- by Thomas S. Friedman
Achieving great sound in a house of worship setting is fraught with challenges. Worship services may range from simple piano and/or organ with voices to high-SPL contemporary music at rock concert levels; or with many churches, it may be a combination of the two, serving two different congregations. Unfortunately, few house of worship sanctuaries are built with acoustical needs in mind, and often feature highly reverberant spaces with ample use of wood, glass, marble and other acoustically reflective materials.
Fortunately, today’s technologies go a long way towards providing tools to improve that situation, making significant strides in creating an environment with high intelligibility, wide bandwidth, superb coverage, controlled dispersion and mix tools that allow the engineer to translate the power of the message to the entire congregation, whether seated near the altar or in the last row.
With that in mind, we present this collection of recent installation projects, with both whole system and incremental upgrades. Each of these took a different route in their approach, proving there are numerous solutions to any audio problem — large or small — for any sanctuary.
Purpose Church, Pomona, CA
Purpose Church, a large congregation in the southern California community of Pomona, decided to upgrade its 25-year-old system. The fan-shaped sanctuary seats 1,800 to 2,000 and features a wraparound balcony that necessitates 180 degrees of coverage.
As the space is comprised largely of hard, flat surfaces — with little or no acoustic treatment — the room required a sound system with custom-tailored coverage, with user presets to simplify the process. The church’s audio tech director, Peter Wilson, working with audio/acoustic system designer Jeremy Rynders, selected an Eastern Acoustic Works Adaptive sound reinforcement system based around EAW’s Anna line array modules.
“The room is wider than it is deep and features a stage with a band/orchestra space in front of it,” explains Wilson. “We hoped to put in a system that could easily adapt from full room coverage, to just main seating without the balcony or even dial it in smaller for more intimate events. Anna does all of that and more.”
Rynders ultimately specified a left-center-right approach with the left and right arrays made up of two columns — one with six Anna modules and the other with three. The center cluster consists of two Anna columns, each three high. A total of 24 Anna modules are in use. Anna’s 100-degree horizontal dispersion was paramount to covering the wide seating area.
“The system is a true left-right-center system, with each array creating a custom shaped 180-degree horizontal coverage pattern,” adds Rynders. “EAW Resolution software is used to change the Adaptive coverage patterns for different seating requirements and for different services. All of the vocals and spoken word go through the center, which covers the entire room. Left and right are music — true stereo from farthest left to farthest right.”
Rynders and Wilson worked closely with EAW’s Application Support Group to build the church model in Resolution and create the custom presets that allows the church team to easily use the system for variety application and seating configurations.
Anna modules provide any desired coverage pattern while hanging straight, without any vertical splay or array curvature, allowing the left and right arrays to be hung high enough to keep the line of sight for the video screens open while still serving the audience seating directly below. Located behind a screen, the center cluster is virtually invisible. Because Resolution 2 software creates the ideal coverage pattern based on simple user input, the Church had much more flexibility in placement of the arrays than with a traditional point source or mechanically-articulated line array solution.
“We do three different services designed to attract three totally different audiences — choir, contemporary, and alt-contemporary. We have two different bands and we don’t have a lot of time to sound check,” Rynders concludes. “What we pull off every Sunday is complicated. This is the ideal solution for this room and gives the church exactly what it wanted.”
- Capacity: 1,800 - 2,000
- Key Components: EAW Anna
- Integrator: Jeremy Rynders
St. Andrews by-the-Sea United Methodist, San Clemente, CA
Guided by Lead Pastor Rev. Adiel DePano, St. Andrews by-the-Sea United Methodist is a multi-generational church with a wide range of ministries designed to appeal to its varied congregation. To address its diverse membership, the church recently upgraded its sound reinforcement system.
Integrator PS Audio Video of San Diego, CA, was contracted to handle the project. Company owner Paul Svenson elected to install two WorxAudio TrueLine X3i-P powered all-in-one compact line arrays and a TrueLine X118i-P/D subwoofer.
“The sanctuary is a wide, somewhat fan-shaped space,” Svenson explained. A 30-foot stage faces into the 92-foot width of the room, with 65 feet to the rear wall. The space incorporates a balcony with two to three rows of seating under the balcony overhang. “The church offers both traditional and contemporary services, so music reproduction was as important as speech intelligibility. Due to the room design, we needed loudspeakers with wide dispersion and an extremely controlled vertical pattern. The WorxAudio X3i-P meets these requirements very well.”
The two X3i-P enclosures were custom finished to match the church interior and positioned on the left and right rear wall of the stage area adjacent to the video monitors. Each box was hung from a single point via Svenson-designed custom rigging frames to the WorxAudio Minibeam hardware on the top of each box. The X118 subwoofer sits against the rear wall where the praise band’s bassist and drummer are typically located.
“The X3’s wide horizontal dispersion and well defined vertical throw enabled us to cover this space with just the two enclosures,” he says. “I’m impressed by the sound quality and construction of the equipment. Equally important, the WorxAudio Minibeam and pipe-oriented rigging hardware made installing these loudspeakers very smooth and easy. I’m also a big fan of PreSonus — WorxAudio’s parent company — and we used a PreSonus StudioLive AVB48AI mixing console on this job. Being able to coordinate all this through a single company was another benefit and the loudspeakers were painted to match and delivered ahead of original projections.”
Svenson reports the project has been extremely successful. “Since the installation’s completion, the congregation has been very pleased and impressed with the sound and appearance of the system,” he says. “The band leader and other musicians were also extremely happy. The bottom line is the new loudspeaker system is meeting — and exceeding — everyone’s expectations.”
- St. Andrews by-the-Sea
- Capacity: 400
- Key Components: WorxAudio TrueLine X3i-P line arrays, PreSonus StudioLive AVB48AI console
- Integrator: PS Audio Video
Christian Life Assembly, Camp Hill, PA
Christian Life Assembly now has a modern A/V system featuring multiple video screens, an Allen & Heath dLive S7000 surface with a DM64 MixRack and DX32 Expander, an IP8 Remote Controller and sixteen ME-1 Personal Mixers.
Acquired from Emmaus Media & Design (Harrisburg, PA), the dLive replaces an 11-year-old digital mixer damaged by a lightning strike. The church considered other digital mixers, but Emmaus’ Tim James recommended the dLive based on his experience with the Allen & Heath flagship model, which had the right blend of features and performance to match the church’s needs.
Christian Life has an 1,800-seat auditorium and an active music program. Worship services feature a praise band and, on occasion, a multi-voice choir. Holiday dramas may include a full orchestra. The church is well-equipped for these programs and other special events with 48 fixed microphone inputs on the stage supplemented with a 100-foot analog snake and 20 wireless channels. These sources are routed through the DM64 and DX32 into the dLive S7000 where its drag-and-drop, touch-screen setup eliminates a traditional patch bay and allows rapid creation of highly flexible stage layouts.
During rehearsals, the church’s tech director sets up a dLive scene for each week’s worship services. Holiday dramas utilize multiple scenes cued by the program’s director via MIDI integration. The church recently upgraded its recording system that now receives its inputs directly from the dLive via Dante. Live broadcast is streamed from a dLive aux mix.
An IP8 Remote Controller provides additional faders for special programs and connects into the church’s network via Ethernet allowing it to double as a basic remote mixer for simple services.
To maintain an uncluttered stage and provide the best monitoring quality, Christian Life uses in-ear monitors exclusively. The dLive sends 40 channels to the musicians’ ME-1 Personal Mixers which, according to James, are “eons beyond the previous system with their ease of use and flexibility.” Vocalists’ wireless in-ear monitors are fed directly from dLive mix groups.
“When we upgraded to the dLive, there was a big improvement in the overall feel of the room. Even people who didn’t know we had done anything could hear the difference.” James added, “Allen & Heath hit a home run with this product. I’m spoiled by this mixer.”
Christian Life Assembly
- Capacity: 1,800
- Key Components: Allen & Heath dLive console, ME-1 personal mixers
- Integrator: Emmaus Media & Design
Syrian Orthodox Church, London, England
Of the many houses of worship worked on by AV installation company, Old Barn Audio (OBA), the Syrian Orthodox Church in London’s East Acton district ranks as among the more unusual. The Church employs the Liturgy of St. James the Apostle (the oldest surviving liturgy in Christianity) and uses Syriac, a dialect of Aramaic spoken by Jesus and his Apostles, as its official language. Due to the war in Syria, the community of Syriac Orthodox Christians in Britain has grown considerably.
OBA was awarded the contract largely as a result of director Neil Kavanagh’s pedigree in the H.O.W. sector. “Aesthetics were vitally important, and we would only specify Martin Audio for a project such as this,” states Kavanagh.
Dividing the space into four zones, and opting for white versions of Martin Audio’s CDD (Coaxial Differential Dispersion) speakers, he specified six CDD8 for the main nave, two positioned either side of the altar and the remaining two pairs mounted in portrait mode down the length of the aisle, radiating sound into the congregation. With the reduced ceiling height of the side aisle, a further white CDD8 was deployed.
A separate hall can be used either as an overspill, or with the addition of bi-fold doors, become an independent space, although a 50-inch LCD screen enables the activity from the main church to be relayed from the altar camera via a matrix switcher.
The speakers are set no higher than 13 feet above the ground. Thanks to Martin Audio’s versatile wall brackets that allow tilt and swivel between landscape and portrait modes, OBA could optimize the sound for the congregation. During services, this inherently “live” building loses much of its reverberation, with the carpets laid for the celebrants and absorption by the large number of worshippers in attendance.
A Mackie DL1608 mixer supporting Wi-Fi devices makes operation intuitive and allows mixing to take place from anywhere in the church, zoned through the aux input on the mixer. In fact, an equalized and compressed aux output from the mixer into a dedicated amplifier channel activates two weatherized CDD10-WR speakers installed outside the church. These broadcast the sound of bells ringing from the church when it is in session.
According to Kavanagh, the faculty is delighted with the Martin Audio sound quality, whether reinforcing live music, spoken word — or simply listening to those bells pealing onto the street.
Syrian Orthodox Church
- Capacity: 250
- Key Components: Martin Audio CDD8, CDD10 speakers; Mackie DL1608 digital console
- Integrator: Old Barn Audio
St. Jude Thaddeus Catholic Church, Beaumont, TX
A recent renovation to increase the sanctuary size and seating capacity at the St. Jude Thaddeus Catholic Church was combined with a sound system upgrade to improve coverage, intelligibility and parishioner engagement. Tectonic Audio Lab’s PL-11 flat-panel speakers were selected for their ability to manage a very reverberant space, provide wide and even coverage, reduce feedback and meet aesthetic requirements.
‘The sanctuary is a large space with brick walls, a polished stone floor and a 35-foot curved wooden ceiling, so it is very reverberant,” explains Chase Daigle of Beaumont-based integrator MSC Systems. “Room treatment solutions were not an option, so we knew from experience that Tectonic’s Resonant Mode speakers could meet these requirements and manage the space.”
Adding to the challenge, all microphones are in front of the desired speaker location and the choir, piano, organ and musicians are located in the rear of the church, so sufficient gain before feedback would be difficult.
MSC Systems brought in a demo system with two PL-11s and subs. Some 80 parishioners attended to assist in evaluating coverage, intelligibility and an A/B comparison with the existing system; four mid/high boxes and a sub, plus two line-array columns to cover the rear of the sanctuary. The results were 100 percent positive.
“The solution was to mount a pair of two-panel PL-11 hangs from the first beam, spacing them widely to accommodate a mosaic to be installed in the future,” explains Daigle. A pair of Danley TH112 subs mounted to the third beam were added to provide LF extension. A Smaart system was used to verify uniform coverage throughout the sanctuary and set time and phase alignment for all speaker components.
The final results? Reverberation has been managed without acoustical treatment, coverage is even from front to back and side to side with no hot or dead spots. Feedback issues have been significantly reduced. “The slap-back is gone,” says Father Tom Phelan. “Hearing impaired parishioners are no longer complaining of missing words. Music and choirs sound more present and engaging, and parishioners are singing. It’s a more inclusive experience.”
St. Jude Thaddeus Catholic Church
- Capacity: 725
- Key Components: Tectonic PL-11 plate speakers, Danley TH112 subs
- Integrator: MSC Systems
Wildwood Church, East Moline, IL
Founded in 1865, Wildwood Church moved into its current 600-seat sanctuary in 1980. Its previous sound system regularly affected services with the threat of feedback, unintelligibility and poor coverage.
Ryan Winstead, with integrator Advanced Audio & Lighting Systems (Peoria, IL), remembers how “the existing front-loaded boxes flooded the front of the room with too much energy, which caused feedback problems and radically uneven coverage from front to back. As the church moved in the direction of more contemporary services with greater volume, things got harsh, and the system’s weaknesses became more apparent.”
Worship pastor Andrew Robinson had a chance encounter with Danley Sound Labs during an Iowa Hawkeyes game at Kinnick Stadium. “I had a chance to sit in two different spots during the game,” Robinson recalls. “It sounded amazing. I did some research and learned that Kinnick had a new Danley system. That piqued my interest, and when Ryan started talking about a Danley solution for Wildwood, he had my full attention.”
“I knew that Wildwood wanted to gracefully walk the line between a more traditional service and a more contemporary service, but the harshness of their old system made that hard to do,” says Winstead. “In contrast, the Danley boxes allow them to hit high SPLs without distorting, which maintains intelligibility, while delivering loud, impactful sound that doesn’t hurt. In addition, Danley boxes are extremely efficient and lightweight, which was important given the load constraints on the only beam that could be used for mounting the system. And Danley’s pattern control would keep energy off the walls and eliminate feedback problems with excellent rear rejection.”
Winstead arranged for a direct A/B comparison of Danley boxes versus Wildwood’s existing system. “We put a Danley SH-69 on a Genie lift for members of Wildwood and representatives from a few other area churches,” says Winstead. “The Danley system was hi-fi and detailed; the existing system was distorted and indistinct.”
Now installed, the system hangs from a central beam that spans the room above the steps to the platform. A Danley SH-69 oriented to provide 90° horizontal and 60° vertical covers most of the room, and a Danley SM-60 on either side provide outfills. Winstead arranged them such that the coverage seams — though almost imperceptible — fall on aisles. A Danley TH-118 flown above the central SH-69 disappears visually but fills the room with bass. A Powersoft X4 amplifier powers the system with over 20,000 watts.
“The Danley system is even from front to back, we have no feedback issues, and the sound quality is fantastic,” says Robinson. Wildwood Church now also looks forward to bringing touring Christian rock bands to its “new venue.”
- Capacity: 600
- Key Components: Danley SH-69, (2) Danley SM-60, Powersoft X4 amplifier
- Integrator: Advanced Audio & Lighting Systems
Uppsala Cathedral, Uppsala, Sweden
Consecrated in 1438, Sweden’s Uppsala Cathedral is the tallest church in Scandinavia and recently, this massive historic structure found a sound reinforcement solution.
“The Cathedral is very big (389 feet in total length) and during the services, the priests move around a lot,” notes Viktor Wadelius of Swedish integrator Svensk Klimatstyrning AB. “They start in the middle of the cathedral, at the central pulpit, and head up to the high altar, then back to the pulpit, and so on.”
Creating a sound system for this kind of environment is unusual, so the team visited large cathedrals throughout Europe, Wadelius explains. “We went to Cologne, Germany, and they had Renkus-Heinz. We went to Lund, here in Sweden, and they had Renkus-Heinz. We went to Trondheim, in Norway and they also had Renkus-Heinz. They were all happy with their sound systems.”
R-H regional sales manager Håkan Sjoo added “We were invited to Uppsala to perform a demonstration. This large cathedral is very important within Sweden, hosting a number of concerts with a large choir as well as regular services.”
Considering the scale of the space, it’s remarkable that the original demonstration used just a single Iconyx IC32 located at the central altar. “From the altar to the rear of the seating, it’s approximately 40 meters (131 feet).” continues Sjoo. “But even with one column, the difference was clear. But there are at least four different points of focus even for regular services, plus special areas such as the rear of the building, where baptisms take place, and the Cathedral’s magnificent pipe organ. The system needed to cover every area equally, and at high quality. It meant creating one of the largest Iconyx installations in Europe, with 40 individual loudspeaker arrays.”
Uppsala Cathedral is served by 22 IC16-8 columns, eight IC8 arrays, five IC24 columns, four ICX7 arrays and a single IC32. The installation also represented the first use of Renkus-Heinz’s Iconyx Gen5 DSP presets.
“It’s unusual to have 40 line arrays inside one cathedral,” acknowledges R-H Europe’s Michal Poplawski. “Common wisdom says that when you have difficult acoustics and many sources, you will have a problem.” Yet the beam steering expertise embedded into Iconyx Gen5 ensures every loudspeaker in the room maintains control over the acoustic energy. Additionally, the network is tied to a show control system, allowing the cathedral’s technical team to select which parts of the system are live at any one time, depending on the needs of the service.
The cathedral’s structure was unaffected, thanks to Wadelius’ expertise. “We came up with a special [removable] clamp to mount lights and loudspeakers without drilling. Both the clamps and the loudspeakers are painted the same color as the columns, and blend in nicely. The entire installation is very discreet.”
But audio performance was paramount. “Even with the extremely reverberant acoustic environment — approximately five seconds — we achieved very good intelligibility and audio quality,” says Poplawski. “The results are very good.” Wadelius agreed. “I am very happy with the final result. It actually sounds better than I believed possible in such an acoustically difficult environment.”
- Capacity: 2,100 (max)
- Key Components: (40) Renkus-Heinz Iconyx columns
- Integrator: Svensk Klimatstyrning AB