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Outside the box

Outside the box

Outside the box

Fohhn column speakers bring clarity and coverage to Vine Church’s traditional sandstone building


Vine Church is an Anglican house of worship in inner suburban Surry Hills in Sydney, Australia. It was founded in 2011 when Toby and Liz Neal gathered a group of 16 friends together in one of Sydney’s least religious areas, despite concerns that it might be easier to establish a new church in a different area. The first services were held in a local pub, and then later in a variety of locations including a hotel, a neighbourhood centre and schools. When pastor Toby Neal was offered to lead the existing parish at the Albion Street location, he had the vision to make the traditional precinct feel the way he wanted Vine Church to be perceived – relevant and approachable.

The old architecture and heritage-listed features of the church draw mostly young adults and families each Sunday. Replacing the pews with chairs is just one of several alterations that have taken place over the past 18 months to keep the building feeling fresh and contemporary, without robbing it of its character. The extensive refurbishments have also included an upgrade to the FOH loudspeakers for the main auditorium which seats up to 200 worshippers.

Pastor Neal understands how the right PA system can impact a worship service. “People feel anxious singing in church. When you can surround them with an immersive sound, they’re more likely to sing loud and feel comfortable singing. We wanted the volume up but not for it to be sounding loud and strident. And we obviously want the spoken word each week to be very clear so people can understand what’s happening.”

Open Box Technology is a Sydney-based AV integration business specialising in church installations. Director Nick Utber has assisted Vine Church for many years and was approached again to manage the full audiovisual upgrade at the Surry Hills property. This meant finding and installing the right PA system to bring the auditorium to life every Sunday. The challenge was twofold. First, the system needed to produce sonic clarity and precise coverage within the acoustic chaos of the sandstone-walled environment. Second, the loudspeakers had to satisfy the aesthetic and mounting regulations of a heritage-listed building.

Sound technician Jeremy Kuan explains the criteria for finding a worthy upgrade. “With our old system, if you were sitting on the sides, it was noticeably softer than if you were sitting in the middle, and if you were sitting at the back it was much softer than if you were sitting at the front. So having that even spread was one thing we really wanted. Also, we at a tradeshow. “I was at ISE in Amsterdam and walked past the Fohhn booth and heard this amazing sound coming out of these small column speakers,” he recalls. “In the Vine Church application, we were looking for something that would provide great coverage and great performance, but also manage the space acoustically and limit the amount of reflections in the church. Fohhn was really able to deliver on all of those metrics across the space and do it in a small, aesthetically pleasing footprint.”

The system is made up of two Fohhn Linea LX-220 hybrid line source loudspeaker columns as main left and right, two Linea LX­150 column loudspeakers to fill the sides and two ARC AS-31 passive subwoofers floor-mounted onstage to provide the low end.

The heritage-listed status of Vine Church’s building prohibited the speakers from being mounted onto the sandstone walls. Instead, “we had to ask Fohhn how to fly these speakers with a single stainless steel wire,” explains Utber. “Fohhn was able to create a custom solution from their own rigging products and adapt them to suit the LX-220 which doesn’t have an off-the-shelf fly bracket option. That gave us the hang and the toe we needed which allowed us to then proceed with the design.”

Utber explains how the structural properties of the Fohhn LX-220 matched the Vine Church application. “The acoustic centre of the LX-220 main speakers is at the bottom third of the column, allowing us to direct the HF energy from the front of the seating plan right to the back, without hitting the back wall and minimising the amount of reflections we have off the surfaces. It also provides great coverage from front to back – you don’t lose a huge amount of volume towards the back and you still have the clear HF coverage.”

Column speakers of this nature are often designed for high speech intelligibility, which can be at the expense of musicality or the ability to reproduce lower frequencies. However, live music is a big part of a Vine Church service. “The Fohhn system is really great across the full spectrum,” adds Utber. “From a PA perspective, we were able to get the high bandwidth performance we wanted from the acoustic properties of a column speaker.”

Compared to the outgoing loudspeakers, the Fohhn system now offers Vine Church a rich and enveloping audio experience. Feedback, dead spots and excessive acoustic reflections have been virtually eliminated, resulting in even coverage and tighter mixes. “The headroom available in the Fohhn system is great, the coverage is second to none and the low profile of the speakers means that they’re aesthetically pleasing and they look great in the space,” explains Utber.

“With the old system, I found that it was echoey – the sound would bounce around the building and it was really hard to mix,” says Kuan. “With this new system, it’s much cleaner. It’s much easier to mix. It’s a much more intuitive process.”

Pastor Neal is pleased with the result too. “I’ve noticed with the new Fohhn system we are getting this immersive sound so, rather than the speakers blaring at us, it is a more immersive environment where the sound is embracing you. And that makes it much more comfortable to sing.”

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