Founded only a few years after the city of Birmingham Alabama itself, the Cathedral Church of the Advent holds a place in the US National Register of Historic Places. It regularly welcomes 4,000 congregants to its sanctuary for five services every weekend. Its music programme has earned accolades, and the church has branched out to include a modern music ensemble for its last service on Sunday.

Cathedral Church of the AdventA/V design and integration firm, dB Integrations, was recently called on to improve the church’s acoustic and sound issues – doing it with a single Danley GH-60 Genesis Horn loudspeaker, two Danley SM-60s for side fill, a Danley SBH-20 column loudspeaker for choir fill, and a Danley TH-118 subwoofer. In addition to delivering, highly-intelligible music and speech reinforcement, the new system blends wiith the architecture, woodwork and stained glass.

‘The church was getting complaints about the poor sound reinforcement on pretty much a daily basis,’ explains Ronnie Stanford, Director of Sales & Marketing at dB Integrations. ‘They were contending with column loudspeakers that had been installed a few years ago on either side of the chancel, slightly behind the pulpit. They couldn’t reach 90 feet to the back of the room. Compounding the pattern mismatch, gain-before-feedback was terrible. They really couldn’t make the pastor any louder. Their modern service includes ensembles, such as acoustic guitar, cello, and djembe, and the musicians were actually positioned in front of the loudspeakers. It was impossible to get their open-mic volume where it needed to be without feedback.’

dB Integrations designed a system based on a single Danley GH-60 Genesis Horn, exploiting its phase-coherent, point-source audio and fall-off with distance to deliver consistent sound levels to seats near and far.

‘The pattern of the Danley GH-60 and the requirements at Cathedral Church are identical,’ Stanford says. ‘We provided a demo for the church officials with a GH-60 on a Genie lift. They loved the clean sound, which extended to the back of the room, but we also instructed them to pay attention to how quiet it was behind the GH-60.’

Stanford knew the church was planning to bring other firms in to demo their solutions, and he also knew those other firms would recommend industry-darling line arrays, which would have much less intelligibility and gain before feedback than the Danley solution.

‘I told them to be sure to walk behind the line array demos as well, and when they called us with the job, they remarked how loud it was behind all those line arrays as we predicted,’ he said. ‘But even if you forget about the poor audio performance and the way a line array would energize the cavernous peak of the room, how would a line array look in that sacred, beautiful space? Terrible.’

In contrast, the 4ft-tall Danley GH-60 is flown at 35ft, just below an impressive stained-glass window. It is custom finished to match the wall, minimising the aesthetic impact. The two Danley SM-60s tuck into the corners of the room and practically vanish. The SM-60s cover the 30 or so seats on each side that the GH-60 misses. The small number of loudspeakers is the best-case scenario for intelligibility, and their pattern control gives Cathedral Church abundant gain-before-feedback. To really fill out the entire frequency spectrum, dB Integrations installed a Danley TH-118 subwoofer at the peak of the roof – 60 feet up – and in the centre of the room. From that location, its arrival time works well with the GH-60 and covers all the pews with equal low-frequency SPL.

The rear area of the chancel located behind the pulpit is reserved for the choir and organist throughout the service and is reserved for clergy during the celebration of Communion. It was always a challenge to provide adequate audio coverage to this area.

‘A Danley SBH-20 proved to be the perfect solution for this application because it has the right pattern control,’ Stanford says. ‘By installing the SBH-20 in the corner at approximately seven feet above the organist, we were able to provide great coverage for the entire area while keeping SPL at the organist’s position to a comfortable level.’

Crown amplifiers power the system, and a BiAmp Nexia SP system provides input conditioning, routing logic, and modest loudspeaker conditioning. A new Allen & Heath dLive DM64 digital console allows the church to handle complicated services or events, and its simple iPad remote control provides a basic interface for simpler scenarios. The console is mounted in a custom road case from Georgia Case.

With the new system installed, everyone at Cathedral Church of the Advent now enjoys intelligible spoken word and transparent music reinforcement without detracting from the splendor of their beautiful, historic sanctuary.

See also:
Modern service brings sound update to US church

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