You know what makes it more difficult?
Using the wrong gear in the wrong place!
You know who the biggest offenders are?
Yup. That thing that pushes sound around your room… It’s changed a lot over the years.
What hasn’t changed much is the fact that people still put the wrong speaker in the wrong place! Why?!?!?
Well, it’s complicated…
Loudspeaker assemblies have constantly been refined and tuned to provide louder sound, greater frequency range, higher fidelity, and more directivity.
Some designs have gotten bigger to produce more volume, lower frequencies, or greater directional control (think massive line-arrays and subwoofer stacks).
Some designs have gotten smaller, focusing on super-high fidelity and miniature proportions (think high performance earbuds).
And every now and then there’s a technology that comes along and shakes things up, sometimes literally.
I remember the first time I heard a Bag End 10” subwoofer out perform a competitor’s 18” sub. Wow. That was impressive.
Listening to a really well-tuned Nexo line array in a small theater made me rethink the use of line arrays in intimate venues.
And seeing what the new Martin CDD coaxial loudspeakers can do made me consider the use of coaxial point-source speakers for certain pro audio applications.
A lot of these technology advancements are awesome, and they’ve made a big impact on what we can accomplish with modern tools. But there just hasn’t been a major shift in the way we apply loudspeaker technology for church sound in several years. (If you think those skinny column line arrays and directional subwoofers are “new”, think again.)
Well, maybe a shift has happened…
I’m not a physicist. I don’t have a lot of acronyms or cryptic titles after my name.
But, what I do have are two reasonably well-working ears.
What I heard the other day made me rethink the possibilities of achieving consistently great sound in what can be the most challenging acoustic environment – the church.
Church sound is rife with challenges for the modern sound system designer (and operator). Hard surfaces. Parallel walls. Little to no acoustic treatment. Loud stages. The list goes on…
Older facilities can be a special challenge.
Cathedrals with lots of stone, long halls, and vaulted ceilings sound great with a choir and organ, but bad for reinforced audio! And ornate churches with all that stained glass and a domed roof can cause some complex audio reflections and acoustic interference.
I recently got to experience one of these challenging rooms that would ordinarily be a nightmare for any sound system operator, and a significant challenge for most design engineers.
Surprisingly, the fix for this room had nothing to do with the acoustics, the sound system operator, or even the loudspeaker location.
The perfect fix was a new type of loudspeaker.
Let me start this by saying that I’m generally a skeptic, and sometimes a bit cynical – especially when it comes to fads and hype. For being actively involved in a high tech industry, I tend to be a “late adopter” when compared to many of my peers.
This means that I generally take my sweet time to assess a new technology, form an opinion, and praise its virtues. Well, I must admit that my timeline was just sped up after encountering this new technology.
What I heard the other day was an in-use demo of the Tectonic loudspeaker system at St. Louise Parish in Bellevue, WA.
I’ve been to many demos that are “remarkable” – meaning: I can remark about the performance or quality of the loudspeaker and be generally impressed by what I heard.
This demo was a bit different.
It wasn’t about what I heard, but what I didn’t hear that impressed me.
Massive “slap-back” echo from the floor-to-ceiling glass wall in the back of the room? Not there.
Acoustic chaos from the vaulted ceilings? Couldn’t find it.
Poor intelligibility in at least a few seats under the soffits along the side of the room? Mysteriously missing.
Lack of musical clarity when the system was “cranked up”? Nope.
Hmmm. What am I missing here?!
The space was acoustically “live”.
You could snap your fingers and hear some very distinct echoes. But putting significant impulses through the loudspeakers just didn’t trigger the same response in the room.
How can that be?
Well, I got an education.
The engineers at Tectonic Audio Labs seem to have refined the application of what is known as Distributed Mode Loudspeaker technology.
While the concept isn’t exactly “new”, the successful application of this science for large format audio installations is rather cutting edge. And it can already solve a number of very challenging acoustics dilemmas.
Instead of using the traditional loudspeaker design to move air and create sound waves like a piston, the Tectonic distributed mode loudspeakers (DML) use small electromagnetic drivers to move a large rectangular panel. But this panel doesn’t push air back and forth like a normal loudspeaker diaphragm. It creates sound by resonating the large panel, which creates waves bending in varied patterns depending on the frequency, causing a very distributed (or dispersed) sound source from the panel.
I know that sounds somewhat complicated, and it is a rather complex science. That’s why no one has really pulled it off on this scale before.
(If you want to dig into the real science behind the technology, you can check out the great videos and FAQ’s that Tectonic has made publicly available.)
So, what does this mean for your church?
There are three major benefits for the church in need of a reliable sound reinforcement solution.
- If you have a very challenging acoustic environment, these speakers will work. No complex engineering, no massive acoustic treatment budget, and no intricate installation mechanisms (these speakers can be mounted like a normal flat panel TV with standard rigging hardware).
- If you’re a “portable church” and in a new venue each week or you have to setup in a highly reverberant space like a gymnasium, these Tectonic speakers could be the biggest stress saver at your Sunday morning soundcheck. (They transport really well, and sound great just about everywhere I’ve heard them.)
- If there are significant architectural challenges or loudspeaker placement limitations in your facility, then this new technology will be worthy of serious consideration. Tectonic DMLs don’t require a lot of fussy positioning and aiming to sound good, and they can be painted to match just about any color, or even covered with certain material to help “hide” them on the wall.
And what this REALLY means for the acoustically challenged church is…
You can finally have Great Church Sound!
(Yeah, I couldn’t pass that up.)
By the way, the Tectonic loudspeakers sounded great!
Smooth response through the critical vocal intelligibility range. Crisp highs. Exceptional mid-tone clarity. And when paired with a quality subwoofer, Tectonic Plates provide an articulate, well-rounded sound that is easy to enjoy.
A very important PS: A decision to swap out your loudspeakers should not be made lightly. There are many complex variables (including acoustics) that need to be taken into consideration. I highly recommend that you try to demo the loudspeakers you plan to use before you decide to purchase a new solution. Most manufacturers and dealers will gladly support this request. As for the Tectonic loudspeaker solution, I know there are several demo systems around the US that can be quickly setup in your facility. Please do contact them for more information if you’re interested!
PPS: This post reflects my personal opinions and experiences and is not sponsored by Tectonic Audio Labs. If there is ever a post provided that is sponsored, it will be clearly marked as such.