Every house of worship is unique. That's certainly the case for the Putra Mosque: visually striking, it's one of the few pink mosques in the world, clad in rose-tinted granite, with a 380-foot-high minaret that is one of the tallest in the region.
Located in the Putrajaya neighborhood of Malaysia's capital Kuala Lumpur, the mosque's design is a synergy of traditional Malay and Middle Eastern architectural styles. Opened in 1999 after two years of construction, the main masjid or prayer hall can accommodate over 15,000 worshippers at a time on two levels. In addition to its immense spiritual value for the nation's Muslim community, the Putra Mosque has national significance, as well: It is located adjacent to Perdana Putra, which houses the Malaysian Prime Minister's office, and in front of the mosque is a large square with flagpoles flying Malaysia's national flag and those of each of its states.
As impressive and breathtaking as it is, Putra Mosque needed to solve a set of common but serious problems for all houses of worship: poor speech intelligibility; a lack of even, consistent coverage of sound; and a sound system that was neither user friendly nor intuitive to operate. An unfortunate combination of challenging acoustics — a highly reverberant acoustical environment that's the natural result of the mosque's domed architectural nature — and inadequately designed PA systems were ruining the sonic quality of the spoken word. In fact, for over two decades the mosque had experienced sound systems from no fewer than three different manufacturers without quite meeting its needs. And those ineffective installed sound systems brought some of their own problems in the form of overly complicated system operation and maintenance.
"The overriding problem with mosques is that they are highly reverberant spaces," observes Azizi Ala, founder and technical director of Acousticon, the Kuala Lumpur-based mosque system specialist that successfully bid on the project to assess and correct the sonic deficiencies at Putra Mosque. Azizi Ala on-site acoustic testing showed a reverberation of more than 2.5 seconds, which needed to be addressed without the use of architectural/passive acoustic materials due to the aesthetic design. "Although the dome is always seen as the main challenge, the building surfaces are hard, the prayer areas are expansive and there are many pillars, so the audio directivity across the main prayer hall was uneven," Ala continues.
Between Acousticon's mosque audio expertise and Bose Professional’s innovative audio technology solutions, a careful and nuanced evaluation of the mosque's acoustical needs was identified. Ala and his team determined that the Bose Panaray MSA12X self-powered digital beam-steering loudspeakers would best provide the precise directivity needed. They first applied 3D Bose Modeler prediction software to simulate various potential speaker-system designs and placements, and then used the Bose Auditioner playback system to virtually "listen" to those simulated spaces.
Bose Modeler sound system software's advanced algorithms predict acoustic performance of a space, including direct and reflected energy, as well as measure Speech Transmission Index. Designers can iterate quickly using Modeler's proprietary calculation pipeline, allowing them to trial different loudspeaker configurations and placements for optimal coverage, SPL, and intelligibility. Modeler can also import model data from standard CAD software, matching acoustic performance of the model to that of the actual space. Array construction tools also help automate the creation and layout of complex loudspeaker arrays.
The MSA12X's proprietary Articulated Array® transducer configuration allowed for wide, 160-degree horizontal coverage throughout the space, and its modular design allowed the assembly of vertical arrays using one, two, or three units, while its slim form factor enables improved room aesthetics. Importantly, the steerable MSA12X loudspeakers are compatible with and able to be digitally controlled over a Dante Ethernet network, which Acousticon installed as part of the project. A total of 10 MSA12X loudspeakers in a 4-cluster column installed on the mosque's large interior columns.
The new audio system performed as predicted and blended nicely into the mosque's architecture — but other improvements less immediately apparent were also important. Acousticon programmed a user-friendly QSC Q-SYS interface that provides users with an intuitive experience using a 12.9-inch iPad to operate the Bose Panaray sound system. In addition to the basic system on/off and volume control, the controller also lets the user determine specific zones for sound to be on and has presets for specific activities, such as worship services or seasonal celebrations. Furthermore, Ala programmed intuitive GUI display icons for the mosque's individual imams and muezzins, which activate the appropriate audio zones.
The outcome was everything the mosque's leaders had hoped for, and more. Speech intelligibility was significantly improved not only throughout the main prayer and seating areas, but also in traditionally difficult areas such as underneath balconies. "The articulated array configuration of the MSA12X loudspeakers produces a very wide horizontal dispersion, with sufficient throw without any loss in decibels," says Ala.