Dorset Sound & Communications

Sound system design for the 21st Century

Monitors - Floor, Personal, IEMs

A monitor system is a special-purpose sound system designed to allow performers to hear themselves, to better gauge their work, and to hear others playing along with them. A good monitor mix helps keep everyone together. Consequently, a stage monitor system is mixed differently from your main house reinforcement mix. A stage monitor mix needs to contain only the sound sources the performer needs to do his job. Nothing else. One of the biggest problems facing most contemporary churches is stage noise. It gets so bad that the choir is competing with the stage monitors. The killer is when musicians and even pastors insist that the monitors be so loud that they backwash or reflect into the congregation and muddy the reinforcement mix. Stage monitors are not to create a little self-satisfying groove-fest for the performers. The real purpose is to help the musicians better serve the audience. The ultimate insult is when monitors are so loud that they cause ringing ears and hearing damage.

Big stage shows and some large churches often use a separate monitor mixer just off to the edge of the platform. A monitor mixer receives a "split" off of every stage mic line making it completely independent of the reinforcement task. Being at the side of the stage, the monitor operator can almost hear all the monitor speakers and is in position to get easy instruction from the stage. Most churches do not have that luxury. All of their monitor mixes come directly from main mixer auxiliaries. During a service the operator has more pressing problems than to divide his attention between the sound around him and ambiguous hand signals from the band. That is why I recommend all church monitor mixes be set up as simply as possible in choir practices and only sparingly changed in the service. I also recommend that each operator spend at least a service on the platform either in the choir or among the band to get an idea of the sound needed on-stage.

We have found that multiple stage monitor mixes can help with stage noise. Using several auxiliaries from your mixer you can give groups of performers only what they need. The worship leader needs the piano, guitar and praise singers. The praise singers need the worship leader, and piano and rhythm guitar. The choir needs the pulpit, worship leader and piano. The band needs some of themselves, but primarily the worship leader and the soloists. Each user gets exactly what he needs.

Stage monitor systems come in several flavors:

Monitor speakers

The stage monitor environment is difficult to keep stable. Everyone has seen the low profile wedge speakers. Wedges should be located so they are close to the user. Don't try to cover the whole stage. If you do you'll have trouble with stage noise. You can also run into feedback problems because high level microphones are in close proximity to high level speakers. Be careful of performers pointing handheld mics directly at floor monitors. Sure disaster.

A variation is the Galaxy HotSpot. Created by a pianist, HotSpots are small speakers often atop a mic stand or set on the top of the keyboards. They have limited frequency response, but do their specialized, close monitor job well.

Suspended "wash" monitor speakers are often placed above choirs. They cover a wide area. The choir loft is often behind the pulpit and performers, making it hard for the choir to hear and follow the action. A choir mix will include the pulpit, announcements, soloists, piano, worship leader and any pre-recorded instrumental tracks they are expected to follow. One note of warning - NEVER feed suspended choir mics back into the choir wash monitor. The choir by it's very nature can hear the choir members all around themselves. If they are finding it hard to stay together try close mic'ing two to four lead singers to feed back into the monitor.

Headphone monitor systems

In the quest of a "silent" stage, a number of churches have moved to wired headphones for stationary performers such as musicians and praise singers. A headphone system could be as simple as an auxiliary send to the platform, a good limiter, to prevent hearing damage, a headphone distribution amplifier and the headphones. The sound operator can mix a headphone feed by listening to the auxiliary channel PFL through his own headphones at the mixer. You may have to add an ambience mic to relieve the isolation some feel when listening to headphone systems.

The ultimate in headphone systems use matrix mixers to allow musicians to "mix" their own headphone sound. It's often called a "more me" system. Individual mix systems are made by Rolls, Hear Technologies and Aviom. Hear and Aviom systems run on standard computer network Cat5e cable and connectors, although they are not compatible with Ethernet business network systems.  Once in use, I have heard of church musicians who feel lost without their matrix monitor. 

In-Ear Monitors

In-Ear Monitors (IEMs) are a sophisticated wireless version of a headphone system. A mixer auxiliary monitor send is connected to a limiter and to a small radio transmitter, much like a stationary wireless mic. Users are equipped with a beltpack receiver and comfortable miniature earphones called earbuds or earmolds. They control how loud or soft they hear their monitor sound. It is not unusual for an IEM system for one person to cost $600-1200. Popular manufacturers are Sennheiser, AudioTechnica, Shure, Galaxy and Garwood. Etymotic makes personal earmolds. Popular earsets are manufacturered by Shure, Sennheiser, and AudioTechnica.

Look at some major performers. It is not unusual to see them wired up with three beltpacks - a wireless headset mic, wireless guitar link, and a set of wireless IEMs. Very active churches are heading that way.


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