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Community rescues Oregon church

Community Professional speakers have been installed at St Mary Catholic Church. The church's architecture is magnificent, but creates a challenging environment for the acoustic designer.

St Mary Catholic Church, Mount. Angel, is one of the oldest parishes in the Archdiocese of Portland in Oregon, USA and certainly one of the most beautiful and majestic in the entire state. The building, begun in 1910 and completed in June of 1912, is the fourth church this faith community has built and maintained since its founding in 1881. Its towering 200-foot bell tower dominates the local countryside and can be seen from miles away. The church’s soaring, multi-angled vaulted ceilings, ornate stained glass windows, intricately stencilled walls and cruciform Gothic Revival architecture are magnificent.

But that same architecture creates a challenging environment for the acoustic designer. Though ideal for choral and instrumental music, spoken word intelligibility proved a challenge even for those with excellent hearing. As Delta AV’s Steve Jellerson explains, the church has long struggled with acoustic issues. “As with most cathedral-type spaces, the acoustics are wonderful for choir and pipe organ, but spoken-word intelligibility is problematic throughout most of the nave,” he says. “It’s a beautiful space but an extreme challenge, acoustically speaking. They’ve tried a number of loudspeaker systems over the years, without success.”

Delta AV’s solution was to install a distributed system of ten of Community Professional Loudspeakers’ Entasys high performance column line-array systems. Two pairs of Entasys cabinets cover the front and side wings, with three more pairs mounted further back and delayed via Biamp DSP. A pair of VLF208W subwoofers provides low-end reinforcement, and QSC amplifiers power the system.

“As you might imagine, aesthetics was a prime consideration in designing the system,” says Jellerson. “The church had not been happy with the look or the performance of their previous system, and they were really impressed with the way the Entasys speakers pretty much completely disappeared into the columns. It changed the entire look of the church.”

Of course, equally important was system performance, and Entasys delivered. “The high bandwidth and vertical coverage of the systems really focuses the sound,” says Jellerson. “Intelligibility is extremely high. Pretty much any row you’re sitting in, it sounds like you’re no more than two rows from the priest or the pulpit microphone. You hear very little echo from the room itself.”

Pastor Philip Waibel echoed Jellerson’s sentiments. “Our parishioners are not shy about speaking their minds,” he says. “They have told me this is the best system we have had in living memory. When you get an evaluation like that from a demanding congregation in a demanding space, you know the system has to be good.”