Live audio production and soundboards have come a long way in the last ten years. While it may seem like it took forever for some trends in church production to change, at the same time, it seems like it was overnight. For many of us who cut our teeth on large format analog soundboards in church or other venues, it’s hard to believe the technology that’s available at our fingertips now (and in smaller formats than ever), even though we use it week in and week out.
If your church is looking for a new soundboard to upgrade or replace the old one, or maybe you’re just getting started with a new building or venue, or you are part of a brand new church, you have come to the right place. Below we are going to look at five of the best soundboard choices available for church and worship teams.
1. Presonus StudioLive
The Presonus StudioLive series soundboards were originally introduced in 2009 with a 16-channel digital mixer (the StudioLive 16.4.2), then, after unprecedented success, a 24-channel version in 2010 (the StudioLive 24.4.2). The StudioLive rocked the world of small to medium format sound systems in churches and other venues because it made features available to all that were formerly only for large venues with large budgets. It was the first digital soundboard available in the $2000 price range and was also a hit because it felt simple and instantly familiar for those coming from analog soundboards, despite the new digital features.
Today’s “Series III” StudioLive boards still offer a simple and intuitive workflow that makes it as easy as possible to utilize a world of features without overly complex menus and layers. The main workflow of the StudioLive is built around its “Fat Channel” which includes a gate, compressor, and parametric equalizer for every channel, aux, and mix bus. It’s also easy to route sends and returns for the built-in FX buses for amazing reverbs and delays.
The connectivity of the StudioLive series is also a huge advantage, which allows you to use WiFi or wired networking to remotely control your mixer from any computer, laptop, or tablet, and control aux monitor mixes with just a phone. Plus, it’s easy to record multitrack audio via the included Capture software or any DAW when connected over USB or AVB network audio.
StudioLive soundboards are available in formats from 16 channels all the way to 64 channels, with nearly unlimited ability to combine and interface multiple units together in an ecosystem. Choices include small rack-mounted versions of the StudioLive, full desk versions with faders, digital stage boxes, and accessories like personal monitor mixers. And the best part is, volunteers can very quickly become familiar with this ecosystem and feel comfortable in no time.
2. Behringer X32
Originally released in 2012 shortly after the widely successful Presonus StudioLive wave, Behringer entered the budget digital mixer market with their highly anticipated X32 soundboard. While Behringer was already known for budget-friendly audio equipment for churches and nearly every type of music venue, their union with well-known premium audio provider Midas, saw the development of the X32 line of products. While Presonus broke the ice with the first budget-friendly digital mixer, Behringer was the first to introduce features like motorized faders into soundboards in this price range.
The Behringer X32 very quickly became an industry-standard in many smaller venues, churches, and for traveling musicians after it was released. Also, being in the $2000 to $3000 price range, it is still very accessible for many church production budgets and offers the same features you would find on more expensive and complex sound environments.
One main strength of the X32 is its flexibility. While it can be more complex in some of its workflows, it offers nearly endless customization and routing for sub-mixes, busses, and outputs besides traditional stereo mix outputs. With tons of built-in processing and FX, it can meet almost any need you could throw at it without breaking the bank. And once it’s configured, it should be fairly easy to train volunteers to man this soundboard for church services and worship gatherings.
The X32 and its line of soundboards is also configurable in an environment with rack mounted units as an option and digital stage boxes, expansion units, networking to other mixers, and the popular Behringer Powerplay personal monitor mixers with network audio.
And we should mention, the Midas M32 is available as a “sister” soundboard that’s nearly identical in function and operation as the X32, but with a slight upgrade in physical design and some components like preamps.
3. Soundcraft SI Impact
The Soundcraft SI Impact soundboard offers the ultimate in straightforward simplicity combined with high-quality, pristine sound. Upping the ante from the Presonus and Behringer products and moving into the $3000 to $4000 price range, the SI Impact brings the legendary and specific British sound of Soundcraft to the digital world.
While focused on a simple workflow that many would say resembles the workflow in traditional analog sound consoles, the SI Impact does offer some unique, one-of-a-kind features that make the process of digital audio more fun and intuitive. One of these notable features is the FaderGlow system, which allows users to easily use the same set of faders to manage different mixes and functions but still have a quick visual indication of what’s being adjusted.
The main concept of the Soundcraft SI workflow is that you can very quickly flip to different layers and functions (like aux monitor mixes), then use the faders to adjust and flip back to mixing for front of house. While this is a common concept in digital mixers, the FaderGlow system makes it much easier to see what you’re doing, do it fast, and get on to the next adjustment you need to make.
The Soundcraft SI Impact system offers an accompanying digital stage box option, as well as the connectivity features you would expect in a digital system in this range (like remote control via network/computer and tablets and USB audio interface recording). The standout factor for the SI series is no compromise, high-quality audio in a portable and digital domain.
4. Allen & Heath SQ-7
Another highly respected name in the audio industry is Allen & Heath. Offering many high-end and world-renown mixers in the analog live audio world, you can be sure that a digital product from the brand will be equally as revered. In the slightly higher price range of $4000 to $6000, the Allen & Hearth SQ line offers a sophistication that’s sought after for medium to large settings but in a format that’s readily deployable in any worship environment. It offers the same expected features as similar products from competitors, like a USB audio recording interface and network connectivity for remote control and digital stage boxes.
The stalwarts of the Allen & Heath SQ series soundboards is much the same as the mixers we have looked at by Presonus, Behringer, and Soundcraft, but with a larger format in mind. With the focus on advanced digital signal processing (DSP) at low latency, the SQ-7 and its smaller counterparts have some of the highest quality, most pristine sounding audio in the industry.
The high quality in audio is also reflected in the very well-thought-out control surface on these Allen & Heath boards, which offers ease of use and quick access to the soundboard’s many features and powerful processing. Mixing on an SQ series board feels very refined and brings a boutique, high-class experience to the everyday management of a digital audio mix.
And despite the world-class features, Allen & Heath has also packed some powerful automated features into the SQ-7 that will make life easier for volunteers who have less experience. A feature called Automatic Mic Mixing helps to manage large mixes with many open microphones by offering a safety net to ensure you never hear an excessive imbalance between mic levels that are selected to be managed automatically.
5. Yamaha QL5
The last of our top 5 best soundboards for church worship is the Yamaha QL5. As one of the first brands to offer digital soundboards when they were brand new and very expensive, Yamaha consoles are some of the most industry standard and widely adopted digital soundboards for worship and the audio industry as a whole. Building on years of experience with the large M7CL console (still a popular monitor console today) and the smaller LS9 that brought digital features to smaller venues, Yamaha has stayed current with the QL5 soundboard.
While in a much higher price range than the previous mixers on our list, some would say the professionalism and tried and true reputation of Yamaha systems will be the way to go for very large settings. The Yamaha QL5 offers the commonly expected features of digital mixers like a recording interface, network capabilities for remote control, an ecosystem of digital stage input boxes, and the ability to interface with 3rd party personal monitor mixing systems like Aviom.
The Yamaha QL5 offers an actual 32 faders, which is a welcome enhancement from having to bounce around to different fader banks so much when mixing, and its large touch screen makes features more visually accessible than any menu system of the past. The soundboard’s software platform allows you to run some audio plugins without even having a separate system that would typically be required for that type of integration with 3rd party tools.
If you’re looking for high-quality and an industry-standard setup that touring acts could even utilize if coming to your church, consider this new line from Yamaha to really get the best of years of digital audio standards in a large format, combined with all the modern amenities and ease of use of a smaller platform digital board.
That’s our short list!
There are many factors that play into finding a soundboard that meets the unique needs of your ministry, both for features and for budget. But the great news is, there have never been so many great choices for any church looking to have a quality piece of audio gear to make the message of Jesus heard loud and clear. We could not even list them all, but we hope to have given you a good start. With a little research, you will be wiring up your new soundboard and training your team to run it in no time!