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Remade Sound and Worship

A logistically challenging space is made new again with redesigned acoustics and an articulate state-of-the-art audio system.

I think every pastor has something in a major renovation that means more to him than anything else, and for me that’s the sound system; if that doesn’t work, I’m out of business,” Fr. Bob Stagg

When Fr. Bob Stagg of the Church of the Presentation in Upper Saddle River, New Jersey, met with other church leaders a few years ago about the state of the physical worship space, a decision was made. Rather than look for a new building to house what has become the largest parish in the Archdiocese of Newark, they would instead renovate the almost 60-year-old church. That meant a lot of change.

The congregation stepped up and raised more than $6 million to assist in the renovations, which included a major design plan that consisted of everything from seating and the structure to audio, video and lighting systems.

“I think every pastor has something in a major renovation that means more to him than anything else, and for me that’s the sound system; if that doesn’t work, I’m out of business,” Fr. Stagg says. “I spend my life preaching and talking, so I have to have something that’s effective.”

The Church has a long history with working with Steve Minozzi, co-owner of Monte Bros., an Ardsley, New York-based audio systems design and integration firm. “They have been our account for the last 25 years, so I met with the staff, the music people and everyone who has to deal with the sound system in the church,” Minozzi shares. “Once I did that, we worked with the architect and the contractor to come up with our plan and provide the necessary cable during the major renovation.”

Creatively empowering the worship space

He notes there were some logistical challenges because of the shape of the church. It was originally designed as two separate rectangular spaces that comprised an L-shape, with one side being a narrow, traditional worship space and the other being an 800-seat auditorium and meeting space. These were separated by an 84-foot interior wall at the right angle where the two spaces met.

“There were acoustical challenges with accommodating this large dynamic space. The auditorium is sometimes part of the church, and sometimes it’s separate from the church,” Minozzi explains. “In doing that, it required a design that was pliable enough so if the auditorium is used independently, it’s used in the opposite direction, so all the delay times had to be recalibrated to work properly when the focus of the room is on the opposite end.”

Additionally, when the wall was closed and separated the two rooms, it was necessary to change the acoustics because there’s less cubic feet of air, so that meant different calibrations for open vs. closed wall formation. To do this, Minozzi worked with the architects and came up with an innovative set of solutions.

First, they decided to remove the wall and architectural trusses separating the auditorium from the church and built a new 40-foot-high glass and steel narthex extending out from the right angle formed where the original rectangular spaces met. Next, they moved the altar to a pivot point in the corner facing the two largest seating areas, creating a 90-degree contiguous worship space with the original nave to the left of the altar, the newly built narthex in the center and the open auditorium space on the right extending back past the pews.

Not only did this provide all seating areas with a clear sightline, but it improved the sound in all areas as well. They also added a moveable soundproof wall when the two areas needed to be separated.

“The soundproof wall separates the auditorium from the worship space and when you do that, it’s used in the opposite direction,” Minozzi says. “When you open it, and use the auditorium as part of the church, they are then facing the opposite direction, facing towards the sanctuary and the directionality of the sound comes into that space. It’s reflective so it gives you different revert times.”

Getting down to audio

Minozzi and the Monte Bros. team powered the church with Powersoft Quattrocanali 1204 amplifier platforms. They figured out early on the best speaker locations—even before construction began—and designed a hybrid point-source/distributed speaker sound system for each of the possible configurations distributed to 12 zones, using an estimated 15,000 feet of cable wire.

Powersoft was chosen because each of the 12 zones needed to be amplified independently, and Minozzi knew from past experience that this was an amp that could handle such a workload. In fact, Monte Bros. recommends Powersoft in most of its worship installations. By utilizing a trio of Powersoft Quattrocanali 1204 four-channel amplifier platforms, he powered each of the dozen zones with one discreet channel per zone.

“When you outfit a space like this that holds 1,200 people you don’t want those amps to fail,” Minozzi says. “The amplifiers, are multichannel amplifiers and can sense the ohmage.”

That’s important because if the peripheral speakers in the ancillary areas of the space show any signs of impedance matching transformers, the Powersoft amps will automatically sense that and accommodate it.

“This is not the case with most power amps,” Minozzi­­­ says. “In other amps, you need to use other transformers to talk to the amplifier. This becomes complicated and makes it a lot more difficult for the owners’ maintenance staff to swap out a device. We can come in and make any adjustments we need to make.”

Monte Bros. partnered with Powersoft to develop a technology to be able use the integrator’s proprietary monitoring system in Church of the Presentation, and to have the ability to offer it to other houses of worship in future installations.

“We deal with primary suppliers who we trust and know are reliable, so we deal with Powersoft, we deal with Biamp, we go with Audio-Technica microphones, CAMM speakers,” tells Minozzi. “We design and build in order for us to service an account, we can’t send a piece of equipment out for repair, so these manufacturers agree to guarantee for us replacement. If something goes down, we send a technician out and swap it out.”

The Biamp processors were chosen because they are the most nimble and advanced that Minozzi has seen. The amps, he notes, needed to be high quality and dependable and the CAMM speakers had a great selection of cosmetically acceptable custom-made speakers to match the environment and had two-way technology.

“This was equipment that could accommodate different areas of the installation,” Minozzi says. “Cosmetics are a very important aspect of a worship installation, so we needed to consider that as well.”

He explains that for a space as large as this, an owner may not know when a speaker is not working—until people start to complain. That can’t happen—especially in a church environment.

“That’s why at Monte Brothers, we offer houses of worship our ability to monitor their sound system remotely, so if a speaker goes down, we will be notified through the Ubiquiti cloud—an intellectual property we built,” Minozzi says. “But in order to do that, the amplifier has to have that capability.”

The end results

Once the Church of the Presentation’s renovation was complete, everyone was very pleased with the final outcome, especially the audio system put in place.

“I’m not that tech savvy, but I spend a lot of time with the sound system, and what he came up is very easy to operate,” Fr. Stagg says. “We can put the settings in and just go, I didn’t even need any training.”

“We haven’t had any complaints about the sound, and I think for the most part, everyone is happy with it,” Fr. Stagg shares. “We are very happy with it. The space is wonderful and very conducive to worship and the sound is great.”

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