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St. Mary's, Beaumont Texas

Acoustics and visual aesthetics frequently collide in churches with older buildings and traditional architecture, where liturgical worship styles are often the norm. Here, clergy and worshippers prefer their loudspeakers to be highly intelligible yet essentially invisible—unlike the situation in newer worship centers where loudspeakers in open view rarely raise objections. Fortunately, at St. Mary's Episcopal Church in El Dorado, Arkansas, potential conflicts between acoustics and aesthetics were resolved by the installation of a discreet, self-powered loudspeaker system from Meyer Sound.

"The criteria we were given required the greatest possible intelligibility from the system but with no speakers visible," recalls Brad Daigle, the system designer and owner of MSC Systems in Beaumont, Texas. "That kind of made me scratch my head and say, 'Now that we're talking the impossible, where do we go from here?'"

Though the long and narrow church seats only about 250 people, high ceilings and hard surfaces make the room quite reverberant. The church's former sound system, described by church rector Fr. Robert Allen as "gravely inadequate", consisted of a single two-way loudspeaker hung in the center, just in front of the pulpit. That meant that nearly a third of the church (the sanctuary altar area) had no coverage, while coverage in the middle was spotty and intelligibility fell off rapidly at the rear.

"I was told they were getting the standard complaint: 'We can hear fine but we can't understand a thing,'" remarks Daigle.

To remedy the situation, Daigle designed a three-zone delay system referenced to the front most loudspeakers, a pair of UPM-2P Ultra Compact loudspeakers tucked in the corners below the organ pipes. Two delayed UPA-2P Compact Narrow Coverage loudspeakers are nestled in a corner of the rafters on each side of the chancel arch, and a third pair of speakers (UPM-2Ps) maintains consistent coverage to the rear most pews. The identical tight coverage patterns of the loudspeakers (45 x 45 degrees) enabled Daigle to "spotlight" coverage and avoid splash off the walls, even with the loudspeakers at full ceiling height.

"With the small size of the Meyer Sound cabinets and their absolute transparency, I knew I could make it work with minimum hassles and get a good clean sound," says Daigle. "Also, there was zero space anywhere nearby for amp racks, so the fact that the Meyer Sound loudspeakers are self-powered was a big plus."

Although the church now has six loudspeakers instead of one, the system is actually less obtrusive than the old one. With the compact, black Meyer Sound loudspeakers tucked deep in the shadows, the parishioners now enjoy crisp, clear sound from a system that otherwise calls no attention to itself. "The speakers are in plain view if you look for them, but they really are not noticeable," says Fr. Allen. "They blend nicely into the shadows." Dale Boothman of MSC Sound handled project and sales coordination for the new system at St. Mary's, with installation supervised by Cavin Carter.

After an initial shakedown period, which included some repositioning of the wireless receivers and getting the volunteer operators up to speed on use of a digital console, the new system at St. Mary's is now making a clear difference. "It's vastly better than the old system," according to Fr. Allen, and Brad Daigle is similarly pleased with the outcome of his 'impossible' task.

"It's a very natural sound, even with the speakers up so high," he says. "It sounds like somebody is speaking directly to you, rather than, 'Oh, I'm hearing this through a sound system.'"