Church Sound Booth Construction

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Constructing a new sound booth in an existing sanctuary is not an easy task.  My church completed construction on a new sound booth in our sanctuary a few years ago.  This article outlines our experiences and how we ended up with exactly what we needed.

Remember The Line-of-Sight

This is probably the most important piece of information you should know…sound booth operators should hear what the congregation hears.  A booth located out of direct line-of-sight of the main speakers will only receive sounds reflected off the walls and the floor.  This reflection causes sound to be perceived as softer and muddy.  This results in the sound operator increasing the volume in the main speakers so THEY can hear thereby, blasting a higher-than-necessary level of volume into the majority of the congregation.

Additionally, sound booth operators should SEE all areas of the pulpit (stage) area.  This allows operators to see when they are given cues to play a CD, turn on a microphone, or take some other measure necessary.  Given these two bits of information, only now can one look at sound booth locations.

Location, Location, Location

We found a booth can be located in one of three areas, in the wings of the sanctuary, on the second story such as a balcony, or on the ground floor.

WINGS – Our church has the main room of the sanctuary and then it has wings to the left and the right, useable as classrooms when the folding partitions are used.  A quick answer for where to add a sound booth is "place it out of the way and build it in a wing.  Great idea!  Bad idea.  Based on the design of our church and what you've just read about line-of-sight, the wing qualifies as a bad location.  
 
EYE IN THE SKY -  Depending on the setup of your sanctuary, you might have a balcony or room adjacent to the rear wall of the sanctuary.  Here's where the upper area may or may not be the best location.  A balcony that is well aligned with some main speakers and provides a line of sight to the pulpit/stage area can work.  Some churches have used the adjacent second story rooms and knocked a huge hole in the wall.  This is not an ideal location as the main speakers will never be pointed directly at the second-story section of the wall so the sound quality coming into the booth won't be the best.  Next, you need a big hole for sound to enter and to see the stage.   

GROUND FLOOR – The main floor was the ideal location for our booth. Due to the small size of the sanctuary, we placed in the back.  Depending on the size of your sanctuary, a booth can be in the back of the room or in the middle of the room.  The key here is that you hear what the majority of the congregation hears.

The booth operators should be facing the pulpit, having direct line-of-sight across the congregation to both the pulpit/stage area and the main speakers.  I recommend elevating the booth floor ~18 inches at a minimum.  An easy way to measure the correct elevation for your booth floor is the ability to see the stage if the congregation is standing and you are sitting in the booth. 

By the way, you might get the argument that wearing headphones makes any location acceptable.  That's wrong.  Headphones don't take into account general room noise (even people sitting still make noise) and sound dynamics of the room.  While you could try to compensate for this with additional microphones, it's just not a good idea.

Security – How Secure is Secure Enough?

If someone breaks into the church, they can / will break into the sound booth. Therefore, sound booth security should be based around securing the booth from "honest" people. 

Who are those "honest" people? 
1. People who use the area outside of normal service times such as home school groups or weddings.  They might assume they have free-reign if it's not secured.  Anyone using the sound booth should be properly trained.  Therefore, train one or two adults from the home-school groups or have a call list of booth operators who are willing to work outside of Sunday mornings.   

2. Youth group kids who think it would be cool to hook up their gaming console to the main screen on youth night.  Again, not that it's inherantly bad but they should have a trained individual set up their systems for such usage.  Images of a 32-ounce drink hovering over the mixer gives me nightmares.   

3. Finally, the most dangerous of the "honest" people…kids.  I know how "cool" it would be, as a kid, to sneak into the sound booth and play with the knobs and switches.

It's like this…if I get a phone call that the church was broken into, I'll expect the sound booth is now missing a lot of equipment.  Outside of that, there is no reason to see signs of an untrained person in the booth such as mixer knobs in weird settings or equipment laying all over.

Secure your sound booth with a door lock.  Then, only provide trained people with keys.  If you need to prevent hands from reaching over the booth, I suggest barbed wire…well plexiglass is good, too. ;)

Building the Booth

How big should the booth be?  – Much of this answer depends on how much space is available in your sanctuary and your needs.  In our case, we had a 13 foot run across the back of the sanctuary that was ideal for a booth.  We have operators for both the sound system and the multi-media presentations. Therefore, we liked a very long booth design with about six feet in depth.  Six feet sounds like a lot but it isn't.  You need a countertop big enough for a mixing board (around 28 inches).  Then you need room for a comfortable swivel chair.  Then you need room to move around.  Bottom line is give yourself room - tape out a section on the floor and see if that gives you enough space. 


This photo shows our booth and the space required inside.

There are now two basic types of booth to build; closed and open.  A closed booth is one in which there is a large window opening that can be opened and closed as well as a lockable door.  This is a lot of work to build and rather costly.  The pro's are a secure environment for protecting your goods.  The con's are the openings have to be high enough to permit line-of-sight to the mains.  Also, securable window closures are expensive.


The open booth design we used is pictured below.

An open booth has limited security but the trade-off is maximum visibility.  Security was a big issue that was batted back and forth between myself and my cohort.  We decided the open design was more aesthetically pleasing, significantly cheaper, and was a much better choice regarding line-of-site. 

Summary

Designing a booth for your church requires consideration of four topics; line-of-site, location, security, and size.  We found the open design sound booth with an elevated deck was ideal for our situation.  Remember a sound operator's job is providing the best sound for the congregation.  Having the right booth helps them do that job.

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Comments

  1. Manuel G. Nacua Jr. says

    i Have planned to install sound system which is roman catholic (Kathedral). I think it is very difficult because
    of bigger crowed

  2. Alan says

    You talked about security, but how did you secure your open air booth? I have the same problem with my booth at church where it is open air. I’m trying to find the best way to keep kids and unauthorized people from touching the board and playing with the equipment.

  3. Admin says

    Because our booth is elevated (~18 inches), it’s not easy for someone on the outside of the booth to reach in and touch any knobs.  It can be done, but you would have to work at it.  That being said, it is posible to pull up a chair and jump up on the wall and into the sound booth. 

    From my experience working in a variety of sound booths at churches, I’ve only had a two occasions where kids reached in and messed with the knobs.  Where I have seen it a problem is when there is no door to the booth.  Kids were much more likely to run inside and look around.  Typically when I’d run them out a time or two, they would never try that again.

    If you want to go the route of security in an open booth, I suggest making some wood covers for the sound board.  This way, it’s presence will discourage people and well as if they tried to lift the board, they would make noise doing so!

    Finally, a general announcement from the pastor at the pulpit would do wonders.  

     

  4. Brandon Hart says

    I worked in a church that had an open booth. It was completely open with no walls or doors. We had roll-top desks that covered the console and rack gear, and we locked the desk tops for security.

  5. Brad Perry says

    I look after sound at a very small church. We built a open raised (18″)bench for 2 people ,just 4ft x 2ft bench with shelf under for amps & wireless recievers….mixer & laptop on bench. We then built an aluminium box which covers the bench & shelf… then secured by long rod & padlock under shelf. Light & easy to remove…Works well

  6. Anonymous says

    You could put a door/gate on the entrance with a lock…one of those keypad locks is great so that you don’t have to keep up with keys.

  7. says

    you should also think about futures, so that you can plan for added equipment for the future. You should usually leave lots of room for ducting in the floor or walls so that you don’t have wiring hanging about.

  8. Chuck Haskins says

    I would love to see this. we are doing a Contemporary Service in our Gym (Traditional in the sanctuary)
    I need to build a small efficient permanent protected desk. Your help is appreciated.

  9. Bren says

    I would like to see this as well. WE have a very small church and i need something to put our mixer on. we have only about 4 x 6 of space. with enough room for 1 person. Can you help me with this. Could you send me a picture of what you have made.

  10. Mike Clark says

    Our small church is in need of desk or console at which to consolidate, and from which to operate, our various AV component–8-channel mixer, laptop, disc changer, amp, etc. If you have pictures and/or plans of your own creation, we would love to have copies.

  11. Chris says

    Mike, we went the way of buying a ktichen countertop.  It's material you can buy by the foot.  Therefore, when we built our booth, we put in strong hangers to which we mounted the kitchen countertop.

  12. Chuck Haskins says

    I am looking for ideas for a permanent “booth” in our gym to eliminate setup for our contemporary service. I have 5-6 feet wide by 4-5 feet depth. Trying to decide on a locked desk versus a small permanent Structure. Your thoughts are appreciated.

  13. Chris says

    Have you considered…creating a perminent structure that could be secured?  In other words, build the structure with a lid.  A 6×5 square is big enough for a counter top and a stool.  Create it so the wall rises just over the countertop – enough to hid the mixer wires and all that.  Then, create a lid from 2×4′s and plywood.  Add a few padlocks on oppositing sides and you have the stability of a fixed structure with lock-ability and protection of any incoming basketballs.

     

     

  14. Grant says

    My church is currently looking at a new building. The auditorium seats probably 150.
    There currently is no sound booth.
    There is a room in the rear right of the auditorium that the current church uses for mothers to take crying babies in during the service, etc. There are sound proof windows looking into the auditorium with a speaker inside. I thought about taking out the windows and building a desk, thinking it would be a great sound booth. It is pretty secure, having a door entering from the auditorium and from a room behind. It would be a standing up one, because if I sat down, I wouldnt be seeing through the windows. Although we could build a platform in there to raise the floor. We also have screens, so there would probably be two of us in the booth, which it is plenty big enough.
    After reading this, though, I am not sure about the location. Any tips?

    I should have shot a couple pictures, but didnt. Sorry for such a long comment.

  15. Chris says

    I sent you a reply to your email so this will just add to anything not mentioned in the email…

    Here is the key to booth location…if you can sit down where you would be sitting behind the mixer and your head is directly inline with any of the main speakers, you've probably got a good location.  So yes, get rid of the glass.  You want to hear what the congregation hears.

  16. Kevin says

    I’m the A/V leader at the church where I serve, and our sound booth is temporary at the moment. The building is old so the pre-existing booth is open and will only accommodate the sound mixer and other sound equip. The computer is on a separate desk outside of the booth. The booth is located in our balcony so I often have problems with unauthorized people entering it. The problem is that the the sanctuary is oddly shaped. The direct line from center stage is a column… no way to build a both straight on. It’s like an “L” shape. So should I build one on one or both sides of the column or what? Please help!

  17. Josh says

    I’ve read various articles over the past few months about anything with building a new building since we are trying to build a new place (when the funds roll in). From what I’ve read, the booth should be just off of center so that you don’t actually get into the small amount of cancellation zone (don’t remember what the zone is actually called), and of course, not on a balcony but with the majority of the congregation. If say you had a center isle, have your booth just on the side of that isle (cause you wouldn’t be able to have it in the isle).

    But being you have a pillar in the middle of the room, see if you can be right beside that pillar or just in front of it so that your view of the stage and performers is not obstructed. Maybe if you shows a picture or layout design, we can give a little bit more help….but there are plenty of articles around…just gotta find them! lol

    Heres a link to one of the ones I’ve found to be helpful: http://www.churchsoundcheck.com/housedesk.pdf

    Good luck with the project!

  18. Chris says

    The article Josh posted up is a great place to start.

    - Inline with speakers

    - same vicinity as audience.

    I've seen booths in balconies and it can work as long as you are inline with the speakers.  Also, you'll want to use a sound meter to compare your location verses the areas of seating.  Depending on the speaker setup, you might find that the volume you hear in the booth is the same as the majority of the congregation.  I worked a large theater where the booth was in the back and my sound levels were the same. 

    I've seen places with the nightmare booth – booth in a wall with a small window.  sigh.

  19. Brian Morgan says

    Booth in a wall with a window up high in the back of the sanctuary is where I started out at one church. I had to regularly run down the stairs into the sanctuary to check how it “really” sounded and then after time I go somewhat used to how it sounded different upstairs (less low end for example) and didn”t have to do that so much.

    Eventually we built a booth downstairs and A/V was put upstairs in the old booth. MUCH better arrangement!

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