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Meyer Sound System Ends Church Nightmare
"Hang 'em high" may have been an effective approach to frontier justice, but that same philosophy can lead to disaster when applied to loudspeakers in an acoustically live space. The congregation of the First United Methodist Church in Conroe, Texas discovered this sobering reality when they first moved into their brand new 1200-seat sanctuary building.
"A local contractor had done a design-build job that was basically a nice solid system," says Bill Schuermann, a senior project engineer at HFP Acoustical Consultants in nearby Houston who was called to remedy the situation. "Yet parishioners had that old familiar complaint: 'We can hear the pastor's sermons, but we can't understand what he's saying.'"
No Quick Fix
When Scheuermann arrived on site a few months after the opening, the problem immediately became apparent. "They had some 'no-Q' loudspeakers hung just about as high as they could go, up around fifty feet, probably to please the architect," he surmises. "But this is an exceedingly live environment. They had a marble floor up front, the ceiling is hardwood, the walls are gypsum board and behind the choir risers in the nave they have a nice parabolic reflector. It's a hot room."
Unfortunately, there was no quick fix. Simply moving the same speakers down would not solve the problem: the coverage patterns wouldn't fit. For a fail-safe solution, Scheuermann devised a new distributed system comprising twelve Meyer Sound self-powered loudspeakers. Two CQ-1 Wide Coverage Main Loudspeakers and two CQ-2 Narrow Coverage Main Loudspeakers would cover most of the main floor, spaced evenly at the front of the chancel area and flown only 25 feet up. Further back, four horizontally oriented UPM-1P Ultra-Compact Wide Coverage Loudspeakers (hung about four feet higher) would cover the 220-seat balcony with direct sound. And back up front, another four UPM-1Ps placed horizontally behind the chancel railing would provide clear sound for the first two rows of pews. For choir monitors he proposed pair of Meyer UM-100P Wide Coverage Stage Monitors.
"We offered the Meyer solution for two reasons," says Schuermann. "First, they are self-powered, which simplified the whole installation. But more important in this case were the precisely defined coverage patterns you always get with Meyer products. The CQ's have tightly focused energy, and what you get out in the field is exactly what it says on the spec sheet, every time."
Laser and Millwork Solutions
The Meyer loudspeakers were provided and installed by Core Systems, also of Houston. According to Core's Doug Black, flying of the Meyer systems proceeded without a hitch–at least once they got oriented in a surprisingly asymmetrical space.
"The building was a little out of square," he says, "so when we first hung them by measuring up from the floor, they looked out of whack. So we tried again using a laser level, and everything lined up nicely from there on out."
Adding front fills proved the trickiest installation challenge, since the original construction did not provide for any new wiring in that area. Rather than break up the marble or cut through concrete, Schuermann and Black ran both power and audio through conduit behind the chancel rail and covered it with new, matching wood millwork.
Despite such minor complications, the system was up and running on schedule. "We had to make sure it was installed within a very tight time frame," recalls HFP vice president Omar Longoria, "which was another great thing about the Meyer systems. Once you get them up, they're ready to go."
After becoming involved with the project, Schuermann discovered that the church planned to sandwich a new contemporary praise service–complete with amplified praise band–between the two liturgical services. Fortunately, the system he had devised primarily to improve intelligibility also proved highly adaptable to high-energy music. "The system holds up very well for that service with no changes in system settings," attests system contractor Doug Black, who has attended several services. "It just comes alive in a whole new way."
But it was an intelligibility crisis that was the driving force behind the new system, and the crisis is over with the Meyer system. "We pulled a thorn from their paw," says Schuermann. "They were so tired of talking about problems with the sound. Now they can simply go to church and worship. They don't have to deal with it anymore."
As part of the new system package, the HFP/Core team also specified and supplied a digital console and a complement of high-quality microphones for the choir and lectern. About the only remaining elements from the old system are the under-balcony speakers (fortunately close enough already) and a DSP mixer/processor used for signal distribution and system delays.
As for the rest of the one-year old system, still in excellent shape, the church decided not to sell the gear on the used market, but instead donate it to some other church in need of an upgrade. The beneficiary also is likely to receive some free advice on where not to hang the donated speakers.