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Feature: Steering the course of history

Feature: Steering the course of history

Feature: Steering the course of history

While churches such as Kirche St Peter und Paul can stand for centuries, audio technology can need replacing after a matter of years. James Cooke reports

With hundreds of years of history behind it, Kirche St Peter und Paul (St Peter and Paul church) in the Swiss village of Küssnacht am Rigi underwent a series of renovations, inside and out, between 1994 and 1997. This included the installation of a speaker system that has dated in this otherwise timeless house of worship.

‘The old, decentralised sound system caused problems,’ explains Hansjörg Bruggmann, who is responsible for the building maintenance at St Peter and Paul. ‘The components also no longer corresponded with the newer pieces of art and decoration that had been put up, and the sound emitting from these speakers was often unintelligible in this reverberant sanctuary.’

The current Baroque-style church, which stands out on the Küssnacht am Rigi skyline today, was designed by Father Marquard Imfeld and built between 1708 and 1710. The original Romanesque building that once stood in its place, according to the record books, dates back to 1036 and was replaced by a Gothic-style sanctuary sometime during the 15th century.

In 2018, it was only the sound system that needed replacing though. ‘The existing system was about 20 years old and people had often complained about the sound quality,’ confirms Pascal Luder, Fohhn product manager at Sennheiser (Schweiz). ‘Auviso AG was approached by the church to design a new system and they included Imhof Akustik in the project, which took responsibility for the installation as an expert and free consultant.

LFI-350 steerable line array speakers form the main PA system
LFI-350 steerable line array speakers form the main PA system

‘Since Fohhn was on both Auviso’s and Imhof’s lists of preferred suppliers, Sennheiser came up with a product recommendation built on experiences gained from installations in comparable churches. We then organised a live demo with these products where all visitors were asked about their listening experience to further verify the church’s investment.’

‘Auviso were professional and transparent in their consulting services,’ says Mr Bruggmann. ‘Meanwhile, Imhof Akustik are an engineering firm with many years of experience in the field of church acoustics and, having previously served as a specialist planner during the previous installation at Kirche St Peter und Paul, it made sense for us to work with them again.’

A successful demonstration led to the installation of two Fohhn LFI-350 steerable line array speakers as the main PA system. Finished in white and hung at a height of 3.5m, they can be found to the left and right of the steps separating the main nave from the choir. The beam configuration has been set specifically to avoid unwanted reflections from the walls and the floor.

Linea LX-100s cover the two galleries up high
Linea LX-100s cover the two galleries up high

A pair of Linea LX-100 mini line array systems serve as delays, while another four have been installed to cover the two galleries, and the choir area is reinforced by two LX-10 compact loudspeakers. A Fohhn D-4.750 DSP-controlled Class-D amplifier powers the passive Linea LX cabinets.

‘The new Fohhn system doesn’t even compare to the old system,’ exclaims Mr Bruggmann. ‘It seems that there has been a lot of development in loudspeaker technology over the last 20 years. The old loudspeakers were configured to cover relatively small listening areas that overlapped acoustically. The spill caused a complete mess.

‘The new main loudspeakers fill more than 75% of the nave and are backed up by speakers between the clay pillars throughout the sanctuary. Of course, these speakers, as well as the speakers in the galleries, have been timed as delays to the main speakers to prevent overlapping.’

Mr Bruggmann also reports that the precise planning undertaken by Imhof Akustik and Auviso, aided by the former’s previous experience at the church, resulted in a timely installation en route to solving the acoustic challenges. 'The sound issues plaguing this big church were solved by selecting the right loudspeakers for the front of the church – the Fohhn LFI-350s. The church can accommodate approximately 1,000 people and, in addition to regular services, it hosts marriages, funerals and other ceremonies. There are also concerts and other events. The new sound system is well-equipped to handle all of these applications.

In less than two decades, Kirche St Peter und Paul will have existed for an entire millennium in one form or another. The new Fohhn speakers and their beam-steering capabilities certainly appear to be helping navigate a new chapter in the church’s history.

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