Whether we attend churches, synagogues, or mosques, we attend them to experience some level of peace and community. Peace with ourselves and the world, and a large part of that peace is quiet. Houses of worship are generally fairly large, open rooms built to accommodate sizable congregations. The size and shape of them opens them up to acoustical issues like echo and reverberation.
Since church sanctuary acoustics are such an important part of hearing the message and the music clearly, it’s an important thing to get right.
What is a sanctuary?
The term sanctuary refers to a safe space, but in the realm of the church, it specifically refers to the area around the altar. It’s the place where we gather to receive songs and sermons and all the things that make a church a place of peace. It’s also the place where church sanctuary acoustics problems will be the most pronounced and cause the most issues.
Why it’s important to improve church sanctuary acoustics
One of the biggest reasons we attend religious services is to hear the message. If we can’t hear it clearly, we miss a large part of the experience.
The problem with an untreated church sanctuary is that it can sound overly loud and echoey. Houses of worship often have very high, angled ceilings, large windows, and lots of hard surfaces. It’s a perfect recipe for audio problems.
Every sound in the room bounces off the hard surfaces in the room, resulting in an echo. The mix of noises in the room amplifies through a process known as reverberation, and they compete with the service. In order to ensure no one misses a word, sanctuary treatment is an absolute necessity.
Solving your acoustic issues
When we have large, open rooms in any structure, we usually have to acoustically treat the room to avoid audio issues. You can design the shape of a room, so its angles minimize things like echo and reverberation, but this happens in the design phase. If you try to change wall angles in an existing building, you will have a very large project on your hands. Your best bet to avoid church sound problems is through the use of acoustic treatments.
Treat the walls
The walls are a source of audio issues in any room, and a sanctuary is no different. It’s made up of large expanses of hard, reflective surfaces that cause sound waves to bounce back into the room. If you want to prevent echo and reverberation, you’ll need to incorporate softer, more absorptive materials into the walls. The easiest way to do this is with fabric wrapped acoustic church panels.
Acoustical panels are decorative sound panels for walls that need some sound absorption. They are most often constructed of a sturdy frame with a dense foam core that absorbs sound waves. The whole structure is wrapped in fabric, allowing sound waves to pass into the foam and get trapped.
Cathedral sound panels need to look great, so it’s a good thing the fabric wrap is available in dozens of colors. They can even be custom printed to turn your acoustic control system into functional art. They are also easy to mount and move, so you can reposition them for special events or if you decide to purchase more.
Acoustical curtains for windows
If you’ve got large windows in your sanctuary, these are another large space that needs to be addressed. Fitting a few of them with acoustical curtains will give you the ability to both reduce reflections and block noise from outside at the same time. They’re a great solution for church sound proofing. As an added bonus, acoustical curtains allow you to block out the sunlight when you need to or want to.
As important as sound absorption is to acoustically treating rooms, there’s another issue that’s got to be taken care of. Lots of audio problems are caused by sound waves reflecting back to the source. The way to take care of this is through the use of sound diffusers. A few well-placed sound diffusers can scatter the sound waves as they bounce off the walls, reducing their ability to echo and reverberate.
Treat the ceiling
Most churches have very high ceilings in the sanctuary. High ceilings are great for creating an open feel, but they also create open spaces for sound waves to roam. Since there are few things up there to absorb sound waves, it’s an important part of the room to treat acoustically. You’ve got a few options, depending on what works best for you.
With ceiling clouds, acoustic materials are suspended from the ceiling into the room. Cloud ceiling systems work just like the church sound panels you place on walls. They are soft and absorbent and trap sound waves as they make their way across the space. They are also available in multiple different materials, colors, and shape options, so you can make an impressive visual statement while taming your church sanctuary acoustics.
Full ceiling systems
Another option you have at your disposal is to improve the acoustics at the surface level. If you can trap sound waves rather than reflecting them, you can prevent echoes. It is possible to attach wall panels to the ceiling, but if you want a cleaner, more elegant look, you need something that spans the entire space.
Full ceiling systems are great options for combining the acoustic control you need with the great look you want. Most systems are perforated to trap some of the sound waves, but for real control, you’ll want to use an acoustical backing material. They are available in wood and metal finishes, which can be stained and tinted to achieve the perfect accent to your interior design.
Treat the floors
Another culprit that contributes to audio issues may be the church floor. It can be another hard, reflective surface for sound waves to bounce off of. It can also be a source of unwanted sound as it creates impact noises every time someone steps on it.
A great option for treating very hard floors is to install carpeting. Not only will it absorb some of the sound waves that cause echo and reverberation, but it will soften footfalls, so they don’t add more noise to the equation. It is, however, a large project that may get stained or ripped over the years, meaning you’ll likely need to replace it once in a while.
Utilize area rugs
If your floor is made of beautiful old hardwoods, you may not want to cover it with carpet. Why cover that beautifully finished wood? If that’s the case, you can utilize some strategically placed rugs and runners to help keep your floor from exacerbating your church sound problems.
Invest in a quality sound system
While acoustically treating your cathedral will do a lot of good things when it comes to the church sanctuary acoustics design, panels can’t bear the sole responsibility for fixing everything. If you want the space to sound good, it’s also important that you start with quality sound by purchasing a quality sound system.
When your sound system consists of cheap components, you don’t begin with the greatest sound integrity, and the sound will only get worse once the waves are set loose in the room. It may not even be necessary to replace the whole system. Sometimes a few upgrades will completely transform your system’s sound.
If you’re not an audio professional, you may want to bring someone in to help with your church sound system troubleshooting to determine the best course of action.
Keep your neighbors happy
While you’re taking on the task of improving sound quality in your house of worship, it’s a good idea to take inventory of how much sound spills out into the community and reduce that if you’re creating a nuisance in the neighborhood. Implementing house of worship soundproofing measures will go a long way to keeping your neighbors happy.
Much of the noise that escapes the sanctuary is caused by drum kits, bass guitars, and loud sound systems. Since these sources are associated with lower sound frequencies, many of their sound waves aren’t picked up by standard acoustic wall and ceiling panels. You need something more dense.
Bass traps can help a lot here. They absorb those deep, loud sounds before they are projected into the neighborhood. They also help promote a more uniform sound in rooms not specifically designed for it.
For handy folks who like to get their hands dirty and save a buck or two, there are some DIY options out there. You can build your own acoustic panels by constructing a frame, filling it with some sort of soft, absorbent material, and wrapping them in fabric. You can also throw some rugs down and incorporate softer furniture into the room.
The DIY options won’t be as effective as professional acoustical materials but may help reduce some of the sanctuary audio issues you’re experiencing. The only way to make real, meaningful strides toward a great sounding room is to enlist the help of professionals. They can make more with less. They know how sound waves move within the space and can pinpoint the perfect locations for acoustic treatments.
Hiring someone who understands acoustic design for churches delivers the technical expertise to ensure your solution works from the get go. Church sanctuary acoustics can get tricky. Make sure you’re prepared to take them on.