3 Portable Church Sound Systems for Every Budget

Power Protection:

  • Rack-mountable Furman or similar power distribution unit. You’ve got a lot of expensive equipment to protect. Plug everything in the booth into this. Don’t use it for the speakers but get a Furman on-stage surge protector for those.

Brand and Model Notes

While I would love nothing better than to recommend pro-level manufacturers and models, the fact is cash-strapped churches can’t afford them. So, in the interest of outfitting these less-fortunate ones, I listed several brands and models that can be found in any online or MI (music instrument) store—I have experience with them, and while they aren’t near as good as the mainstream pro-level stuff, they are solid enough and quality enough that they serve this model of church well.

There are brands and models I deliberately avoid recommending, even if they are cheap, because the build and sonic quality are as cheap as the prices.

Warning

One other thing that porta-churches fail to consider is that someone is going to be humping all the equipment in and out of a building every week. Think of it like you’re touring and every week you’re setting up and tearing down. Compactness and lightness are your friends. Get solid road cases for everything so the equipment lasts. Don’t get a big mixer because someone knows someone who has a used one for cheap. Setting that up every week will get old really quickly.

OPTION 2: Value-Oriented

Budget: $3,000–$10,000

At this budget level, you can still put together a decent portable sound system as above, especially if the needs are small (piano, spoken word, maybe a guitarist) and your room size isn’t huge. But with a contemporary music structure with a band, you’ll need to go to this next step.

If you started with a system such as OPTION 1, then I would add the following:

1. House Speaker Management:

  • dbx Driverack or Driverack PA. Pretty standard unit and easy to use. Decent build and sonic quality. Has house EQ functions, delay function, feedback suppressor.
  • Cost: $299–$399.

2. Subwoofer:

  • A 15- to 18-inch model unpowered matched to a separate amp or powered models that match your top speakers. Try to keep the speaker manufacturers the same, and better still, keep the models the same, especially for powered models. They have built-in crossovers and amps that are specifically matched to the output characteristics of the sub. Probably don’t need more than one initially.
  • Cost: $800–$1,500.

Building a New System

You might be able to skip option 1 and go straight to this option. I would start with a digital board. I recommend one because of the functionality built into the board. Most digital boards allow you to save scenes, individual channel setups, have built-in effects, and a significant number of the value-oriented digi-boards allow the worship team to control their own in-ear mix through a smartphone app. Additionally, these boards also allow use of a tablet to remotely control the board from anywhere in the room.

Audio Mixer:

  • 16, 24, 32 channel digital board
  • Behringer X32, Midas M32, Allen-Heath QU and GLD series, Soundcraft SI series,
    PreSonus StudioLive series.
  • Cost: Ranges from $1,699–$5,000 and up.

Audio Snake:

  • Digital Snake compatible with your digital board. The reason? One or two LIGHTWEIGHT CAT-5 STP CABLE compared to a 75 POUND STINKIN’ RECALCITRANT-WHEN-IT’S-COLD, BULKY analog snake. Trust me, it is so worth the additional cost.

Uninterruptible Power Supply (UPS):

  • Get a decent one. Tripp Lite, Cyber Power, APC are well-known brands in the server world and are designed to sacrifice themselves before surges get through. They will also have a battery that will keep your mixer running in the event of a power spike and provide a steady voltage stream going to your mixer.

Speakers:

  • Depending on your situation the ones from Option 1 may be all you need. If you’re a full contemporary worship band that’s electric guitar driven, you want more 12-inch mains with subwoofer(s).
  • QSC K or KW, EV ELX, Mackie SRM550, PreSonus StudioLive (especially if you have a PreSonus StudioLive mixer due to the unequalled integration).

In-ear systems:

  • Aviom, Allen-Heath ME1, Elite Core, Behringer P16.
  • This is another area that is rapidly changing. There are new contenders coming out every month, so research and match them to your needs.
  • Do not let the musicos use cheap earphones. At this stage you want well-fitting isolation-type high-fidelity earphones. Set up an ambience mic at the center front of the stage or a LR combo if you have a couple of spare channels.

Microphones:

  • Wired and Digital Wireless.
  • Shure, Sennheiser, Audix, Audio-Technica, AKG.
  • Cost: $100–$500.
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Brian Gowing
Brian Gowing has helped over 30 churches meet their technology requirements. Brian works towards shepherding the church, analyzing their technical requirements, sourcing the equipment, installing the equipment and training the volunteer personnel. As he likes to say ‘equipping the saints with technology to help spread the Good News.’