A house of worship does not provide a perfect acoustic model, regardless of whether someone is trying to understand speech and listen to music. Reverberant sound levels are not the only problem. Early reflections, refraction, and absorption also contribute to intelligibility and the overall acoustic signature. In order to design a modern house for worship, subjectivity and empirical measurements are combined to produce an optimal result. A compromise has been reached between spoken words and music.
Many prominent developers have significantly increased R&D in an effort to make themselves known as audio problem solvers in this area. A room can be made to sound either dry or alive by mixing and adapting the early and early reflected audio levels. This depends on whether speech or music are being played. Meyer Sound created a new world with the Constellation Acoustic System launch in 2006. This allowed Meyer Sound to tailor room acoustics to suit any event.
Constellation lets you share the acoustics in a single space, whether it’s a classroom, chamber or symphony hall, or even a large cathedral. Constellation’s Variable Room Acoustic System algorithm creates adjustable acoustics that can be adjusted to suit your needs. VRAS uses a multichannel, electroacoustically coupled multichannel reverberator to precisely placed loudspeakers within a space. Additionally, microphones locate and capture audio in the space. VRAS redistributes the audio through the outputs, creating a room with a different tone or a longer decay period than the natural reverberation.
Meyer Sound’s Berkeley headquarters in California created the Constellation Acoustic System. The University of California in Berkeley’s Zellerbach Hall was the first place to see how a room’s reverberant characteristics can be extended or modified with a single button. Pierre Germain, Meyer Sound Constellation design manager explains how the auditorium acoustics were configured by increasing reverberation, adding beneficial reflections, and thereby strengthening the sound of an acoustic instrument. It is so natural that many listeners don’t realize Constellation is being used, until they notice the striking difference when Constellation is turned off.
Constellation has saved numerous concert halls that had poor natural acoustics over the fifteen years that have followed. A growing number of churches are using the same technology to increase congregational participation in traditional and contemporary worship within the same space. Germain adds that Constellation allows for one worship space to be adaptable to a wide range of worship styles. Worship leaders and the congregation feel a shared space, which helps to break down the wall between chancel and nave. Constellation off would make it difficult for congregational singing to flourish in a space that is too dry for the acoustic support they need.
Modern worship auditoriums have relatively dry acoustics to reduce long reverberation and echoes that can impair voice intelligibility. This means that sound is perceived in a flat plane bounded in front by main PA loudspeakers. In other words, a one dimensional sound arriving only at the front. Constellation adds subtle envelopment to the PA to create a larger, more 3-dimensional acoustic area.
Constellation can also used in other applications that aim to achieve similar acoustics as those found in houses or worship. Constellation allows for flexibility in the design of acoustic spaces. For example, a modern church auditorium that is primarily designed for worship would not be suitable to accommodate orchestral music. Constellation allows for the integration of an orchestra or string quartet into worship with excellent acoustical support. The church auditorium can also host community events, such as classical concerts. One Constellation-equipped church in Florida has hosted both the Dallas and Detroit Symphony Orchestras.
The venue’s size and the acoustics of the space will affect the tuning and development of acoustical presets. Constellation uses digital technology to control reverberation and early reflections. It also controls other key ingredients that contribute to the space’s sonic clarity, warmth, resonance, and warmth. It can be used in a wide range of settings, including small venues and corporate boardrooms.
Constellation is only possible when the physical room acoustic characteristics are well controlled. Before the design phase begins, the Constellation team performs a detailed acoustical analysis in existing spaces. This includes measuring the RT60 reverberation and the frequency balance of the bright or warm reverberation. This combination will determine the type of acoustic treatment that may be required to complement Constellation. The same team works closely alongside the architect and acoustical consultants to ensure Constellation meets or exceeds all expectations.
Valley Presbyterian Church in Paradise Valley (Arizona) decided to renovate their 50-year-old sanctuary. Its primary goal was to host both traditional worship services and contemporary worship services in the same space, without compromising any of the musical programs. The church also wanted to improve the acoustic flexibility in the sanctuary’s 600-seat capacity by hosting a variety of concerts and recordings of classical music.
The large campus has a sanctuary for traditional worship on one side and a multipurpose space that can be used for contemporary services on the other. Due to the distance between them, the church had a divided congregation that rarely interacted during social hour. The church committee was aware that the reverberant acoustics could be a problem and wanted to bring the contemporary service inside the sanctuary.
McKay Conant Hoover (MCH), a specialist consultancy, was appointed to provide expert acoustical analyses for Valley Presbyterian. MCH was able to alter the acoustical characteristics in the sanctuary for amplified and unamplified musical accompaniments. MCH also understood the need to immediately switch to a dry acoustic to improve speech comprehension during the spoken word.
Germain notes that the church leaders accepted the recommendation in principle. They were not familiar with the technology, so they decided to test a working Constellation at Laguna Presbyterian, Southern California. MCH was impressed by the demonstration and specified acoustical treatment that decreased the baseline mid-band RT60 time from 1.75s down to less than 0.7s, and reduced background noise from NC 43 to NC 17. This resulted in significantly improved speech comprehension.
Constellation’s self-powered loudspeaker system includes 97 MM-4XP mini loudspeakers that are mounted on the walls and hang from the ceiling. There are also 11 Ashby-5C flush mount loudspeakers that are located in the low ceiling area. 16 MM-10XP mini subwoofers provide low-frequency extension of reverberation that is critical for the church’s newly renovated pipe organ. Ambient room sound is captured using 28 miniature cardioid microphones. Additionally, the Meyer Sound DMITRI Digital Audio Platform has eight modules and two DVRAS processors. This allows for the exclusive VRAS algorithm to be hosted.
The church’s technical staff praised Germain’s work as remarkable after tuning. Constellation now allows for a variety acoustical environments. This includes a minimally transparent setting that can be used by a rock band, or when the pastor is speaking. Longer settings allow for sonic immersion and natural sustain and decay. The ability to perform solo vocal and instrumental performances in classical styles, as well as those of a church-distanced contemporary band, has been greatly enhanced.
Constellation, when used in conjunction with acoustic treatments, has been shown to improve speech comprehension. Constellation is available in a short or full setting. The congregation hears only direct sound and no destructive reflections. While volunteers can choose presets via a touchscreen, the ease of operation also allows for custom tweaking.
This ability was put to good effect when the well-known early music vocal ensemble Helios visited the church to record a concert. The ensemble auditioned both presets before recording, and two special presets were created for the occasion. According to Kenny Miller, Helios tenor, the results were beyond expectations. Miller said that the acoustics were exceptional and that the space was suitable for early music was a perfect place to perform.
Many of the new HOW auditoriums today have acoustics that are not as good as venues hosting amplified events. These auditoriums can use Constellation to recreate church acoustics from a past era. Constellations controls can be accessed via a web browser from a tablet or laptop. Sometimes venues may wish to integrate the system operation into a third party controller.
Although room dimensions and ceiling heights are fixed, specific absorptive techniques can be combined with Constellation’s active acoustics to enhance the room’s acoustic signature. Constellation empowers ministries by making a fixed space a multipurpose venue that can be used for all types programming, including spoken word and traditional worship. Germain says that churches with small attendances were able to reprogramme Constellation during the pandemic to create the illusion of a larger congregation. This included participatory singing. 15 years later, Constellations journey is just beginning.