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Upgrading Improperly Installed Audio at St. Nicholas, Part 1

Paul Garner, principal with Christian Sound Installations in Valrico, Fla., discusses upgrading an improperly installed audio system inside a historical church. 10/20/2011 6:20 AM Eastern

Upgrading Improperly Installed Audio at St. Nicholas, Part 1

Oct 20, 2011 10:20 AM, With Bennett Liles




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When Christian Sound Installations was called to update the sound system in St. Nicholas Church in Tarpon Springs, Fla., they found ceiling speakers in the walls and HVAC louvers being used to direct sound. Paul Garner is here to tell us how they fixed it all with a complete revamp, coming right up on the SVC Podcast.

Paul, thanks for being with us here on the SVC Podcast from Christian Sound Installations in Valrico, Fla. Give us a little background on CSI here. How long has the company been around and what does CSI do?

We started this business in 2009 and we're a complete design service installation of satelliting and video as a installation contractor for primarily the houses of worship industry. [Timestamp: 1:1]

And that’s still a booming business. A lot of AV stuff going on in churches and it’s not just the big guys anymore. We see a lot of more sophisticated sound and video systems being installed in mid-sized and even smaller churches with the technology that’s available now. So, with the St. Nicholas Church in Tarpon Springs, Fla. you really had your work cut out. What was your first impression when you got the call on this one and saw what they had?

The church originally was constructed in 1942 as a cathedral and back then of course the architecture of that era was a lot different than it is today. And the system that was installed probably somewhere on line between when it was built and I think was late 60’s early 70’s. The system, in my opinion, was improperly installed from the beginning because the speakers were mounted in the walls in about 16ft. off the floor facing across each other if you can imagine that—the speakers just facing each other across the sanctuary which at the very least was causing some face cancellation and when you combine that with the fact that the room had a over a six-second reverb with several standing waves in the frequency range it just made for a horrible, horrible unintelligible room. [Timestamp: 2:3]

Well, it sounds like you were in a good spot for sound if you were on top of the wall at least.

Yeah, I guess. If you like noise it was a great spot to stand because that’s about all you could hear. [Timestamp: 2:4]

Yeah, I read where the speakers were up high and just blasting toward each other instead of down into the congregation.

Yeah that’s correct.

Well, they trusted you to figure this out and give them a better sound situation. So how did you explain the problem and what they needed to the non-technical people in the church?

Well it was easy on this project because the sound was so bad that they already knew that they couldn’t understand anything that was being said by the priest but I think the way that we really brought it to them was by bringing the proposed system out, setting it up in a temporary setup condition as close as possible to how it would be installed so they could actually hear the difference. This was the real selling point. The system really spoke for itself when they could walk from the front of the church to the back of the church and the levels were not only clear and intelligent, the level of intelligibility was there, but the volume level was the same with this type of system. [Timestamp: 3:39]

And there’s no substitute for being able to actually put a demo system in and show the clients exactly how much of an improvement they can have.

Absolutely, absolutely.

Now this church is on the National Register of Historic Places and obviously that presented some challenges. What sort of restrictions did that listing impose on the project?

Well, having the church listed on the Historical Registry was no doubt a challenge. They didn’t want to see any of the speakers—of course we couldn’t change any of the architectural look of the church—they wouldn’t let us do any acoustical treatments to the walls or anything at all that would obviously help that acoustical environment and they just wanted the system to be as transparent as possible as most churches do, but in this type of a cathedral sanctuary it was a very, very high priority to make it as transparent as we could get it. [Timestamp: 4:32]


Upgrading Improperly Installed Audio at St. Nicholas, Part 1

Oct 20, 2011 10:20 AM, With Bennett Liles




And that can be more or less a challenge depending on their worship style. How do they have their services set up?

This was a very traditional Greek orthodox church. The church is pretty well known world-wide from the epiphany that goes on once a year with the diving of the cross. The whole root of the Greek Orthodox Church, they are one of the oldest churches known world-wide for their type of traditional services. [Timestamp: 4:57]

In addition to the Sunday services, do they have any other events going on during the week that use the sound system?

Just your typical church events; a lot of weddings, a few memorial and funeral services. [Timestamp: 5:08]

You explained the type of speaker setup they had in the church. Where did they have the amplifiers and what did they have driving all of this stuff when you got there?

Now this was interesting, when I first got here I couldn’t even find the speakers—it was pretty amusing, I’m looking around looking for that normal speaker and so in the main seating area which is about 75ft. long by about 45ft. wide up on the sides were these dents, and as I began to research and find out behind these vents which I originally thought were A/C vents were 8in. ceiling type speakers that you would typically see mounted in a ceiling firing down—these things were mounted across from each other at 16ft. in the air. Then most of the energy was going into the air or hitting the adjacent walls. All of this wired back to an old amp and amazingly enough, we looked through this thing, the wiring was actually not what we would traditionally see as speaker wire most of it was more of a electrical type single conductor run through a conduit…more like a THHN or a THWN type wire but the interesting thing was when I was looking for the speakers and I said, “Can you tell me where these things are at?” and they pointed to them—someone had told them along the way that if they put these air conditioning louvers, like you would see on an air vent, over the speakers that it would direct the sound more down to the congregation so it was kind of comical and really all it did was just add to the already poor quality system. [Timestamp: 6:53]

Ah, if it were only that easy.

Yes sir.

So, what did you do first when you set out to fix all of this?

We ran a lot of RTAs in the room because obviously we needed to understand where the problem levels throughout the frequency range were in the room. That was a real major step to understand the standing rays and what we had to deal with on a basis of—“We can’t fix this so we have to deal with it,” once we achieved the RTA readings in the room we had a good meeting with the church board and some of the church congregation to find out what kind of sound levels overall that they need because every church is different and it’s important to find that out to make that sound system right for their particular service and their application. So through a lot of research we found that in this application that a steerable line array would meet not only the challenging audio aspects but also the aesthetics of the room. [Timestamp: 7:53]

And why did you decide on the Bosch digitally steerable line array?

We did a fair amount of research and it came down to two manufacturers but when we approached Bosch they were all in. Their help was sensational, they came to the site with us to present the system during the demo, they were just so very helpful in helping us get that package ready and get it to the customer—be there for that support and they were also much more competitive really from a price point for our customer. [Timestamp: 8:23]

And you obviously had a big job with the acoustics involved. But once you got this in, what did you have to do to blend it with the architectural environment and sort of camouflage it?

Well since the steer array from Bosch is so slender we were able to mount this on a edge of fluted column and with that being painted the same color as the column the cabinet basically instantly disappeared because it no longer became something you would see with your eye—it just blended right in with the column. [Timestamp: 8:54]

Well, that sounds like it was a little easier than I would have originally thought that it would be. Smaller is better as far as that goes. That sounds like it came out pretty well.

It did—it definitely defied what we would normally consider some of the sound 101 theories and rules but with the technology and the help from Bosch and Ashly and a few of the other vendors that we had in line the project came out to be superb. [Timestamp: 9:22]

Well, it was a challenging situation when you first got in there but I appreciate your giving us the story on how you met that challenge and came up with the sound system to handle it. It’s Paul Garner with Christian Sound Installations in Valrico, Fla. Thank for telling us about it.


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