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An Audio and Acoustics Overhaul in a "Spiritual and Social Hub"

For more than 83 years, Laguna Presbyterian Church has served as a spiritual and social hub for the small Southern California city of Laguna Beach. The downtown campus, built with traditional Spanish Colonial Revival architecture, centers around a long, high-ceilinged sanctuary with pew seating accommodating 350-400 worshippers. As part of a planned renovation program, church leadership decided to address persistent problems with sanctuary sound and acoustics.

A thorough review by the acoustical consulting firm Veneklasen Associates, based in Santa Monica, Calif., confirmed that the relatively dead acoustics—a nominal reverberation time of only 0.8 seconds at 500 Hz—were poorly suited to a diverse music program that encompasses a contemporary praise band, chancel choir, bell choir, children’s and youth ensembles, and a 1,600-pipe organ. Dry acoustics also inhibited congregational singing.

Veneklasen’s report recommended implementing VRAS technology, as now incorporated in the Constellation acoustic system from Meyer Sound, to augment the physical acoustics. Constellation is a complete, self-standing system for natural-sounding regenerative acoustics. Operating independently of the main PA, it comprises multiple miniature sensing microphones to pick up the acoustical signature of the room; powerful DSP processing with patented algorithms to create the augmented acoustical signals; and numerous small, high-performance loudspeakers spaced throughout the room to reproduce non-localized early reflections and late reverberations.

At Laguna Presbyterian, the system employs 16 cardioid and omnidirectional microphones, three Constellation processors (one master processor and one VRAS processor for each of two acoustical zones), and 67 loudspeakers. All microphones and loudspeakers are custom-painted or recessed behind custom-painted grilles to preserve the sanctuary’s architectural integrity. The system was designed and calibrated by the Meyer Sound Constellation team in collaboration with Dave Lawler of Docktrdave Audio Inc and Bruce Hampton, project manager. Lawler also supervised installation and served as liaison with the church’s development committee, including Worship Elder Lorna Cohen.

With installation complete in early 2010, the church now can provide an optimal acoustical environment for any part of the worship service, or any special event, simply by pressing a button on a touchscreen panel. Five presets allow selection of short reverberation times ideal for spoken word, dramatic presentations or amplified music; medium times suited to chamber music, congregational singing or solo instrumental; or longer times (up to 2.4 seconds) optimal for choral and organ music. According to the church’s Lorna Cohen, the addition of a Constellation acoustic system has transformed the worship experience in the church. “From our first hearing of a VRAS demonstration to the final completion of our Constellation installation, the response has been nothing but positive,” Cohen states. “I remember my first listening experience at the demonstration and it was a shocking difference. The system was turned on and off, then back on. It was the difference between wanting to sing and not wanting to sing. Also, the system is very easy to operate, which is what we need as a church.”

As part of the renovation program, the church also installed a separate main reinforcement system for direct sound comprising more than 45 Meyer Sound self-powered loudspeakers.

URLs: www.lagunapreschurch.org; www.meyersound.com; www.veneklasen-assoc.com

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