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The Rabbit Hole

Posted by jdbsound on September 11, 2018

red-pill-blue-pill-Recovered

How good is your worship experience?  Sound Systems play a large part of the picture.  The sound system is used 100% of the time in most churches.  That include streaming, hearing impaired systems and recording of the worship program.  However, a sound system broadcasting live sound to the audience can only perform as well as the room allows it.  Sure, getting the latest and best State of the Art Technology in sound does sometimes gain you a slightly better level of performance but how good can a sound system be?

If we do a check list of all the things a sound system is supposed to do, most churches that don’t have any acoustical treatment only get about 50 to 60% out of their sound system’s performance regardless of the quality of the equipment and the design of the speaker system.  When a church does get the right acoustical system or if the acoustical system is built in, those churches get over 85% performance out of their sound systems, even when using just entry level professional live sound equipment. Churches that have the right room shape that is within the Golden Ratio, they usually get a performance level over 90% out of their equipment with the right acoustical management system.

An example of system performance would be in how much gain before feedback there is.  In one church, they had so much gain before feedback after their church had an acoustical change, that during a children’s play, one child was helping another child who was struggling with their lines.  The nearest microphone was over 9 feet away.  The sound operator was able to raise the gain to where you could hear both children.  This in itself was no big deal but it was huge to the parents listening to the play.  They loved what they heard.  When the parents could hear the one child coaching the other with their lines, it was a great example how people need to encourage each other and work together.  Both children were complimented for their performances. The parents felt included in all of the things happening on stage.

In most churches, experiences like this never happen.  Instead, most parent complain that they couldn’t hear their child or the other kids, or get upset with the sound guys for not having enough microphones for them, or get upset with the Sunday School teacher for not teaching the kids how to use microphones.  The performance of a sound system can make the difference between having a blessing and hearing the message or being so distracted that persons leaves upset and any message given is totally missed.

In another example, a church had floor monitors that were so loud that the main speaker system couldn’t be used without blasting everyone in the audience.  The monitors are almost as loud at the back of the church as well as up front.  The worship team switched from floor monitors to in ear monitors.  At first it seemed to work.  However, if you were sitting in the front 5 rows of seating, the sound coverage was poor in about 70% of the seating.  Before, the floor monitor spill helped to fill in the coverage of the shortcoming of the main speaker system design. After getting the in ear monitors, the church went through 3 speaker systems and 3 different speaker system layout designs. The coverage issues never were resolved, even with loudspeakers recessed in the front of the stage on delays and the whole ten yards.  The shape of the church didn’t help either.

Eventually, the church had to fix their acoustics because those front 5 rows of seating were always 80% occupied and that is where the Pastor’s wife always sat.  With sound coverage issues resolved, the acoustical fix also resolved a boat load of problems including monitor spill. The acoustical fix made it possible for the worship team to go back to using floor monitors months later.  The church was only a 500 seat space and over a 6 year period they spent over $200,000 on just speakers, processors, amplifiers and mixers.  the acoustical fix was only $4,000.  Had the church addressed the acoustics first, they would have had an extra $150,000 invested into other programs or missions or helping church growth and health.  Many churches are going through this process today.

A lot of churches just keep taking the “Blue pill.”  Churches with money keep turning to esoteric audio hardware and hope that physics will take a back seat to the latest technology and software to help them. For churches that don’t have the funds, they just put up with bad sound and for some, declining or very high turnovers in attendance.

For those churches that take the “Red pill,” they spend way less on sound equipment and have systems sounding and performing in ways other churches can only dream about.  These same churches have more enthusiastic congregational singing, better sound teams and almost zero complaints about the sound, even when the sound system is keeping up with a congregation singing over 95dB!  Some Worship team member find that their talents improve.  Ministers find that more people are paying attention and are asking questions or commenting on the weekly sermons through the week.

The choice is yours.  Taking the “Blue pill” means one kind of outcome down the rabbit hole where magic is not real and taking the “Red pill” gives a different result.  The thing is, there is no downside to taking the “Red pill” but there is for taking the “Blue pill.”

By Joseph De Buglio

Posted in Church Acoustics | Leave a Comment »

Poster of the Day

Posted by jdbsound on August 2, 2018

laws of physics poster_s

Blessings

Joseph De Buglio

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What will give you the biggest bang for the buck in upgrading the Sound of your church?

Posted by jdbsound on May 2, 2018

This 300 seat church already had a reasonable high quality sound system.  It was properly designed for the room and professionally installed. The acoustics were not that bad.  At least it was thought that the acoustics were not such a problem.  The outstanding issues they were trying to solve or improve were:

  1. Gain before feedback,
  2. Elimination of the few deadspots that were not solved from the previous sound system when the current new JBL speakers were installed
  3. Reduce sound spill from floor monitors,
  4. Better control of the drums (when using acoustic drums) and
  5. They wanted 3dB more bass from the Sub-woofer.

These are all reasonable reasons to upgrade the sound system.

Good Speaker System setup_s

The church was considered the following upgrades.

  1. Replacing the professional designed and installed 12 year old JBL sound system.
  2. They considered going for IEM (in ear monitor) system for up to 8 people. (This would have included a new digital mixer)
  3. The church considered making an air conditioned drum booth or get an electronic drum kit.
  4. They also wanted to add a second twin 15 inch sub-woofer.
  5. Estimated total cost, almost $26,000.00 installed.

This is what the church actually did. They changed the acoustics of the room.  They installed an acoustical Tube Radiator system.

What did they gain by doing this?

  1. The sonic quality of the existing JBL speaker system was greatly improved. The improvement was noticeable better regardless how much equalization was added or when the EQ was bypassed. (Definite proof that the acoustics of the room changed the performance of the speaker system from the day they were installed.)
  2. All of the remaining deadspots were now gone. (This was never a speaker system problem as the right speaker system design was already installed.)
  3. The performance of the speaker system was such that picking up a person’s voice went from 12 inches to 35 inches with a Shure SM58 mic before feedback would show up. (Again, acoustics limits the performance of all sound system. Sure there are some very expensive gadgets that can improve gain before feedback, but such gadget can cost more than the material cost of the acoustical fix.)
  4. The floor monitors are now well behaved. No matter how loud the floor monitors get, you definitely need to and to add the front of house to hear clear sound. As it turns out, the overall stage mix dropped around 10dB without the performers even noticing as they were now able to hear the stage mix from the monitors so well at a lower volume. You could say that the monitor spill issue is eliminated.
  5. This eliminated the need for IEM’s.
  6. Since the drummer can hear himself now, he gradually started playing quieter after a few weeks. The need for a drum cage disappeared.
  7. The Single Sub-Woofer was now able to play 9dB louder without distortion. It would have taken 3 more sub-woofers to get the same loudness without distortion. That was equal to spending around $15,000.00. (Standing waves and bass buildup in the corners added air pressure onto the surface of the cones of the subs drivers. This added air pressure creates distortion. When the subs distort, the sound quality and maximum sound levels of what the sub is supposed to be able to do, can drop up to 15dB in many rooms.)

Aylmer EMC Church Pano 2017_ss

Other improvements

Congregation Singing.

  1. The participation of people singing went up from 30% to 75%. (When people can hear themselves and the other people around them, it encourage people to sing more.)  s a resulting, the congregation is singing 8 to 15dB louder. (The more people singing, the louder they will become.)
  2. No more distortion from the speaker system with playing louder which means the perception of loudness is greatly reduced. (Standing waves and bass buildup in the corners added air pressure onto the surface of the cones of the bass driver of full range speakers. This added air pressure creates distortion. When the bass drivers distort, the sound quality and maximum sound levels of what the full range speaker is supposed to be able to do, can drop up to 15dB in many rooms.)
  3. After two years, the congregation is starting to add harmonies to their singing. (That is what happens when people can hear each other.)
  4. Now when people stand up to give testimonies or prayer requests, people can hear them whenever they forget to use hand held wireless audience microphone.
  5. The front of house stage mix is so much better. Now you can hear all of the performers without having to blast the sound system. (A well diffused room can make the signal to noise ratio improve from 3dB to 25dB. As the signal to noise improves, the easier it is to settle into a high quality.)
  6. The worship space is now concert quality for any high SPL event, recitals, choirs or orchestral events.

Total cost of the acoustical system including painting the whole sanctuary. $1,400.00
Since this as a DIY project, the money saved went towards a better headset mic for the pastor and the new digital mixer. Total upgrade, $5,000.00. If the church contract out the installation of the Sono Tubes, add $5,200.00. That is still 60%of the cost of upgrading a perfectly good sound system if everything is contracted out or an 83% difference.

Conclusion

One can honestly say that fixing the acoustics had a far better return on investment verses just upgrading the speaker system alone. Upgrading the speaker system can never make the room sound better, improve congregational singing and it would have not be possible to delete the deadspots without add more speakers on delays around the room. This transformation is typical of the new worship experience when a church gets the acoustics they are supposed to have. In the battle between acoustics vs sound systems, acoustics always wins. It’s Physics. Try moving a wall with air? You can’t. Change the wall and hear what happens!

 

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Dead Spots – Sound System or Acoustics?

Posted by jdbsound on April 9, 2018

An unwelcomed guest in any church is Mr. Deadspots. Unfortunately, deadspots in churches are more common than you think. There are two main types of deadspots. Some are frequency related/comb filtering interference and others are dips in sound levels greater that 6dB created by the room.

It is common to see frequency related deadspots in Left/Right sound system regardless if they are Line Arrays or point and shoot speakers. These deadspots are created by interference patterns in a mono speech system as a persons voice is always mono.  These deadspots are where you shift from one foot to another and notice a sound change. In these cases it becomes a problem when on one foot you hear the highs but not the lows. When you shift your position onto the other foot, you hear the lows and the highs disappear. People with hearing aids or early stages of hearing lose notice this the most. People with good hearing notice the change too but learn quickly to put up with it. Some young people think of it as a passive noise filter. If the music is too bright, stand to one side of your seating position. If the music is too boomy, shift to the other side of your seating position. Really! Isn’t that like buying a headset and controlling the sound changes with what angle you tilt your head. It might sound like a great idea until you find yourself with a lot of neck pain. No thank you.

Sound level dips are usually acoustically related. These are created with standing waves, bass building up, hollow walls, room corners, and parallel surfaces that include walls, ceilings and floors and concaved surfaces. In all of these cases, often mid and bass energy build up and the highs are absorbed with carpets, padded pews and people. By the nature of churches and how they are used, carpeted floors and padded seating often represents how the church sounds when it is 50% full. That means that if your attendance is often over 50%, the effects of padded seating and carpeted floors has little to no impact. If church attendance is often over 70% a carpeted floor makes the room more intimate during times of prayer and solemn reverence. In the end, carpets and padded seating is a good thing.

However, because of people in the room, once that room attendance is above 50% the people absorb enough highs that extra mids and bass energy is left behind as is being amplified between parallel surfaces. This excess energy automatically masks the highs. When the highs are masked, speech and music intelligibility drops. The kicker is, if you go around the room with a sound level meter, often the sound levels don’t drop much, even when you stand in a spot where the highs (when you measure just the highs) drop off over 6dB. That is because the excess bass energy is so strong that it fools the sound meter as the meter is reading an average sound level. When you take sound level readings by frequency, then you notice the high number of deadspots in the room. Get a tone generator in a cell phone or computer app and play a constant tone at 55dB at 500 Hertz, 1000 Hertz and 3000 Hertz and then start walking around. At 500 Hertz you shouldn’t notice much of change until you get close to walls. At 1000 Hertz you will notice more changes. At 3000 Hertz, if you are hearing a lot of changes, imagine what 25% of your church audience is experiencing.

Here is a church that had both acoustical and sound system created deadspots, with a central cluster. By nature of a central cluster, in a good room, it gives the best coverage and performance for speech. There is no better way to design a church sound system unless your ceiling is less than 14 ft. high. Choice of speakers, coverage patterns and speaker placement impacts sound too but these are mainly tone qualities and gain before feedback related. It may have up to a 2 or 3% impact on overall intelligibility as well.

corner view pano Ebeneezer Church_s

In this church example, it already has a fairly good quality speaker system in the ideal location for the room. It is designed as a central cluster and by nature, in this setup, it should perform well. However, it didn’t matter if you used the main speaker system or used portable speakers on stands, with any sound amplified you could find deadspots all over the room. On top of that, if you raised your voice in the room, once you were more than 18 feet from someone, understand what was being said was difficult to impossible depending on dictions of the person talking and how good is one’s hearing. When the proper acoustical fix was applied, all of those problems went away and the church didn’t need to upgrade the speaker system.

The church decided to leave the sound system alone as the gain before feedback improved and all of the deadspots disappeared. Since this is a traditional church that has no intentions to do anything contemporary, the acoustical fix was designed to not change the overall reverb time. Before and after reverb time remained about the same. 1.7 seconds.  It was the frequency response of the room that saw a major change. As the graphs shows below, where the mixer for the worship space was located, it was also one of many spots where weird measurements were recorded before. We found dozens of spots where the room measurements went squirrely. This is typical of the results of measuring a Left/Right speaker system, not a cluster system. These weird results were a result of room acoustics and not the sound system.  We used our own test speaker for all room testing.

Sound Booth Before and After

After checking our test equipment for errors, it was then realized that by just moving the mic over a few inches, you would get a very different result. In some places, the sound was perfectly fine but move over a few inches and it was not. Our ears are about 8 inches apart. In one row of seating, the largest distance we could move the test mic between a good spot and bad spot was 14 inches. Pew seating is 18 inches.  Every seating position had both good and bad sound. What we were measuring was sound masking in the mids and lows.  The energy was so strong that it masked the highs.  Not only that but the highs were most likely also being canceled from nearby wall reflection between 1800 to 5000 Hertz.  It gave the impression that there was something wrong with the sound system.

In this church, people marked their seating positions by placing personal pillows in spots where the sound was better. Sure enough, testing these spots showed better sound before the acoustical treatment was applied. After the acoustical system was installed, the sound was the same no matter where you sat including the sound booth.

Deadspots in churches are more often a result of worship space design and not a result of sound system design (unless you have the wrong speaker system design for your room). When a church replaces a well-designed sound within 10 years, and have little to no overall improvement after an upgrade, that should be a BIG RED FLAG that you most likely have a serious acoustical problem and no amount of money spent on the sound system can make those problems go away. Besides, these days, acoustical fixes cost less than sound system fixes. As a caveat, our experience has been this. Churches that have fixed their acoustics and then wanted on to expand their music programs, they were able to upscale their sound system with a much higher budget as they upgraded, it actually lead to better performance rather than an exchange of one set of problems for another.

Bottom line is, get your church properly tested. Have someone who knows how to properly diagnose the data, and then design your church a proper acoustical management system. Install the acoustical system and watch the congregation respond and grow. Don’t be surprised if other churches want to use your church for musical and recording events. Your property value may go up too.

Note – The acoustical system is made up of 8 and 12 inch half round plaster covered foam diffusers on 3 walls.  The side walls use a gradient pattern to maximize room performance. On the back wall there are 24 units of 7 ft. x 2 ft. x 18 inch plaster covered foam diffusers that are hollow which allows for additional passive room equalizing in the near future. Project completed by church members.

By Joseph De Buglio
JdB Sound Acoustics

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Acoustics for only $0.20 per square foot

Posted by jdbsound on February 24, 2018


What is four inches thick, eight inches wide and comes in length up to 32 ft that can absorb sound down to 80 Hertz and preserves sound energy above 2000 Hertz?

What is six inches thick, twelve inches wide and comes in lengths up to 32 ft that can absorb sound down to 50 Hertz and preserves sound energy above 2500 Hertz?

What is eight inches thick, sixteen inches wide and comes in lengths up to 32 ft that can absorb sound down to 20 Hertz and preserves sound energy above 3000 Hertz?

Tube Radiators. It’s all about the shape and not what they are made of. Nothing controls sound at this rate that is also affordable for everyone to use. They make churches to sound great, home theatres sound amazing, cut production time in a recording studio up to 50%, and manage noise in the work place at less than $0.20 per sq ft. Who knew?

Sono Tube Diffuser profile_s

 

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The two edge sword of Church Acoustics

Posted by jdbsound on February 13, 2018

The Rectangle is the best sounding room with the right acoustical management system. The Rectangle is the worst sounding room without an acoustical management system.

An Acoustical Management system is being able to anticipate all of the ways a worship space is used and then design a custom acoustical system that can be installed to manage all or most of the worship acoustical events in one step.

By Joseph De Buglio

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Don’t Share Microphones!!!

Posted by jdbsound on January 30, 2018

Hi Everyone,

With cold and flu season hitting everyone so hard, just thought to remind those who sing or preach in church to not share microphones. Microphones are a great way to pass on the cold, flu and other contagious illnesses. You voice is a musical instrument and you need to do everything to keep it in good working order. For this reason, you should own your own microphone. By not sharing you mic, you can avoid getting sick or at least get sick less often. Here is an article I wrote in 2009 that is still relevant today. http://www.jdbsound.com/microphone_health.pdf

Joseph De Buglio

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Before and After results of a Real Multipurpose Hall

Posted by jdbsound on December 4, 2017

This is a before and after test results of a multipurpose room.  The room is a converter steel factory.  The purpose of the room is for multi use including banquets, acoustical and amplified musical performances, teaching and general meetings.  While the room has a fixed sound system, the  room performs equally well regardless of the orientation of the seating or event layout.

sandbox B-A results

From the graph, it shows the before and after.  Before the room had an average of 2.1 seconds of reverberation.  That said, at around 400 Hertz, the reverb time was 2.85 seconds. This made the room unacceptable for all uses.  It was hard to have a simple conversation with someone only 5 feet away.

The acoustical treatment in this case require 3 different acoustical system.  Tube Radiators were used for controlling sound from 200 to 2000 Hertz.  The tube radiators have only a profile depth of 4 and 6 inches and the idea that something so small can control sound down to 200 Hertz is amazing.  The tube radiators only covers 12% of the total wall space of the room.  

The second system was outround diffuser panels.  They covered another 10% of the available wall space.  These panels were used to manage sound from 100 to 500 Hertz.  By combining these two system with the limited wall space, we were able to cut the reverb time at 400 and 800 Hertz 1.8 seconds.  That is a massive amount considering that 400 Hertz is a wave length of about 33 inches long and 800 Hz is about 17 inches.

The third acoustical was a fiber absorber.  The fiber absorber covered 40% of the ceiling and 10% of the side walls.  The fiber panels covered the outrounds on the side walls.  It is rare to need absorption in such projects but when you have a concrete floor with no carpet, you have to replace the carpet with something similar.  Here is the thing about carpet.  Carpet, which is always within 4 to 7 feet of our ears works very efficiently.  The shallow angle of most sounds we hear in a large room event gives a 1/2 inch of carpet the acoustical performance of 2 inches of a typical wall panel absorber.  Since one of the requirements of this room is to include music that can reach 100dB, it was planned to have a reverb time of 1 second, +/- .2 tenths of a second.  That goal was met and the range it was met is typical of our acoustical fixes.  If you look at the before and after, the room now meets that goal from 150Hz to 4,000Hz.  Before, using the same criteria, the room had a average reverb time of 1.8 second with a +/- of 1.1 second variance.

percent alcons 4 sandbox

The critical question is, how does the room sound for speech, talking and for music.  For speech, the change was from 14% Alcon’s (rated as poor) to 4% Alcon’s.  At 4%, it means that you can talk to someone from end to end of the 55 ft long room with a slightly raise voice.  When you add a properly equalized sound system, you can better the speech intelligibility to 3.5%.  For talking across a table during banquet or social events is easy in this space.  You can talk to someone 15 ft away while the person next to you is talking to someone across the table without having to raise your voice to compete with other conversations.

As for music, so far, for the high energy high SPL events the room has been well received by musician and audience members.  That has meant fewer events with drum shields, fewer events with IEM (in ear monitors) and very little floor monitor spill that degrades the sound for the audience.

At the other end there have been a few recital type performances where the even was all acoustical.  One person who was a graduate of a royal conservatory of music remarked that the room was similar to recital rooms at a well known royal conservatory school in Toronto, Canada.  One violinist said that while she would have liked a longer reverb time, the quality of the sound of her expensive instrument was amazing.  The last time she heard her violin sound so great was at a high end recording studio that was  acoustical treated.  She was also stunned that it didn’t matter where in the room she performed, the violin sounded great.

There is one down side to the new room.  Since there is no carpet, when the room is empty, you do notice the reflection off the floor. This does make the room a little challenging for those who do rehearsals when the room empty and before any table and chairs are set up.  Once tables and chairs are setup, the room behaves well.

In the real world, there are a lot of rooms that are used as multi purposed spaces but perform poorly.  Most facility owners don’t worry about acoustics because they may have the only place in town that can accommodate such events.  That said, if they were to get 10 to 20% more bookings per year, they would recover the cost of investing in an acoustical fix in less than a year.  Furthermore, it would allow the facility owner to charge a hire fee if the place gets too busy.  There is no down side to having an acoustically friendly community center, convention hall, rental hall or banquet facility.

 

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Vintage Balcony Delay from the 1950’s

Posted by jdbsound on November 25, 2017

This is a vintage passive Analog delay. Mostly likely installed in this 1800 seat church in the late 1940’s or early 1950’s. When this delay was installed, there were no electronic devices invented yet to give a long enough delay that this church needed.  This delay was used to manage sound under and above a balcony for around 700 seats. It is 2 inch conduit pipe with a high frequency horn driver at one end and a quality microphone on the other. The length of the pipe is about 25% longer than the distance between the pulpit to the front face of the balcony. Whoever designed this understood very well about the HASS effect. This system was working very well into the 1990’s where it was upgraded to a digital delay and new speaker system to accommodate the transition to a contemporary worship service.

Vintage passive delay

If you look closely you can see the wire for the microphone on top and the  Green Altec high frequency compression horn at the bottom. The microphone was moved back and forth in the pipe until they got the best delay setting. Then the pipe was sealed. The frequency response of this setup was very good. It was +/- 2dB from 1800 to 6000 Hertz. If this church continued with a tradition worship service, this delay could have continued to service the church.

For most under balcony installations, you don’t need full range boxes. All you need is sound from 1200 Hertz and up as the low frequency information will go around objects and under the balcony. If you ever walk into a church and hear great sound under the balcony and don’t see any speaker boxes and grills, if you look closer, you will most likely see just tweeters mounted with or without a small baffle about 6 x 3 inches. Using this approach means that a budget limited church can afford very high end quality  sound under the balcony with better, even sound distribution. This also allows you to use a lower cost 25 volt distribution system for each delay line and you can tap off each tweeter at 1 watt as that is all you will need.

Oddly enough, today, a digital delay is often included in Digital mixers and speaker processors.  To build this passive today would cost as much or more than a 16 channel digital mixer (as of 2017).  Historically, this church could have used a reel to reel tape recorder on a loop to create the right delay. In those days this passive system may have cost around $500.00, where as a reel to reel system would have cost around $2,500.00.  And consider this, the tape would of had to be replaced often, the belts inside of the recorder would have to be replaced often and delay drift would require readjusting as belts would stretch over time.  A reel to reel loop system would have been an on going expense that most churches would want to avoid.

I don’t know who coined the phrase, “set it and forget it” (Ron Popeil is credited for using that phrase in infomercials of the 1980’s.) but this passive delay system was just that.  Once set, you could forget about it and it would last forever.  This is an excellent example of high quality sound churches can afford.  Whoever designed all of this did an excellent job.

(This is information is not yet in Wikipedia. Nov 2017)

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Where are the Carboard Tubes

Posted by jdbsound on August 28, 2017

Churches use a lot of Cardboard Tubes in acoustical room fixes because they are very effective in getting the room performance they want and need.  Cardboard Tube not only outperform all other acoustical products in churches but they are also the most affordable.  There is nothing that can do what half round tubes can do, even at 40 times the cost.

Ok then, what if you don’t like the look of cardboard tubes around your worship space.  Here is an option some churches have been willing to spend a little extra for.

image10

These look like standard 5 inch deep absorbing panels.  They are not.  These are Sono Tubes mounted in a wooden frame and covered with cloth.

image9

The cloth was an added expense and it was worth it.  The fire rated cloth is expensive and before covering the panels, you want to make sure the acoustical system is going to work and work it did.  The church is very happy with the results and they are enjoying the room.

image8

This is what the installation looked like before it was covered.  The wooden frame has no effect on the performance of the half round tubes.  The cloth only affects frequencies above 10,000 Hertz which means they have no effect on speech or music.  In this installation three sizes of tubes were used.

image7

At the bottom is a huge video wall screen.  On the wall are the Sono Tubes.  Yes, the tubes will work behind a vinyl screen.  If you notice the pattern of the diffusers on the wall. that pattern was needed to control lower mids and bass sound energy.  This pattern was pretested in our test room.

northside church video wall

Here is the finished installation of the video system.  It takes three projectors for each screen.  The centre screen is a video wall.

Photos courtesy of Frederic Lachance of Northside Church in Coquitlam BC, 2017.

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Church Ceiling Height Chart

Posted by jdbsound on May 26, 2017

Churches these days are building lower and lower building.  I guess when so many churches have experienced only poor quality acoustics, many wonder what is the point of building a taller worship space.  As it turns out, existing worship space acoustics is doing fine and a lot of churches are are getting their acoustics fixed, sounding better today than they ever did before.

When a church builds a low ceiling, it limits congregational singing and it makes you more dependant on technology, but guess what!  The same things that limits congregational singing is what also limits the performance of all sound systems.  So, instead of getting 100% out of your high quality over priced expensive sound system, your getting only 40 to 60% of the sound systems true performance abilities.  It is actually cheaper to build higher than the added cost of audio technology to make up the difference.   The chart below should clear the air as to the minimum height your next church should be.  Also, a taller worship space does not mean being stuck with longer reverb times. A higher ceiling means natural room reverberation is adjustable and tuneable.  With a taller ceiling you can change the frequency response of the whole room without needing a sound system or equalizer.

Minimum Church Ceiling height Chart.JPG

Church height is important for a worship space.  One of the biggest parts of worship is singing.  Congregational singing to be specific.  When singing as a group, several elements are required for a good and healthy worship experience.  There is chorusing, harmony, sound volume or loudness of the singing and being able to hear yourself as well as the people around you.  When all of these elements are in balance, the worship experience is like no other.  The majority of people get a lot of satisfaction from the singing experience during worshiping in rooms that have ceiling heights that matches the size of the seating capacity of the worship space. The above chart are minimum heights.  If you want to build higher, you can as the singing experience gets even better but the improvement is more subtle.
High ceilings allow better and less expensive sound systems to be used.  Higher ceiling permit better gain before feedback and it becomes easier to isolate drums and floor monitor. The performance of the sound system is much better too when that is coupled with a good quality acoustical management system.
There are economic advantages too.  The higher the ceiling, the cheaper it is to heat and cool when using a vertical displacement HVAC type system which is specifically designed for large gathering spaces for people.  Such systems cost less to install, they use smaller HVAC components and cost about 30 to 40% less to operate.  In addition, the cooling systems last 2 to 3 times longer before needing to be replaced.
Another thing to consider. If building new, don’t build a flat ceiling that is parallel to the floor. (and it doesn’t count of you put in a sloping floor.)  Many churches that are moving into commercial buildings are learning the hard way that flat ceilings limit the quality of live musical performances and congregational singing.  Sure, there are acoustical panels that can slightly improve the room for amplified sound, but the cost doesn’t justify the returns.  There is little that can help congregational singing even if you have the height. Vertical standing waves are hard to manage than horizontal standing wave. If you know what you are doing, horizontal standing waves can be controlled to create an outstanding room.  It is part of the formula for the almost perfect worship space.  Funny though, most concert musicians that perform in a church that I have fixed, they often make comments like, “I wish our concert hall sounded and performed as well.”  That is almost like saying, “concert halls make for lousy worship space but worship spaces can perform better than a concert hall.”
*Note* In any country that has freedom of religion laws, the worship space portion of a church building has no roof heights limits regardless of local city building height restrictions. 

**Note** The data is based on 2800 churches from North America, Europe, Philippines and Central America. 

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Here we go again. Another lecture about Acoustical Systems.

Posted by jdbsound on April 27, 2017

Like a broken record, I have repeated many times that acoustical problems come in layers.  If you are not happy with the way your church sounds and you think it is an acoustical problem, it is never just a single problem.  Whenever you try to fix that one single problem you think you have, in every case that has crossed my desk, there were 2 to 5 other problems that became apparent and the new problems that are now unmasked by the first problem are often just as bad at limiting what can be done in worship.

For most churches, fixing that first problem with ready-made panels from well-intentioned product manufacturers often costs a lot of money.  It often take a lot of time to raise that money.  Often the cost of such fixes are so high that getting people to put more money into acoustics again is very difficult to do and the willingness to make another fix is gone, or they have lost any trust in “acoustical experts” or confidence that the problem can be fixed.  That said, there seems to always be enough willingness to spending more money on sound equipment and that is what most churches do.  Imagine working on churches that after their first acoustical fix, they replace the loudspeaker system 3 times in 15 years.  Many churches are doing this. You here this expression all the time but replacing a perfectly good sound system and expecting a different outcome doesn’t work.

Churches shouldn’t keep changing their sound system design to try to compensate for the room acoustics.  It doesn’t work and it never will.  Yeah, you know, physics keeps getting in the way but the way churches keep buying sound systems, you would think someone found a magic bullet.  God gave us Physics for a reason.  We need a fixed set of conditions for good hearing and music no matter what. When you obey the physics and understand the fixed set of conditions, great things start to happen.  So, when a church has a proper acoustical management system in either a new or existing church, the speaker system should last 20 to 25 years or until you can’t get replacement parts.  And then you just replace the equipment – not needed to redesign anything. (Ok, if you want to add subs, knock yourself out.) (The rest of the sound system should only be upgraded as your worship style and needs change or to replace failed equipment.)

Fixing the acoustics of any large room used for hearing speech, music, audience singing, live performances, video, movies and for recording is never about fixing just one problem.  An acoustical fix should always be a system.  I prefer the term “Sound Management System.”  Managing sound is about being all-inclusive, and all of the acoustical issues need to be identified before creating a plan to fix the room.  Reverberation time (RT60) and echoes are often the main reasons for most acoustical fixes.  However, these two issues often mask the other problems and taking acoustical measurements doesn’t reveal the other complications.  A person has to be trained to know what to look for.  Then they can take measurements or create a simulation to create a fix.

sono tubes and tectum

This photo an example where a church installed Tectum™ on the walls.  While the Tectum worked great to dampen the overall sound, it made the room very poor for worship.  After installing the Sono Tubes™ on top of the Tectum, the room became a good room for all aspects of worship.

The other common problems that are masked are standing waves, bass buildup, improper frequency response of the room, flutter echoes (which are often exposed when reducing RT60,) excessive early reflections and more.  The question is, can all of these issues be identified at the same time and can all of them be addressed or fixed in one step?  The simple answer is yes.

With proper training and with lots of experience/apprenticing, it is possible to have a total solution in one step. However, often in existing spaces and even in new spaces, what you see may not be what you think.  Often, when you look at blueprints of the worship, the plans may call for an insulated 2 x 8 wall on 12 inch center with half-inch drywall.  Instead the wall is 2 x 6 on 24 inch centers with 2 layers of 5/8th drywall.  When you have a wall that is over 800 sq ft, those construction differences can have a huge impact on how the will room sound.  What you see and what you are hearing can be very far apart. Churches as a rule and most large room gathering spaces don’t have what is often referred to as “as built drawings.”  This would be a set of drawings that includes all construction variations and changes as the space is being built.  When you have a 30 ft wall in front of you, there is no way of knowing 100% how that wall was completed above 7 to 10 ft.  It is a 2 x 8 wall or is it 2 x 6?  Is it insulated all the way up or just the first 10 feet? Therefore, because of all of these unknown variables, it is impossible to predict with 100% certainty of how a room will sound after you apply an acoustical treatment.

One good approach to large room acoustics is to first gain control of the room.  Next add some dampening if needed and finally, sweetening the room if additional control is needed for certain critical listening requirements.  With a 3 step approach, you can get the best possible performance of your space every time.

The first step, getting control of the room, is literally about managing all of the sound issues and anticipating any new problems before they happen if not addressed now.  This often means creating an acoustical solution that turns into a system.  Usually that means treating all of the walls in a large space.  All of the walls need to be managed or included in the sound management plan.  This is not an option.

In one church project, 106 panels needed to be installed. At the end of the day, 2 panels could not be installed on the back wall because the sound booth was in the way.  The plan was to install them the next day.  That evening, the church was needed for a music program.  The two panels that were not installed added up to 60 sq ft. for an 800 seat church with a 35 ft ceiling.  While the rest of the room was sounding great, the sound was awful on stage.  Those two missing panels made the stage/altar area un-useable. To make things worse, it soured the performance of a very good sound system too.  The gain before feedback was such that you had to step off the stage to use any microphones.  As a result, the program was moved to the church gym which was only slightly better.  The next day after those two panels were installed, it was like magic and all of the problems from the night before were all gone and the gain before feedback was such that they could have 10 open mics and still pickup voices from 20 inches away.  Before any acoustical treatment they could only have 4 mics open with everyone needing to be within 3 inches for the same praise and worship team.

Who would have ever thought that a couple of 30 sq ft panels in a space with around 12,000 sq feet of wall space can render a space useless.  That is how powerful an “acoustical system” is.  Every part of the acoustical fix is a critical item.  Just like a battery in a car.  If there is no battery, you can’t start your car and like a car that is made up of many parts, so is an acoustical system.

The other two steps are just tweaks.  When a complete acoustical management design is planned, it should also include tunable adjustments that are hidden in most cases.  These adjustment are always something that the church can do on their own to dampen and/or sweeten the room for those critical listeners or for those with growing talent that need that extra help to get them to the next level of their skills.

Acoustical solutions that only addresses a customer’s main complaints is like buying car tires and an engine.  You’re not going to go anywhere without a frame, body, seats, doors, steering wheel, and so on.  When we buy a car, everything is included.  It is a self-contained system.  When a church doesn’t have a sound management system, it is an incomplete worship space.  Any acoustical fix for a church should be all-inclusive.  Fixing only the RT60 or and echo problem of a church is like adding doors to a car that only has an engine and tires.  What are you going to mount the doors to?  You acoustical fix should include everything in the one step if you want to have great sound.

Joseph De Buglio©

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