Successful sound system design is all about collaboration between creative parties.
Much of sound system design is based on predictive modeling, using algorithmic virtual simulators like Enhanced Acoustic Simulator for Engineers (EASE), which will predict a given space’s acoustical characteristics such as reflection angles.
Religion may still have many mysteries but sanctuary sound is no longer one of them. Anyone looking for information about sound systems intended specifically for use in houses of worship (HOW) won’t have to look very far or hard these days—bespoke websites aim directly at church users while more generic online systems sellers have optimized their SEO to attract HOW visitors. AV systems integrators highlight religious-venue systems installations in case studies on their websites, while audio equipment manufacturers have set up dedicated departments that focus solely on the HOW market. Church technical directors routinely debate point-source-vs.-line-array solutions over coffee.
"the bottom line is that good communication, between everyone involved, is the foundation for any sound system project."
—Gary Zandstra, Director of Sales & Marketing, Parkway Electric, Holland, MI
The world of church sound has changed dramatically since Jim Brown of Audio Systems Group Inc. in Chicago offered his 1998 manifesto “Why Churches Buy Three Sound Systems, and How You Can Buy Only One,” a narrative of the times about how churches too often followed ill-suited advice or made decisions based solely on cost. Today, it seems as though you could rack up a B.Sc. degree in a few days’ worth of online research.
The real problem, however, might be one that’s become endemic in the age of information—there’s just too much of it out there, and making sense of it in preparation for choosing, designing and installing a new audio system could also result in some badly misspent church funds. What’s emerging as a countermeasure is the increased and more efficient use of collaboration amongst all of the stakeholders involved in designing, purchasing and installing a new or updated sound system in a house of worship. These include the church’s own representatives, the AV systems integrator and any consultants (any of whom might also have the title of system designer), the architect, and the general contractor (GC). It’s a measure-twice, cut-once approach that puts a lot of emphasis on the front end of a project and demands adherence to scheduled collaborative sessions along the way, but the outcomes tend to be much better.An Uncompromised Approach
“Modern worship builds are rich with audio and video media, and the technology infrastructure considerations are significant. It is more efficient to do the job once in the beginning, as opposed to triaging it later,” observes Dan Palmer, head of integration at L-Acoustics with U.S. offices in Oxnard, Calif. “Unfortunately, we quite often see compromises that are made early which then require change orders or renovations later to get it right.”
Gary Zandstra, the director of sales & marketing at Parkway Electric, an AV systems integrator with offices in Holland, Mich., and Loveland, Colo., says he’s very recently embraced Integrated Project Delivery (IPD), a protocol developed by the [Washington, D.C.-based] American Institute of Architects (AIA) that “integrates people, systems, business structures and practices into a process that collaboratively harnesses the talents and insights of all participants to optimize project results, increase value to the owner, reduce waste, and maximize efficiency through all phases of design, fabrication, and construction,” according to the AIA’s IPD webpage. What it really means, says Zandstra, is getting everyone involved together early on and developing a process collaboratively.
“Even small deviations from a plan can have substantial effects on other stakeholders’ parts of the plan,” he says. “For example, if a decision is made to change the kind of speakers a system design is using, that will likely require a change in the fly point. That, in turn, requires the input of the architect and the GC.” In other words, under the aegis of IPD, no agent in the process operates unilaterally or in a separate silo; everyone’s actions are transparent to everyone else.
Zandstra says the first project he applied IPD to, a large church in Chicago, began with everyone flying in for three days of intensive meetings that resulted in a detailed plan for the church’s sound system. This is not going to be economically feasible for every situation, but using telepresence technologies like Skype and Vidyo can accomplish many of the same goals. Technologies that allow the exchange of documents such as blueprints and other drawings are preferred, because a picture is indeed worth a thousand words—and in the case of a large sound system, possibly thousands of dollars, too.
“The bottom line is that good communication, between everyone involved, is the foundation for any sound system project,” says Zandstra. Types of Sound Systems
Two types of sound systems predominate in the HOW sector: point source and line arrays. The two types are fundamentally different: point source loudspeaker enclosures are usually designed so that all the drivers function as a single source. These systems generally have a fairly shallow coverage range and, as the distance from the source increases, their SPL decreases. Point source sound systems are often used to good effect in rooms that have irregular shapes, such as multiple balconies, at which individual speaker elements can be aimed.
A line array, on the other hand, is typically very large in the vertical dimension and is made up of a number of usually identical loudspeaker elements mounted in a line and fed in phase. The distance between adjacent drivers is close enough that they constructively interfere with each other to send sound waves farther than traditional horn-loaded loudspeakers, and with a more evenly distributed sound output pattern. However, line arrays can’t reach well into nooks, so fill speakers are often prescribed for those areas.
The line array has emerged as the most popular sound system type in recent years, thanks to its ability to direct sound. That’s being increasingly narrowed down to steerable arrays, which use digital signal processing (DSP) to allow extremely precise aiming of speakers at audience seating and away from reflective surfaces such as hard walls, glass and flooring that can create reflections that mar speech intelligibility. These are especially appropriate for environments such as cathedrals where reverberation is often the biggest acoustical challenge.