* * * You may want to copy or print this. It is long.. * * *
The following article was first written by Joseph De Buglio in 1988 and published in 1991 for Your Church Magazine. It has been Updated Jan. 1996 and April 2008.

Part 2
TROUBLE SHOOTING CHURCH ACOUSTICS,
THE PRO'S AND CON'S.
or

Why Band Aids Don't Work well in Open Heart Surgery.


© By Joseph De Buglio 1996 - 2008


Since most churches have a problem or would wish to avoid a problem, here are some after the fact solutions.


Pillars.

In old cathedrals of Europe and in a few churches in North America, pillars were used to tune the church. Slots or holes in the back of a pillar were cut to select the offending frequencies. By adding sand, or as done recently in Chicoutimi, Quebec, adding blown insulation, you can tune the pillars. If a mistake is made, the sand can be removed from a hole at the base of the pillar. The pillars greatest effect is on the sound quality of the Pipe Organ and congregational singing. Pillars tuning is still being done today and it is possible to retrofit an existing church with pillars.

Ash Pots.

Ash pots were first used by the Greeks, then the Romans and later in Northern Europe. The technique is very simple and effective. Where ever there was a known or planned acoustical problem, clay pots of various sizes would be built into the walls of the church or theatre. The most common walls were the back walls and rear corners. After many trial and error tests, an employee of the church would fill or empty the pots with ash for various function. Today this same technique could be used. You can replace the ash with fiberglass insulation which is reusable. Us a silicone spray on the fiberglass and it will reduce the dust and keep the fibers from falling apart. A better alternative would be an adjustable Helmholtz Resonator. Please read the book Architectural Acoustics, David M Egan, published by McGraw Hill, 1988 or "The Masters Handbook of Acoustics" Second Edition F. Alton Evert, Tab Books 1989 for further details.

Slotted Blocks.

Slotted blocks have been around for a long time. Slotted blocks were often combined with the clay pot system. Today, the slotted block is a very attractive system that stands on it's own. The principal is simple. Take a standard 8 x 8 x 16 inch block. Cut a slot from top to bottom of the block to a certain width for the frequency you want to control. Add some fiberglass inside of the block. When finished, you can paint or wax the block or cover with curtain or cloth. The block companies that manufacture these blocks also make different size chambers within the block and the have different surface finishes that don't need to be painted. These blocks work well for mid and low frequency control and they are generally interior blocks.

Cinder Block.

Depending on who the manufacturer is, this system has many names. The most common appearance of the system is 12" x 18" x 3" flat panel. Usually the back of each unit has a mounting deck that raises the units about an inch from the wall. These units are effective for mid and high frequency control. Although the manufacturer claims are accurate, they are very misleading. If you have a room with an internal volume 50,000 cubic feet, the literature will say that all you need is 1 or 1.5% of material to treat the room or 750 units. What they are not saying is that 3 of the walls have to be cover from floor to ceiling to get the desired results. Using these products requires more than a siding scale to figure out.

Split Face Blocks.

A split faced block is nothing more than a block with an exposed shape. There are many patterns and styles. Usually the exposed shape is 2 inches deep or less. These blocks are also often called Architectural blocks and they are treated a decorative block. The Acoustical properties of these blocks are very limited. Some times you will see a 6 or 8 foot ring of these blocks in the upper half of a school gyms. Although an Architect will state that he chose those blocks for their acoustical properties and smile for his wise choice, an acoustical expert will notice right away that two of the walls should have had the spit face block from the floor to the ceiling and an eight foot ring in the other two walls. The spilt face block is not very efficient in distributing or absorb sounds. The split faced blocks combined with other systems can be very attractive.

ASC Tube Traps

A functional Bass trap, high frequency diffuser and mid range absorber makes this product the most effective. Although they cost a few dollars more, you need far fewer of them when compared to other sound control objects. ASC tube traps were designed originally as a recording studio product. When this product was unleashed to the church community, it has literally performed miracles as some minister would express its. The beauty of the product is three fold. First is being able to trap a lot of bass sounds in room corners in a small package. Almost all churches have corners including domed churches. Bass always builds up in the corners. ASC Tube Traps traps the bass without reducing the high frequency range noticeably. Secondly it absorbing mid range sound. By spacing the traps at difference widths, you can change the amount of mid range absorption. The third effect is diffusion. The diffusion occurs from 500 hertz and up. Usually you don't want to absorb high frequency in a church. The Tube Trap can maintain the singing quality of a church while fixing the low frequency problem areas. As a side benefit, in every installation of ASC Tube Trap that I have visited, the organist always make comments like, "there is more bass coming out of the organ" or "the music is easier to follow and play. I didn't realize how much poor acoustics were restricting our ability to perform" (Scott Tyler, St. Paul's United Church, Bowmanville, Ontario, Can.) ASC products can be used on their own or be used with other products.

RPG Diffusors. (Reflection Phase Grating)

Diffusion is often used to solve acoustical problems. For years, the acoustical community was looking for a diffusive surface that gave a uniform diffusion of sound energy. Such a system was invented by Manfred R. Schroeder, a professor at the University of Gottingen, Germany and at AT & T bell Laboratories at Murry Hill, New Jersey. The panels have many different sizes and shapes to accommodate almost any acoustical condition. The panels have long wells which are cut to different 1/4 wave lengths deep. The well depths have a very specific pattern. Each panel is based on the "Maximum Length Sequence Code". Today the general term is Diffraction Grating and many acoustical engineers design their Diffraction Grating Panels.

The RPG diffusors is trademark of a ready made, of the shelf, effective system of, non-patented panels which are primarily made of wood. The Following is a Quote from the book, The Master Handbook of Acoustics, Second Edition, by F Alton Everest (TAB Books)

"In churches, there is always conflict between the intelligibility of the spoken work and conditions for full enjoyment of the music. The rear wall is often the source of reflections which create disturbing echoes. To make this wall absorbent is often detrimental to music conditions. Making the rear wall diffusive, however, minimizes the echo problem while at the same time conserving precious music and speech energy. Music directors or often faced with the problem of singers or instrument players not hearing each other well.... Surrounding the music group with an array of reflection phase grating diffusors both conserves music energy and spreads it around to achieve ensemble between musicians."

The combination of RPG products and ASC Tube Traps offers the most versatile and complete solution to any church with acoustical problems.

Pressure Phase Diffusers (PPD)

PPD's are just a fancy combination of absorber, Helmholtz resonator and diffusing panel. The panels are built within a 2 x 4 ft frame. These are custom made for each project. Since acoustical problems come in layers, this combination panel reacts to the various acoustic effects in a single package. Since most churches have limited wall spaces, PPD panels are used in the worst of acoustical conditions. The thickness of the panel, the curve of the diffuser and the manipulation of the cavity within allows a single panel to do the job of several panels that would take up to 4 times the wall space using other panel system.

PPD panels are made under license by church members. This is a low cost alternative to RPG or ASC products

Tectum (Spaghetti Board)

Tectum is one of those products that you love to hate. When used properly, Tectum tiles panels work great. However, because they are so cheap to buy and every Architect has a "Guide Book" from the manufacturer, Tectum usually gets installed in a broad and indiscriminate way. As a result, Tectum gets installed in such a way that it solves one problem very well, but it creates other problems. In a Gym or a Cafeteria, the latitude in using Tectum is quite broad, but in a church, there is a fine line between how much you use, how it is installed and which surfaces it is installed on.

Tectum is an inert fiber board made from tree roots that comes in thickness from 1 to 4 inches. When exposed, the panels look like compressed spaghetti. Although it is paintable, the Guilford Cloth covered products are better in a church. When painted, the Tectum will shift in frequency.

Sonex

Sonex is a patented foam system. In comes in square panels from 1 to 4 inches thick. These panels are very efficient high frequency absorbers. Their best use is for attenuating high frequency in a church. A very effective application of Sonex is for foyers which are disturbing people in the sanctuary. It is rare for a Sanctuary to have a high frequency problem. If you need Sonex, use it sparingly and be aware that you could be creating a bass problem - a problem you did not have before.

Carpets and Padded Pews

Before we even talk about Carpets and padded pews, we should answer the question as to whether you need them or not!
There are two major conditions for having bare floors and hard seating. The first is your worship service. Is always going to be

  • classical or traditional
  • as a high mass
  • you only do acoustical performances
  • you have more that a 24 rank pipe organ
  • You have a high ceiling - where the ceiling is about 65% of the width of the room if the room is a rectangle - (if your church is 50 ft wide, the room should be 33 ft high or higher
  • much of your worship liturgy is in chants or singing or repetitive prayer
  • acoustical concerts
  • Choral concerts and competitions
If your church meets 3 or more of these conditions, then carpeting and padded seating may not be desired. For all other churches, carpeting and padded seating can be used indiscriminately. Once most worship spaces have more than 60% of the seats occupied, the bodies of people are more absorptive than what is under them.

But doesn't carpet and padded singing kill congregational singing?
If the rest of the acoustics of the sanctuary is good, then the floor covering is less important. If a church sound changes a lot, that is not an argument about floor coverings, that is a red alert that the room has a problem in several other areas.

There are many well meaning people who tend to perpetuate a myth that a bare floor in front of the choir will suddenly make the choir sound better. In a bad room it doesn't matter and in a good room you have to have other condition to justify having a hardwood floor in front of a choir. These conditions include room volume, room shape, the management of sound reflections around the room, the signal to noise ratio of the room reflections and the room dimension ratio's.

The second reason for a church not to carpet is if the floor of the church gets flooded from rivers and excessive rain falls.

The reality is, the vast majority of church worship spaces, should be carpeted. Unless all other acoustical conditions are in play and the sound in the room is managed properly, carpeted floors and padded seating has almost no impact on a well attended church. For the slight amount of performance gain a bare floor can offer, you are better off making people comfortable. If the room acoustics are already bad, then why make people annoyed and uncomfortable too. Besides, it costs less to fix the acoustics of a church with carpeted floor and padded seating.

Electronic Reverberation Systems

The newest and most exciting method of creating a real multipurpose church is with Electronic Reverb Systems. There are several systems available and some custom systems. These are systems that consists of microphones, speakers, amplifiers, electronic digital reverberation and a complex mixing matrix. When adjusted properly, these system can often make good room have many acoustical faces. However, it is a myth that it can correct acoustical problems such as bass build up or standing waves, but, you can often us it to mask minor echoes and in some cases improve intelligibility.

The plan is to make the house of worship sound "Acoustical Neutral." Make the room quiet, free of obvious acoustical problems and use the reverb system to create the desired acoustics as needed.

In Europe, there is a successful system called the ACS or Acoustical Control System from Holland. Although North American installations of such systems are limited, these systems offer a wide range of real time church simulations of great cathedrals and concerts halls. There are other systems from Lexicon - the LARS System and Philip and so on.

When these systems first came out, there was a promise that you could have great electronic acoustics regardless of the natural acoustical condition of a space. The reality is, and what has happened is that some venues have had to kill the room - make the space almost like a dead recording studio and then add the electronic reverberation. This is not a reality for most churches. If a church is so dead that it is not useable if the Reverb system in not working, they will not want it.

It is my opinion that a reverb system added to a room with a good acoustical foundation can be an advantage for a church that does a wide range of music from classical choral presentations, acoustical orchestra concerts and gospel sing-a-long programs. An inner city church that is looking to generate income to preserve the building as a community center and a church can get their acoustics controlled, have a reverb system added and charge competitive rental fees for community concerts. It seems that as more and more inner city churches close down the fewer places inner city people have to go for wholesome community programs musical events.


Summary


In church acoustics, these are just some of the most common techniques seen. The cost of a good acoustical system that solves most of your real major problems can vary. Please note the words "solve most of your problems". This is due to the fact that some building shapes are so poor, that rebuilding the church would be cheaper. However, there are some compromises you can live with. Accepting minor compromises will keep acoustic solution costs down.

OK, now that you have just received some of the best knowledge on church acoustics available, now you can get the technical books on acoustics design your church acoustics right! Wrong!!! Just because the church down the street did it or you read of a solution in a book, it does not mean that their solution is right for your church. You might have a one of a kind problem (which happens all too often.) Fixing a church is not always easy. There are just to many variables that can be easily over looked. One wrong number in a calculation can cost a church thousands of dollars. I have never yet met a church that had an unlimited budget or offer me a blank cheque. Churches can't afford experiments. Churches need solutions.

Church acoustics is 40% science, 10% art, 40% skill from experience and 10% inspiration. Judging from the many churches that I have visited over the past 26 years, all you see is 100% perspiration, 100% desperation and no science. Isn't it time for the church communities to define their needs and use science, art and skill to set acoustical standard? Lets stop using a Band-Aid approach to church audio and acoustics.


Some statements and Specs have been blanked out under the understanding that it is part of the "intellectual Knowledge" guidelines and were not part of the original article. Such knowledge has value and can be purchased through investing in the book "

Back to JdB Sound Articles or
JdB Sound Acoustics
722 Peel St, Delhi, Ontario N4B 2H1 Canada
For questions or comments, our e-mail address is - jdb@jdbsound.com
Copyright (c) 1988-2008 JdB Sound, Acoustic


*