The Role of an Acoustic consultant

The Role of an Acoustic Consultant (Part 2)

An acoustic consultant is an expert who you hire to design your church’s acoustics and your sound system. Some consultants specialize in acoustics, while others specialize in sound system design. Many of the larger firms have people who do both. A consultant needs a good technical education in his field, and a lot of experience designing sound systems for churches and performance spaces. Most have earned degrees in acoustics, physics, or engineering. The sound system consultant needs a solid understanding of both acoustics and electronics, as well as ongoing education to keep up with advances in the field.
The acoustic consultant will help your architect develop the shape and layout of your worship space. He or she will help choose the room finishes for the ceiling walls, floors in order to provide the room acoustics which are best for your congregation’s style of worship. Which (if any) floors should be carpeted? Should there be pew cushions? Where should the choir be located? The praise band? The organ? The acoustic consultant will also work with the architect to make sure the church is quiet — HVAC systems, elevator motors, door latches, and the like are some of the key concerns.
Organ companies and music stores are notoriously bad at providing advice on the design of acoustics and sound systems. A true consultant is independent of stores, contractors, and manufacturers. Many salesmen have begun calling themselves consultants, but they lack both the education and the independence to legitimately do so. They make their living on the profit or commission from sale of equipment and the labor to install it. One of the most important things a good consultant will have to do is help you make hard decisions during both the design and budget process. And they must help you choose between different brands of equipment, and choose the best sound contractor in your area to sell and install your system. Put simply, you need expert, impartial advice. You need to be confident that he or she is technically correct, and is advising you in your best interests, not their own.
Lest this sound like a blanket indictment of sound contractors, allow me to add one important caveat here. There are a handful of contractors around the country who have someone on staff capable of designing systems to meet the complex needs of a contemporary church, and who can be trusted to really have their clients best interests at heart. In most cases, these individuals are the consultants of tomorrow. But your chances of finding them, and, when you do, knowing the difference between them and a good salesman who knows all the right words, are quite slim. And even if you did, their advice on the hard decisions would still carry less weight both with you and your architect when it came to making the hard decisions, even though it may be perfectly good advice.

Doing It Right The First Time

It really is much better to do it right the first time. And a lot less costly, in the long run, when you realize that most, if not all, of the money spent on the first two systems is wasted! Here are some of the things a good consultant will do when a church (or a new sound system for an existing space) is being designed.
1. Send a questionnaire to be filled in by the pastor and by members of the technical and praise and worship teams. This does two things. It helps the consultant understand the congregation’s unique needs, and it gets the team leaders thinking about them in a more thoughtful way.
2. Once the questionnaires have been returned, meet with the respondents and other key members to work through all the important planning decisions which can affect acoustics and audio.
3. If a new system is to be installed in an existing space, take acoustic measurements in the space to be used at the design stage.
4. Prepare a written report summarizing all of the decisions reached during the meeting, describing all of the uses which will be made of the worship space and the functions which the sound system should provide, along with a rough budget for the sound system.
5. Work with the architect to get the acoustics right for the intended uses, and to prevent noise from both inside (HVAC systems, motors, transformers, door latches, footsteps in the hall, etc.) and outside the building (highways, airplanes) from intruding into the worship space.
6. Work with the electrical engineer for the project to get clean technical power and grounding, so that everyday operation of the system is not troubled by hums and buzzes, and conduit for sound system wiring.
7. Work with the mechanical engineer for the project to make sure that HVAC systems are quiet.
8 Work with the architect to find good ways to conceal loudspeakers, either by building them into ceilings and walls, or by turning them into architectural elements which don’t look like loudspeakers.
9. Work with the architect and the congregation on both the shape and layout of the worship space, so that, for example, choirs are in a location where they can be miked without feedback, and so that the relationship between the choir, praise band, organ, and congregation allows the choir to be heard without being overpowered by the praise band or the organ.
10. Design a sound system which provides both good intelligibility for the spoken Word and clean dynamic sound for the musical elements of praise and worship, and which is well balanced throughout the congregation.
11. Design system elements which provide good sound to those on the platform.
12. Review architectural, electrical, and mechanical drawings before they go out to bid to make sure that things worked out at the design stage actually show up satisfactorily on the drawings.
13. Help the congregation work through budget issues. Sound systems nearly always cost more than the congregation expects or is prepared to pay. Some parts of the system can usually be deferred and purchased later, but it’s usually necessary to dedicate more money to the sound system than was originally planned. These are sometimes hard decisions, and it’s important to be working with someone you trust in working through them.
14. Document the system thoroughly with drawings, a specification, and a make/model specific equipment list so that it can be competitively purchased from a good local contractor.
15. Help you find a good contractor to install the system, and help you either bid or negotiate the purchase with that contractor.
16. Coordinate with the contractor during the installation process to make sure things are done right, and work through the conflicts with other building elements which inevitably develop in any major construction project.
17. Once the system is installed and tested, come in to work with the sound contractor to tune and balance the system to the worship space, and to verify that the contractor did his work well.

Read more … Part 3. Finding A Good Consultant

by Jim Brown
AUDIO SYSTEMS GROUP, INC. 4875 N Ravenswood Ave Chicago, IL 60640 773/728-0565 jim@audiosystemsgroup.com