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Expert Roundtable: Church Sound Trends

Jul 1, 2008 12:00 PM, By Dan Daley

Six experts weigh in on what matters in house-of-worship audio systems.

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Houses of Worship's Audio Tripwire: Acoustics

St. Paul's Episcopal Church, Rock Creek Parish, in Washington, D.C

At St. Paul's Episcopal Church, Rock Creek Parish, in Washington, D.C., Clayton Acoustics Group used a DSP-based level-delay mixing matrix to synchronize amplified sound of talkers' voices with the natural sound.

Technology continues to go to church; this edition of the expert roundtable finds that even the recession isn't holding it back. This month's roundtable participants are Ian Budd, CEO of ICB Audio & Video Equipment in Cincinnati; Val Dempsey, president of Communications & Entertainment in Atlanta; Tim Carlson, executive vice president at AMT Systems in Santa Clarita, Calif.; Bill Thrasher, president of Thrasher Design Group in Kennesaw, Ga.; John Westra, president of Audio Design Specialists in Madison, Wis.; and Michael Dewees, president of Acoustical Audio Designs in Jeffersonville, Ind.

SVC: First, a broad question: What are the key areas of AV system design for houses of worship, and have they changed in the last year or so?

Budd: Sound systems are tending more and more towards line arrays. Video projectors are getting brighter, permitting better visibility in brightly lit houses of worship. And theatrical lighting systems are on the cusp of LED technology.

Dempsey: Presentation, video, control systems, digital DSPs, recording systems, and software have all had an impact on most churches and have made great advances in recent years.

Carlson: I definitely think that houses of worship have become savvier in terms of technology in worship. Line arrays offer better sound more effectively and efficiently. But I think the biggest change has been in video and production lighting. Churches now want full production value. Just good sound is no longer enough.

Thrasher: Audio, video, and production lighting, but also architectural acoustics, architectural lighting, and staging.

Westra: The most critical factor is designing the space itself properly to receive the AV systems. Necessary details include an acoustical environment appropriate for the style of worship, geometry appropriate for placement and viewing of projection screens, … and a catwalk geometry appropriate for stage lighting. These details have been necessary for many years, but churches are getting more receptive to them.

Dewees: Network design and integration, HD video, and digital snakes to name a few issues that now get discussed when looking at each design.

What are the major technological trends in house-of-worship installations these days? What's changed and why and how?

Budd: Digital mixing consoles are becoming more accepted. Control systems are being utilized more and more as a tool to integrate the AV technologies.

Dempsey: Steerable line arrays have impacted sound systems; digital signage; and video, broadcast, and media recording. One of the biggest impacts is probably due to computer technology.

Westra: HD video is one, as a result of a universal format change. Also, we see fewer churches building extremely large auditoria, choosing instead to build multiple smaller auditoria, requiring them to be linked for audio and video. Simultaneous services may start with independent music programs but then be linked for the sermon.

Dewees: Without question, the expectations for audio quality have increased dramatically. A few years ago, the majority of churches were happy if speech could be understood and music was barely over background level. Now everyone expects high-quality music reproduction at high volume. There is also a big push on the overall presentation. Many churches are looking to create more entertainment-based services. It isn't enough to just stand up and preach the message these days. You need to add some dramatic content and increase the entertainment value if you expect to attract and keep a new generation of people.

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