AV Case Study: Our Lady of the Sacred Heart Church, Sydney
Large Sydney church enjoys ‘1000%’ audio improvement. Fohhn Audio strikes again.
Text:/ Christopher Holder
Big ol’ Gothic-style churches are notoriously unsuited to amplified sound, in the same way that fish are unsuited to bicycles. They simply weren’t designed for that purpose. But increasingly, these stone and marble edifices have needed to bend to the will of modern audiovisual demands. Column speakers have been the audio solution for decades. Now, with the advent of more powerful DSP and superior transducer technologies, column speakers have come a long way. And this is before we even talk about beam steerable arrays, which allow greater customisation of the dispersion pattern – more accurately avoiding surfaces that will muddy the intelligibility of the sound.
Fohhn Audio is at the forefront of column arrays. The German manufacturer has a primo range of beam-steerable column loudspeakers but it has passive models as well. The LX range is bit of a hybrid. It has a column of four-inch drivers that help control the dispersion in the vertical domain which is supplemented by HF compression drivers on a waveguide. After all, column arrays cease to act as a line source above a certain frequency (depending on how close the centre of the drivers are in the array). The Fohhn LX models acknowledge this reality and use a waveguide on the HF units to provide the control instead. The result is a classy two-way loudspeaker without the pricetag of the beam steerable range – which chews up the amp channels and DSP to provide the extra granular control.
This is good news for Gothic-style churches such as Our Lady of the Sacred Heart in Randwick, in suburban Sydney. After auditioning a few options, Father Pat Mara and his team selected the Fohhn LX150 to lead its foray into a more intelligible future. The Fohhn LX option sounded great in the demo and was sufficiently impressive to make the conversation about finding budget for the primo, beam-steerable alternative not worth having.
“The old system had fallen apart,” confesses Father Pat Mara. “Now, it’s amazing how many parishioners have commented to me about how much more they can hear of the liturgy and how much better the musicians sound. In fact, everyone is more relaxed.”
After auditioning a few options, Father Pat Mara and his team selected the Fohhn LX150 to lead its foray into a more intelligible future
CLARE-ITY ALL THE WAY
Clare Communications has been the church’s ‘friendly, neighbourhood’ SI for years. Clare Communications boss Donal O’Sullivan is like an extended part of the church family and made sure it was live streaming when Covid lockdowns were enforced (you can read that story here).
“I’ve been talking to the church for around eight years about replacing its audio,” explains Donal O’Sullivan. “Everyone knew it wasn’t up to scratch but it’s taken until now to make the change. But, in many ways, I’m pleased we were made to wait, because the Fohhn LX150s are worth the wait – they sound exceptional.”
The bulk of the church’s floorspace (the nave and transept) is covered by four Fohhn LX150 passive column arrays (the ‘150’ relates to the length of the array — 150cm). Fohhn AS22 passive single-12-inch subwoofers supplement the output of the LX150s to fill in some of the low-end without unnecessarily exciting the space. The Sanctuary area has a pair of smaller LX60s, the gallery also has a pair of the LX60s, while a pair of Fohhn Media Scale units take care of the foyer. The loudspeakers are powered by Fohhn MA Series Dante power amps.
EARTH MOVING IMPLEMENTS
The Fohhn LX150 loudspeakers might be the most conspicuous components of the upgrade but Our Lady of the Sacred Heart has had a serious level-up all through the audio signal chain. An Allen & Heath stagebox takes inputs from the choir area and feeds a Q-SYS Core with Dante digital audio. Shure QLX-D wireless microphones are part of the upgrade as well. The all-important lectern mic is an Earthworks model, as are the choir mics. Turns out Donal O’Sullivan is all-in on Earthworks, he loves them. “We’ve been specifying the Earthworks choir mics, the FW730, for three or four years now and they’ve been very effective. They have an extended frequency response [up to 30kHz] and the pickup is exceptionally consistent across all frequencies no matter where you are in its cardioid pattern. Apart from helping the mic to sound very natural it allows you to push it harder before you experience feedback. The Earthworks lectern mic is just as good. The quality of the spoken word is paramount in an install like this which is why we’ve standardised on Earthworks.”
The Q-SYS Core’s DSP ticks over with system tuning, delay compensation, along with some clever measures like the pressure mat at the lectern to automatically (un)mute the Earthworks gooseneck.
NetgearAV switches form the backbone of all the AV over IP, including the streaming, video, as well as the Dante audio.
A mixing console was part of the original design but the church has elected to do without. Clare Communications’ Matt Donovan has done a neat job at programming a wallplate with essential audio presets, and nothing more.
Father Pat Mara: “Being able to press one button to switch on the entire system really takes the pressure off of me. We also have a choice between a Midday Mass and a Weekend Mass preset. The weekend mass attracts more people in the church and the loudspeakers are preset to rise to that challenge. It’s very hassle-free.”
Rounding out the system is a Univox hearing loop, which plays an essential role for the elderly and the hearing impaired.
The Our Lady of the Sacred Heart audio upgrade is a salutary reminder of just how much of a transformational difference AV can have on an institution that relies on effective communication. It’s also a reminder about how specifying the right product and installing it exactly in the right place with care and expertise makes an enormous difference.
This non-technical quote from Father Pat Mara says it all, really: “The sound has improved in quality by 1000% – the quality of sound, the clarity of the sound, the volume of the sound, and the way that the sound fills up the space of the church. It’s a much fuller sound, and there are no more dead spots. You can hear clearly from any part of the church, which is a real benefit to us, and particularly to the parishioners.”