The battle of architecture versus acoustics is an age-old conundrum for churches, mosques, temples, and other houses of worship throughout the world. These large, open spaces with soaring walls and windows, vast reflective surfaces of marble, stone, wood, and concrete are designed primarily for their aesthetics; acoustical considerations, if any, are focused on reverberance that accentuates choir and organ, at the expense of spoken word intelligibility.
St Paul’s Church, situated in the Musaffah Industrial Area of Abu Dhabi, is a stunningly beautiful space – a large, open, circular hall with marble floors, curved walls, wooden pews, and more than its share of acoustical challenges. Intelligibility was elusive, and the church had been through no fewer than 15 different sound systems over the years in search of a solution that would enable the congregants to hear parish priest Father Ani Xavier and his assistant priests.
“It was one of the parishioners that got in touch with us,” recalls Laurane Zeta Johnson, manager of business and operations at Crownstar Technology. “They could hear that there was a problem at the church, and they asked if we could give some advice and possibly rectify the issue. We then made contact with the priests.”
As Sabu John, managing director of Crownstar Technology, observes, the space has an echo time of several seconds. “I recalled that the State Mosque of Qatar in Al Khuwair, which has a capacity of 30,000, had experienced similar issues, and had installed a Renkus-Heinz ICONYX system. The feedback there had been excellent, so I personally visited the mosque to hear it for myself. Afterwards, I contacted Renkus-Heinz to find out more, as we had never specified their systems before.”
The church holds a traditional English service, as well as an Indian service featuring drums and percussion, creating additional challenges for the highly reflective sanctuary. “It’s not a small building, and they want the music loud, but without the echo,” Mr John reports. “They also didn’t want to disturb the interior design aesthetics with any acoustic treatment.”
Crownstar designed a simple solution with a main PA comprising two Renkus-Heinz Iconyx IC24-16-RN digitally steerable line array loudspeakers, mounted left and right of the proscenium. A pair of CF81-2R two-way active loudspeakers are located in front of each of the two pulpits, serving as front fills. The choir, situated at left in front, is served by a pair of CF121M-2 two-way monitors, with an additional unit for the priests.
“Previously the choir only had one speaker,” explains Mr John. “With the CF121M-2 modules we keep the volume low so it doesn’t hit the congregation behind. Now the choir can hear their monitor feed much more clearly. The monitor on stage provided more than enough fold back for the priests.”
A pair of Renkus-Heinz IC16-RN columns cover the upper balcony, with all speakers painted white to match the décor. The Iconyx system’s beam steering technology proved an ideal solution for addressing the church’s intelligibility issues, with overwhelmingly positive feedback from priests and congregants alike.
“It is a beautiful and quality sound system and it reaches all of the people,” enthuses Father Ani Xavier. “We are thankful to Crown Star for their wonderful service and a good job.”