Ideas on how to troubleshoot a ceiling-hung speaker, 30 ft in the air
April 16, 2017 4:05 PM   Subscribe

Our church's main speaker was working fine one Sunday and then didn't work at all the next one. We're thinking it could be a loose connection at the speaker but we aren't sure about the best way to get up there to look. It is unfortunately right below the podium stairs and so we'd need to build up a flat surface before setting up scaffolding.

Any suggestions on the best way to access the speaker to check the wiring - is a scaffold the best way to get up there and do any re-wiring? The next step then would be to figure out how to lower the speaker for repairs, if necessary.
We attached other speakers and are using them in the interim, so we are confident that the underlying issue is with the speaker wiring or the speaker.
There is an attic above the ceiling, which is accessible but not flat because of the arched ceiling.
posted by hala mass to Technology (14 answers total)
Rent a scissor lift? Are there double doors that lead into the space so that you could roll in a lift? I feel like calling a local AV Tech company is your best bet as they will likely have all the tools plus know-how to troubleshoot and then fix your problem. I feel like if you try to do something iffy, you'll end up hurting someone and have liability problems.
posted by amanda at 4:17 PM on April 16 [2 favorites]

We thought about the scissor lift but there are stairs going up to both entrances and we don't think the scissor lift would get close enough to the speaker, because of the podium stairs.
posted by hala mass at 4:21 PM on April 16

From the ground, have you tested whether there is an open circuit from one speaker lead to the other?
posted by lozierj at 5:01 PM on April 16 [4 favorites]

Scaffolding is how I've done this in the past. You can rent scaffolding with adjustable screw feet, and if you're lucky the placement of the speaker is such that you can put the scaffolding half on/half off the steps and have the scaffold be level.

Another possibility is a boom lift, if the doors to the church are large enough to fit one through.

Otherwise it might be possible to rent portable staging that could create a level surface over the steps. And when that hasn't worked we've relied on church volunteers/handymen to build a level surface over stairs with 3/4" plywood and 2x4/2x6's.

A local A/V tech company may well not own scaffolding/scissor lift/boom lift, but they might be more comfortable getting up in the air and monkeying around on one, and they'll have some knowledge about how to get the speaker down safely. So it'd probably be worth calling around for a consultation, at least.
posted by soundguy99 at 5:17 PM on April 16 [1 favorite]

Usually a speaker just quitting one day means a blown fuse or crossover or a speaker. Be prepared in case you discover something more than a loose connection.
posted by spitbull at 5:28 PM on April 16

Have you any older members who can recall if the speaker was installed from the attic side or from below?

Where is the speaker cable routed?

Or can you tell from the mounting if the suspension goes into the attic?

If there is attic mounting, you may be able to disconnect and lower the speaker and/or reinstall the same way.

Use care in accessing the arched ceiling (likely plaster and lath)! But if it and/or the wiring was installed from above, someone has been up there before.
posted by tronec at 5:47 PM on April 16

1. Disconnect wires from amp. Put multimeter on wires. It should give something between 2 and 16 ohms. 0 or megaohms iis blown speaker

2. Assuming you get a 2-16 measurement leave wires off amp. (For the heck of it turn off everything) tap the wires for that speaker on a 9volt battery with someone listening. Tap dont hold. You should here a clicking/popping.

If 1 and 2 = true then speaker is likely fine. Hire a professional to look at amps.


Cherry pickers are the tool. They have ones you can rent that you kind of roll in and build and have a stable base but let you boom away to clear stairs or objects.

But, ya know. Hire a pro. We're nice guys. Checked out your profile. i recall a company in kw called sherwood audio that were professional and reasonable.

If you want to try yourself memail ahead of time when youre doing it and i am happy to provide a phone assist if you'd like to talk through the test and results.
posted by chasles at 6:10 PM on April 16 [7 favorites]

Sorry just to add, the boom lift thing is not too hard. Call some rental places (cant remember canadian brands but theres a ginourmous one on qew in hamilton) and some of the smaller straight up lifts (no boom) are literally small enough to be loaded in back of pickup by 2 normal guys. I think they call those "narrow lifts" or "contractor lifts" but if you call a rental place and explain theyll have something...
posted by chasles at 6:15 PM on April 16

Call a local painting contractor (large enough that thye might be able to actually paint a church) and ask if they could help you out. I suspect they will have both the equipment and the person who can do this safely...might even have someone in the congregation...
posted by NoDef at 6:32 PM on April 16

Could you snag the sneaker and pull it one direction to make access easier? Is there a spot that is higher but with better access?
posted by nickggully at 8:19 PM on April 16

What happens if you connect a known-good speaker to the amp?
posted by gregr at 6:37 AM on April 17 [1 favorite]

The short answer is to bring in the contractor who originally provided and installed the speaker. Good luck.
posted by JimN2TAW at 10:10 AM on April 17

Wanted to second gregr's question: What happens if you connect a known-good speaker to the amp?

You want to isolate as many variables as possible. It would be a bummer if you did something like rent a boom lift, only to discover that the real problem was your amp on the ground. Maybe you verified this already, but worth asking again.
posted by reeddavid at 5:45 PM on April 17

Thanks all! Yes, we do have other speakers running off the amp right now and so we have eliminated that as a root cause.
We are actually talking with Sherwood, chasles! It sounds like they are willing to build up scaffolding to take a look at it and hopefully quickly getting it back up before the next service.
We tested the speaker wires and I'm told that it was an open circuit. I gather that means there's no connection with a properly functioning speaker?
posted by hala mass at 6:20 PM on April 17

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