Connecting Assistive Listening Systems in Houses of Worship

The last two issues we have looked at what houses of worship can do to help those with hearing losses and examined some of the assistive listening systems on the market. If your church has purchased such a system – what is the best way to connect it to the church sound system?

The simplest way is to just feed audio from the main sound system output to the assistive listening system. While this can work and can be an improvement over no assistive listening system, the needs of the congregation as a whole and those with hearing loss are not identical. Therefore the mix should ideally be different.

When mixing for the congregation you balance the sound from the sound system with that generated acoustically by ear to deliver the best possible blend of live and reinforced sound. Those using an assistive listening system will hear much less of the live sound in the room and most will hear the sound you send them. This means they would be best served by an independent mix created with their needs in mind, which will not be exactly the same as the normal sound system mix. Typically this is done via an AUX mix on the console.

Because they will hear very little of the live sound in the room, they may need things in their mix which are either not in the sound system mix or there at a very low level. Conversely, since those with hearing loss tend to have greater difficulty distinguishing voices from music and room sounds, they may well benefit from a mix where the voices stand out relative to the music.

Since intelligibility of words is more difficult for those with a hearing loss, you will probably not want to send any reverb or ambient microphones to the assistive listening system, since reverb while pleasing tends to reduce intelligibility.

During spoken word portions of the service, you will want to make sure that only the microphones actually being used are feeding the assistive listening system. That way the assistive system is being sent the clearest possible sound with no added background noise or sound from microphones not actively being used.

If you have the ability to filter or equalize the sound sent to the assistive listening system, you might consider filtering out sound lower than around 100 to 200 Hz. This will reduce the bass portion of the music, but also will help intelligibility. A very broad (1 to 2 octaves wide) but slight EQ boost centered at around 2 to 3 kHz of just a few dB will also help since that frequency range carries much of the speech intelligibility information. Too much boost can make the sound harsh so do not overdo this.

Those with significant hearing loss will sometimes turn their level up to the point where members of the congregation around them can hear the sound. To make this less noticeable it can help to delay the sound to the assistive listening system so it arrives at around the same time or slightly after the sound from the sound system. The sound from the loudspeakers has to travel through the air to reach the congregation. The distance between the loudspeakers and the congregation adds approximately 1 ms of delay from every foot of distance. Obviously, the delay varies depending on how far from the loudspeakers someone sits.

The assistive listening system, on the other hand, gets the sound with essentially zero delays. Since the ear tends to pick the first arrival of a sound as the “source”, the slight audible leakage from a user of an assistive listening system will be identified by the ear as the “source” of the sound thus calling attention to itself. Adding a small amount of delay in the sound sent to the assistive listening system can allow the sound from the loudspeakers to arrive first. Obviously, too much delay is not good either.

Assistive listening systems can be a big help to many in the congregation. The above should help you make the most of this important technology.

Ray Rayburn, FAES

Ray has been an engineer in acoustics, audio systems, and telecommunications for over 30 years. He is the current chair of the AES Standards Subcommittee on Interconnections, is the author of Technologies for Worship Magazine’s bi-weekly audio newsletter and was one of the authors of the Handbook for Sound Engineers.

Ray has created some of the most advanced software-based project designs in use today, including the United States Senate Chamber, and taught the “advanced users” training seminars on the MediaMatrix configurable DSP product.

As a recording engineer for RCA, Ray recorded the Chicago Symphony, the Philadelphia Orchestra, and Frank Zappa. In 2009, Ray was made a Fellow in the Audio Engineering Society.

Billy Graham Crusade Selects Listen For Language Interpretation

Billy Graham Ministries in Europe had a need for a two-channel language interpretation system for the upcoming crusade in Riga, Latvia (formerly part of the Soviet Union). Riga is the capital and largest city of Latvia, one of the major industrial, commercial, cultural, and financial centers of the Baltics.  Riga’s historical center has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site, so they reached out to their counterparts at the Billy Graham Ministries headquartered in North Carolina to inquire about possible equipment to meet this important need.
This led the office in North Carolina to consult their trusted local audio provider who recommended the Listen Technologies language interpretation solutions for sound quality, ease of use and flexible frequencies for this part of Europe. The local dealer contacted Listen to work out the design details and a nice solution was formed.
billy-graham-crusadeThe crusades will begin in November and are part of the Ceribas Festivals featuring Franklin Graham as the keynote speaker.

The goal is in this eastern European country of Latvia is to build up values and let them know that there is hope! The Listen language interpretation system will be used to ensure their message of hope is heard “loud & clear.”


Beyond The Sanctuary with Listen Audio Solutions

Have you ever had a need for audio in an area of your church, but have no solutions on how to get it there? Do your patrons complain that the current audio system is unintelligible or too quiet? How have you maximized the experience of your congregants who do not speak the language of the sermon? Our worship houses are growing larger and becoming more complex. Many have audio needs in preexisting buildings where wiring cannot be run. Here are some great ideas about how to use wireless FM audio to meet your congregation’s needs.


Assistive Listening
Houses of worship regularly use FM wireless auditory assistance systems for the hearing impaired. What is an assistive listening system? Any method to get a sound system or voice audio directly to the ear of a hearing-impaired individual.  An FM system will broadcast the signal much like a radio station with electromagnetic waves. As with a radio station, any FM receiver that is tuned into the nearby frequency will receive the message.
Advantages of an FM system include:
  • Low installation and maintenance costs
  • Excellent sound quality
  • Wide broadcast area (no line of sight issues)
  • Will work indoors and out
  • Allow for multiple channels to be used simultaneously and can be used in fixed and portable applications
  • As many receivers as needed
Typically in a house of worship, a stationary base transmitter is used to broadcast the audio from the main sound system to hearing impaired individuals wearing body-pack receivers.
The advantages of FM Systems offer many other benefits for houses of worship using the same RF Systems. The goal of this article is to inform you of these expanded applications with a hope that they may help your house of worship to be a more compelling establishment for the public to attend.
Language Interpretation

As the communities become more culturally diverse, so does the need for simultaneous language interpretation in houses of worship. This saves time by integrating the church services and the congregation in cases in which they have been previously separated.

One example is Shadow Mountain Community Church in El Cajon, CA. The church has a congregation of 6,000 and used to have three separate services. Now interpreters provide real-time simultaneous language interpretation in Arabic, Spanish and other languages, with one channel dedicated to assistive listening. Worship services are now more fully integrated, as is their church, which is deeply satisfying to them all.

Remote Monitoring/Wireless Audio Distribution
A self-powered speaker with a built-in receiver picks up the broadcast and the service can be heard in the remote room. There is also a stationary receiver/power amplifier available.
Here are a few applications using wireless audio distribution:
  • Nursery / Cry-room
  • Foyers, the front of a church, or parking lot
  • Office
  • Restrooms
  • Choir, ministry or theatrical dressing room cueing
  • Overflow area (for special events)
  • Remote/detached buildings and other rooms
Tour Group
Touring the facility has become very popular for many houses of worship. Often, visitors from the same faith or other faiths want to see the beautiful architecture of the building. Many buildings are so large and vast that the group has a very difficult time hearing the guide. Using a tour group system, the group can now hear the leader. What a great way to show off the architecture of your beautiful building!
Here are a few ideas that can incorporate the use of a portable FM system:
  • Tours of the facility
  • Location tours
  • Mission tours
  • Youth group tours
  • Tours requiring language interpretation
  • Wireless audio feed for videotaping of tour

Summary of Applications
So, I have given you many situations where wireless FM can be a great solution. Please take a look around your facility and look for opportunities where the audio structure may be needed.

How Loud Is Loud Enough?

The battle is almost as old as the church sound system.  It has always baffled me that the pipe organ can be played at 100dB, but that when the band plays at 100dB, it’s often “too loud.”  We’re not here today to define how loud is “loud enough” or “too loud” for the acoustic volume of your worship service, but to help figure out how much difference there should be between what your congregation hears from the main sound system and what the congregation hears from the monitor speakers, instruments, and amplifiers on the platform, in order to hear the sound system with acceptable clarity.
To allow optimal clarity of sound in the seating area, the main sound system needs to be about 25dB SPL louder than the volume from the monitors, instrument amplifiers, and acoustic instruments. That may not sound like a big deal, but it is. 
If the platform participants require monitor volume that spills over into the main seating area at 90dB SPL, your main speaker system must be about 115dB SPL to compensate. 
An average sound pressure level of 115dB is much too loud for long periods and impossible to attain in most settings, so it makes sense that the monitor volume (as it relates to the room) must be reduced in order to improve the overall clarity of the system.
Managing the acoustic sound from live drums, live instrument amplifiers, and associated monitor volumes can be a nightmare. Guitar amps sound best when they’re wide open (loud) and a guitar player’s sound is his or her signature. Same with the bass player and the drummer. 
Have you noticed how much more tone a drum set has when it’s played hard than when it’s played lightly?  Therein lies the problem. 
Everything sounds better when they’re loud enough. Unfortunately “loud enough” on stage often forces the sound technician to balance the “it’s too loud” snarls from the audience with making the mix feel good out front.

Provide Assistive Listening Systems

Provide Assistive Listening Systems (ALS) for your congregation and let people know that they’re available.

Many churches have Assistive Listening Systems (ALS) on premises, but very few let people know that they’re available.  I’ll admit that ALS may well be the most boring category of product that we offer, but let me tell you about my own experience.  A few years ago, my own church decided to install an ALS system.  The church leadership debated its merits and whether it “was worth it to spend $800 on something that people may not use.”  I’ll bet that sounds familiar to some of you. 

The first day of use, we passed out just one of the four receivers to Mr. Borton, a 92-year-old man in the congregation who already wore hearing aids in both ears, but still couldn’t hear well.  Our pastor had prepared well, our worship team was well-rehearsed, and the audio mix was, of course, spectacular with Yours Truly at the helm.  None of that mattered. 

For at least a couple years, Mr. Borton had been so deaf that he never picked up more than an occasional word, despite hearing aids, a good sound system, and sitting on the third row.  A person had to almost yell at him in order for him to hear anything at all. 

This day was different, and Mr. Borton’s first reaction is known only to the members of our choir who witnessed it.  Before the choir’s featured song, the pastor called the children up to the platform to share a story.  Only the choir members could see Mr. Borton’s face light up and his eyes dart back and forth as he followed what was taking place on the platform.  After the service, he gave me a huge smile, a thumbs up, and each week after that, I looked forward to his stopping by to pick up his receiver and earphones.  We got our “$800 worth” during the first service. 

Have you ever listened to a hearing aid?  I tried one once, and it was enough to make me realize that amplifying all of the noise in the room just makes the clutter louder. 

How does an ALS work differently?  An ALS is a simple one-way radio transmitter/receiver combination that allows the wearer to hear only what you want the person to hear. 

Imagine giving your members the ability to hear only the overall message itself without having to amplify the HVAC fans, the ambience of the room, paper rattling and pages turning, or even the people talking nearby.  That’s exactly what an ALS offers.  Any signal that you can select from your mixer (same as the speakers, a special mix, or the pastor’s voice only) can be routed into the ALS with a simple cable. 

Without a doubt, our ALS was the best $800 our church has ever spent on technology. If it had made a difference for Mr. Borton for only one service, it would have still been worth every penny. 

ALS can also be utilized for language translation, by your ushers, and for room-to-room distributed audio for nursery and overflow space – wirelessly. Visit our assistive listening for churches page for a free demo.

The Joys Of A Carefully Planned Sound System

A good sound system does not just happen! It requires careful consideration, professional evaluation, proper planning and an ongoing relationship with a trusted sound system professional.

We realize that most churches have a significant amount of monies and time already invested in their sound systems, and a lot of preparation goes into making sure you are ready for your Holiday services and Christmas programs.
Your congregation’s hearing of the spoken word is R&M Consulting’s highest priority and reward! We have developed a Holiday checklist for AV system efficiency we hope you will find helpful as you prepare for the next few weeks.
Holiday Checklist for A/V System Efficiency
  • Have all microphones been checked for FCC compliance?
  • Are all speakers working and can the talker be heard from every seat in the church?
  • Is all sound system equipment in proper working condition?
  • Do all microphones work properly and have windscreens, reliable stands and batteries where needed?
  • Is your video equipment functioning properly?
  • Do you have all necessary Assisted Listening Devices and equipment?
  • Will you need to purchase or rent any special equipment for concerts, plays or special guests?
  • Do your sound system operators know how to properly use all equipment and find system documentation in case of emergency?
 Also, if you are in Northern Illinois, Indiana, or Southern Wisconsin we offer a complimentary evaluation at no charge to your church. During this site visit, we are able to check over all equipment, meet sound system personnel and gain an overall vision of the churches present needs and future plans.
This visit is valued at over $500. Sometimes, minor repairs and adjustments can be made on the spot, again at no charge to you!
By spending an hour of your time with R&M Consulting; we can make sure you are getting the most out of your investment and help your plan for areas of future need. Not only will you receive our complimentary evaluation, but also a written report with our recommendations, all at no charge to your church.
We are here to help!

Audio Opportunities for Houses of Worship

The economy has been the topic of news media for the past few years and I for one am tired of hearing about it. Many areas of the country might even be faced with economic problems for years to come; so some of us will need to get used to it. My firm does a fair amount of work with my friends at churches and I thought I might put to paper some of the things that have been going on.
When budgets get shaved, it seems like everything can come to a halt. But should it? There are many things we have been doing that have helped keep people busy and some of them may even save you money in the end.
As far as audio goes, the folks installing wireless microphones have been busy. We started having issues with 700 MHz equipment well before the FCC mandated for us to get out of that frequency band. I live near one of the largest Catholic Cathedrals in North America (St. Cecilia’s, Omaha, NE) and we received calls to service the wireless equipment there as early as a year before the 700 MHz band was off limits. We had a few churches that rented space in their bell towers to the cell phone companies as they have looked for new sources of revenue. That has   worked out well for the churches that were prepared. Just keep in mind, the proximity of the cellular systems to the worship service requires special attention to your RF requirements in a House of Worship.
We have recommended and obtained meetings prior to system installation with the cellular companies on behalf of the church congregation. The meetings allow us to coordinate the sound reinforcement RF systems design with the cellular provider to ensure success when the entire installation is completed. The value of a higher quality wireless microphone system becomes obvious in this situation. Many Shure UHF-R and Lectrosonics Venue systems have been installed with directional antennas in these instances. This has caused us to be more concerned about our use of RF in the future.
I have heard many churches talk about combining services with other congregations. One hit home when my father’s church began having additional services for newcomers to our shores for families from Sudan and elsewhere. In discussing it, there were several issues that came up. The traditional services are smaller than they used to be, and the newcomers group is not a particularly large one. Why not put all of these together and enjoy the diversity? Isn’t that the way it should be?
Elsewhere on the ListenTech blog, our work at the Omaha Playhouse has been mentioned. In that facility, several IR based Listen Technologies LT-82 stationary IR transmitters are installed with LA-140 stationary IR radiator/emitter units in the theatre. Patrons can use one of many LR-42 Stethoscope 4-channel receivers to enjoy audio from the show. There is another use of that system that is just now coming to light; language interpretation. The United Nations building in New York City is one place where people from all nations and backgrounds may meet and participate in a common event. What better place than a church?
An obvious advantage to infra-red transmission is that there is no need to be concerned with RF interference with the wireless systems used for sound reinforcement (or those cellular systems either). The IR systems offer the additional benefit of containing the signal within the room. This means that multiple IR transmitters may be used in other areas such as Sunday school classrooms. All of these rooms may have systems in use without using any more than a single
channel of the system.
An LR-42 Stethoscope receiver has 4-channels. The standard systems are supplied with a single channel transmitter but all you need to do is add another Listen Technologies LT-82 stationary IR transmitter to take advantage of another channel in any given room.
We have spaces where assistive listening is being performed while simultaneously a person describes a dramatic event for the blind and/or there is language interpretation for Spanish and/or Chinese.
There’s nothing more exciting than a crowd of people gathered to participate in the spirit of worship. If services are combined with the cultural diversity our communities are capable of, there is a Listen Technologies IR based system that can become an important tool. Who knows, when you combine services, you might even be able to turn the lights off early and save a few dollars on energy in the process.
Listen Technologies