Services at St Eugene’s Cathedral have been frustrated by the building’s acoustics since it opened in 1873. Now, however, following an extensive architectural refurbishment and technical systems upgrade, congregations attending the mother church of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Derry can hear the services loud and clear.

St Eugene’s CathedralSt Eugene’s previous sound reinforcement system had never performed satisfactorily, as it is difficult to tame the reflections and reverberations in this type of space. Seeking a better solution, the church management called in acoustical consultant Michael Kielty, Senior Partner at Belfast-based MK Audio, who recommended a distributed system and contacted Absolute Technologies to address the church’s requirements.

Absolute Technologies has experience of similar reverberant spaces from Christchurch Cathedral in Dublin and numerous smaller churches, and immediately recognised the challenges. The company’s pattern control and cardioid performance offered by xC-Series column loudspeakers from d&b audiotechnik.

With support from Oran Burns from d&b’s Application Support team, Kielty drew up an initial design for the church using d&b ArrayCalc software to predict coverage and determine suitable loudspeaker positions. An in-situ system demonstration confirmed the ArrayCalc predictions, and delivered the improvements in sound quality and intelligibility that the church needed.

The design uses an inner pair of d&b 24C-E cabinets at the front and an outer pair of 24C serving the aisles; further down the room are two more pairs of 24Cs as delays, again arranged as inner and outer pairs. The system is powered by two d&b D10 amplifiers. ‘The system’s main use is for speech, and occasionally acoustic music,’ says Kielty. ‘The d&b system handles it all perfectly: the tonal quality is excellent and the dispersion is well controlled.’

d&b 24C columns installed in St Eugene’s Cathedral

‘In a big, highly reverberant room like this, one of the challenges is to stop reflection off the high ceiling, which can be heard as an annoying echo from above,’ explains Absolute Technologies Installation Manager, Colin McKendry. ‘The standard d&b 24C cabinet has six 4-inch LF drivers and an HF line array, giving us pattern control down below 400Hz. The ‘E’ is an extension to the LF drivers, which sits at the top of the 24C, giving another octave of pattern control, which helps to combat that problem.

‘While a lot of column loudspeakers lose pattern control at around 2.5kHz, forcing the engineer to EQ out much of the lower frequency information to achieve intelligibility, the cardioid characteristic of the xC-Series extends that horizontal pattern control all the way down to the low frequencies,’ he adds.

For control, simplicity was key, with as little user interaction required as possible. An Allen & Heath Qu-Pac mixer is provided, with presets for the various regular services. ‘Most of the time it’s an automix of the main fixed microphone positions,’ says Kielty. ‘And there is always the capability for full mix control (using the R1 remote control) on an iPad.’

Aside from intelligibility, St Eugene’s presented another major challenge – building restrictions forbid the fixing of hardware to walls and pillars. The only option was the creation of custom floor-mount brackets. ‘Again, the appearance was very important,’ Kielty says. ‘The mounting had to look right in its environment and with the speakers. The brackets couldn’t enclose the rear of the speaker so as not to interfere with the cardioid pattern control, and as there could be no adjustment once it was mounted, the angle of pan for each speaker had to be built into the design of the bracket. Again, ArrayCalc was very useful in achieving this.’

d&b 24C columns installed in St Eugene’s CathedralDesigned in conjunction with the architect and a specialist engineering company, each bracket is unique, to account for floor height and pan angle, and incorporates a plate for mounting beneath the floorboards and a rear cover to hide mounting bolts and cable. The back plate is finished in the same RAL colour as the loudspeaker, and the base plate in stainless steel to reflect its surroundings. ‘The mounts look like they are part of the speaker – it is a very elegant solution,’ says Kielty.

‘We all worked together to identify clear parameters and goals for the system and to tailor the design before installation commenced,’ he continues. ‘Having d&b’s support gives us access to skills we may not have in-house, plus a high level of knowledge and experience from all types of projects. We’ve worked with Oran on a number of projects, and his knowledge of electroacoustics is invaluable. It gives the customer a great deal of confidence knowing we have the support of the manufacturer behind us.’

With the installation complete and the intelligibility and aesthetics boxes ticked, that confidence has been validated. ‘The clients have been delighted with the system,’ Kielty confirms. ‘Right from the very first use, parishioners commented on how clearly they could hear, even at the back of the church, which was always an issue before.’

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