Advanced sound design and acoustic management technologies are playing an increasingly important role in today’s house of worship installations. And as the Commercial Integrator whitepaper on How to Design High-quality Church Acoustics points out, a long list of factors needs to be considered for specifying and installing a proper sound system.

Sound systems and room acoustics have often taken a back seat to the visual presentation technologies within churches. Traditional sanctuary design is almost exclusively focused on lighting, staging and the creation of a powerful visual experience (think dramatic high ceilings and stained glass). After all, cathedrals were built to bring a sense of awe and wonder to the common man, and to move hearts and minds toward heaven. Were Gothic engineers worried about a muddy mid-range, run-away reverb or audience dead spots? Not so much.

But at a time when movie theaters, concert halls and even our own homes are equipped with full-range, crystal-clear digital sound systems, congregations and audiences of all types have come to expect a great deal more from their audio experiences. And when you consider that a house of worship installation needs to accommodate events ranging from the spoken word, to choirs and vocalists, to rock-style bands and video/soundtrack presentations—sometimes all within a single service—a combination of professional system design and acoustic treatments is critical. Fortunately, there is a wide range of best practices, treatments and technologies available to help assure an excellent listening experience for all.

Room size and shape, flat or tiered seating, balconies, high ceilings, alcoves, windows, draping, carpeting and hard floors are among the many elements that need to be considered when designing a sound system. On the high-tech side of the equation, predictive digital modeling and analytic software is used to evaluate a room’s audio profile, pointing out potential hot spots, cold spots, high reflective areas and many other issues. Professional system designers then use this information to map out speaker placement for creating a smooth and intelligible listening experience for the entire audience.

Speaker placement is a critical, but often misunderstood, issue. Speaker location, the angle of placement, and what specific throw characteristics and frequency ranges are needed all depend on many factors. Having the right mix of speakers provides smooth, uniform coverage that prevents “loud spots” and “dead spots,” and keeps people from needing to constantly adjust the volume and EQ (which creates bad reflections, feedback and other sound problems). The key to creating a pleasant experience for the audience is quality of sound, not quantity. Louder is not better.

And to take it a step further, sound systems can be configured to more precisely focus sonic energy on seating areas and away from reflective surfaces, a key benefit of line array speakers. For smaller installations, column speakers like the JBL CBT Series use the same philosophy as larger line arrays, but in a fixed form factor. Solutions with complex reflection concerns can take sound shaping a step further by implementing digitally-controllable beam steering with a solution like JBL Intellivox. Intellivox uses advanced modeling and controllable sound directionality to point sound to the listener’s ears, minimizing reflections. With the right solution in place, house of worship sound systems can deliver smooth coverage with a consistent frequency response, so every seat in the house experiences the same quality of sound regardless of position.

Ultimately, for any house of worship, every aspect of the audio, video and lighting technology needs to focus on delivering the message. With the help of room modeling, advanced sound systems and acoustical treatments, churches can rest assured that the congregation is indeed clearly receiving the good word.

Do you have experience with acoustic issues in house of worship applications? We’d like to hear from you in the comments!

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