Getting the job done

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I originally published this in Live Sound International magazine and ProSoundWeb.com

I will never forget one particular service call.

A small church called me out to quote a new sound system. This room sat about 120 people, pretty standard size and shape for rural Georgia. They weren’t happy with the existing system and wanted it replaced.

When I walked into the room, I saw a single, odd-looking loudspeaker mounted tight to the ceiling over the podium. The pastor and tech told me how much they hated the way it sounded. I wanted to find out how much of the gear worked and how much absolutely had to go.

Fairly quickly, I verified that only one wireless microphone system had a problem and everything else was fine. Someone had messed with the system, screwing up the house EQ. Basically they’d fallen victim to a psychotic knob turner. Nothing else was wrong, so I went ahead and tuned the system.

That single, odd-looking point source box lit up the room beautifully. The coverage was almost perfect, there was barely the need to EQ for feedback issues. The sound quality was very impressive. All in all, they had already purchased the ideal system for that room. It was a good design and fit their budget.

This experience has had an impact on my decisions to this day. That one little system shattered most of my pre-conceived ideas about how a system should be installed or look. It changed my perspective, challenging me to focus on actual needs and consider every option.

Later, when working in the live sound realm as “line array fever” spread across the land, I noticed that 9 times out of 10, our point source boxes were perfectly fine for the application. Outdoor concerts, most indoor venues, and various-sized events went off without a hitch using our trusted stacks. The ease of setup and minimal rigging was generally the best choice for “hired gun” contractors like us.

Traditional point source loudspeakers are where most of us cut our teeth in this business. We mixed through various types of heavy boxes and generally walked away pretty happy. We used the best tools available and made good things happen.

I bring this up because on occasion, the phrase “a line array is the only way to go” comes up. Granted, in many applications, line arrays are indeed an excellent choice. I remember when we finally added an Electro-Voice XLC rig to our inventory. It was magical. The level of control was so amazing. The sonic and coverage issues in many difficult venues that had dogged us for years were suddenly tamed. I quickly became a believer. But the front seats and side wing areas still required fill loudspeakers to bolster coverage, and point source boxes were the best option for us.

Loudspeakers are simply tools to accomplish specific goals. Particularly these days, we have excellent analysis and modeling programs that can quickly help us understand what’s needed in terms of coverage and other aspects, and we can apply this knowledge to selecting the right tools and deploying them correctly.

There are more and more line arrays on the market, and most of them are really (really) impressive. The technology is developing and converging to create remarkably cohesive, and in some ways almost automatic, true systems that can achieve amazing things. Yet somewhat under the radar are point source options that are just as outstanding. And underlying it all is our ability (or lack thereof) to use whatever we have to get the job done.

We all do it. The excitement of having the latest stuff can take us to the emotional level of a runaway five year old in a candy shop. But if we’re going to practice stewardship and at least pretend to be responsible adults, we need to see things for what they are. There’s a right tool for a given project, but so often, more than one. It’s our responsibility to understand those tools, what they can really do, and get the most out of them.

Check out more stuff I learned the hard way in my book.
“Basic Training for the Church Audio Technician”
If you are new to church sound, I strongly suggest reading it.

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