Sometimes the reverberation in churches and temples can help the music or choir have a heavenly sound. The sound of the church organ or band can reverberate in a powerful way due to high ceilings or reflective surfaces.

Miguel Paucar

Although the music has a powerful sound, the architecture of the temples can reduce the clarity of the words of the pastor or main speaker. The word loses intelligibility - or the ability to be clearly understood - because of the reverberation. The listener receives multiple versions of the same sound that reach their ears at different times, causing distraction. For churches and temples, this is an important issue, as it distracts the listener who comes mainly to hear the Word of the Lord each week.

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You can say that reverberation is like watching a photograph. Or, rather, a set of photographs. Imagine a group of photographers, each taking several photos of the same scene. Individually, each photo is perfectly clear and visible. Now, imagine seeing all the photos taken at the same time, from various angles, superimposed one on top of the other. The images all together would create an interference effect affecting its clarity. We would only see a blurred image, indistinguishable.

The same idea applies to sound. The sounds are reflected from materials or hard surfaces and in doing so, they reach the listener at different times, some faster than others. Each individual sound clearly and distinctly sounds. But, when all the sounds arrive at different times, they cause a signal without clarity and make the brain have difficulty processing and understanding what is being said.

There are no quick solutions to correct the acoustics of a temple or church. Fortunately, there are some techniques to improve the intelligibility of the voice. In this article, we will look at some techniques that we can apply to improve speech intelligibility in temples or churches, without having to make a major investment in new audio equipment.

Mic intelligibility
The microphone is the direct link of the pastor's voice with the amplification system and, therefore, with the faithful listeners. One of the first causes of loss of intelligibility is due to not knowing how to use the microphone correctly.

In most cases, the microphone is attached to the podium or music stand. When we have a fixed microphone on the pulpit, the volume level of the speaker changes each time you move your mouth or head. The changes can be sudden. The audio engineer can maneuver the volume to anticipate these volume changes, but we know well that it is impossible to predict or exactly match the movements of the person who is speaking.

The best thing to do is to be aware of how far away the mouth of the microphone is. To reduce volume changes, it is best to keep the same distance between the mouth and the microphone to reduce drastic changes. This requires turning the head from side to side very frequently so as not to vary the distance between the microphone and the mouth.

We know well that sometimes this is not possible, either by the habit of the speaker or lack of understanding. If it is within our reach, we can also consider using another type of microphone that is not fixed, such as a lavalier microphone. However, these microphones also present other challenges. Since the lapel microphone is attached to the shirt or tie in front of the speaker, it may have the same volume reduction when the head is turned. In that case, the speaker can notice their movements and turn the whole body, not just the head, the speaking, which keeps the mouth focused towards the lapel microphone.

Another solution is to use a handheld microphone, but other challenges also exist. A common problem is the speaker holding the microphone covering the grid with his hand. Although it may look nice, or may be more comfortable for the speaker holding the microphone, this practice may reduce intelligibility, since the hand is covering the main point of microphone input.

Another common problem is to hold the microphone very close to the mouth, or directly under the nose, making the microphone more sensitive to occlusive noises - like the loud sound when saying the letter "p" (also called "popeo") some sound engineers). Sure you have ever heard this effect, when pronouncing certain words, the letter "p" or "b" may sound very loud with a thunderous noise, especially when the microphone is too close to the mouth.

The solution to minimize this effect with handheld microphones is: hold the microphone by the handle, and not by the grille, and position the microphone at 1cm from the mouth. Thus, it is ensured that the hand microphone can clearly capture the voice, without increasing the volume of the consonants, resulting in a clearer and clearer sound. If it is necessary to bring the microphone closer to achieve a better volume, it is recommended to place the microphone towards the corner of the mouth, so that the air from the mouth does not stick directly to the microphone capsule.

Headband microphones are also a very good alternative. The headset microphone typically has a headband or band securing the microphone to the head of the speaker. Thus, the pastor or speaker can move the head freely, without losing the position between the mouth and the microphone. This is an excellent solution for the speaker who seeks complete freedom of movement.

Monitors on stage
In addition to explaining the reverberation in the temples, stage monitors on the stage or pulpit can also cause reverberation, further reducing intelligibility. The microphone can pick up the signal from the floor monitor, which produces one of these two difficulties: the microphone captures the speaker's voice and delayed reflection, generating more reverberation; or can cause coupling (feedback or feedback)

The coupling occurs when the microphone picks up the sound of the monitor or speaker, and retransmits that sound from the microphone to the speaker again, generating a cycle in the signal. So it is always recommended to keep the speakers or monitors away from the microphone.

Although the floor monitor can help the pastor or speaker to hear themselves, the monitors themselves can cause more problems, such as reducing intelligibility or worse, causing feedback or feedback.

Here are some solutions:

- Floor monitors can be silenced during the spoken portions during service. The pastor may need to get used to this change, but intelligibility will be improved at the time of speaking.

- A very effective (but more expensive) solution is to use a personal monitor system, instead of floor monitors. These systems are sometimes called "in-ears", they can be wireless or cable. A personal monitor system requires the use of intra-headphones to be able to listen to yourself. In this way, the speaker can listen better to himself, without the challenge of having to use floor monitors and adjust volumes to avoid more reverberation or coupling. The main advantage is the improvement of intelligibility in the temple or church.

Although it is not possible to redesign the temple or church, we can implement some tips to improve speaker intelligibility and reduce speaker coupling. It is not necessary to make a major investment to improve the sound quality. It is possible to consider a change of microphone or a personal monitor system to facilitate the comfort of the speaker and improve the sound quality for the listeners.

Richard Santa, RAVT
Author: Richard Santa, RAVT
Journalist from the University of Antioquia (2010), with experience in technology and economics. Editor of the magazines TVyVideo + Radio and AVI Latin America. Academic Coordinator of TecnoTelevisión & Radio.


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