Most houses of worship are much more than just a sanctuary space. There are lobbies, hallways and overflow spaces, not to mention educational spaces, meeting spaces and even the parking lot. All of these spaces are opportunities to reach your parishioners, albeit with different needs than your main sanctuary. One way of doing this is by using distributed audio.
A distributed audio system takes your audio capabilities and extends them to other areas within your building. With discreet speakers installed in key areas of your facility, you can impact people in more places, providing a more immersive and engaging experience in public areas both inside and outside your building. With a well-designed distributed audio system, you can have an unobtrusive, easily expandable audio system to share live audio from services, as well as background music, announcements and more. You can even tie it to distributed video or digital signage for an integrated audiovisual experience.
In this blog, we’ll take a closer look at using distributed audio in houses of worship. We’ll begin by examining how distributed audio works, including looking at key concepts like audio zoning and constant voltage. Then, we’ll look at important things to consider with distributed audio, such as IP ratings and speaker types. Finally, we’ll look at some product suggestions for different parts of your distributed audio system. For more guidance on designing a distributed audio system for your house of worship, reach out to the experts at Guitar Center Professional for a free consultation.
How Distributed Audio Works
Let’s start by looking at a couple of the key technologies that are important in a distributed audio system.
An audio zone is an area or room in your house of worship facility that requires separate audio control. More specifically, it’s a part of your audio system that has different audio requirements than your primary audio system.
Audio zoning works by taking your facility and splitting it up into “zones,” which are groups of speakers that all have the same audio needs. This includes the content being played, as well as effects and other configurations within the space. You could think of audio zones as “destinations,” but an audio zone could comprise anything from just a handful of speakers in one room to all of the hallways in a building. It doesn’t need to be isolated to a single area.
Audio zones can be as big or as small as you need. For example, you may want to adjust the speakers in a “cafe” area of your lobby separately from the rest of your lobby space. This could be a separate zone in the system. At the same time, all of the speakers in your education building might be in the same zone. When designing a distributed audio system, the live sound experts at Guitar Center Professional will help you consider your use cases and needs.
High Impedance Speaker Systems
Most distributed audio systems use a speaker and amplifier technology called “constant voltage.” This approach is different from low impedance (or “low Z”) audio systems found in sanctuaries and other live audio environments, and is a better fit for applications with a large number of speakers over a long distance.
Traditional low impedance systems are used in applications where audio quality and sound pressure level (SPL) are the priorities. These systems deliver a lot of wattage and high fidelity, but you can only use a few speakers for each amplifier. High impedance constant voltage systems, on the other hand, let you connect multiple speakers to a single amplifier over a longer distance, making them perfect for distributed audio applications.
High impedance systems work by using a transformer to raise the impedance of the system, allowing multiple speakers to be connected to a single amp. Each speaker has a step-down transformer built in, and you can add many speakers to a single amplifier if you have the right load. These systems operate at 70V in the U.S., which is just below where the National Electrical Code considers high voltage. This means sound contractors are able to run cable for 70V systems without an electrical license. Anything above 70V requires an electrician with a license. Thanks to the higher impedance, you can run the signal over longer distances without worrying about power loss issues.
Ambient Noise Compensation
One technology that is sometimes used in distributed audio applications is Ambient Noise Compensation (ANC), which is an effect found in digital signal processors like the BSS Soundweb London Series. This effect automates volume adjustment within a space and is a dynamics processor similar to a compressor or limiter. However, unlike a compressor, which adjusts the volume level based upon changes in the source audio signal (the “program audio''), ANC adjusts the volume based upon level changes in the environment (the “ambient noise”).
ANC works by using an ambient microphone (typically a small boundary microphone) installed in a location where the system can pick up ambient sound within the space (the ceiling, for example). As the volume within the space increases, the ANC system will compensate by turning the volume up. This ensures your audio can be heard clearly in noisier environments without being too loud when there are less people or less noise. The effect can be as subtle or as dynamic as you want, and the audio professionals at Guitar Center Professional can configure the system so that it responds appropriately and won’t turn up louder than you want it to.
Considerations for Distributed Audio in Houses of Worship
Now that we’ve looked at some of the key technologies in distributed audio systems, let’s turn our attention to some important considerations when contemplating the addition of one of these systems to your house of worship.
Number of Zones
One of the first things you’ll need to know when looking at distributed audio systems is the number of zones in your facility. As we’ve said before, the number of zones within a facility is different from the number of spaces that need audio. Multiple spaces within a facility can be in the same zone, or a single space can have multiple zones, and the number of zones will affect what digital signal processor you need for your application.
When you’re considering the number of zones you need, look at the types of activities that go on in the different spaces. Spaces that all need the same audio signal at the same volume can go into the same zone. If you want to turn the volume in your lobby up higher than the volume in the hallway, they will likely be in different zones, even if they receive the same audio signal. If you want all of the hallways on your first floor to play the sound from the service, but the hallways on the second floor to play music (or nothing at all), then those groups of hallways would be in two separate zones.
Types of Speakers
The most important aspect of your distributed audio system is your speakers, and there are a variety of types for different applications.
For ceiling-mounted applications, there are several options based on the height and style of your ceiling, as well as the visual style you’re going for. The most common type is the in-ceiling speaker. These (typically round) speakers are designed to be mounted nearly flush with the ceiling and are available in a variety of coverage patterns depending on your ceiling height and the number of speakers per feet you plan to install. When installing speakers into drop ceilings, it’s best to use in-ceiling speakers or specifically designed drop ceiling speakers, like the JBL LCT 81C/T, that replace an entire ceiling tile with a low-profile speaker. Finally, for taller ceilings, there are pendant speakers that hang closer to ear level and offer better clarity in these applications.
If you want to mount a speaker to your wall, there are a few different varieties to choose from. First, there are surface-mounted speakers. This essentially takes a point-source speaker and mounts it to the wall. There are a variety of mountable speaker types, ranging from small speakers designed specifically for distributed audio to larger speakers that can be used either in architectural or live sound applications. For even less obtrusive applications, there are in-wall speakers that mount nearly flush to the wall, similar to in-ceiling speakers.
Outdoor and Landscape Speakers
When you’re looking at outdoor applications, the speakers typically fall into two varieties. First, there are weatherized speakers that are essentially outdoor-friendly versions of other point-source speakers. Sometimes, the wall-mounted speaker may simply be weatherized as standard (such as the QSC AcousticDesign Series), while other times, the manufacturer takes the internals of standard speakers and applies weatherized housings (as is the case with the JBL Control 20 Series).
The other option for outdoor speakers is landscape speakers. These speakers are highly weather resistant and are designed specifically for use in outdoor landscaping applications. Speakers like the JBL Control 80 Series are available in green to blend in with the foliage, and have a “mushroom” shape that offers 360 degrees of coverage.
With either option, it’s important to consider the type of Ingress Protection (IP) rating you’ll need. There are different speakers available at different rating levels, and what level you need for your application will depend on where your speaker will be installed and your environment. The first digit in the IP rating (rated between 0 and 6) indicates how much protection the device gives against solid particles, and the second digit indicates “liquid ingress” (in other words, water protection). The best IP rating for a given application varies based on the installation location, and the experts at Guitar Center Professional can help you determine what you need for your application.
Recommended Distributed Audio Products for House of Worship
Let’s take a quick look at some of the best products for distributed audio applications in your house of worship.
Here are some of our recommended speaker options. All three of these lines have ceiling, wall, and outdoor options available, and work with both constant voltage and low Z.
- JBL Control Contractor 20 Series—This popular family of installed speakers is perfect for house of worship applications, with a variety of different options available for both ceiling and surface (wall) mounting. Part of JBL’s diverse Control Series, there are speaker options for applications of any type or size.
- QSC AcousticDesign Series—This family of premium installation speakers provide excellent quality sound that’s perfect for high-fidelity applications, with a wide range of sizes available for ceiling and surface installation.
- Electro-Voice EVID Series—This broad family of speakers includes options for every application. With surface-, ceiling-, pendant- and flush-mountable options all designed to be acoustically and aesthetically matched, they provide a consistent audio experience for your entire facility.
For distributed audio applications, there are a few options that are great for constant voltage applications in a house of worship.
- Crown CDi DriveCore Series—These powerful amplifiers bring premium sound quality and exclusive DriveCore technology in a series of amplifiers with a targeted feature set perfect for house of worship applications.
- QSC ISA Ti Series—Made specifically for commercial applications, the QSC ISA Ti Series is an ideal cost-effective solution for constant voltage distribution in houses of worship.
- Dynacord C Series—These versatile two-channel amplifiers are great for background music or live sound in installed applications, and offer advanced features like 10-band parametric EQ.
Digital Signal Processors
The core of a distributed audio system is the digital signal processor (DSP), which provides the zoning, volume control and ANC capabilities for your facility. Here are a few recommended DSPs for distributed audio in house of worship.
- QSC MP-M Series—This family of music and paging mixers has several fixed architecture options that integrate mixers and processors in a single device great for multi-zone distributed audio applications.
- BSS Soundweb London Series—With fixed I/O and expandable chassis options, along with a variety of keypads and other control interfaces, the BSS Soundweb London Series offers powerful networked DSP options for any size facility.
- Symetrix—Thanks to their wide range of analog and Dante-enabled signal processors, Symetrix brings modern DSP solutions with excellent sound control and advanced features.
- Yamaha Digital Mixing Engine (DME) Series—This range of powerful DSPs offer customizable audio solutions for a wide range of applications.
With the right products and a little bit of planning, you can use distributed audio to spread your message to more parts of your house of worship facility. In this article, we explained some of the key technologies that allow distributed audio to work properly, like audio zoning, constant voltage and ambient noise compensation. Then, we looked at some of the important considerations for a distributed audio system, including the number of zones, the outdoor rating of your speakers and the types of speakers in your facility. Finally, we looked at some key products for distributed audio. When you’re ready to bring distributed audio to your facility, reach out to the experts at Guitar Center Professional for a free consultation.