There are challenging acoustical spaces, and then there are really, really challenging acoustical spaces. A contender for the top of that list is also near the top of another elite collection: the Thorncrown Chapel, in Eureka Springs, Arkansas, comes in fourth on the American Institute of Architecture’s top designs of the 20th century. It has 425 windows and over 6000 square feet of glass. However, the 48-foot-tall wooden structure, which has won numerous architectural awards and has been visited by over six million people since the chapel opened in 1980, has another, less salutary distinction: All that glass and other hard surfaces such as a flagstone floor have made for what AV systems designers rightly call “an acoustical nightmare.” The massive amounts of reflected sound make vocal intelligibility all but impossible. After numerous attempts to tame the space had failed, the Panaray® MA12EX system from Bose® Professional Systems, powered by the Bose PowerMatch® PM8500N amplifier, was brought in to address the problem. As a result, for the first time in the structure’s 33-year history, the problem was solved. And the Panaray system was able to conquer this acoustical challenge with the simplest of designs: just two columns of two MA12EX modules per side and a single PM8500N amplifier.
“Thorncrown Chapel is a very challenging acoustical environment,” says the chapel’s Pastor, Doug Reed. “Music sounds great anywhere in the building with just about any sound system, but the spoken word was our problem. By the time the sound got to the back of the chapel, people could not understand what was being said. We received complaints every Sunday from our visitors not being able to understand our minister. We went through three sound systems over the years trying to deal with the problem. Some worked better than others, but the complaints continued. We were beginning to believe there simply was no solution.”
— Doug Reed - Pastor, Thorncrown Chapel
Reed began to research the problem, educating himself about acoustics and different solutions. And one brand name kept recurring when it came to dealing with especially difficult reflective environments: Bose. “The Panaray MA12EX speakers seemed like they were exactly what we needed, so I called Bose directly,” he recalls, after getting indifferent responses from several other sound system manufacturers. “I was very impressed with how quickly they responded, and assured me they could help. Before long, Bose had field personnel surveying the site. They were excited about the building and the challenges it posed rather than afraid and uncertain like others we had dealt with in the past. I loved their confidence and enthusiasm, so I was sold.”
Bose brought the Tulsa, Oklahoma office of dealer and integrator FBP Systems, onto the project. “This a challenging project in many ways, and not just acoustically,” says Mark Labouff, National Sales Manager for FBP Systems. “This is also an architecturally and historically significant building, so a lot of care had to be taken in installing a sound system. The space’s architect had designed millwork to hide speakers when the building was first built. In order to maintain the historical integrity of the building, we needed a speaker system that would fit inside the original millwork, and the MA12EX modules were the right size; they are actually hidden behind grille cloth that spans the front of the millwork. In addition, because of where the millwork is located, the speakers had to be placed behind the pulpit microphones. That creates an enormous potential for feedback. But with the MA12EX loudspeakers, it was no problem. And the slim column enclosure blends with almost any décor, and that addressed the aesthetics. The MA12EX loudspeakers are resistant to feedback, and have such tight pattern control that I can’t imagine any other product could work in that space.”
Pastor Doug Reed realized he had finally found the solution that had eluded the chapel for so long. “When I first heard the system, I could hardly believe my ears. I could understand every word, even at the back of an empty chapel. We were thrilled, but the best testimony comes from the tens of thousands of people who have listened to the talks and sermons we give at Thorncrown – not one complaint about not being able to hear. That says it all. The folks at Bose had solved a problem that had plagued us for years, one we thought would never be solved. I think the word ‘happy’ would be an understatement.”