8 Tips for Improving Clarity in Speech

Often, it's easy to neglect the sermon while preparing for the music. Here's how to make sure you're mixing to make speaking heard.

There is a huge advantage to mixing music over mixing speech; you can blend sounds when mixing music. That is to say, if you have one instrument or vocalist you can’t quite get right in the mix, you always have the other instruments and vocals to fill in and blend in with that particular problem channel. When it comes to mixing speech, i.e. the pastor’s voice, you don’t have that benefit.

Consider these eight tips for mixing the pastor’s voice and improving the clarity of his or her voice.

1. Consider volume and frequency. Vocal clarity comes from changes in volume and frequency manipulation. A pastor that’s hard to understand might only need a volume bump. Regarding frequency manipulation, clarity is found primarily in the upper mid-range frequencies. The typical frequency ranges used in the spoken word are 150 Hz to 6,000 Hz for men and 350 Hz to 8,000 Hz for women.

2. Use a high pass filter (HPF) for dropping out sounds below 80 Hz. While a male’s voice might have frequencies in that low of an area, it’s nothing that’s going to help his clarity. Start with your HPF around 80 and slowly increase it up to the 125 Hz range. Wherever you find a noticeable change in clarity is the spot you need.

3. Boost in the mid-range. The important frequency range for speech intelligibility is in the 1,000 Hz to 4,000 Hz range. Often, a boost of 3 to 5 dB in this range will increase the clarity. Start around the 3,000 Hz point. If you have Q (bandwidth) control, use a wide bandwidth. In the cases where the 1,000 to 4,000 Hz range isn’t giving you the clarity you desire, consider going up to 6,000 Hz.

4. Add warmth to the vocal. A voice can sound clear, but have no feeling behind it. This can happen with a voice that’s crystal clear, but has little to no low end. Add a 3 dB bump in the 160 Hz to 400 Hz range; lower for men, higher for women.

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Chris Huff
Chris Huff has worked in the live sound environment for over 15 years. Most of that experience has been in a church setting, but he tries to work other venues when he can. He currently runs sound at Franklin Community Church, in Indiana, where he is also the volunteer Tech Director.