Church PA applications and audio technology in listed building protection

Michael Krebbing on PA applications in churches and why planning help is worthwhile.

There are around 45,000 churches in Germany if you add up both Catholic and Protestant places of worship. There are also around 2,750 mosques and some 130 synagogues. These buildings all have one thing in common: singing, music or speech – i.e. sounds – have to get from A to B. This is challenging for installers because the budgets of the individual communities are limited and the rooms are usually extremely difficult in terms of acoustics. This also applies generally to historic, listed buildings: strict requirements with little room for error. At MONACOR, we support installers with planning and preparing offers or refer the community to one of our long-standing partner installers. Michael Krebbing gives some insights into his thoughts on church PA applications.


"Are you an installer and are planning a church PA application? We are happy to support you in technical project management. For other interested parties, we can find an installer with whom we can implement your PA application project together."
- Michael Krebbing

The demand for professional church PA applications is increasing

Ever more people responsible for churches are interested in modern PA applications for their congregation. Connected community centres also require more and more PA systems and voice alarm systems. The reason for this is simple: communities are opening up and increasingly involving the neighbourhood – for example through festivals, readings, concerts and discussion groups.

What questions should you as an installer ask yourself at the beginning of the project?

An early step is always a complete inventory of the buildings and the clarification of central questions:

  • Is the church a listed building?
  • Are there copyright claims from architects or their descendants?
  • How will the rooms be used? Speech, classical music played purely acoustically, concerts with electrically amplified instruments?
  • Is there a usage concept?
  • How important is appearance? Can the PA system or PA technology be visible?
  • Is the community centre part of the order?
  • Is the community centre legally required to have a voice alarm system?
  • What size is the budget and how much flexibility is there?

What is possible with a church PA application?

We prefer to decide the possible options for a church PA application with the installer directly on site. We visit the church together and, as a first step, clarify the most important questions. If this will be a new building or a ground-up renovation, it is best to inspect the shell of the building. After this inspection we will know what is technically possible. A line array, for example, is very heavy and definitely has an influence on the structural calculation. This makes it difficult to install line arrays in churches or listed buildings. They can therefore only rarely be usefully installed in listed buildings – although it would often be an interesting option in acoustically challenging environments. One option for very heavy speakers is a truss. This only works if it is permissible for the PA technology to be clearly visible.

A plan from the architect is helpful, but it never replaces an inspection conducted together with the installer.

Communication and empathy are always the key during planning

If the building is listed, you as the installer should clarify at an early stage whether everything is listed, or just parts of the building. With churches, it is often just the outer facade. Transparently involve your contact for listed building preservation in the planning process. Listen to the preservationist. Because there are no uniform regulations nationwide, a lot depends on the person you are talking to. There is definitely a "feel factor". There are also differences in the regulations depending on the federal state. It often helps if we visualise the planning for the responsible department or even walk through the building with relevant decision-makers from the authorities. The responsible authorities often want to find compromises between acoustic measures, budget and listed building protection, but PA applications work poorly with compromises. Either I understand what the preacher in front is saying – or I don't.

Technically almost anything is possible – and so the budget, visual requirements and the strictness of listed building protection determine what we are allowed to do.

Are you looking for ideas for efficient PA technology in churches? Here are two examples of churches and mosques.

What we discover together with the installer during the first inspection for a PA application in a church

Of greatest importance when performing the inspection for a church PA application are four basic questions:

  1. Where can the speakers be located?
  2. Where are cable routes possible – both structurally and visually?
  3. Where can we place cabinets that inconspicuously accommodate the technology?
  4. What sound sources are there, apart from the pastor or priest: players, organ, instruments, a choir?

The greatest planning requirement when it comes to church PA applications are the acoustics

From today's perspective, typical places of worship – churches, mosques and synagogues – are a catastrophe in terms of sound technology. However, the architect at the time had good reason to plan the acoustics exactly that way. The acoustics are intended to transport something. The pastor or priest speaks as if into a funnel and sounds fuller, the sermon sounds more elevated. The challenge with a church today is therefore primarily reverberation. We can't eliminate that. We can, however, use meters and software to calculate reverb and other details. On this basis, we can select the speakers so that everything sounds much cleaner and more controlled.

The alternative to a relatively expensive line array is a well-planned multi-point PA application.

In a multi-point PA application, we have to work with a transit time delay. The basis for this are accurate measurements in the church. The sound delay in a 50-metre long church is significant when speaker systems are active 10 or 20 metres apart. But in a multi-point PA application, you need more than just two speakers to achieve a good result.


Tip: for better acoustics in listed buildings, a curtain system may be an option. Sliding acoustic curtains in the interior make almost no change to the building structurally and make a big difference in terms of sound. The same applies to mobile acoustic partitions. These acoustic measures are not necessarily a luxury – they can be absolutely necessary for speech intelligibility of the voice alarm system.

It usually makes sense to present two solutions at the start

Planners and installers should jointly present two solutions, with all their advantages and disadvantages. This means that the decision-maker doesn't have too much choice, but is also not faced with a fait accompli.

One of the solutions is a classic PA system with appropriate 100-volt speakers – as a rule, this is sufficient for normal church practice with an organ. A more professional solution consists of PAB series speakers. These speakers have a very discreet design and are still quite small despite their power. This solution requires a mixer.

Our PAB speakers allow installers to implement church PA applications in almost any place of worship using multi-point PA technology.

For a barrier-free church: hearing support and translation

With an induction loop, we can transmit the sound from a sound source directly to hearing aids. Audiences who rely on hearing aids can move freely within the induction loop thanks to wireless technology. When using an induction loop system, we usually install an induction loop in the floor, wall or ceiling, and control it via a power amplifier.

We can also use this infrastructure for translation, if the community is very international.

Different languages can be transmitted on several channels. One prerequisite for this is an appropriate inductive receiver.

Don't underestimate church PA application projects: the differences between church buildings are enormous.

There are, of course, recurring patterns, but also a lot of variables. For those who say that churches are always the same, I would like to point out two things. On the one hand, there is a big difference in how high the ceiling is, how many people usually come to the events and how wide the church is – there is no standard, not even in churches. On the other hand, in addition to mosques and synagogues, free churches are on the increase. This means that buildings in which religion is practised can be anything; an old clubhouse or a disused warehouse. There is often music from a band. This will require the planning of a high-quality PA system, or we may even be in the range of low-impedance speakers – I would be pleased to talk to you about that.

Whether you are undertaking a mobile PA application solution or the planning of ceiling speakers – we support installers with product selection and planners with their projects. Please contact our technical project management.

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