An audio monitor used during a church service can be one of many different types. The most common type of monitor used by churches are floor wedge monitors. In addition to floor wedge monitors churches may utilize HotSpot monitors and in-ear monitors. Most church facilities utilize a combination of the types listed above depending on church budget and needs. Despite the fact that each of the monitors listed above are very different in terms of cost, setup, appearance and performance they all have one thing in common, they allow the musicians, singers and speakers to hear themselves and others through the audio system. This article discusses many of the different options that are available and the pros and cons of each.
Additionally this article will discuss why monitors are needed, how to set them up and mix them effectively using a standard mixing board, additional equipment that may be needed and other considerations for their effective use.
Why Monitors Are Needed
Sound is relayed from the source to the ear as waves of energy passing through the air. These waves travel in the direction perpendicular to the speaker diaphragm in audio systems. This directionality of sound is most noticeable with higher frequencies of sound. If standing behind a speaker that is playing at loud volumes an individual will notice that the sounds are muffled as the lower frequencies are able to be discerned better than the higher frequencies. This effect is exactly what is heard by musicians, vocalists and speakers on a church platform. If there is no audio source facing them, they only hear a muffled reproduction of their voice or instrument and may not be able to hear well enough to sing harmoniously or play in time with the other vocalists and musicians. Providing audio feedback to those on the platform gives them confidence and allows for a much better experience for all those in attendance.
Floor Wedge Monitors
Floor wedge monitors are the most common type of audio monitors. These are utilized not only by churches, but by most types of vocal or musical performance. Wedge monitors typically consist of a combination of a two different speakers. These speakers allow for accurate reproduction of both high and low frequency ranges. The design of these units allow them to sit on the floor and project the sound upward toward the vocalist, musician or speaker. This design allows the audience to have a virtually unimpaired view of the stage/platform while still providing adequate sound reinforcement. The sound output and configuration of this type of monitor allows several individuals to use each monitor and thus reduces costs for churches on tight budgets.
Floor wedges can be both powered or passive, meaning that they may have a built-in amplifier (powered) or they may require an external amplifier (passive). Passive monitors are cheaper, but require a separate amplifier which can increase expenses unless an amplifer channel is already available. Several wedge monitors can be connected together to output a single monitor mix, but separate amplifier channels will be needed if multiple monitor mixes are required (monitor mixes will be discussed below). Powered wedges do not have the requirement an open amplifer channel and can receive a signal directly from the mixing board. Powered wedges may be useful for churches that do not have a permanent location.
These monitors are smaller than floor wedges and can typically be mounted onto a microphone stand for proper placement. These monitors do not provide as much volume as the larger floor wedges, but can be appropriate to provide audio reinforcement for musicians that are in a fixed position. The lower volume and more precise directionality of these monitors helps to reduce stage noise and should be utilized in place of floor wedges whenever possible.
These monitors are also available in both powered and passive varieties like the wedges above. Unlike the wedges, passive versions of these monitors can often be powered by a headphone amp or a small, inexpensive ($50) powered mixer like the Behringer XENYX 502.
Headphones and In-Ear Monitors
The best option for musicians and vocalists is the In-Ear monitor. Personal monitoring systems allow the best performance since the monitor mix can be adjusted to the preferences of each individual and at the same time it drastically reduces stage volume (the advantages of low stage volume will be discussed below). With the advent and rapid growth of the digital standards within the live audio field many companies have developed personal monitoring systems. These systems consist of a console that receives analog or digital signals from the mixing board. The console then converts analog signals to digital and conveys the signals to a receiver on the stage, this receiver then transmits the signals to the individual personal mixers. These individual mixers allow the vocalists and musicians to mix the signals exactly to their liking. The multiple components lead to the high cost of these systems.
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Most often in church sound systems a single audio engineer will mix both the front of house, what the audience hears, and the stage monitors. The main tool of the audio engineer is then the mixing board. Mixing boards come in a variety of shapes, sizes and styles but most work similarly. The engineer controls the volume of each input (microphones, instruments, sound tracks) not only for the auditorium but also for the stage/platform. Getting the appropriate mix for each monitor is then an exercise in communication between the engineer and those listening to the monitor mixes.
Mixing for Vocalists
Vocalists are notoriously picky about the monitor mix, this is especially true if two or more individuals are sharing a single mix. The audio engineer must work with each individual to ensure that everyone is able to hear adequately. Oftentimes the engineer must deal with conflicting signals from the vocalists sharing a single mix, the engineer must make adjustments that provide the most benefit for all parties involved.
Mixing for Musicians
Musicians can also be finicky about their mixes. Fortunately, they tend to be more easily accomodated than vocalists as they really only care about hearing the lead instrument, the rhythm section and themselves. Personal monitoring systems allow individual musicians to
Mixing for Speakers/Preachers
Speakers and Preachers are among the easiest to accomodate when mixing monitors because it is simply a case of increasing or decreasing their volume only. There is no need to worry about the volume levels for other signals unless the individual is accompanied by a keyboardist or organist. The audio engineer must be cautious of feedback when increasing the volume for preachers as they sometimes move around and may inadvertantly move the microphone in front of the floor wedge monitors.
As mentioned previously, sound is directional, just as those on the stage/platform need to have monitors in order to hear well, the congregation needs the front of house speakers in order to hear well. If there is too much stage noise (too many monitors) the audio engineer will have to increase the volume of the house mix in order to overcome the muffled sound emanating from the monitors and being reflected into the congregation by the walls. This is the reason that it is necessary to keep stage noise to a minimum by using HotSpot monitors and headphone or In-ear monitors whenever possible. This allows the engineer the flexibility of decreasing the volume of the house without compromising the ability of the musicians, vocalists and speakers to hear themselves.