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Markets: Houses of Worship The sound of praise

Houses of worship have notoriously difficult acoustics and too often the audio systems are installed to a budget rather than a specification. But, as Gez Kahan discovers, the HOW market is starting to listen

Key points

. House of worship audio installations often follow a three-stage pattern: first a makeshift system often implemented by an enthusiast within the congregation; next a professional installation to insufficient spec; finally the right system at the right price

. It is difficult to get HOW clients to appreciate the value of proper acoustically designed solutions until they’ve experienced the shortcomings of budget installations

. The evolving nature both of the technology and of the needs of houses of worship and their congregations means particular care should be paid to future- proofing the infrastructure

. Upgrading individual elements – such as mixers, processors and microphones – over time rather than commissioning a wholesale redesign is often possible and can help HOWs manage their budgets

To help intelligibility, DL Electronics has installed a system based around Tannoy’s digital beam steering QFlex at Clonard Monastery in west Belfast


t is a commonplace – at least among professional audio integrators – that the primary goal of any house of worship (HOW) installation must be intelligibility. But sadly intelligibility is anything but commonplace, especially in the old- style house of worship.

We’ve dealt in previous features with the historic reasons (such as the prevalence of reflective surfaces), but there are other factors at play, some more tangible than others. Technology is an obvious one. A hundred years ago, the microphone was a novelty. Beam steering, digital processing and affordable networking have only become economically viable relatively recently.

But in practice even fairly new constructions often leave a lot to be desired in acoustic terms – and this applies to mosques, synagogues and

temples just as much as it does to churches. Partly that’s down to a failure to seek expert advice early enough – once a building’s design is set in stone, the acoustic problems are too. But there’s also the fact that any new-build, in an age where development is so rapid, soon becomes an old-build in technological terms.

It’s not only the technology that is changing, either. The houses of worship themselves are changing as economic necessity drives them to seek additional ways of raising revenue beyond the collection plate, and as more modern music, generally involving amplified instruments, is incorporated into services. And upgrades are rarely regular enough to remain state of the art for very long. But to get a house of worship management team, who are rarely well informed on best practice and the latest

techniques in the audio installation industry, to go for the ideal solution straight off is probably asking them to take a leap of faith too far. Instead the HOW systems’ evolutionary process tends to be financially rather than technologically driven – and that is fundamental to understanding why installers still have to be evangelists as much as suppliers.

On the first day…

The process, according to received wisdom, begins with an enthusiastic member of the congregation putting in a basic audio system. This, as Christophe Palluat de Besset, of installer Sound Directions France, notes, is nothing new. “It’s always the same problem: finding the right person who’ll be able to advise the customer properly from the beginning.”

. Old-fashioned distributed PA speakers will almost certainly need to be replaced with beam- steerable columns if intelligibility is a problem. However, these can often be sold off or reused elsewhere in the HOW

“The first system might be put together by a member of the congregation who is a musical hobbyist, audiophile, or recently installed their own car stereo,” adds Ivan Schwartz, western sales manager for TC Group Americas – proving that this phenomenon is not confined to mediaeval European churches. “Or,” he continues, “it might be an amalgamation of product purchased over time from the local music store.” Sometimes, he says, products are purchased only due to familiarity with the consumer divisions of certain brands. “These types of system can be a disaster but can also help provide a realisation for what is truly needed in the future.”

And so to the next stage. Which, typically, is a new audio system, put in by a professional, but to an insufficient budget.

IE May 2012 23

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