Can we use our church organ speakers for our microphones?

The poor economy has pushed many churches into delaying repairs or purchases of electronic organs and sound systems. Things have deteriorated so badly in some churches they are now being forced into finally having to make repairs or buy new.

Some organ dealers are telling churches to buy a new organ and the new organ speakers will also replace the existing ailing spoken word sound system. Churches are being told they are getting a “free” microphone sound system if they buy a new electronic organ.

It IS possible to hook up some microphones for spoken word and run them through the organ speakers. In practice this rarely works out well, and in some cases it's disastrous.

Electronic organs are designed to be instruments

They make music, that's what they do. The organ speakers are designed and located around the sanctuary in order to create a very full range, diffuse sound. For the organ, the more diffused and reverberant the sound, the better. The sound is “sprayed” from the speakers to intentionally bounce off the walls, the ceiling and everywhere else. The organ music seems to surround you.

That is the exact opposite of what you need for a sound system used for spoken word microphones

Intuition would suggest that just as the music surrounds you, so should the spoken word. But it doesn't work that way

Try this at home:

Many people now have surround sound setups for their home entertainment center. In such systems, speakers are all around you. Through a bit of electronic trickery, sounds can sometimes seem as if they are coming at you all at once, or they may seem to come specifically from a certain direction to match the action on the TV screen.

Pay attention and you'll notice something very important. All the talking comes from the center speaker, usually located just above or below the TV screen.

Now imagine watching your TV and having ALL the sound coming not from the TV but from behind you or from the side of you.  You are watching something in front of you but the sound that goes along with it comes from the opposite direction.

An electronic church organ is at cross purposes with how spoken word is perceived

It is designed to shoot sounds at you from all directions, much like a home surround sound system. They usually have speakers all over the place for that purpose.

But while the home system provides for a very specific dialogue speaker, organs don't need such a speaker. A center speaker is actually an undesirable thing for an organ. You don't want to hear where the organ sound is coming from. It's supposed to be all around you. As previously mentioned, organs make music, they don't talk.

Electronic organ dealers saying their systems can replace the spoken word sound systems might make some sales, but the church members will end up being unhappy in the long run.

Depending on how the church and organ are designed, it MIGHT be possible to circumvent some of this problem. It could be possible to place speakers and use some fancy switching to make sure the right stuff comes out of the right speaker at the right times.

But remember that these guys sell organs, they don't design spoken word systems. The organ sale comes first. Anything else they do for you is just an add-on, which you will surely be charged for. So your “free” sound system for your microphones is really not free and it's probably going to cost way more than it should.

For a while folks may bask in the satisfaction of how much money they “saved” by combining the organ with the spoken word microphone system. Eventually folks will start to complain that “something” isn't right.

The RIGHT thing to do is keep the organ and spoken word systems separate from the get-go. They must be completely separate systems.

They are each designed for a specific task, as are most tools. You wouldn't expect to get good results using a hammer as a screwdriver. You need to use the correct tool for the job. You don't see many screw hammers for sale and the reason why is pretty self-evident.

The spoken word (microphone) sound system is a tool designed to direct sound from microphones to ONLY where people are seated/standing.

The electronic organ speakers are a tool to spray inspirational music throughout the room, bouncing it off the walls, ceiling and everywhere else to make sure the room is bathed in diffuse sound.

To use either system for the other use would be like using a hammer as a screwdriver or a screwdriver as a hammer. The two systems are not interchangeable. Each has its own place.

The speakers for the spoken word system must be located at the front of the sanctuary aimed toward the listeners. These speakers are designed so that the sound is directed at the congregation and NOT at the walls, ceiling, etc. You do not want the spoken word to be diffused and bounced around the room.

There may be more than one speaker in a spoken word sound system. In a properly designed system, all of the speakers will be aimed directly at the congregation from the front of the sanctuary. The spoken word speakers will be designed to narrowly confine the sound to where the people are sitting. More importantly, they will be designed to NOT spew spoken word toward the walls, ceiling, floor, etc. The excess words will just bounce around the room and make it harder to hear and understand the original word as intended.

If you have found yourself in a situation where your organ is also serving as your spoken word system, and you aren't happy with the situation, please call. There are ways to fix that. It may be possible to modify your organ/microphone system in a cost effective manner.