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Intelligible design helps Electro-Voice shine in Salvation Army churches
Posted on Wednesday, March 2, 2011

 “I sell intelligibility,” says Dave Armstrong of Sound Planning, a Ft Lauderdale, FL sound design and installation contractor serving primarily churches and synagogues. “In most churches, even those with contemporary services, the majority of content is the human voice. So first and foremost I want people to be able to understand everything that’s being said or sung. But I also love music and want it to sound great. Electro-Voice speakers offer my customers the best of both worlds.”

Armstrong says his focus on intelligibility is a natural outgrowth of his public speaking experience as an ordained minister. His preference for Electro-Voice is born of experience as well. He’s been using Electro-Voice loudspeakers since the early days of Sound Planning in the 1970s, when his company was based in Michigan. “We used Electro-Voice for the first church system we ever did,” he says, “and we’ve been using it pretty consistently ever since.”
“I’m a big believer in demos,” Armstrong continues, “and I do a lot of A/B comparisons. What really shows up with EV is that the clarity of the high frequencies shines compared to the competition. Most manufacturers today can build a box that puts out a lot of bass, but where I really hear the difference with EV is that you get crystal-clear high end, which to me is critical for speech intelligibility.”
Armstrong recently put his preferences to the test in installations for three Miami-area Salvation Army churches. Each room had its own unique acoustical challenges, and Armstrong handled each with a distinct approach, all of which were based on Electro-Voice loudspeakers.
In the 300-seat Flagler Street Church near downtown Miami, for example, a very high ceiling with lots of glass at each end of the sanctuary results in a highly reverberant space. “I could tell right away that the room was going to be a challenge for speech intelligibility,” Armstrong says. “So I went with the EVH-1152D/64, because the horn-loaded woofer in those EVH boxes always cleans up rooms. I’ve had a number of customers who thought they were going to require acoustical treatments but ended up getting the intelligibility they needed with just EVHs.
The advantage of the EVH line in reverberant spaces, Armstrong explains, is that their pattern control extends all the way down into the low midrange, which makes the dispersion of lower vocal registers more closely matched to that of the high end. “It gives you more control,” he says, “to avoid bouncing energy off reverberant surfaces.”
Armstrong also maximized intelligibility by prioritizing coherence over stereo. “A single speaker gave us the highest speech clarity,” he explains. “It let me get the speaker out in the middle, away from the walls, and avoided exciting the huge ceiling above. By hanging the speaker out in free air, you’re not creating any resonances in the structure, so the room just sounds cleaner.” To round out the low end when the full band is playing, Armstrong used a pair of Eliminator single 18-inch subwoofers.
At South Miami’s 200-seat Sunset Drive Church, the challenge was a ceiling that was very low rather than high. “The ceilings were only about 12 feet,” Armstrong says, “so with a single speaker or even two speakers it would have been really loud in the front and not loud enough in back. Instead, we ceiling-mounted four EV ZX1 composite, 8-inch two-way cabinets. The ZX1 can be oriented horizontally for low-ceiling rooms, and there’s nothing that size on the market that even comes close in terms of sound. They handle a terrific amount of power, and they have an amazing amount of low end for their size.”
The Sunset Drive system also included a TX1181 sub. “That’s a really solid-sounding sub with good low frequency extension,” Armstrong says. “We just put them on the floor and get good results.” To serve the mixed congregation, some of whom are Creole-speaking Haitians, Armstrong also put in a Telex SoundMate system with 40 wireless receivers for simultaneous translation.
The last of the three churches was the Hialeah Church in a northwest Miami suburb. Between the other two sanctuaries in both size and ceiling height, the room is noticeably less reverberant due to carpeting and acoustical ceiling tile. “With the higher ceiling we were able to use a pair of ZX5 15-inch two-way speakers mounted on the side walls,” Armstrong says. “The ZX5 is clearly more powerful, and I prefer to use fewer speakers when possible. The pastor is pretty knowledgeable about sound, and he loved it as soon as he heard it.”
The systems at all three churches also included ZXA1 powered floor monitors and Electro-Voice RE-2 wireless microphones. “My favorite is the RE-2 with the RE410 condenser head on the handheld,” Armstrong says. “I think it’s the best-sounding handheld cordless on the market, bar none. I’m a real fan of that head. We also bought lavaliers and headset microphones.”
As for the monitors, Armstrong explains that he likes powered monitors in churches because performers can make their own volume adjustments without having to get the attention of the sound system operator in the middle of a service. “Another advantage of the ZXA1,” he adds, “is that you can plug in a mic, so it makes a great self-contained portable PA that you can use for outdoor events.”
With all three jobs on the Salvation Army contract now complete, Armstrong says, the music director who works with the three churches reports that the churches’ captains — the equivalent of pastors — are all very pleased. Not surprisingly, Armstrong’s faith in Electro-Voice is undiminished. “When I go out on a sales call these days,” he says, “I’ll typically bring a ZX1 and a ZX5. And in just about any church I go into, when I compare the EV boxes with what they are listening to, the customers notice the clarity right away. That’s a big part of what has kept me loyal to the EV brand.”