St John The Evangelist, Church of England
DESIGNING AND INSTALLING A NEW SOUND SYSTEM TO COMPLEMENT THE ACOUSTICS OF THE VENUE
"A STRAIGHTFORWARD, WELL EXPLAINED, ENGAGING PROFESSIONAL EXPERIENCE WITH A PERSONAL TOUCH."
The Church of St John the Evangelist sits among the bustling streets of Walworth in the London Borough of Southwark. From our first site meeting, we were very taken with the aesthetic of St John’s.
Having been built sometime around 1859-1860, the architecture is quintessentially Victorian with a huge timber roof and iron columns, which lends a slightly imposing atmosphere to the space. Such an outstanding building is deserving of a fittingly impressive sound system, and that was our mission.
After receiving an email from Simon Askey, the church’s Assistant Priest, we swiftly responded and went to visit the following week. It was clear that an upgrade to their existing PA system was needed, as having served its time, it was no longer fit for purpose. Simon explained, “our sound system was about 20 years old and only partly operational, and the sound it did produce was tinny and artificial”.
Church systems need to be a number of things – very clear, highly intelligible for speech, as inconspicuous as possible and above all extremely easy to use and concealed and secure enough to be protected from curious knob-twiddlers.
Another factor for consideration in many churches is overcoming or working with the often very lively acoustic properties of the space. St John’s was no different, with virtually no soft surfaces to absorb the sound and plenty of open space, it had a pretty considerable reverberation time.
We tailor our service to each client, so for St John’s, we took into account the day-to-day use of the sound system, the space itself and all its quirks, the types of events the church may hold, as well as the specific requirements requested by Simon. Simon seemed very pleased with this approach and liked that we “didn’t try to sell an off-the-shelf product but something tailored to [their] particular situation and needs”.
Primarily, the system would be used for worship, so almost entirely spoken-word with the smallest amount of choral music played back from time to time, so as requested by Simon, it was important to capture and “amplify speech authentically". Very occasionally the church would be used for outside groups and even weddings where more music playback would be needed. It was requested that we design a system primarily for church uses but ideally be able to cater for music applications and maybe even the odd instrument being plugged in. We were definitely up for the challenge!
We were able to cater to these requirements while carefully considering placement, logistics, and preventing a mess of wires. Simon was very pleased that we “went to great lengths to hide the wiring and let the system disappear in the building". After being so impressed by the look and atmosphere of the church, we had no intention of cluttering up the space and detracting from that.
There are a couple of approaches to dealing with spaces such as St John’s. Typically, you will see a number of smaller speakers dotted around the perimeter of the pews to reinforce sound. The theory here is that more speakers at a lower volume will put less energy into the space and hence cause less reverb, but for St John’s, we wanted as minimal disruption to the space as possible. The second approach, and the one we opted for, is to use as few speakers as possible but carefully select speakers that have an incredibly narrow dispersion characteristic. This means the speaker fires sound across a very narrow plane meaning that though they are outputting more energy, it is targeted directly at the pews and nowhere else. This requires very critical positioning but in the end, we believe the results are immeasurably better.
The new Yamaha VXL range is brilliant for this sort of application and in this install we deployed the largest of the range (the VXL1W24). Carefully setting the angle meant we could direct exactly the same decibel level at the first row of pews (5 meters away) and at the far rear pews (22 meters away).
A pair of VXS10SW were installed directly below the column speakers to fill in the low frequencies - bringing the space to life when music is played.
In total, six microphones were installed, including two Audio Technica System 300 wireless mics and four Audio Technica engineered sound mics. The four engineered sound mics are controlled by a Dugan auto-mixer in the Yamaha MTX3, preventing any nasty feedback from microphones being left on and up. Correct antenna distribution for the wireless mics also meant we could cover every square inch of the church including outside the entrance.
Finally, a new induction loop system was installed and fed on a separate matrix sent from the MTX3, now even those with hearing aids can get the same high quality we enjoy.
A single wall panel controls everything and the entire system is locked off. All anyone can do, besides the on/off and volume control of channel groups via the wall panel, is turn the whole system on and off.
We’re really proud of this system and feel it’s a great showcase of how a simple approach to audio can create amazing results for any church, without costing the earth!
The response from St John’s has been incredible, with feedback expressing great thanks for us making “worship more inclusive, in that everyone can now hear, but it has also made it more human in that what you hear is a human voice, natural and with intonation which was lost on the old system”.
We are thrilled to have made such a positive difference to the quality of sound projected throughout St John’s, and we hope the system continues to serve them well for years to come!
2 Yamaha VXL24 column speakers
2 Yamaha VXS10SW subwoofers
1 Yamaha MTX3
1 Yamaha XMV4280
1 Yamaha DCP 4V4S
2 channels Audio Technica System 3000 wireless
Antenna distribution system
Charging station for wireless microphones
4 x Audio Technica Engineered Sound install gooseneck microphones