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Meyer Sound M1D Makes the Word Go Round at Asheville's First Baptist Church
Hailed as the crowning achievement of noted architect Douglas D. Ellington, the visually stunning First Baptist Church in downtown Asheville, N.C., is considered one of the city's greatest architectural treasures. The imposing structure's striking red-tiled dome sweeps upward from an angular Romanesque base, while other spaces incorporate Art Deco and Beaux Arts designs. Completed in 1927 and added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1976, the edifice of First Baptist Church has endured the past eight decades with dignity and grace. However, the natural deterioration that comes with age prompted a recent $10 million renovation that included a gratefully received new audio system based around Meyer Sound's self-powered M1D ultracompact curvilinear array loudspeaker.
According to Scott Hughes, chairman of the church's renovation committee, the quest for sound solutions is woven into the building's history. "When the structure was first completed in the 1920s, the ability to hear the spoken word was so poor that they spent much of the next 20 years trying to address it," he recalls.
The source of the church's frustration comes from the massive domed ceiling and a consequent reverberation time of nearly seven seconds. The church initially commissioned a specialist who recommended a canopy over the chancel area to contain the sound. That remedy, coupled with acoustical treatments added later, improved the situation somewhat. However, intelligibility problems continued even after the church installed a new sound system in 1986. "We still had dead zones and lots of complaints from people who could not understand what was being said," says Hughes.
For the recent renovation, the church contracted Mark Girardi of Asheville's Real World Audio, Inc. to tackle the challenge of creating consistent sound throughout the sanctuary without altering or detracting from the building's original aesthetics. Girardi considered camouflaging the system, but his eventual solution — twin arrays of 10 custom-painted M1D cabinets each — blended almost magically with the interior design. "It was an ideal fit," he says, "as if the architect had M1Ds in mind from the beginning."
With the aesthetics under control, Girardi then turned his attention to configuring a primary system that would provide seamless coverage with superior intelligibility. He also wanted enough warmth to adequately reinforce the vocalists and instrumentalists that perform during the church's worship services and special events. "We do everything from baroque ensembles to Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat," Hughes says. After sketching out a preliminary design, Girardi worked with Meyer Sound's Design Services department to detail plots using the MAPP Online Pro acoustical prediction program.
As installed, the system is set up for stereo operation, with each array zoned in three sections using an LD-3 compensating line driver to control area coverage. According to Girardi, the result is "very good imaging throughout the main seating area with excellent intelligibility. You can understand every word, right down to a whisper."
Girardi was pleased — and somewhat surprised — that subwoofers were not mandatory for this application. "With the way the M1Ds couple, we were able to tune them for a substantial sense of warmth and fullness," he observes. To tune the system, Girardi enlisted the help of Meyer Sound's Technical Support Department, who employed a SIM 3 audio analyzer.
In addition to the M1D arrays, Real World also supplied a pair of Yamaha digital mixing consoles (an M7CL for FOH and a DM2000 for broadcast production), theatrical lighting, and a Crestron control system.
Looking back on the installation, his first using the M1D, Girardi confides that he is now a true believer in Meyer Sound. "If you look at what the spec sheet says [the M1D] can do, and then you hold that little box in your hand, you wonder how that's possible," he says. "But if you get the right number of boxes and set them correctly, you really do get that amazingly clear, in-your-face presence. I was thrilled, and I'll use them any time I have the opportunity."