If you’re using a decibel meter on a regular basis…

Why you shouldn't

I’ve been to several churches where the biggest complaint about the sound was that it was too loud.  Their first solution to the problem is implementing the use of a decibel meter.  Is it inherently wrong to use a decibel meter (also known as a dB meter) to measure the decibel level in the room?  No. But will it help the situation? Not without a proper understanding of the tool.

Now I’m not really a car guy, but let’s talk cars for a brief moment anyway:  the speedometer in your vehicle should tell you how fast you are traveling, but, on its own, won’t give you any insight of your vehicle’s overall performance.  The same is true for the dB meter. A dB meter might tell you how “loud” things are in the room, but it does not give you a full picture of other issues that might be problematic.

In my experience, I have found that many sound issues classified as ‘too loud’ are solved by adjusting the EQ and dynamics of your speakers to fit your room (what we call tuning the room/speakers), not by merely using a dB meter and adjusting the output volume of the sound console.  Although adjusting the volume can be a quick fix to alleviate complaints, constant level adjustments are typically indicative of other issues that should be addressed.

There isn’t really a short answer for why a dB meter shouldn’t be used on a regular basis. However, there is one important concept that I’d like to discuss that will give you some insight on why a dB meter might not be the best tool for the job.

Amplitude & Frequency

I don’t need to get into the weeds of the science and physics of sound, but I do want to talk about something called perceived loudness.  Amplitude (or volume) plays a very important role in how loud we perceive a sound to be. However, in the opinion of some, frequency (measured in hertz) plays just as much of a role as amplitude when it comes to our perception of loudness.  For instance, a 70 dB tone at 1khz and a 70 dB tone at 16khz will not be perceived as equally loud, even though the amplitude is the same.

I think it’s worth noting that decibel meters take frequency perceptions into account by using something called “weighting”.  The two most popular types of weighting are A and C, and these weightings can be selected on most decibel meters.  However, even with the built-in compensations, a dB meter cannot tell you how loud each frequency actually is.  Here’s the bottom line: A dB meter will not help you address any problems caused by the acoustical properties of your room.

What’s the Fix?

What can you do to fix the problems related to your worship services sounding “too loud”?  It’s important to have your sound system professionally tuned and balanced to compensate for natural room acoustics and speaker response.  And most of the time, this can be done without adding additional equipment to your system.

Most professional AV integrators will charge a large fee for this service, which isn’t always in the budget. Some churches choose to have a volunteer try to EQ the room using only their ears and their favorite Lecrae track. Neither of these options are good.  That’s why Lumenos offers this service. We use professional measurement equipment and trained ears at a cost that won’t break your budget. If you’re interested in putting down the decibel meter, please contact us. We’d love to consult with you for free!
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