How Audio Gates Work

Using Gates in a church sound system is highly recommended. With worship team bands, you may have a large variety of instruments playing on a small stage; this is where gating becomes a top priority. Gates are very similar to compressors; they both limit the amount of input and control the amount of output. In an ideal world, every sound system would contain both gates and compressors, however the costs of these units can be pretty high, and you may only be able to get one or the other. A gate is best used on drums, or bass guitars, where there are a lot of excess buzz and noise produced from the other instruments and monitors. Gates are fairly easy to understand, and can be grasped in a few short minutes of experimenting.

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The Gate Dials

A Gate will have similar dials to the compressor, Threshold, Output gain, and ratio. They work similarly too. The Threshold controls the amount of input required before the gate turns on. This again should be started at 0 DB and adjusted from there. The Ratio dial adjust the amount of gating that takes place. You can adjust this form gentle gating to hard gating. Lastly, the Output gain dial will adjust the amount of output volume you get from your gates.

How To Use Gates

Gating is best used on Drum kits and Bass guitars, like I said above, because there is a lot of access volume and buzz produced. This is where your gate comes into play. Let’s use a drum kit as an example. Say you have a fully mic’ed drum kit. When you play your drums each mic is supposed to pick up the drum it’s positioned to. However, most of the time the volume produced by other drums will “bleed” into the surrounding mics, resulting in a poor sounding mix that cannot be equalized or mixed properly. Stage monitors can also add unwanted noise through the system. Plugging your microphones into gates will limit the amount of input received by each mic.

Set your Threshold to a certain level, this is now the cutoff level for that mic, meaning any volume below the Threshold will not be heard, while any level above the Threshold will be heard. With your drum kit, you will want to set the levels so each mic picks up the drum it is assigned to only, cutting out any other drum or sound bleeding into the mic. When done correctly, each channel will be clean and clear for equalizing and adjustment. Setting the Ratio on the gate will control how powerful the gate is. By setting this, you are controlling how powerful the gate cuts of, or limits the sound below the Threshold. Infinity would virtually cut off any sound from the output. Watch out though, because too much gating will result in a “choked” sound, meaning the instrument will sound too controlled, and have very little sustain.

This can be used on any signal coming in, bass guitar, drums, and piano; however, vocals should stick with a compressor only, because vocals generally have the most dynamic level. Gating your vocal input will hinder its sound, resulting in an unnatural voice. Make sure you keep a close eye on your gates; as they can result in great sound, or poor sound quality to your mix.

Conclusion

On a stage with many monitors, instruments and other sounds; microphone bleeding is bound to happen. The only way to stop this from happening is by using gates and compressors. They are a great tool to use, and should not be overlooked when building your sound system. If you can only afford a few gates, make sure you use it appropriately, by mic'ing the instruments that need it the most – the drums. They are not hard to use, and can be set up in no time! Like compressors, there is not guideline to perfect sound, each set up is different and must be looked at individually. Make sure you play around with your sound until you get the best overall mix from your church! If you are in need of a more detailed breakdown on how gates work and how to optimize your church audio system.

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