Church Acoustics

Make a joyful noise unto the Lord, all the earth:
make a loud noise, and rejoice, and sing praise. —Ps 98:4

ASC offers a comprehensive approach to improving the acoustics in your church. We have been solving acoustic problems in churches all over the country for over 15 years. We analyze your church acoustic dilemma, design the solution, build it and ship it to your church, ready for you to install. 

We are dedicated to taking the mystery out of an often complex and confusing topic regarding Church Acoustics:

  • Church Voicing
  • Design Consulting
  • Budget Lines
  • Acoustical Analysis
  • Existing Sanctuary Tuneup
  • Fellowship Halls
  • Gymnatorium
  • Conversions
  • New Sanctuary Design

An acoustically balanced space is essential to convey the message and mission of the church through sermon, music, and congregational interaction. ASC offers turnkey acoustic improvements, from analysis/design to product installation, that are tailored to your current and future needs. A great sounding church inspires and supports both intellectual and emotional involvement, leading the congregation to unity and dedication.

Basic Concepts

Along with the manufacturing and sales of acoustical products, ASC offers a $300 initial RT-60 analysis to help customers select and use our products effectively. This service will give you a Technical Report and Reverberation Analysis and can be applied to the final purchase of an acoustic package. Additional services include:

• RT-60 Testing

Every church should have a baseline RT-60 measurement on file. This measurement is used by all sound professionals, A/V installers, etc. A new RT-60 measurement should be taken after every remodel or alteration to the Sanctuary. Even a new paint job can alter this important measurement. We'll provide complete RT-60 charts and data summary. Cost: $300 

• Recommended Acoustic Absorption Report

After the RT-60 analysis data is collected, ASC compares it to the church floorplan. We'll run the calculations to determine how many Sabins of absorption will be required to bring the RT-60 down to acceptable levels. The generated report lists how many square feet of acoustic absorption panels are needed. While this is not church voicing, it is useful information in the budgeting and fund-raising process. Cost: $300

• Sanctuary Acoustic Design

This is the process of voicing your church Sanctuary based on the needs of your congregation. This process takes the previously gathered test data to the next level by generating an acoustic placement plan with drawings and cost break downs. ASC's engineering department interfaces directly with your building committee to arrive at the best possible acoustic plan. Cost: $1000

• Whole Church Pre-Construction Plan Review

This service is for new church construction before building begins, while the project is in the planning stage. Our licensed Acoustic Engineer will review the plans and generate a detailed acoustic report with recommendations and a full acoustic plan. ASC Engineering department will interface directly with your builder, architect and building committee to address acoustic issues throughout the entire church design. The key benefit here is that we catch problems before they happen, saving time and money down the road. Cost: $3000

• Consulting By The Hour

Are you feeling completely overwhelmed and confused about acoustics for your church? ASC has the answer. Hire our Engineering Department by the hour to answer all your questions. We've been improving church sound for over 25 years, and have dealt with many of the issues unique to churches. The hourly fee for this service is $80-198/hour depending on complexity

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: Our church is considering replacing the current carpeting. What are the various alternatives available and what impact do they have on the acoustics?

This is a classic question asked time and time again. Let's examine the impact of carpeting in the sanctuary. Carpets kill sibilance - the "tssss" "shhhh" sounds. This takes the life out of the sonic aire. Carpets have no effect on the vowel sounds - a, e, i, o, u. The issue with acoustics is, to a significant degree, the frequency response of the material. Carpet kills treble and does nothing to the bass.

Generally, carpeted floors are not good for congregational singing. They leave the singing space too dull and boomy. On the other hand, if you like the sound of your sanctuary with the current carpet, then you should replace the carpet with a like carpet. If it feels too dead, particularly for congregational singing, consider removing, rather than replacing, the carpet. As an alternative, you might consider Berber which has a very tight weave and does almost nothing to the sound, but it is rather expensive.

The point is that hard surfaces support congregational singing and, generally speaking, churches like to have bright and lively sounding congregational areas. Many churches have carpeted walkways and wood or concrete flooring under the pews. This way there is a quiet entry and exit path with a lively singing space.

Another carpet problem to consider is that when a piano is played over carpet it dulls the sound. Try adding an office chair plastic carpet protector under the piano and you'll hear how it brightens up and starts to actually sound like a real wood instrument. Choirs are plagued by the same problem. Putting a choir on a carpeted floor is like pulling out their vocal chords.

In contrast to this, putting carpet on the floors under the chairs in Sunday school and in office spaces is an excellent idea. The rooms tend to be smaller and there is a lot of "creature noises", such as shifting chairs, bodies, and papers. Carpet is great at quieting these noises.

Be sure you know the reasons why you want to change carpet before doing so. This will help you select the best solution for your situation. Remember, any change in the acoustics load will appear in the voice of the room. Carpet has lots of fibers which present acoustic friction. Removing carpet changes the amount of acoustic friction in the room, which changes the reverberation of the room.

Q: Our sound technician keeps complaining about echoes and feedback and always tries to fix them by buying new speakers and microphones and moving everything around, but the problem is never completely fixed. Is he doing something wrong?

This is exactly what people always try first. They generally exhaust themselves dealing with this very issue. They buy more and more electronic equipment without ever getting the improvement they need until they're finally ready to give up on the allure of electronics, sit down, and listen and learn about the world of acoustics.

Acoustics is a whole world, invisible to the eye, but very audible to the ear. Once the sound is launched in the air, only acoustics can help guide it to where it is supposed to go. That's what we do at ASC. We take over where the electronics leave off. Here is how we work: we get photos, floor plans, elevations, descriptions of the problem, and often times audio recordings from you. Then we estimate the probable cost for the "fix" for your particular situation. Now you have a budget to talk about. Once you decide that your ready to start working to fix the problem, we analyze the problem in detail, design and build the solution and you install it. You get to skip the middle man by purchasing the proper solution direct from the factory.

We can also work with your audio technician, train them to do the testing we need to analyze the room, provide appropriate photos, and conduct interviews. We do our homework before we invest any time in working up a design. We have to know what the rules are within the church so we can work within those guidelines.

To answer some of your specific concerns, you should know that it is the echoes that create feedback. Sound technicians are always fighting "gain before feedback". Improving the on-stage acoustics is one way to improve this. Eliminating echoes also helps to improve the mic problems. Of course, it is always a good idea to first check to make sure the sound system is set up properly and not aimed directly at the microphones. Beyond this, it is the acoustics that can make the necessary improvements.

Q: My church is undergoing an interior restoration/rennovation project. There are many things we are considering in our endeavor, but the one major object involves the placement of our church organ and choir. I have heard that the best acoustical position for the organ is on the main axis of the church. Can you confirm this or shed some light on this theory?

What would be the best acoustical positions for the choir and organ? First, it's important to note that the physical location of the organ keyboard is one thing and the locations of the pipes or speakers is another. The type of organ or keyboard can make a difference as to where to best place it. An organ is typically played in a reverberant space. Organ music is written so that the reverberation left over from the prior note mixes with the sound of the next note to form a chord. It is important to protect the reverberant part of the sanctuary for the sake of the organ. The organ is usually located in a position that easily and loudly stimulates the reverberation of the hall in which it is located. If you move the organ, you change the relationship between the sound generated by the organ and the reverberation of the hall. The ceiling often has impact on how the sound is stored and diffused throughout the space. If you move the organ, it will change how the sound is fed to the ceiling, changing the way it sounds in the hall. Organs are often located along the centerline of a church so that they can stimulate as much reverberation in the room as possible.

It's a good idea to contact the organ manufacturer or installer before moving the organ. They usually have a lot of experience matching the organ to the hall.

Everything pertaining to the organ also applies to the choir. Except that the choir must also be able to hear themselves. Placing the choir in a gallery allows some of the sound to be held within the gallery. The choir sound heard by the congregation is "pre-blended" by the walls, ceiling, and floor of the gallery. This makes their sound sweeter, more full, and almost larger than life. The people in the choir can hear themselves and each other because they are essentially singing in a room that happens to have a large door (the opening to the rest of the church). Choir members who can hear themselves and each other better stay in tune and on tempo better.

If you move the choir too far out into the open they struggle against the thinness of their sound. However, there are some churches who tire of the old world sounds of worship. The reverberant organ and choir may no longer be a valued part of their service. Perhaps the organ is being moved forward to join a contemporary praise band. Likewise, the choir may be being turned into the backup vocalists for the lead voices in the band. In this case, gut the old gallery, turn it into a spotlight deck and get on with the show. But, be aware that now their is a whole new issue of acoustics to deal with: the interaction of amplified sound within your reverberant hall. (See FAQ above.)

Q: We are building a new sanctuary and we're trying to decide between flat or vaulted ceiling. Which would be better for the acoustics?

A shallow vaulted ceiling is better than a flat ceiling. Most churches build their vaults running front to back so that there is a high wall section at the front. However, a shallow vaulted ceiling actually sounds better if the vault runs side to side. This is because the sound is stored in the high volume part of the space, which is located under the peak of the vault. So, the sound is stored side to side in the area where the people sit.

Furthermore, people's ears are separated sideways so we are more sensitive to side to side sounds. People tend to like the spacious effect of side to side sound storage. A slightly sloped ceiling at the front of the church moves sound away from the front towards the congregation, keeping the launched sound clear and unmuddled. A slightly sloped ceiling towards the back of the seating area compresses the sound coming from the front making it louder for people sitting further away, which is good, too.

A slightly sloped ceiling still keeps the sound of congregational singing within the congregation, where it belongs, just like a flat ceiling does, which is good. Flat ceilings are not good, though. All sounds that hit the flat ceiling are reflected back down to the floor at the same time. The timing for floor-ceiling reflections is the same everywhere in the church. This creates a horrible droning tone problem.

Remember that, no matter whether you build your church with flat ceiling or sloped ceiling, or which direction you aim your vault, you will still need to address the acoustics of the space. This means you will typically need ASC acoustical treatment on the back wall and on the side walls.

The front of the church is usually built with a raised stage that is carpeted. You'll want to make sure the stage is quieted from drumming and thudding sounds by building it with ASC WallDamp between the joints and filling the cavity under the stage with ASC SonicSnow. The front of most churches can be left fairly reflective.

Choir areas need proper design. Don't put them out in the open, they need reflections returned to them so they can hear themselves and stay in tune. Don't use carpet under the piano or choir. Carpet the speaking area and, if there is a praise band, you'll need additional ASC acoustics to get the loudness under control and to get the mics working right.

Use one high central speaker cluster for speech and two side main speakers for music. Only the soloist should sing through the central cluster.

Things always work best if you design the church from the beginning around the acoustics. After all, if people can't hear what's being said, they stop coming.

An Example: New Life Center Springfield, Oregon

The New Life Center was looking to refurnish the interior of his sanctuary after smoke damage. The church essentially had a blank canvas to work with, and acoustics was the element of the reconstruction that needed the most attention. Pastor Todd Wagner and others at the church had a range of choices for acoustic products and consultation opportunities, but after hearing from the sound engineer and one of their parishioners about Noxon, the New Life Center felt confident in what he could provide.

A Beautiful Process

The church was faced with a number of acoustic problems. It is often difficult for untrained church staff to recognize acoustic problems, and it is common for a church to resort to electronic fixes—new speakers and microphones.

The area under the balcony was designed to house the sound engineer's equipment. The ceiling of the space has an Acoustic Coffered Ceiling. "When you find yourself buying a new sound system to replace a perfectly good sound system, you know that your problem is acoustics," says Noxon. So Noxon uses engineering, and a lot of interviewing, to discover his client's acoustic problems.

"We felt like Art knew what he was doing, and we approached him with specific problems," says Pastor Wagner. "He wanted to know the church's goals, what we do during services, because there are different styles of worship."

The information Noxon gathered about the New Life Center is the same information he seeks when working on any church, no matter the location.

"We have a pretty good system of getting all the right information, so that a church doesn't have to spend money to fly me out to the site," says Noxon. This helps to keep the church's investment purely in the materials, rather than sink money into travel expenses, blueprints, and consultation fees, and allows Noxon to work with clients across the country.

The information Noxon gathers includes technical data—room dimensions building materials, and the sound equipment used during the services—as well as more unique and personal information. Noxon likes to know the style of worship, and he will speak with members of the choir, ministry and congregation, to make sure that he has a good understanding of all of the church's acoustic issues."

I don't try to impose a design for them to adapt to," says Noxon. "I instead try to facilitate what they do. I learn what they do during services, and then try to acoustically optimize each part. It's a beautiful process, because each part is able to function as part of the whole."

With services that utilize multimedia presentations, a choir, piano and praise band, the New Life Center had to find a balance between all of the elements. But a balance was hard to achieve in an untreated space. The choir members felt isolated, unable to hear one another and failing to connect with one another.

The praise band, complete with acoustic and electric instruments, was wrestling with the monitors and microphones, so they would not overpower the room.

Finally, the musicians needed a controlled environment that allowed them to hear themselves and play at comfortable levels, while still filling the sanctuary with a balanced amount of sound. But acoustic problems were affecting the entire space, not just the choir and praise band."There was so much reverberation and echo, we needed to smooth out the room," says Pastor Wagner.

Noxon discovered that members of the congregation were not hearing sermons and readings as clearly as they could, and when singing hymns, they felt isolated and without energy.

Breathing New Life

So how did Noxon approach the problems with the New Life Center's acoustics? With seemingly conflicting needs for the various parts of the service, the challenge was to not compromise one element for the other. The solution came from breaking down the sanctuary into different spaces, and making sure that each part had its acoustic needs met, and matched well with the other parts.

Noxon's constant communication with various members of the church was helpful in creating solutions that balanced the acoustics. For example, Noxon discovered that the choir members could not hear themselves, and so he brought back the traditional choir loft found in many older churches. To experiment with the idea, he had the members of choir rehearse in their usual spots, but with no carpet and no padded seats. Then, by setting up cafeteria tables around the choir, he was able to box them into a reverberant and lively space.

"They heard it, and they loved it, because they could hear each other," says Noxon. "It was more real, more natural, and more of what they should expect." So Noxon had the church install a knee-high wall to surround the choir, and gave them an active and ambient choir loft that can be heard in the congregation.

The opposite was done to the praise band space, which was also closed in with a short wall.  This time, Noxon called for ASC SoundPlanks to absorb and diffuse the sound, making the praise band space sound more like a session studio. The sound that flowed over the top of the wall was filtered, clean and crisp, with no more monitor, microphone, or sound system feedback problems. So each side of the stage has a different acoustic theme that addresses the need of each group: an acoustically "live" space for the choir, and an acoustically "dead" space for the praise band.

For the rest of the sanctuary, Noxon incorporated a field of SoundPlanks on the back wall, letting the sound from the stage flow through the audience, but preventing it from bouncing back and cluttering up the sound. No acoustic products were placed on the side walls, so the congregation could hear the many side-to-side reflections that their singing, clapping, and speaking would create. The result is a controlled reverberant space that can build up the volume and energy of the congregation as it sings a hymn or applauds, making services more emotional and confident.

Other solutions Noxon designed into the package included two sets of SoundPanels that were custom designed for the face of two laminated beams.

"The first thing done was the treatment on the beams, and that was a noticeable difference," says Pastor Wagner. The beams were interfering with the ceiling-mounted speaker box, and the SoundPanels helped remove the noise and clamor that the congregation heard from the sound system.

A Win-Win Situation

With the range of solutions Noxon offered, the New Life Center has come back from its smoke and fire damage far ahead of where it was before. The confidence of the congregation has increased, and the services have become more smooth and energetic. But with acoustics, good design should make problems disappear.

"I want the whole experience of sound during a worship to be transparent," says Pastor Wagner. "If it's right, you don't think about it."

Noxon's design has proven that he can create good acoustics without compromises, as long as his clients trust his system.

"It's easy for a consultant to come into your church and do a big pony show of tests that look impressive, but church acoustics is personal. What works the best is to focus on what the people of the church need," says Noxon.

Noxon shows a sense of pride in how he has been able to improve the acoustics at churches like the New Life Center. The New Life Center was a unique project because Noxon was allowed the opportunity to create a brand new acoustic space from top to bottom.

"The New Life Center was great to work with because— outside of the basic shape of the hall—I was given a blank canvas," says Noxon. "When you start over with a clean state, you can carve something out that's beautiful and complete, and I was happy to be a part of that."