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An Audio Retrofit at St. David's Episcopal Church, Philadelphia

Apr 12, 2010 12:31 PM


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Spinnaker Multimedia Solutions installed Martin Audio OmniLine arrays along with Crown Audio amplification and a Allen & Heath iDR-8 DSP system at the St. David's Episcopal Church in Philadelphia.

Spinnaker Multimedia Solutions installed Martin Audio OmniLine arrays along with Crown Audio amplification and a Allen & Heath iDR-8 DSP system at the St. David's Episcopal Church in Philadelphia.

Located in an affluent "main line" suburb of Philadelphia, St. David's Episcopal Church, which celebrates its 300th Anniversary in 2015, was first settled at end of 17th century by Welsh colonists in Radnor, Penn.

St. David's distinguished history goes back to the original settlers who, while waiting for approval of their church from London, "heartily engaged themselves to build a handsome stone church" to be named after patron saint of Wales. Cornerstone laid on May 9, 1715.

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Eventually, patriots of the congregation were led by Anthony Wayne, later appointed major general of the American forces and buried in St. David's historic churchyard. The incorporation and charter of the church followed in August 1792.

With the passing years, the church complex has grown along with the parish and in 1965; the parish celebrated its 250th anniversary at a service attended by the Bishop of St. David's in Wales. Today it is the largest of the 157 parishes in the Diocese of Pennsylvania it and continues to grow and flourish, adding a new chapel to its 40-acre campus in 2006.

The chapel's original audio system, intended to amplify sermons and choral voices in a large, reverberant space dominated by an impressive 3-manual, 47-rank custom Dobson Organ, consisted of 32 loudspeakers mounted around the upper tier of the long rectangular worship area.

Unfortunately, what seemed a creative idea never resulted in coherent intelligible audio for the voices. As John Schofield, parish administrator, puts it, "When the chapel opened, the announcing system was impossible. You couldn't hear a word anyone was saying or understand it, for that matter."

The church sought the services of Spinnaker Multimedia Solutions, a design/installation firm that specializes in houses of worship. "St. David's wasn't happy with their audio, so we performed an acoustic study and 3D modeled the room using EASE acoustic prediction software," says Fenicia Redman, VP of project development for Spinnaker. "Additionally, we field-tested three brands of speakers for them because we didn't want manufacturers biasing the presentation.

"It came down to two brands, one of which was the new Martin Audio OmniLine array, and we installed each system on two successive Sunday services for everyone to judge. The reaction was like night and day."

"We replaced 32 speakers, whose intelligibility was very poor from front to back and across the listening area," Redman says. "Vocal clarity was key here because there's a lot of reverberation in the room to enhance the 50-member choir and organ sound, so we worked with Rob Hofkamp and Martin Audio's engineers to develop a solution consisting of two of the new OmniLine micro-line arrays with six modules each hung left and right in the front of the space facing backwards at an angle."

Before-and-after data proved the company had made the correct choice for St. David's. SPL deviations before were 8dB and after 3.2dB. Speech intelligibility improved dramatically from 17 percent Alcons to 2.5 percent Alcons.

The rest of the system, designed for easy operation, consists of Crown Audio amplification, along with Allen & Heath iDR-8 rackmount digital signal processing system and two PL-10 control panels.

"OmniLine delivered the best sound distribution for the least investment. People can finally clearly hear the leaders no matter where we sit," Redman says. "As it turned out, these two small arrays solved the problem 100 percent. People in the front could hear as well as the ones in the rear, and it sounded even from front to back for the first time. And they're light, really small, and easy to rig."

"Once we chose the Martin Audio system, we've been thrilled with the sound ever since," Schofield says. "To the extent that St. David's is now attracting really big musical events, such as the Philadelphia Boy's Choir Christmas Concert. It was fantastic. We had the city choir the week before, and they loved it too. This has become a popular venue for choral concerts and presentations."



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