Even in church, looks matter, and that extends to church loudspeakers. You might not think of a church's PA system as being part of its larger aesthetic — its color scheme, its architectural and interior design, and its lighting design — but every part of the physical experience in the worship environment is important. Despite this, the church sound system installation is often one of the last things to receive that level of attention.
The purpose of a sound system in a house of worship is to deliver the spoken word clearly and intelligibly. The same goes for worship music; the system must provide all of the frequency response and bandwidth required, from airy highs for choir vocals to punchy low end for contemporary worship music.
However, one of the challenges of installing flexible sound systems within the acoustical environments of traditional — and even some modern-design — houses of worship is making that technology look as good as it sounds. Loudspeakers are designed to reproduce sound, and their form factors are sculpted around that mission. All systems, such as the boxy horns once found in mid-century sports stadiums or the broadly curved line arrays of modern concert halls, look the way they do because system designers have historically emphasized function over form.
For most types of church architectural styles, the go-to solution is the columnar loudspeaker for several key reasons:
- Shape and size: Trim and narrow, they're ideal for positioning on interior architectural support columns and becoming nearly invisible in the process, especially when painted to match interior colors.
- Volume control: This type of loudspeaker is also used as part of a distributed-system design. Additional loudspeakers positioned midway up columns and other architectural elements can allow the individual speaker volume levels to be kept lower without affecting the overall volume level and intelligibility of the sound for speech.
- Sound direction: Columnar-array loudspeakers also offer advanced technology such as beam steering: the multiple small speakers that make up the columnar array and are digital signal processor (DSP)-controlled to aim at specific areas of coverage, away from reverberant and acoustically reflective areas where sound isn't wanted or needed.
An example of a loudspeaker that offers both the aesthetic and technology features of columnar loudspeakers is the Panaray MSA12X, a self-powered digital beam-steering loudspeaker that enables exceptional speech intelligibility and tonal consistency for music. Its proprietary Articulated Array transducer configuration allows 160-degree horizontal coverage throughout the room.
The modular design of the Panaray MSA12X also allows the building of vertical arrays using up to three units configured in a single column, which is useful for extending the coverage in some areas of the church such as choir lofts and balconies. A Dante digital audio-network interface comes standard for connection with other Dante-enabled products over Ethernet-based networks.
For areas that don't require DSP-controlled precision coverage, such as overflow spaces or multipurpose rooms, the Panaray MA12EX offers a fixed 160-degree horizontal coverage with 20-degree vertical coverage per module. Its vertical coverage can also vary based on the number of units in each line-array configuration. In addition, the compact Panaray MA12EX can be used as a discreet monitor speaker for speech and music.
Another type of loudspeaker that packs a lot of sound but keeps a low profile is the installed ceiling speaker. These are best utilized when ceilings are within 15 feet of people in the room, whether seated or standing. Higher ceilings can make use of pendant-style speakers: ceiling speakers with extension rods attached to bring them closer to the room's occupants.
Ceiling speakers, such as FreeSpace FS Ceiling Speakers, are an excellent choice for areas like fellowship and small meeting halls or any ancillary church space. In terms of aesthetics, most of the ceiling speaker itself is hidden behind the ceiling, and their visible grilles come in black and white to help blend into the preferred aesthetic.
The spoken word and musical prayer remains of prime importance in church, but an appealing visual experience can reduce distractions while enhancing the worship environment. Clearly hearing the spoken word while enjoying the accompanying music aids in creating a warm, welcoming environment for people seeking community and support. Utilizing technology that prioritizes these goals provides a perfect combination for success.