First Evangelical Lutheran

The octagonal sanctuary of the First Evangelical Lutheran – one of Baltimore’s one of oldest and most beloved churches – is as beautiful as it is acoustically challenging. Designed to feature the church’s pipe organ and choir, the building’s wood and glass ceiling, brick walls and rock and tile floor create a reflective environment that wreaks havoc on spoken word intelligibility.

‘Since my arrival in early 2009, there were complaints passed on to me about the sound system,’ says Senior Pastor Eugene Kern. ‘It took some time to interpret the specifics behind generalised statements like “I can’t hear”, but we eventually determined that we had a number of dead zones in the sanctuary, where the quality of the sound was reduced.

'To make matters more confusing, we also determined that we had a number of volunteers attempting to remedy the situation by making adjustments to the mixing console – with an astounding variety of results.’

Once the problems were identified, the church turned to the Audio-Video Group to design and install a system based around Community Professional Loudspeakers’ Solutions Series SLS920 three-way high performance loudspeakers. A ring of eight SLS920 cabinets flown over the stage provides consistent, even coverage to the entire sanctuary.

First Lutherian‘The system covers every seat, with no dead zones,’ says Kern. ‘The sound is clear, and volume is controlled electronically. Intelligibility is vastly improved, and we are able to expand our inputs to two, three, six or even seven microphones just by turning a knob. The automation is an unexpected plus – we come in on Sunday morning, turn on the system, and we’re ready to go. We no longer have to rely on volunteers to turn knobs and adjust levels.’

As is often the case in worshiop settings, aesthetics played a key role in the system design. ‘When this sanctuary was completed in the mid-1990s, it won awards for its design – it really is a special place,’ says Kern. ‘The original sound system – which I’m told was state-of-the-art for its time – was designed to make the loudspeakers look like light fixtures. In fact, visitors sometimes commented on how many lights were out in the sanctuary. But while it was interesting from a visual perspective, it wasn’t very effective, and AVG’s engineers made it clear that the best solution was a radically different approach, with a ring of speakers projecting out toward the pews. The new system sounds great, and you can hear clearly from every seat.’

Kern gives credit to the AVG crew: ‘Eric Johnson and his team were a great fit for us,’ he says. ‘They understand church – what goes on here, and what the needs are across multiple generations. They really listened to us, and took the time to get to the root of the issues affecting us. They offered us the best solution, and stood behind it with integrity, competence and professionalism.’

More: www.communitypro.com

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