AV Systems for Small Venues: Balancing Features & Budget

Small Venue AV

Audio/Video Systems are a crucial part of small venues.  One of the greatest struggles of making an small venue AV system is the balance between cost and future proofing.  Sure, you can get a system that does what you need, but does it do it well?  What if your needs change?  What if you need to mix it up a little?  You can also go totally overboard in the other direction, spending thousands on features you use once, if ever.

Today we’ll look at what features you may need for AV systems for small venues.  Balancing versatility and cost is a difficult game, and we’ll help you make the best decisions possible, given your budget and situation.  We’ll consider what you need for two basic categories of venues:  Small indoor concert venues, and presentation auditoriums.

Scenario #1: Smaller Indoor Music Venues

Indoor concerts are largely audio-focused events.  A Venue needs to accommodate about half a dozen musicians, special lighting, speakers capable of creating a powerful sound for numerous audience members.  Special needs include specialized audio mixing setups, drum microphones, and powerful audio outputs.

Mixing Boards

Choosing the appropriate number of channels on a mixer is crucial, balancing budget and future expansion needs. Larger mixers with more channels offer flexibility to accommodate more inputs but come at a higher cost.

A compact 16-24 channel mixer could suffice for smaller bands or solo acts, providing essential inputs for instruments and vocals within a limited budget. However, this may restrict future growth, requiring an upgrade for more elaborate setups or additions like extra monitors or effects returns.

On the other hand, investing in a 32-48 channel mixer upfront, albeit more expensive, ensures ample headroom for expanding the setup over time. This accommodates an increasing number of inputs, additional monitors, and integration with outboard gear while avoiding the need for an early mixer replacement.

Another consideration for mixing boards is whether you want to go with a analog board or a digital board.  On the surface a digital board may look more expensive, but digital boards combine the functionality of a analogue board as well as analog processing.  The main advantage of using an analog board is enhanced audio quality from separating the board from the processing.  This is why most recording studios use analog boards instead of digital.  Separating the board and processing however, is impractical for small concert venues, which is why we recommend digital boards for most AV applications.

Stage & Venue Lighting


Stage & venue lighting is an important part AV systems for small venues.  There are two basic components of lighting, a lighting control board, and the various lighting fixtures it controls.  

As far as lighting fixtures go, investing in multi-purpose fixtures can reduce the need for numerous specialized units. Consider investing in a few quality moving heads for dynamic effects, supplemented by more affordable static lights. A basic but expandable control system allows for growth without breaking the bank initially. Prioritize fixtures that offer multiple features to maximize value while maintaining the flexibility needed for different styles.

Lighting boards are essential control centers for stage lighting, ranging from compact, budget-friendly models to complex systems with multiple universes. Modern digital consoles offer programmable cues, effects, and dimming control. Key features include faders, encoders, touchscreens, and DMX outputs for precise fixture management.

The choice between more or fewer features depends on your venue’s needs and budget. Advanced boards offer greater creative control and flexibility but are more expensive and complex. Simpler boards are more affordable and easier to use, ideal for venues with consistent lighting needs. Consider your staff’s expertise, event types, and long-term plans when deciding.


Drum mics are specialized microphones for capturing individual parts of a drum kit, offering an alternative to simple overhead mics. For intimate venues or acoustic performances, well-placed overheads may suffice, reducing complexity and costs. However, in larger venues or when drums are prominent, individual mics become essential for achieving a balanced, well-defined sound that cuts through the mix.

Wireless microphones provide mobility for performers but may not be essential in small venues. For stationary acoustic or spoken word events, wired mics offer reliable, affordable solutions. However, for high-energy performances with extensive movement or multiple vocalists, wireless systems become invaluable, enhancing the experience and reducing tripping hazards. The choice depends on specific performance needs and budget constraints.

Streaming Capabilities

Incorporating streaming capabilities into an audio setup can be a valuable addition, enabling venues to reach a wider online audience and tap into new revenue streams, but the decision should be weighed against the associated costs and technical requirements.

For venues primarily focused on live performances with a local audience, investing in a dedicated streaming isn’t necessary. Prioritizing core audio equipment for high-quality live sound would take precedence over expensive video equipment for streaming.

However, for venues looking to expand their reach, integrating streaming equipment is a priority, as It allows broadcasting to remote viewers, enabling monetization through virtual ticketing and opening up archiving/promotional opportunities.


Scenario #2: Smaller Presentation Auditoriums

Presentation auditoriums have different needs as compared to small indoor concert venues.  They usually One of these is high quality video for slides and other information.  A presentation auditoriums also have more basic audio needs.

Projectors & Resolution

Projector resolution is a key consideration, with 1080p (Full HD) and 4K being the main options. 1080p projectors are more affordable, while 4K projectors deliver greater resolution, providing detail and clarity for high-resolution content.

For auditoriums primarily used for basic presentations or standard definition video content, a 1080p projector could suffice, ensuring clear and sharp images while staying within a reasonable budget.  Many graphics, and video used on screen may also not support 4k resolution, making it impractical to get a 4k projector.

On the other hand, a 4K projector would be ideal for small venue av systems that frequently showcase high-resolution content, such as 4K videos or intricate graphics. The higher resolution ensures even the finest details are rendered crisply, enhancing the overall viewing experience, especially for larger screens or audiences seated closer to the screen.

Recording Capacities

Recording and streaming capabilities can be a valuable addition to a small venue av system, but the decision to incorporate them should be weighed against the associated costs and technical requirements.

For auditoriums primarily used for live presentations or events without the need for remote viewing or archiving, investing in dedicated recording and streaming equipment isn’t necessary, especially when working within a strict budget. In such cases, prioritizing core AV components takes precedence.

However, for auditoriums that aim to reach a wider audience, enable remote participation, or create a library of recorded content, integrating recording and streaming capabilities is very useful. This allows for broadcasting presentations or events to remote viewers without the use of external recording.

Number of Audio Channels

The number of audio channels and microphones in an auditorium’s audio setup can impact its versatility and potential uses.

For auditoriums primarily intended for presentations or speeches, a basic setup with a limited number of channels and a few wired microphones may suffice, providing adequate coverage for straightforward audio needs while keeping costs down.

However, if the auditorium is also expected to host small concerts, theatrical performances, or similar events that require more extensive audio capabilities, investing in a larger audio mixer with more channels is good future-proofing. This allows for the integration of multiple microphones, including wireless options, ensuring proper capture and mixing of instruments, vocals, and other sound sources. Additionally, having more audio channels can accommodate future expansions, such as adding more microphones or incorporating specialized equipment like direct boxes for instruments.

Retractable Screens

Retractable Screens
In a similar manner to audio channels, retractable screens are great for if you plan on using your auditorium for a diverse spectrum of events.  However, you you’re only planning on using the auditorium for lectures, it’s best to cut costs, and opt out of getting a retractable screen.

Church Systems

Church systems have a lot of similarities to both small concert venues and auditoriums.  Church service is essentially a small concert followed by a lecture. Because of the similarities between indoor concert venues, auditoriums and churches.  We’ll be recapping important points and elaborating slightly

Audio Channels

For churches, a larger audio mixer with ample channels is beneficial to accommodate various inputs like multiple microphones, instruments for worship bands, and auxiliary sources for playback or recording.

Analogue vs Digital Mixing Board

For a small church with a limited budget, an analog mixer may be the more practical choice, providing a straightforward interface and warm sound at a lower cost. However, a digital mixer could offer more flexibility, features like built-in effects, and future expandability options, making it a worthwhile investment if the budget allows for the upfront cost.

Retractable Screens

Retractable screens may be useful for a church.  However, if you want to show vocals on screens during worship, and slides for the sermon, then a retractable screen may not see much use.  Overall retractable screens aren’t a great fit for churches, especially those with tight budgets.

Recording Capabilities

Churches should almost always incorporate recording and streaming capabilities into their AV systems. Recording services allows for archiving, content distribution to homebound members, and livestreaming. While an initial investment, recording enables greater outreach and engagement with the congregation beyond just in-person attendance.  The only circumstance where you wouldn’t want recording is for very small services with heavy in-person emphasis.

Wireless Mics

Wireless microphones can be highly beneficial in church settings, allowing ministers, and worship leaders to move freely during services without being tethered to cables. However, the additional cost and potential for interference or dropouts should be carefully evaluated against the church’s specific needs and budget constraints.  Having a wireless mic may not be a concern if the stage is particularly small, or if the pastor is otherwise is not in the habit of moving.

Drum Mics

In a church worship setting, dedicated drum mics can be valuable when amplifying a full drum kit for contemporary worship bands or ensembles. However, for smaller churches drum mics can prove to be unnecessary for a small worship group.

When it comes to AV systems for small venues, striking the right balance between functionality, budget, and future-proofing is paramount. Prioritizing essential components like audio quality, while leaving room for gradual upgrades and expansions, can help ensure great quality, while facilitating growth. Consulting with experienced AV professionals can provide invaluable guidance in navigating through tough decisions, and getting the best bang for your buck.