Birmingham’s Shades Mountain Baptist Church has its roots in the southern Baptist tradition, but its vision is pointed firmly toward the future. Founded in 1907, the church’s 20-year-old sanctuary has recently undergone a high-tech audio makeover, replete with a highly intelligible Meyer Sound M’elodieâ„¢ line array loudspeaker system that blends into the church’s elegant architecture.
According to Rick Shimer, founder of White House, Tenn-based Blackhawk Audio, the 3,000-seat sanctuary presented several challenges for sound design. “It’s a beautiful room, but it’s very reflective,”? says Shimer. “There’s a 55-foot ceiling, the left and right walls are both solid marble, and the pews are wood-backed. When the room is empty, there’s a reverb time of more than three seconds.”?
Aesthetics played a prominent role in designing the new system. “It’s pretty magnificent architecture, and we didn’t want to take away from the grandeur of the room,”? adds Shimer.
“It’s also a very wide room, and it was really designed more for a traditional choir-and-organ type service,”? says Rob Searcy, Shades Mountain’s Director of Technical Services. “The original system was adequate for spoken word, but underpowered for music. Coverage was spotty and inconsistent; too loud in some places, unintelligible in others.”?
When it came time to upgrade, Searcy immediately recommended Meyer Sound. “I’d done a fair amount of freelance work and I was pretty familiar with Meyer speakers,”? he says. “With a challenging room like Shades Mountain, I felt strongly that there was no other system that would deliver the focused, consistent coverage we needed.”?
The church called in Blackhawk, specialists in Meyer Sound equipment for more than 20 years, to set up a demonstration. “We flew 12 M’elodies and a pair of 700-HP subwoofers per side for the demo,”? Shimer recounts. “When we switched them on, everyone’s eyes got really big. One of the comments I heard was ‘that’s not just night-and-day difference, that’s like stone age-to-future difference.’”?
Shades Mountain is installed with a well-focused audio system based around two main hangs of 13 M’elodies, with eight M1D line array loudspeakers providing under-balcony fill. Bottom end is amply covered by a center steered array of three 700-HP subwoofers, augmented by two more on the floor. Two M1D boxes provide front fills. At the outer extremes, a single MSL-4 loudspeaker fills either side while providing the pattern control to keep the sound off the two marble walls.
On stage, four UPJuniorâ„¢ VariOâ„¢ loudspeakers provide monitoring for the 140-member choir, 40-piece orchestra, band and praise team; one more 700-HP provides low end for the musicians. A Galileoâ„¢ loudspeaker management system with two Galileo 616 units handles zoning and DSP for the entire system.
Searcy confirms that the new sound system has made a tremendous difference: “Our mix position is up in the balcony, and with any other system that would be a liability. But with the Meyer system, the sound is consistent everywhere in the house. I’ve had people come up to me and comment that they’ve heard a song from the choir hundreds of times, but this is the first time they’ve actually understood the words. And after all, isn’t that the point?”?
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