Imagine the moment when a "check engine" light illuminates in your car, prompting the need to visit an authorized mechanic as soon as possible to determine what's causing it and how to fix it. This kind of ongoing maintenance is what helps keep the engine and other mechanical systems from failing — and the same can be said for church sound systems.
System maintenance is inevitable, even for a top-of-the-line church sound system, and should be addressed at the same high level. Preventative maintenance is perhaps the most important type of maintenance for all church sound systems and their users. This means proactively protecting the system from elements such as light, heat, dust, and smoke, which can severely impact performance.
Every input, output, rotary knob, and push-button in a system is a point of connection and requires ongoing maintenance. For instance, on I/O connections and soldered joints, applying an electronic contact cleaner such as DeoxIT dissolves oxides and sulfides that form on metal surfaces. It also restores the contact's integrity and leaves a thin, microscopic layer that protects the metal. The product company also makes a spray that cleans and lubricates console faders, keeping them quiet as you make level changes on Sunday mornings.
Sound systems require periodic visual inspections. Installed PA systems are all mounted in one manner or another, either attached to walls or other architectural elements, or "flown" (i.e., suspended from ceiling-level rigging). All of the supports should be regularly inspected for deterioration like corrosion. This preventative surveillance is recommended by leading PA systems manufacturers, including Bose Professional in the operational manual for the ShowMatch and ArenaMatch array loudspeakers.
The loudspeakers over the stage may seem motionless, but loudspeakers are actually the sound-system components that get the most amount of physical exercise. This is because the diaphragm — the largest part of the loudspeaker assembly — is in near constant motion when in use. It is driven by the voice coil and collared by the suspension ring, which acts like a spring, pulling the diaphragm back to the center after the driver pushes or pulls the coil.
Loudspeakers are at risk of being damaged by events like transient power surges or power overloading. This can be avoided with the use of power-conditioning products and proper matching of loudspeakers and amplifiers. Loudspeakers can also deteriorate over time due to factors such as repetitive mechanical stress (the constant movement of the diaphragm and suspension ring) and environmental factors such as humidity. Keeping the climate of the space where loudspeakers and other electronics are located within a specific range — ideally, 70 degrees to 77 degrees Fahrenheit and 35% to 65% relative humidity — will help stave off such environmental deterioration.
Everyday dust may be the most pernicious adversary your sound system will face. Dust is everywhere, and over time, it settles and creates problems. For instance, it will drift in between the controls on audio consoles and eventually interfere with electrical contacts. Even loudspeakers are affected: Tiny dust particles can be relatively sharp, causing microscopic damage to the elements of the loudspeaker. Furthermore, the dust build-up will impede the proper movement of the speaker while also causing greater friction and retention of unwanted heat.
Static electricity is nearly as dangerous as dust. However, it can damage systems instantaneously, rather than over time, by electrically overcharging and damaging components or connections. It's important to avert a build-up to what could be hazardous levels of static energy by using anti-static floor mats — specifically, at points where staff interact with the system such as at FOH and monitor consoles, and at AMP and DSP racks.
Nonetheless, you may need to replace church sound system components over the course of time and use, switching out a loudspeaker or amplifier for one that's given up the ghost. However, there are downsides to constantly repairing systems. For instance, older systems may use components that are no longer available, and new replacement components may not integrate with older systems. In addition, as with many types of electronic systems, usable life spans have decreased in recent years. Significant factors include higher-temperature operation and more constant use, as many churches turn their auditoriums into music and theatrical performance spaces.
Finally, sound-system technology has changed and advanced at a much more rapid pace than ever before. In fewer than 20 years, church sound system technology has transitioned from conventional stereo systems to surround-sound systems to immersive-type systems. It's a fact of technology that part of the preventative-maintenance regimen of the future will be to replace entire systems. Whether you call it preemptive strategic renovation, it's an increasingly valid strategy.
More recent advancements in PA systems are making maintenance requirements easier to address in the future. Columnar line arrays have grown in popularity in recent years, largely because they combine more speakers into a single unit, thus reducing both capital costs (built-in amplifiers inside the powered column speakers reduce the number of amps needed) and maintenance requirements.
For instance, Bose Professional Panaray MSA12X self-powered digital beam-steering loudspeaker — which directs sound where its wanted — is essentially an enclosed unit, with speakers, amplifiers, and DSP processing in a single package. Combining all of those elements into a cohesive unit can significantly reduce maintenance needs and costs over time. Amplifiers have also evolved. No longer just brute power packs, modern "amplified controllers" like Bose Professional PowerSpace 4300+ now incorporate functionality such as routing, level control, delays, limiters, and thermal monitoring.