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Buying Guide: How do you decide on the best PA system for your house of worship?

Buying Guide: How do you decide on the best PA system for your house of worship?
The KV2 Audio point source setup at the Romanian Pentecostal Church of God in Kitchener, Canada, featuring ES1.0 speakers, ES1.5 subwoofers, EPAK2500R amplifiers, ESD10 speakers, ESD6 speakers and a ESP2000 amplifier

Buying Guide: How do you decide on the best PA system for your house of worship?

Is line array better than point source? Ledetta Asfa-Wossen separates the wheat from the chaff

The debate over the use of line array versus point source is an age-old discussion among pro audio pedants but while the question seems straight-forward, the answer is far from it.

A good starting point is to carry out an initial assessment of your HOW. Calculate the size and shape of the seating area that requires sound coverage and take the time to assess the degree of focus on music required for your venue and its architectural design. Noting any areas where sound needs to be ushered away from acoustically reflective areas. The overall aesthetics and sightlines also need to be considered well before the buying process.

‘Before a system designer comes out all guns blazing, it is essential to understand the operational requirement of your HOW. Second, evaluate your room – especially the height-versus-depth ratio of the room. Thirdly, never fight with the room,’ warns Yusof Ahmad, pro territory manager at Bose’s Professional Systems Division (ASEAN and Korea). The first step ensures that expectations are being managed at the outset and the second is vital in deciding whether to go for a line array or point source.

Then, ask why your HOW would use line array in the first place. Surely, you could just stack up a bunch of point source speakers and just get on with the show? After all, that was how it used to be done. In the early days of large PA systems for venues, vast numbers of horn-loaded point source speakers were simply mounted on scaffold structures and directed towards the audience. Unfortunately, it is not as simple as that.

One advantage of a line array, according to Ahmad, is that you’re able to rig more loudspeakers in an array hang while still achieving an overall coherent response. ‘A line array system design tool brings forth the ability to predict, direct and manage sound energy to fit into a given room geometry,’ he adds. When correctly installed, a line array allows even frequency response and clear sonic coverage throughout the range of the system.

It is also worth noting that while line arrays produce high output through the combination of a number of elements, new, highly efficient and powerful point source systems can now compete with line arrays at all levels. While in certain cases line arrays may be more scalable than point source, it is ultimately about selecting the right size system for your venue.

But there is no hard or fast rule when deciding on whether to opt for a line array or a point source audio system – ‘there is a reason why this is one of the oldest debates going among pro audio purists,’ he adds.

‘Over the years, I’ve received quite a fair share of such enquiries. Height-versus-depth ratio gives a relatively good guideline. I’ve seen venues with a depth of around 40m from the stage lip to the last listening row, but with a height of about 3m. And yes, they’ve asked for line array speakers. This is an example of a situation where line arrays are inappropriate. Although to cover that depth line array would perform splendidly, there is a height constraint. Usually, for these kinds of spaces, a well-designed point source distributed system with delay tiers carefully time-aligned, will outperform a line source. The above also concludes that you should never fight with the room because you’ll never win. You have to negotiate with the room. This is where professional services are called upon. Depending on the scale of the project, acousticians, consultants, manufacturers or even an industry expert should be consulted to give you advice for your particular venue,’ notes Ahmad.

A true point source loudspeaker system is a single enclosure or combination of enclosures placed physically together, which presents sound from one point as opposed to multiple points.

Arrays of point source systems grace the inside of the Rock Cathedral in Lagos, Nigeria
Arrays of point source systems grace the inside of the Rock Cathedral in Lagos, Nigeria

‘The development of the line array came about in an effort to produce high SPL coverage over large distances with a degree of pattern control in respect to the dispersion of the system. Line arrays were an improvement over the composite box type concert systems of the eighties which consisted of multiple point source boxes being stacked together. Having all components in a single axis array solved certain issues in respect to the comb filtering problems in the horizontal plane but did not overcome the destructive interference occurring vertically and the high frequency cancellation caused through air disturbances caused by wind and audience heat. Line arrays can also suffer from poor impulse response due to varying time arrivals of the sound to the listener, reducing clarity and image,’ explains marketing director, Jan Jareš, of Czech audio manufacturer KV2 Audio.

Unlike traditional point source speakers, you can add more volume to a line array by adding to the line, but this increased range can come at a price.

‘The key benefits of a true point source audio system are superior balanced integrated sound. Smooth, even dispersion and high definition through lack of destructive interference. They’re also very easy to transport, set up and operate and do not require software programs to calculate alignment. They cost less to install too. A point source system, by its very nature, is ultimately limited in its scalability,’ adds Jareš.

In terms of technology, the effort to further advance line array systems is ongoing. According to Ahmad, some manufacturers have now introduced electronic beam steering capabilities in their line array. Other companies have devised clever ways of designing the speaker cabinets and its accessories, making the transporting and rigging a far more convenient process. Meanwhile, others are continuing to sharpen their design software capabilities.

‘While many manufacturers and engineers will argue the benefits of pattern control with line arrays, the problems of destructive interference and poor impulse response make them a poor choice in respect to sound quality and clarity when compared to point source systems. Just like line arrays though, proper system placement is imperative for the correct operation of point source systems. Unlike line arrays though, true point source systems utilise the off-axis attenuation of the box to create even SPL and coverage in the venue,’ states Jareš. Additionally, point source systems use less units compared to multi-array elements.

There is no clear-cut answer when it comes to point source versus line array. What is evident though, is that the choice of PA system is greatly influenced by a number of factors, including the structural design of the venue, research, budget and programme material.

‘To someone who’s new to line array, you’re going to have a lot of fun. It’s also essential to understand line source array fundamentals. If that’s not possible, at least know the basics. The knowledge will go a long way and be sure to discuss your options with an experienced industry practitioner,’ advises Ahmad.

Regardless of your level of audio knowledge, or any advice given by an audio professional, 

the selection of any audio system should be made after thorough testing and comparison 

in the space or a venue with similar acoustics. Only then can you ascertain which system best suits your HOW needs.

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