Assessing Needs For Sound Systems

By Richard Honeycutt

In this article, Richard Honeycutt addresses the importance of assessing the need for sound systems before designing them. It includes a checklist.

Photo of a fellowship hall.Some years ago, I was asked to design a sound system for a new church fellowship hall with a seating capacity of 450 people. Upon looking at the plans, I found that the electrical engineer engaged by the architect had already provided for a system—of sorts— and had even included a line item for it in the budget. The only attention given to acoustics was the specification of a very absorptive acoustical ceiling. While certainly the two column speakers and the 4-channel mixer-amplifier he specified could have been installed at that time for the amount he allowed, this EE-driven design immediately revealed two things: the EE had a very limited concept of a sound system, and it never entered his mind to discuss the tech system needs with the pastor, the MoM, or even the building committee.

Old PA amp

Old PA amp

At that time, this church had a very active youth choir who made an interstate or international mission trip each summer to conduct Bible schools in disadvantaged areas. On each trip, they presented concerts of the contemporary Christian music of the day. Either before or after the mission trip, they presented the concert to the home congregation.

The youth choir also presented at least one musical drama each year, involving solo and group singers, acoustic and electric guitars, and prerecorded accompaniment. These dramas always required a mixer, located so that the operator had a clear view of the stage.

The church also presented an annual lecture series featuring a renowned Bible scholar. These lectures were always recorded for distribution to interested members.

photo of a line arrayOur friends the architect and the EE were no more guilty of negligence than the highly qualified consultant or contractor who enters every project with a “rock-worship megachurch” preconception. It is an easy misstep from knowing how to design an excellent system for a familiar venue to assuming that every venue’s needs are the same.

The first step in proper design of a sound system is needs assessment. This process should always involve all stakeholders in the system’s performance: pastors, MoM’s, lay leaders, youth leaders, and a few of the congregational rank and file, especially some hearing-challenged ones.

Below, I include a list of questions that I pose when assessing needs for a church venue. A similar list could easily be created for educational, corporate, or other venues, and for video systems. Certainly this list is not all-inclusive, but it can serve as a discussion-starter. Please add items that you think should be addressed, and challenge items that you believe to be unimportant. Then this blog can turn into a learning experience for the whole Heard! (Italic text included between curly braces is not sent to the client.)

Download a pdf of the below questions – Assessing_Needs_For_Sound_Systems



  • (1) What is your venue designed for? (Traditional worship[what kind?], blended worship, contemporary worship [what kind?], drama, classical music performance, contemporary music performance) _______________________________________________
    {The first question is very involved: traditional worship can be defined as country Gospel, African-American Gospel, Handel and Bach, or several styles in between, depending upon what the church’s “tradition” is. Contemporary worship can range from late-1960’s-style folk worship to Christian rock.}
  • (2) What are the start and finish dates you are planning? _________________________
  • (3) Do you have a target budget figure for sound, video, and lighting? ____________
  • (4) Are you planning to broadcast services on radio, television or by web streaming? _________


  • (1) How many wired microphones (maximum) do you need at any one time? Typically this will include a pulpit and or a lectern mic, maybe choir mics, a piano microphone if needed for recording, and one or more portable microphones for miscellaneous speakers and/or vocalists. Contemporary worship and drama often require more microphones. ________________[Enter estimated number]
  • (2) How many wireless microphones (maximum) do you need at any one time? Wireless microphones are more expensive than wired microphones, and, being more complex, require more service in the long run. Their extreme portability makes them very handy, though, so it is often a good idea to include at least one lavalier or earset (headworn) wireless mic and one handheld. ______________[Enter estimated number]
  • (3) Of the wireless mics, how many should be handheld? _____ clip-on lavalier?_____ earset? _____
  • (4) What musical instruments will need to be amplified in the sound system? ________________________________________________________________________
  • (5) Do you have listeners who would benefit from an electronic hearing assistance system? If so, about how many? ________ [Enter number]
  • {Although Federal law does not require churches to adhere to the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act), local codes may, and certainly concern for our fellow people makes the investment of a hearing assistance system in every venue a good idea.}
  • (6) Do you need to record on CD? ___________ computer? __________ video? ______________ (A few churches still record on cassette, since it is less expensive for the recorder, but most have found that members often like to listen in their cars, and for most modern cars, that means CD. High-speed CD duplicators are actually less expensive than good high-speed cassette duplicators.)
  • (7) How many copies of each recording do you expect to make per week? _________________audio _________________video
  • (8) Do you use recorded accompaniment tracks? ____________ Will these be: (circle all that apply) CD, cassette, MP3 player, minidisk?
  • (9) Will there be remote speakers in nurseries, cry rooms, vestibule, offices, fellowship hall or parish hall? _____ How many? ____
  • (10) Will the system send or receive a signal to/from another room? (E.g., feed to a nursery, cry room, fellowship hall or parish hall) If so, how many rooms? ______________[Please enter number of rooms.]
  • (11) Will there be an operator for the system at all functions that will use more than one microphone? ______{In other words, is an auto-mixing system needed?}
  • (12) How technically adept are your operators?   {This is important information to know before considering a digital mixer.}

Let the Heard hear from you!

The Mixing booth

The mixer

Richard A. Honeycutt developed an interest in acoustics and electronics while in elementary school. He assisted with film projection, PA system operation, and audio recording throughout middle and high school. He has been an active holder of the First Class Commercial FCC Radiotelephone license since 1969, and graduated with a BS in Physics from Wake Forest University in 1970, after serving as Student Engineer and Student Station Manager at 50-kW WFDD-FM.  His career includes writing engineering and maintenance documents for the Bell Telephone System, operating a loudspeaker manufacture company, teaching Electronics Engineering Technology at the college level, designing and installing audio and video systems, and consulting in acoustics and audio/video design. He earned his Ph.D. in Electroacoustics from the Union Institute in 2004. He is known worldwide as a writer on electronics, acoustics, and philosophy. His two most recent books are Acoustics in Performance  and The State of Hollow-State Audio, both published by Elektor.