What I Learned in Smaart Class


Spoiler alert; I’m not going to tell you everything I learned at the class. Even if I wanted to, there would be no way to condense 24 hours of intensive training down to 750 words. But I can share a few insights with you. Much of the class was focused on theory, with a large part on acoustic theory and why things behave the way they do. I knew some of the information already, but I loved the way Jamie (Anderson, our instructor) walked us through it. One thing that was reinforced over and over was a problem we run into in churches all the time.

You can only align a system that was designed to be aligned. He talked a lot about aligning subs, and how that’s a big topic today. Everyone wants their subs timed to the mains—which in itself is a good thing. However, if your subs are sitting on the ground and the mains are in the air, you can only align the subs with a single point in space. If you want them truly aligned over most of the audience area, you need to get them closer to the mains. Which brings up another good point.

Too often, people want to solve problems with measurement/tuning that can’t be fixed with measurement or tuning. There is a four-step process to going from no system to a useable system. It starts with venue evaluation & modification; goes on to system design and equipment choice; followed by equipment verification and installation; and finally, system optimization and tuning/voicing. 

You simply cannot fix a bunch of problems that were created in the first three phases using Smaart and some DSP. It’s possible to mitigate some of them, and we can certainly help a poorly designed and installed system sound better, but it’s never going to be ideal. And speaking of design…

You need to design your system. As we talked about on this week’s show, we keep hearing form tech guys at churches about to embark on building projects, but the leadership doesn’t want to spend any money on a professional design, or buy any new equipment. They’d rather “figure it out later,” reusing equipment that may already be in use in a portable or smaller venue. 

Jamie pointed out that getting a system to sound pretty good when playing music isn’t that hard. Even poorly implemented systems can be tweaked to sound decent for the band, especially when the band is in the room. But intelligibility, that’s hard. That takes design. And here is where the aforementioned leadership is missing the boat. 

Most pastors think the tech guy wants to get a good PA so the music will be “awesome!!” However, the real reason we want a good design is so people can hear the message. For most services, we spend 75% of our time on spoken word. Getting even intelligibility throughout the seating area takes a good design that uses the right gear that is installed properly. Why would pastors not be interested in that?

Put another way. What if we said to the pastor, “Since you only want me to recycle this inadequate equipment in a room for which it was never designed, I can pretty much guarantee that 75% of the congregation should likely hear 50% of what you say every week. You OK with that?” That’s what we’re talking about here. 

I think we really need to be focusing on intelligibility when we have these conversations. I know that is what sold our leadership on the need for a new PA (and hopefully we’ll actually get it installed this year). 

There was so much more to the class; we talked a lot about frequency, phase, impulse response, time constants, and a dozen other concepts that helped me understand the implications of what I do every week. In some cases, it was a great reinforcement. In other cases, my approach will be changed. I came home tired and ready to not think about sound for a few hours. However, it was a great three days, and I highly recommend anyone who can get to a class to go. It’s not cheap, but when I consider the amount of knowledge I gained in three days, it was a bargain.

Gear Techs

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