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Improving Acoustics in Older Churches


Few churches suffer more difficult acoustical problems such as reverberation (echo) than older Catholic churches, which were built entirely out of stone. As such, it is no wonder that St. John's Cathedral in Malta, built between 1573 and 1586, had to look for an exceptional audio system to overcome the inherent acoustical difficulties in the building's design. The Cathedral needed a system that would not only discreetly address their need for high intelligibility and clarity of speech, but also give the congregation the ability to obtain the necessary bandwidth for live music, a featured portion of their well-attended services and performances. 

As for so many congregations, reliability, budget, and aesthetics played an important role in the choice of their audio system. The decision was made to install the Messenger XL's from ATEIS International, a fully self-amplified, highly directional, linear loudspeaker array capable of providing uniform volume (up to 94dB) more than 120 feet from its location. The Messenger's internal pre-processing and amplification reduced the need for additional boxes and made the entire design more affordable and elegant. Smaller than traditional "flying" line arrays, the Messenger XL's became one with the décor, perfectly hidden after a local painter had hand-painted each unit, while providing a highly intelligible system.

It did not hurt that the loudspeakers were also installed vertically, tight to the surface, providing a much less obtrusive look than other options requiring a "flying" array or an array tilting out from the wall. With all amplification and processing handled internally, wiring and installation issues were also kept to a minimum. As a final bonus, the system also qualified as an approved Voice Evacuation System to protect the congregation and international visitors in case of emergency. 

The Cathedral, of the Knight of St. John, is listed as a "must see" if you visit Malta. The austere façade is reminiscent of the fortifications of Valletta, the fortress city, while the exuberant and lavish baroque interior shows the Knight's deep appreciation and patronage of culture and the arts. The intricate carved stone walls and painted vaulted ceiling are testimonies to the talents of the Calabrian Knight and artist Maria Preti. The Cathedral also houses one of Europe's most impressive and famous art works, Caravaggio's Beheading of St. John the Baptist. In 1931, while visiting Malta, Sir Walter Scott called the Cathedral the most magnificent place he had ever seen.  It is certainly a spectacular building and a fitting resting place for the founder of Valletta, Grand Master Jean Parisot de la Valletta.

The Technology
Line source loudspeaker systems are now readily available from a number of manufacturers, and we are used to seeing these long "bananas" flying along the stage, nicely curved to get a proper tapered energy pattern in the audience area. On the whole, they can provide ideal solutions for covering larger areas with a uniform sound field for the middle and high frequencies. However, due to the longer wavelengths of low frequency sound, their effects become more limited as the frequencies get lower.  

A DSP steerable line array, on the other hand, uses a linear loudspeaker spacing coupled with a DSP processor and sophisticated algorithms driving built-in digital amplifiers. As such, this technology provides more control and direction of the sound waves. By virtue of tightly controlling the beam of sound, the DSP steerable line arrays prevent sound energy from hitting the floor or the ceiling, virtually eliminating echo in reverberant spaces. Each speaker produces a sound beam that is very wide horizontally, with almost zero-degree dispersion vertically. Further, each unit is a self-contained system with all processing and all amplification done in one chassis, as opposed to traditional systems that require amplifiers and outboard processors.

DSP steerable line arrays tend to be very tall and slim and easier to conceal than traditional "banana" shaped "flying" designs. Depending on the manufacturer, the beam can also be directed (steered) up and down to varying degrees and be split in two (to hit the main seating area and the balcony) or even three. Some units even have different "presets," different designs for different environments. This becomes useful in installations where a removable wall may be opened to increase the size of the main room during major holidays.









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