6 Questions You Need to Ask About Your Audio System

“Would you run sound for us?” my friend asked. “Our regular guy isn’t available.” Without hesitation, I accepted.

I’d subbed for bands with nice portable systems. And my friend’s a smart guy. It would be fun—oh, if only. From his point of view, their audio system worked. Worked, yes, but not very well. More on that shortly.

Rate Your Portable Church Audio System

A portable church audio system has unique demands, but they aren’t too far off from the demands placed on an installed system. Let’s find out how your system does.

Answer a simple yes or no to each one. I’ll also highlight how the above situation ranked, if you can’t already guess.

1. Is my audio equipment safely stored away?

This means all gear, like mixers and amps, is stored in professional-grade road cases. Loose equipment, like cables, is stored in cases or sealable tote boxes. All equipment is packed securely inside a trailer. The trailer is locked and stored in a secure location.

(No) Their gear was stored in old worn-out cardboard boxes. Nothing was sealed up so moisture and humidity was slowly degrading the electrical components.

2. Is a load-in/load-out plan in place?

This means there’s a plan on how the trailer is loaded and unload. It means there a plan of where the equipment goes on stage and in the room. It means there’s an equipment checklist so gear is never left behind.

(No) They had a bucket-brigade when it came to loading up the trailer, but they didn’t have a list of what went in the trailer. On more than one occasion, I found out, they left something behind.

3. Is the equipment easy enough to set up?

This means hooking up all audio equipment involves labeled cables so it’s obvious what plugs into what. It means the equipment is appropriate for the room, lighter weight in some cases. It means you’re never sitting in the center of a bunch of equipment wondering what to do.

(No) They didn’t have anything labeled. Nothing. It was just boxes of cables and equipment.

4. Is the equipment reliable?

Even with lower budgets seen with portable churches, the gear should be reliable and come from respected name brands. However, given how long I’ve seen people try to nurse along a piece of gear, maybe this question should be, “Is the equipment reliable and is it mechanically and electrically sound?”

(No) Their mixer was so old, I was afraid to turn it on for fear of sparking a fire. And, they used cheap brown electrical wiring for speaker cables.

5. Is the equipment easy to operate and support?

This means the audio techs can fix small problems and run the equipment to get the expected results. If they aren’t trained, that’s another matter. Every piece of gear should have a definite purpose.

(No—not really) They place the mixer behind the risers, not out in the house where it should be.  Setting a mix involved walking out, listening, walking back to make an EQ change, and repeating the process. Ugh.

6. Does it sound good?

This means … it SOUNDS GOOD! This means the spoken word sounds clear. This means the speakers are distortion-free when the band is rockin’. It means the congregation can focus on the service and not be distracted by a tinny-sounding, hum-filled audio system.

(No) They did upgrade a few microphones and the house speakers but what was obvious was the age of the mixer powering everything. I was able to get a good mix but not a great one. I can’t imagine how bad it was before those upgrades.

There are a few other areas of consideration but this is a good place to start when reviewing your portable church audio system.  

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Chris Huff
Chris Huff is the author of Audio Essentials for Church Sound. He also teaches all aspects of live audio production, from the technical fundamentals to creative music mixing to keeping your sanity. Find out more at www.behindthemixer.com