Do you need a sound system? That of course depends on what you are trying to accomplish. If you are a band or group of musicians who play only instrumentally, you may not. If you need to project vocals over the sound of your instruments, you probably do. If you are a public speaker addressing a few people in a normal size board room or classroom, a sound system may just complicate the message you're trying to convey. If on the other hand, you're trying to communicate to a large group, or you are trying to do so in a noisy environment, you probably do. If you need to play back prerecorded materials from any audio or video source, you definitely need a sound system. As it works out, most everyone needs or wants some sort of sound system at some point in their lives.
With that decided, the next obvious question is what kind of sound system? Just like a good recording engineer devotes some time to listening to his sources before he starts recording, it is important for you, the live sound engineer, to understand what the original source sounds like, and just as importantly what the venue (room, auditorium, church sanctuary, football field or whatever) sounds like with and without any amplification. It can be a very revealing experience to listen to the sound of the room.
If you've never done that, a good starting point is to take along a friend and see what your venue sounds like and how it behaves under a variety of circumstances. You'll learn a lot about the room, and you won't need sophisticated test equipment to come up with some valid conclusions. Have your friend stand on the stage (or other performance area) and talk. See how the room responds to his voice or hand claps. If there is an existing sound system, try your experiments with it on, then try the same experiments with it off. You may be surprised to find out that things sound better without your existing system. Sometimes just lowering the overall level actually improves bad acoustical situations. Try it. Bring along a boom box with some prerecorded music you are very familiar with. Make sure your choice has vocals in it. Listen carefully to see how the room handles both the music and even more importantly the words. In almost any live performance situation, whenever someone tells you they can't hear, it doesn't always mean that the volume is too low, but it's a pretty safe bet they can't understand the words.
In your experiments, can you understand the spoken word clearly, or does your room sound more like an empty swimming pool, than it does a church, nightclub, meeting room or whatever it's supposed to be? What about if you move around the seating areas, especially in the back rows, can you still understand him? Are there "dead' areas? If you can understand the spoken word better in your room when the sound system is turned off, then either your system isn't doing a good job or maybe you don't even need a sound system in the first place.
The job of a sound reinforcement system is to distribute sound evenly to all listener areas, while at the same time not distribute sound to areas like the ceiling and walls that tend to reflect the sound. These unwanted reflections cause time delays and echoes, making intelligibility much more difficult. Accomplishing this is not always an easy task, and it is very seldom you will find any "one size fits all" solution. Like most things in life, sound system design is not an absolute science (although there is lots of science involved). There is usually more than one way to accomplish your ultimate goal. You can spend a fortune, or you can spend too little. Neither extreme is probably the best thing you can do. It is vitally important that both you and your vendor have a very clear understanding of what you are trying to accomplish. Just as a club DJ style system would be inappropriate in most houses of worship, most church sound systems would be inappropriate with a touring entertainer. While there are indeed lots of similarities to these three examples, no two needs are exactly the same. Keep this fact in mind the next time you visit a music store or "super center" to purchase a sound system for your organization. Make sure the salesman understands your needs. While there are certainly music stores that understand the needs of churches, many just don't get the message. Similarly, going to a vendor who specializes in only sound systems for worship might not be a good source for a sound system for a disco. A DJ supply store might not be where you want to purchase a system for a football stadium. It's not that any of these people can't sell you equipment, but keep in mind they may not be familiar with your particular needs. A bargain on good equipment for the wrong job, really isn't a bargain at all. If you have to buy it twice, you did not save money. You'd be amazed how much misinformation there is out there. Most music stores aren't staffed by people who are working in the sound industry, therefore it is nearly impossible for them to relate to the real world situations related to the audio production industry. At DFW Sound Inc. we do it every day!! From system design and implementation, to installation and operation, We have the skills and resources to get the job done right and on budget. Call or e-mail us today for a free consultation on your sound system purchase or rental...
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