While every church hopes to bring its members closer to heaven, the architecture of the First Congregational Church in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida exemplifies this aspiration quite literally in the soaring peaks of its 55-foot ceiling. Supported by elaborate wooden trusses that evoke the shape of the cross, the ceiling gives the room an inspiring effect, but, unfortunately, not inspiring acoustics. Due to the cavernous space and a beautiful stained glass window that makes up the entire back wall of the church, it's long been challenging for congregants to make out what was being said in the 50-year-old sanctuary. But to Dave Armstrong, whose sound design and installation company, Sound Planning, serves the South Florida church and synagogue market, the situation had a familiar ring and also a fairly straightforward solution: the Electro-Voice EVH-1152D/64 loudspeaker with horn-loaded woofer.
"This was a church that had a lot of complaints about intelligibility," Armstrong says, "because it has an extremely high ceiling as well as hard floors and also windows that run down the sides. In fact, I don’t think they had ever really had good sound in there before. Ours was the fourth sound system to be installed in that church since it opened in the early 1960s. So they had suffered for a lot of years with their old systems."
When Armstrong visited, it became clear to him right away that the existing system was not well suited to the room. "They were using a conventional cluster made up of a couple woofer cabinets and a couple horns." he says. "The old system wasn’t that bad, it was just that the acoustics of the room made the sound very unintelligible. The environment was extremely reverberant, and the speaker was high up and away from the people. When you start getting a lot of lows bouncing around in that massive wooden structure, it becomes muddy."
Armstrong says that he met with the church committee and explained the importance of pattern control in the lower frequencies. "My first choice would have been to use an EVA line array," he says, "but that was slightly beyond their budget. So I suggested a tried and true, less expensive solution: Electro-Voice’s horn-loaded technology, which used to be available in the FRX box but is now in the EVH. I’ve used those in a lot churches."
Full-range cabinets with horn-loaded woofers are not the most common loudspeaker configuration, but the EVH design is a proven performer. "I’ve never had any reason to look away from EV for a horn-loaded cabinet," says Armstrong, who's been using Electro-Voice throughout his 40-year career. "And EV has such as wide line of equipment that I prefer to stick with them, because I can find a speaker to fit any application. EV also has great brand recognition. When you’re selling to people that are not necessarily technically inclined, they generally recognize the major brands that they’ve seen before. If you come in with something they’ve never heard of, the sell is a lot more uphill."
Armstrong's solution was to cover the entire seating area of the church with a single EVH, which hangs in the middle above the steps between the main floor and the stage. The areas behind the steps are covered with a pair of Electro-Voice ZX1 composite 8-inch two-way loudspeakers, which provide choir fill. There are also four ZXA1s, the self-powered version of the ZX1, used as floor monitors immediately in front of the band. The church also purchased two Electro-Voice RE2/410 handheld wireless microphones for singers, and an RE2/E wireless headset for the minister.
"What made this particular job somewhat unique for us," Armstrong says, "is that it set the record for how high we've had to go to hang a speaker. The box is probably hanging 35 feet off the floor. But we had to go all the way to the peak at 50 feet to attach the chains and pull the wires. There was no way to use any kind of a lift, so we had to build up scaffolding that high, which was downright scary, and then take down the old equipment and hang the new speaker."
With the EVH placed where it is, Armstrong says, "the vast majority of the sound is projected directly down onto the audience. And it’s away from any structure, so we get a really clean sound for both music and speech. It reduced the reverberation in the room to a point where it’s negligible."
The new Electro-Voice system generated "immediate, positive results," Armstrong adds, with affirmative feedback from both church staff and congregants. Armstrong's favorite came one day when he was doing some follow-up work after the first service on the new system. "A member of the church -- not on staff, just a casual observer -- happened to be there. He came up and said, 'I never realized how bad our sound system was until I heard the new one.' And that was quite a compliment."