5 Ways to Improve Your Sound in 2015, Pt. 1

Photo courtesy of Luke Jones (and a shout out to my friend Van!)

Photo courtesy of Luke Jones (and a shout out to my friend Van!)

It’s a new year, and now that we’re all rested up from Christmas, it’s time to start looking at how we can improve our systems—specifically audio—this year. Certainly big-ticket items like new PA’s, new consoles or new bands (just kidding) are nice, but sometimes we have to make incremental improvements. Oddly enough, sometimes these small improvements add up to a big improvement that sometimes negate the need for a big spend. 

Below is a non-exhaustive list of five things you can do this year—without breaking the bank—that will improve your sound.

Test And Repair Bad Speaker Components

I once inherited a sound system that had two subs. One driver was completely blown, the other was torn. The main boxes had three bad HF drivers. As you might expect, the sound in that room was not good. While it did take the better part of a day to diagnose the faulty drivers, and then another half day to replace them, once that was done, we actually had full-range sound again. 

Testing your speakers is relatively easy. If you have a bi- or tri-amped system, isolate each speaker either by unplugging the amps or the speakers so that just one cabinet is running at a time. Then play some pink noise through the system. Get right up to the box and listen. If you have access to an oscillator that can be swept from 60 Hz to 15 KHz, that’s even better. Just be careful with the levels; start low and work up to a comfortable level. If you find one box that produces next to nothing above 3K, you probably have a blown HF driver. 

If you are uncomfortable doing this or are unsure, contact a local dealer. This is a fairly simple process for them, and will likely lead to either a thumbs up or a list of new components to replace (and by components, I mean drivers, not an entirely new PA). Replacing the HF drivers in a system can have a great impact on the sound, and it’s not that expensive.

A test like this can have other benefits. I once was hired to mix in a room with a fairly complex PA layout. After struggling to get a good sound for a few months, I came in to test the drivers. I discovered the processor was wired incorrectly, sending the wrong signals to the wrong drivers. A quick re-patch made it sound like a new PA. 

Get Your System Tuned

Once your speakers are all producing full-range sound again, it’s a good time to have the system tuned. A lot of people refer to this as EQ’ing the room, but it’s really not. We don’t EQ a room, we EQ a PA to work well in the room. If you feel competent with using a measurement system, you can do this yourself. If not, hiring someone who is shouldn’t be a huge expense. 

Often, people who don’t really know what they are doing will try to “improve” on the sound of a PA by adjusting the system’s EQ. I’ve seen smiley faces, fish and other strange patterns on graphic EQs of systems I’ve worked on. None sounded good. Having someone come in to take measurements, set delays and EQ will often make a less than ideal PA sound decent again. 

Once the PA is properly aligned and tuned, lock the processor or EQ either in software or by using vented security covers on the rack. Just remember to write down the passwords and put them somewhere safe—and where at least one other person knows where they are.

Sometimes, a simple tuning can extend the life of an old PA by a few more years. Often, the PA was tuned years ago for one style of worship and the church has moved on. A re-tune can help optimize the system for the current sound you’re going after. It may not be a complete solution, and a new PA may still need to be in the long-term plans, but quite often spending a few hundred to a few thousand dollars on the tuning of the system will give you more time to save for the new one that is needed.

Ok, so that’s #’s 1 & 2. On Wednesday, we’ll be back with the other 3 ways you can improve your audio in the new year.

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