In with the new

In with the new

Published: WORSHIP

There is often a big divide in opinion about exactly what a house of worship should be. Some favour the traditional, minimalistic approach while others are keen to leave no avenue uncovered in their pursuit for more worshippers. Temple Beth Israel (TBI) in Melbourne most definitely fits the latter description. With an increasingly technologically savvy congregation, the synagogue constantly strives to meet these very modern expectations, and as a result, has become the first synagogue in Australia to stream its Shabbat services online.

However sometimes the embrace of new technologies can shine a light on weaknesses in your existing setup. This was the case for TBI, which recently discovered that its in-house PA system was no longer up to the job. Aside from its poor directional control, the inflexibility of the system infrastructure was restricting creative development and exploration of new formats for services and events. The time for change had once again arrived.

Acoustics and A/V consultant Hanson Associates was enlisted to make Rabbi Gersh Lazarow’s vision for a modern and flexible worship space a reality, while also accommodating the strong musical aspirations of Cantor Michel Lalloum. The proposed solution would subsequently see systems integrator Urban Intelligence installing a discrete Martin Audio OmniLine micro line array solution comprising four 12-element arrays. All of the equipment for the project was supplied by Technical Audio Group, Martin Audio’s Australian distributor.

‘The OmniLine was a nominated product in the specification because computer modelling, conducted by the engineering team using Martin Audio Display software and EASE, proved it could meet the stringent electroacoustic performance requirements,’ explains Hanson Associates’ Mark Hanson. ‘The synagogue was also impressed with the small footprint of the product and its minimal visual impact on the architecturally sensitive space.’

Despite the consultants proposing a solution, the project was very much driven by the congregation itself, having commenced with a series of workshop sessions involving the clergy, musicians, technical support and members of the congregation and community, who highlighted the main areas of concern as hearing difficulties experienced by members and the lack of flexibility with the old PA.

System flexibility was considered a key consideration, as the synagogue regularly hosts large events, such as High Holy Day services, state funerals and music performances that can attract as many as 2,000 people and require the space’s internal room divisions to be removed. However, the area is generally subdivided, with worship occurring in the Main Synagogue and community events hosted in Slome Hall.

‘The extended linear frequency response and superior pattern control of the OmniLines across a large listening area, and its ability to minimise acoustic energy “spill” onto reflective surfaces, guaranteed a high level of system stability for a wide range of room and event formats,’ Mr Hanson confirms.

Martin Audio’s Display 2 software was used to model several scenarios and line array configurations to determine the optimum coverage pattern and area for each array. The installed clusters were then powered with 100V line fill circuits from three Crown CT8150 amplifiers.

‘Where many traditional line array systems rely on passive arraying of line array elements, and the overall splay angles of the configuration to achieve a best possible coverage pattern, the optimised filters generated by the Display software enable an actively driven array to achieve drastic improvements in coverage and consistency across target listening areas,’ Mr Hanson continued.

‘The software specifically generated linear phase FIR filters for each of the 48-line actively driven array elements in our four line array configurations, which were then loaded into FIR filter banks configured in the audio DSP platform,’ he explained further. ‘The result of this enabled us to generate a highly controlled and consistent coverage across all frequencies in the congregation seating whilst achieving impressive rejection of sound onto the stage and towards the upper balcony rear wall.’

Variable beam steering presets were implemented for the Slome Hall line arrays that allows the space to be quickly covered as required. ‘Without any reconfiguration, the Slome Hall OmniLines would have directed significant levels of sound right into the sound reflective operable wall where the reverberant acoustic would be excited and speech intelligibility compromised,’ he explains. ‘However, after some experimentation with the Display software, a second set of FIR filters was exported into an audio DSP preset to generate an entirely different pattern from the same physical array which cuts off sharply at the operable wall at the rear of the room.

‘The results were stunning,’ he recalls. ‘Despite the live acoustics in Slome Hall, clarity of speech was instantly restored and the system able to readily support day-to-day events at the tap of a touchscreen. With the electroacoustic control afforded by the OmniLines, the reverberance presents little impediment to achieving high musical clarity and speech intelligibility.’

Excellent results were therefore achieved by the speakers alone.  However, the consultants were certain it could be improved even further by addressing the reflective balcony fronts in the Main Synagogue. Ease identified that the application of acoustic treatment to the balcony would not only deliver a more natural room acoustic, but would also no longer require the OnmiLines to form a split beat characteristic to avoid firing at it. Additionally, the consultants were keen to provide coverage to the space while using the minimum number under balcony speakers possible.

Sightline studies of the balconies helped to strike a balance between conflicting preferences for a low OmniLine mounting height and the management’s preference for a high mounting position to minimise visual distractions. At the optimised height, the wide horizontal coverage from the OmniLines reportedly allowed sound to be directed effectively to listeners sat beneath the overhangs of the side balconies. A small number of QSC AD-S52 ceiling speakers then provided additional under balcony coverage, while a pair of Tannoy QFlex16s installed on either side of the Altar provided the necessary front fill.

The OnmiLine system joins a catalogue of equipment specified as part of the project that includes BSS Blulink audio DSP, JBL Eon 510 stage monitors, Shure ULD-D wired wireless microphone system and Shure wired SM94 and KSM137 wired microphones for the choir and musicians. Dual Ambertronic MLD9 assistive listening induction loops were also integrated into the system via an Extron DMP64. The microphone gain settings for each member of the clergy can be recalled at the start of a service via iPad touch panels.

The synagogue now therefore possesses the ability to conduct fairly complex services and events involving multiple speakers and musicians without any external assistance from technical staff and sound engineers.

‘In addition to that,’ Mr Hanson concludes, ‘OmniLine’s ultra-consistent response across the entire floor area means that the clergy are now able to experiment with alternative service formats that place microphones in amongst the coverage zone without risking acoustic feedback. The pattern control of the OmniLines has meant that there is plenty of gain before feedback available to amplify young or other softly spoken members of the congregation from various positions on the stage or even amongst the congregation seating areas.’

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