Feature: Time for T
Feature: Time for T
Singapore’s SJSM churches required an urgent upgrade of their analogue point source audio system. Richard Lawn takes a tour
At what point does a pastor, a musician or a volunteer technician call time on an audio system that is letting him down? Perhaps, some churches count down the installation of their next renewal on a set date 3,652 days into the future. Most likely, the pastor will be aware that his congregation is either not paying attention to his sermons or the audio volunteer has declared that there are no parts for the long-serving speaker system. At that point, the committee is made aware of the need and a plea for a budget is made.
Through organic growth, the Singaporean churches of St John’s and St Margaret’s (SJSM) were merged in 1971, relocating to a sanctuary inherited from the British army. Serving the Dover community, the combined congregation hasn’t stopped growing in size over the past five decades. Although the current services blend traditional worship with some contemporary expressions, the musical element has increased, with more musicians and a choir taking to the stage during the Saturday and two Sunday services.
The current Christ sanctuary building was finished in 2005 following the completion of the other facilities, including rooms for the junior church, counselling and Christian education. This phased approach over four years also supported the creation of multiple congregations and fellowships of different sizes, including Mandarin, Filipino, Tamil and Indonesian congregants.
While SJSM’s 30-year lease is due to expire in 2022, a decision had already been made to upgrade the audio system within Christ sanctuary. In addition, SJSM had also taken the decision to develop an integrated multi‐generation facility adjacent to the existing premises at 30 Dover Avenue. Project Spring‐Winter (PSW) will comprise administrative offices, childcare and nursing home facilities together with elderly care services when it finally opens in 2020. As such, any other budgets were scrutinised, needing to be fully justified.
Following gradual degradation, the church committee decided in 2016 that the previous analogue point source audio system required an urgent upgrade. The console’s channel count was fully utilised, audio coverage across the sanctuary was inconsistent, spare parts were becoming harder to locate and some of the models had already been delisted. ‘When certain components and replacement parts for the amplifiers and loudspeakers became increasingly rare, it became crystal clear that our system was on its last legs,’ commented Reverend Joshua Sudharman. ‘The writing was on the wall, so I gave the team a green light to call in experts who could help us test out new systems that would allow us to make a recommendation to the church council.’
A shortlist of suppliers was called upon for demonstrations to be assessed by a panel including church dignitaries and volunteers alike, for which future-proofing was a dominant criterion. Taking a central role in all of this, Alan Mathews was called upon to provide his consultancy expertise.
‘We had run out of spare channels on the analogue console for our additional needs,’ comments technical executive, John Isaac. ‘We simply were not set up for contemporary services with their higher SPLs and high-definition audio characteristics. The previous point source system prioritised intelligibility of speech and increasingly could not meet our needs for musical clarity and warmth.’
Following formal presentation at the company’s Singapore headquarters by Gert Senner, a demonstration of the d&b audiotechnik T10L loudspeaker system was staged at the church.
After analysis of all the demonstrations, the panel was unanimous in selecting the T10L model for its upgrade. ‘We had to justify the cost, but the intensity of musical performance it now provides in addition to clarity of speech ensured this. The SPLs were comfortable and provided enhanced clarity, resolution and coverage previously entrusted to fill speakers.’
Electronics & Engineering Pte Ltd was called upon to supply and install the new audio system into the Christ sanctuary. L-R arrays each comprise eight Ti10L compact polyurethane enclosures. The dual 6.5-inch woofers are arranged in a dipolar arrangement to enhance dispersion control, while the HF driver is attached to a rotatable waveguide with a horn and an acoustic lens. This provides a vertical line source with a 90° horizontal dispersion that is maintained down to approximately 600Hz, while the integrated lens in the front grille widens the HF dispersion in line array mode to 105°.
The lower frequencies come in the form of four 27A-Sub cardioid subwoofers. Suspended from the ceiling adjacent to the Ti10L hangs, each cabinet houses 15- and 12-inch drivers in a two-chamber, band-pass design that radiates to the rear. Four d&b audiotechnik 10D amplifiers supply the 16 Ti10L cabinets, while a single 30D model is dedicated to the four 27A-Sub subwoofers. Each L-R wing of the sanctuary receives its own delicate mix from suspended d&b audiotechnik Yi7P dual 8-inch models to the left and right of the main Ti10L arrays. Serving as a pastoral monitor, the d&b audiotechnik inventory is rounded off with the inclusion of a 16C column loudspeaker. Finally, three rack-mounted Furman CN-3600SE power conditioners provide sequencing and electrical surge protection.
The acoustic challenges in the corner wings perhaps posed the greatest problem in the deployment of the loudspeaker system,’ comments d&b audiotechnik’s manager, Kenny Chng. ‘Prior to the upgrade, the church had experienced problematic build-ups of low- to mid-end frequencies and the mix appeared muddy. Having introduced d&b R60 processing through the 10D and 30D amplification network, this has been eliminated.’
‘We are now blessed with a better sense of audio filling the space,’ explains Isaac. ‘It’s not as patchy as the line array provides a much more even dispersion. Our volunteers possess limited experience, but we will continue to seek training opportunities for them and provide solid channels of feedback while using all this new equipment, to provide a seamless and satisfying worship experience for the whole church.’
The audio, lighting and visual technicians can control the services from their production area located in a central section of the sanctuary. Here, the DiGiCo SD9 console was selected for the church’s combined FOH and monitor console requirements. ‘It has a very intuitive layout providing a natural, clean mix for speech, playback and live sound. With help from Alan who conducted training, our volunteers are now more familiar with mixing on this. We’re future-proofed for some time and should have enough channels.’
Four Shure QLXD4 wireless channels have also been added to the mix providing the pastor and singers with their individual, handheld, head-worn and lapel microphone requirements. ‘The frequency spectrum changed, so we had no alternative but to purchase new wireless mics.’
Over the year, front-row worshippers had commented on the spillage emitting from the stage, particularly from the percussionist. This has been mitigated by adding a drum shield and further extended with the adoption of MyMix in-ear monitors for the musicians. The 13 units are fed via auxiliary outputs to two IEX-16L 16-channel live input expanders working together with a Cisco Managed switch.
‘The eight musicians and five singers have learnt how to adjust the effects and EQ individually on their units and they can now critically evaluate their individual performances after a service or rehearsal session and save these sessions as presets,’ furthers Isaac. ‘Our musicians have been provided with some training, to enable them to get more out of the IEMs and this has certainly helped them to hear themselves better on stage. Most importantly, the congregation now does not have overwhelming bleed from the band pit and can participate in the service more comfortably.’
Just as SJSM has phased its construction upgrades for the past two decades, technological upgrades within the sanctuary have adopted the same principle. As such, the ageing video projection system will be overhauled in 2019. Currently, wall-mounted PTZ cameras and a PC loaded with Pro Presenter 6 software combine images with lyrics, which are fed into a matrix supplying Sanyo projectors.
Naturally, as SJSM’s new facilities come online, the addition of a Dante network for control and monitoring may be added to interlink much-needed overflow spaces during special events. Works in progress perhaps as the church continues to balance its books and enhance its services.