How to Choose a Sound Consultant


Before you make a major investment, get the ear of an expert.

Estimates in the sound-system industry say churches on average buy a new sound system once every seven years. Churches that have done their homework on sound systems, however, can keep them much longer, but less-fortunate congregations find themselves funding major sound-system rehabilitations after just two or three years-or even six months.

When a church purchases a sound system, there are three performance demands it should expect from the system: Clarity: the whole congregation even members whose hearing is less than perfect-should always be able to hear everything clearly.

Range: the clergy should be able to teach and preach in any level from a whisper to a roar with the system effortlessly amplifying all levels.

Durability: the system should keep working for decades.

A high-quality sound system may cost half-again or twice as much as other systems, but if it works ten times longer, it is the more economical purchase.

Who Does What?

When buying a sound system, you may deal with the following acoustics experts:

Sound-system manufacturers make a wide range of models to fit the differing needs of churches and other groups.

Sound contractors and installers are skilled in design and installation matters. Most hold franchises for brands-the best they can get-and work to cultivate good relations with their manufacturers.

Acoustical consultants are trained engineers who design sound systems for a living. They have no financial tie to any factory or any installer. You pay them, they work for you, and they make no extra money if you select one brand over another or one installer over another. Their only profit is your payment for their services (like your payment to an architect for drawing up building plans).

Finding a Consultant

Step 1. Consult the membership directory of the National Council of Acoustical Consultants (call 201/5645859, or write to 66 Morris Avenue, Suite 1B, Springfield, NJ 07081-1409). This is a great resource for any church beginning a sound-system project. Consultants are listed in the booklet alphabetically, geographically, and by specialty. Being listed in the NCAC booklet does not, however, guarantee member’s expertise. Also, there are highly respected sound consulting firms not found in the NCAC listing.

Step 2. Talk with other churches. Ask them if they are happy with their sound system, who installed it for them, and who designed it.

Step 3. Call those consultants who you think might be a good fit for your project. Ask if they will come to you and make presentations of their services. Ask them to tell you about sound systems they have designed for other churches similar to yours. Ask them how large their firm is, what university degrees they have, how many of their staff are registered architects and engineers. States do not license engineers in the acoustical specialty, but licensed engineers on staff (such as in civil, structural, or electrical engineering) are a sign of a full-service firm.

Step 4. Send a committee to several churches for which the consultants have designed systems. Your ministers, musicians, and sound technicians should go along. The importance of this step in choosing a consultant cannot be overemphasized.

Services a Consultant Offers

A consultant should provide you with four key services. The consultant should:

Interview everyone in the church who might have a perspective on the sound system, in order to define the functional requirements of the system.

Measure the acoustical dynamics of your church facility.

Evaluate the competing installers’ proposals for installing your system and then advise you about their strengths and weaknesses.

Measure the sound system performance once the sound system is installed, making sure it meets the specs laid out in the contract.

You may want your consultant to do the actual engineering design for your sound system, or you might want to let competing installers propose their own designs. Your consultant can help you understand the often widely different designs proposed by different installers and give you advice on which would serve you best and which would give you the most return on your investment.

Two Cautions

The best source in the world needs an independent reign or check, so avoid any expert who wants to take care of all the measuring, designing, installing -and billing. If the firm or individual runs a respected operation, those involved shouldn’t have anything to fear from an independent check.

When considering competing consultants or designers, it is unethical to share a detailed design with others, unless you have the designer’s permission. A customized engineering design is costly, and it’s copyrighted.