speakers, if you have them, you won’t need amplifiers for it because they have it built-in. To have a more reliable system, you should have an amplifier with at least twice the required power. This is to avoid your amplifier to overheat by keeping the volume below half. For small churches, you should aim for an amplifier with at least 1000W power. By going with higher power output, you amplifier will operate with lower than its rated power, this will make your amplifier cooler and less prone to overheating.
- Speakers – As much as possible go for powered speaker so you won’t need an amplifier. It will also have better acoustic response because it have a circuitry that is tuned for better acoustic response. If you already have an amplifier, choose a speaker with equal or higher rated power than the amplifier that will drive it. For example, if you have an amplifier with 1000W (500W/ch)output, make sure will use a speaker with at least 500W rated power for it. Take note also that a power amplifier have different output power for every speaker impedance. An amplifier will have higher power output when using a 4 ohm speaker compared to an 8 ohm speaker.
Audio mixer prices can vary from several thousands up to a million pesos, that’s huge! The main factor for choosing the right one depends mainly on your budget. If you have a very limited budget, I highly recommend to pick a mixer with built-in graphic equalizer. Equalizer is used to tune your speaker’s frequency response. This is a must to have a better sound. If you have big budget, better get a digital mixer. A digital mixer is a bit expensive but it has all what you need. It has built in sound processor for every channel like compressor, limiter, parametric and graphic equalizers. Not to mention is the capability for multitrack recording and the ability to save and recall settings which is a very useful feature.
Here are my top recommendations based on your budget:
ORIS PMX 608 – ( Cheapest recommendation )
This is a cheapest mixer that I can recommend for those who are on a budget. It only cost around 9,000 pesos. This has all your basic needs, this is powered mixer which means you can connect it directly to any speaker without the need of an amplifier. It also has graphic equalizer for better sound. It has 3 band equalizer on each input. Bluetooth and usb player is a plus.
Key points for cheapest sound system
- By having a cheap budget, don’t expect to have the best sound. But this is the best that you can get with your budget.
- Main graphic equalizer with at least 7 band is a must! Don’t buy a mixer without a 7 band(or more) graphic equalizer unless you have the money to buy a separate 31-band graphic equalizer.
- Powered mixer is the cheapest option since you won’t need an additional amplifier. You just need it to connect directly to speaker.
- it should have at least 3 band equalizer per channel
- it should have an effect channel
- at least 6 mic inputs. Evaluate if you really need more channels.
Branded or not?
Some might say that you don’t need a branded equipment, you just need a knowledge to get the most out of it. They are correct but equipment’s with known brands have better performances and better reliability. This is specially on speakers, branded speakers sounds better than those are not. This is because speaker that came from a big company have the money to build their own acoustic lab to tune their speakers. This is also true for mics and headphones. So if you have very limited budget, I highly suggest that you invest on branded speakers and mics first. You can just buy any mixer with at least 3 band equalizer on each channel and a 7 band graphic equalizer.