New Sound for St. Callistus.

St. Callistus Catholic Church had a sound problem.  In fact, they had a large and obnoxious sound problem.   In a perfect storm of dramatic architecture, very live acoustics, and poor system design, the sound at their services was just about unlistenable.

In this business of audio, one of the things that seem to happen often is that the original system installed when a facility was built is simply not up to the task.  Yes, there are many that are, but in this case, the system was the wrong one for the client on many levels.  Worse, disagreements over the original system’s performance led to a rift between the company that installed it and the church, leaving the church leaders very unhappy with their system, but also with audio companies in general.

St. Callistus is a very busy church, located in Garden Grove California, dead center in suburban Orange County.  They serve a diverse community with 2 masses on Saturday and 8 on Sunday, including masses in Vietnamese, Spanish, and English.  Liturgy includes choirs, soloists, duets, quartets, praise bands, and more.  Often there is a mere 15 minutes of setup time between services, so the system had better be as flexible and understandable as can be designed if it is to work, week after week.  There is also no on-staff audio pro, so the system has to be operated by the choir teams and by the priests.   Did I mention that this client was also very suspicious of sound companies?

DJL Audio/Video Specialists of San Dimas CA, was brought in to advise, design, and quote a new system for this important, but challenging project.

Design-wise, the room is fairly difficult.  Acoustically live, fan-shaped, with no obvious place to fly speakers that would clear the aesthetic requirements of the Orange County Diocese liturgical committee.  In short, flown concert-sound arrays, (line array or other) were out of the question as were ground stacked speakers on the stage.

The original system had a concealed center-cluster behind the proscenium on the ceiling.   But with the ceiling at 35 feet above the floor, using that location for the new system would be an exercise in futility, trying to get the direct sound to the parishioners before it was buried in echoes and reverb.

We started looking closely at steerable column arrays for this project.  Speakers of this type are steerable via DSP (digital sound processing), without physically moving the cabinet.  This allows for a far more discrete enclosure to be mounted flat to a wall surface and all adjustments made on the computer rather than by aiming the speakers.  The vertical pattern size is also adjustable from the computer, allowing us to create a precise match to the room.  After much research, we selected Tannoy’s QFlex 32 system with 2 Tannoy VS15HL subwoofers.  The QFlex 32 speakers match the needs of the room beautifully and the software for these speakers allows you to plot their response in a model of the actual room, and try different approaches and compare them before the installation goes forward.

There was only one usable location for them and it was on the front wall of the church, unfortunately behind the main podium and altar.   We have discovered that, with careful tuning that speakers may be placed behind mics if certain conditions are met.   One of them is the availability of some serious DSP power and useful parametric EQ on each mic channel.  To this end, we selected 2 BSS Soundweb 9088 processors and routed all daily-use (Mass) mics directly to them.  These units have almost unlimited DSP available to process and tune each mic to perfection allowing for both maximum feedback resistance and clean and natural vocal sound.   Another plus was the existing Shure MX418S/S podium mic with its on/off switch so it may be easily silenced when not in use.  We added a second shorter one for Announcer use, also with switch.

One of the real concerns the church personnel expressed to us was the need for no drop-off in level or timbre from the front to the rear of the audience area.   This was so important to this client that they were willing to accept flown delay speakers hanging from the ceiling halfway back.   We were happy to tell them that this would not be necessary as the QFlex acoustic plot showed less than 3db drop from front to rear and very balanced frequency response throughout the building, even on the extreme side seating areas.

We added several new Shure ULXS wireless systems, including Countryman E6 earset mics and SM58 handhelds.  The power distro and conditioning is by Furman via their PL-8C units, and the new choir mixer is a Yamaha 01V96V2 digital unit in a high-security Raxxess ECR-12/16ST metal rack.

“Frankly, from the moment we first powered up these speakers, we were astonished at their performance, as was the client.   We put up some classical music and were rewarded with some of the best sound I have ever heard in such a live and challenging acoustical environment.  Best of all, the client, who had been so hard to win over, was ecstatic.   There is no perceptible change in level from front to rear and every person in the building can hear every word spoken.  This technology is, in our opinion, the only way to have successfully met the requirements of this project for both exceptional audio quality and minimal esthetic impact.”

Best of all, the client is very happy with their investment.

Don Cicchetti

DJL Audio/Video Specialists of San Dimas CA