Why Is Church Sound So Bad?

It was the worst mix that I have heard in a church in a long time. And I have heard some bad mixes. But this one was loud and not in a good way. The harsh, distorted mid-range penetrated the ear drums like a sharp knife. So, so unpleasant.

I’m on a bit of a hiatus from church production and worship. The pace of the past two years took a toll and with no shortage of other audio work coming up in the next few months, I needed to take my foot off the gas and take a break.

Quality of sound has always been a thing for me. What I have noticed in those churches that are following the current trend of full bands on stage — drums, bass, electric guitars, keys — is that they seem to place more emphasis on the visuals and lighting and not always on the quality of the sound.

Livestreams have made it pretty easy to hear whether there is an emphasis on good quality audio. In the city where I live, most of the large churches provide very poor audio quality. In-person venues are often hit and miss.

Yesterday we were at a church where the house level was very much on the high side for a church. Peaks approached rock concert levels. Except that the mix was all over the place in terms of balance. It was harsh. Very harsh.

The human ear is particularly sensitive to audio in the 2 – 5 kHz region. Strident levels in that range hurt. When a mix is not balanced properly, loud sound is not a proxy for good sound.

This was a church that had clearly invested in its audio, lighting and visual system. The room was well treated and acoustically tight. More like a movie theatre than the all too typical highly reverberant church auditorium.

Why did it sound so bad?

There are three core elements to getting good sound in a live situation: the equipment, the room, the sound person. For most churches it can be a combination of the three that causes the sound to be off.

Often it is in the hands of an inexperienced volunteer to do the best they can under very challenging circumstances. At that point, even good equipment and a treated space may not help produce a good sound.

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