Setting up a sound system is a great challenge for anyone. Pastor Davis first approached me about setting up the sound system at the new church in Graham, before its scheduled  opening 1 Jan 1999. “I was astonied until the evening oblation” as Daniel the prophet said. Thankfully, a very patient sound engineer in Missouri designed the system long distance, and guided me through the installation. This experience was very helpful when it was time to do the National Campground Tabernacle. I have since updated many things and upgraded or replaced components, but it sill doesn’t have nearly the equipment it needs to do it ‘right’. It was a budgetary restriction.

A church sound-system is two fold;

Providing sound to the congregation, and sound to hear yourself speak, sing or play, which is called monitoring. Ever hear someone singing with headphones on? Or while riding a lawnmower? That’s how you sound when you’re not using a monitor. The sound equipment needed to accomplish these two goals varies, so let’s talk about some equipment.

 

Microphones

High quality microphones are a priority in your sound system, because even a good system can’t transform bad input from cheap microphones. Shure microphones can be purchased for under $100 and are a quality choice for the budget. The Shure SM-58 is good for vocals (singing) but the SM-57 is the best choice for amplifying instruments that are played through their own amplifiers. At the Graham NTCC, we use them in front of guitar amplifiers and on the snare drum.

 

We use Neumann (Noy-Mun) microphones for vocals, and acoustic instruments, but each costs $450 and up. For the pulpit we use a brand that is brother to Neumann, called Sennheiser; specifically a goose-necked condenser microphone with a narrow polar pattern. It doesn’t pick up from the side, which minimizes feedback, and it is a very sensitive mic.

 

A regular (dynamic, i.e. non-condenser type) microphone on a mic-holder always sounds bad for a pulpit. If you must ‘grab and go’ to preach, you could have a wireless hand-held off to the side. In any case, always use 3 pin (XLR) plug microphones, ¼” plug microphones are bird talk mics! (cheep)

 

Mixers

You can get a mixer for peanuts, if you only have need for a few microphone channels, bigger ones are more expensive. You need one channel per microphone and/or amplified instrument, and some extras for adding channels later.

PICTURE HERE!

This picture of the mixer at our Nat’l Campground shows the microphone lines coming back from the pulpit area via a long “snake” (mic. wire bundle) running along the wall. You only need a snake if the mixer needs to be out in the audience, or at the back of the church. The reason for that is so the person controlling the mix can actually hear as the congregation hears.

 

In a small building you can just put the mixer behind the pulpit somewhere and control it yourself during the service, if you wish. Our mixer has 32 channels. We have 3 mics on Drums, 4 singing, 2 pulpit mics, 4 Brass mics, one bass, one piano, one strings, etc. They are ALL taken. Some signals go OUT of the mixer, through the snake back to the platform area to monitor speakers, and also house speakers (overheads to the cong.).We have one set of speakers in the front, and another pair near the back seating area.

 

A two channel mixer may be very inexpensive ($75.00-$100.00). But will it do what you want? The Mackie 32/4 mixer at the Campground cost 4 digits! The mixer mixes it all together and puts it out to the rack and speakers in a single, stereo or mono signal. The mixer will also send a copy of this signal, anywhere you want (headphones, tape deck if you wish to record, monitors etc.). The mixer has to send the mix to the “mains” (main house speakers in front of the congregation) but also has outputs to monitors for musicians and preachers/ singers to hear themselves. This saves voices! As a shower head has one inflowing source of water, and puts it out through many small holes, so is the mixer, but in reverse. It takes many input signals, balances the volume levels and puts it out in stereo.

 

Powered Mixers and Speakers vs. Passive Mixers and Speakers

There are basically two kinds of mixers and speakers, powered and passive. At the National Campground we are using both powered and passive speakers. Which is cheapest? Well, price tags say, the powered is more expensive, and it is, in terms of price. But it needs no rack equipment. A passive is cheaper in price, but needs expensive rack equipment. A powered mixer has the amplifiers built into it. Either way, you will pay!
Three possible combinations exist:

Passive mixer, rack amps and passive speakers

Passive mixer, powered speakers

Powered mixer, passive speakers

There is POWER (Amplification) somewhere, in each setup. Now, here’s a basic setup for a small church with a piano, a singer and a pulpit: