Takin’ em to Church (with Altec)

Download the eight-page 1966 brochure “Altec Sound Systems for Houses of Worship”:

DOWNLOAD: Altec_Worship_1966

The text above is taken from page 2 of this royal-purple-colored document.  The logical inference would be “As You Are To God, Your PA System Can Be To You! (with ALTEC)”

Been thinking about the voice/sound of God lately.  Our recent purchase of a massive Hammond Organ/Leslie speaker system at Gold Coast Recorders has led me to consider the features/tones/visual considerations that Hammond’s designers implemented when they designed these incredibly complex electro-acoustical devices.   The large Hammond Organs of the 1950s were designed (and commercially successfully, I might add) to replace the pipe organs which had functioned as a sonic {analog/representation/index/or-what-have-you} for religious expression in the Christian church for hundreds of years.  Notice that I say sonic  representation, as opposed to musical representation.  We experience the Hammond Organ/Leslie system as being impressive and one-could-say ‘godlike’ in it’s sonic attributes, even aside from any particular piece of music that’s performed on it.  The unusually deep, pure bass tones of the footpedals; the cavernous Hammond spring reverb system; the swells of the footpedal; the visceral emotional response that the Leslie speaker creates by way of it’s manipulation of the Doppler effect.

Sound systems in churches face certain special design requirements; this 1966 brochure from Altec addresses some of these concerns.  Low distortion, extremely high speech intelligibility, uniform coverage, and minimal visual presence; and all of this must be accomplished at a moderate overall acoustical volume.  Combine these sonic requirements with the fact that the sound system will often be operated by church members, ie., volunteers, ie., not-professional engineers, and you will find that operational simplicity is also necessary.

Given the large number of old Altec mixers on eBay with a stated provenance of ‘from an old church,’ I feel like Altec was probably pretty successful in their church-marketing initiatives of the 1960s.  From what I can gather, Peavey seems to be a leader in church audio today.  It’s interesting to examine the various products in their Sanctuary Series and note the differences between these and their standard nightclub PA line.

To my readers out there:  do any of you operate sound systems in churches?  Are there any special techniques in mic’ing, mixing, or processing of audio in the church environment?  Does anyone attend a church that is still using old green Altec PA kit of the 60’s?

7 thoughts on “Takin’ em to Church (with Altec)”

  1. The Church I went to had one of these systems in it(60’s) … 8 Altec Bi flex woofers, 16- 8 inch high/mid drivers in an infinite baffle high up and hidden behind wood trim ,very impressive sound , powered of course by Altec equipment . My friend still has one of these woofers that was salvaged from this system . It still works. The amps etc vanished. .

  2. This system was pretty much switch on and use . Not much adjusting was necessary unless someone different came up to the mike . Multiple mike inputs were great for the choir at Christmas . Very Clear sound -like the source ,not “honky” or “colored ” sound like todays setups . Easy on the ears.

  3. I have a pair of the A7’s pictured from the 60’s and the Altec 711A matching receiver . Add a DVD and you have the TRUE meaning of Home Theater!!!! Remarkable Speakers! Good down to 35 Hz, below that , you need a sub woofer for pipe organ .

  4. I have one of the consoles pictured in the brochure. It is an Altec 250 T3. Still works excellent!

  5. There is a HOW document Altec put out on interfacing with Hammond, Allen, Rodgers and other brands of organs that would be most interesting reading. Hammond and Allen both depended on speaker modulating mechanical systems for their characteristic sounds, but others did not.

    If you have a Leslie, if you aren’t using it for guitar as well you aren’t getting your money’s worth!

  6. The Hammond is the least church organ sounding electronic organ ever built. I have never seen one in a Catholic, mainline or upscale evangelical church.

    All church electronic organ vendors highly discouraged running a combined PA/organ system for a lot of reasons, both technical and business wise. A combined system needs about three times the total amplifier power and far more drivers and horns. Furthermore, few people understand both PA and organs very well so service becomes a challenge.

  7. I ran sound in a church that had some old Altec equipment. This was around ’07, and I think the stuff was from the 70’s or 80’s. The low end wasn’t working. I think it was speakers and not amp channels that weren’t working. They remodeled and installed powered speakers and a Yamaha M7CL that was pretty nice. The biggest challenge is miking the choir and providing them with enough monitor volume. Also, for the Christmas program, they would add extra acoustic instruments that would overpower the choir.

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