Perseverance pays off
Perseverance pays off
Active Audio column speakers have overcome the odds at St Martin de Porres, despite multiple changes to the sanctuary’s layout
St Martin de Porres Catholic church was founded in 1970 when Cardinal Timothy Manning established a new parish in Yorba Linda, California. St Joseph Catholic Church in nearby Placentia had served the Catholic residents of Yorba Linda until that point. As the St Martin de Porres parish grew to over 2,000 families and the city population swelled to 29,000, the need for a new church building became a reality in 1982. Today, the church has the capacity to hold around 700 parishioners in its weekday and weekend services, with Mass livestreamed to YouTube every day of the week.
During an audio upgrade at St Kilian Catholic church in Mission Viejo, about half an hour away from Yorba Linda, members of St Martin de Porres met with the Founder of AV Technologies, Inc. David Lusk. “They saw what we were doing at St Kilian with their new audio and video streaming systems and asked me if I’d be interested in carrying out a similar upgrade at their church,” says Lusk.
Happy to accept his next project, Lusk began working on the St Martin de Porres installation in mid 2020. The video streaming part of the installation at St Martin de Porres went well – Lusk installed a PC-based Streaming system with two Lumens IP-based PTZ cameras, one pointing down the middle of the church and the other looking down a side angle. “The audio side of things started out as really straightforward design in the beginning of 2021 – at that point the church hadn’t made any structural changes to the building besides removing the original speaker system and soffit. We designed the system for what they currently had, which was carpeted floors, wooden pews and a standard altar area. It was quite a reverberant church – the bottom half of the back wall and the right side of the church was all glass, it had all kinds of corners and angles, a sloping roof and a very archaic in-soffit ceiling mounted speaker system – there was nothing in the space that was built for sound.”
Despite the challenges, Lusk specified an Active Audio system consisting of two StepArray SA180P vertical columns and a single 2x 15-inch subwoofer flown to supplement the low frequencies. The entire system features Active Audio’s NUT processor to handle the digital beam steering, and Linea Research amplifiers. “We were able to get on top of the reverberation with the new system, but still felt some type of sound panels to help reduce the reverberation time even more would be helpful.”
However, at that point, the installation took on a new set of problems. Around six months after the new Active Audio system had been fitted, the church started making cosmetic changes to the layout of the sanctuary. “This was during Covid, so they took advantage of the church being closed to start upgrading the look of the church,” describes Lusk. “They started by pulling the carpet out and putting in marble everywhere. The entire floor was marble, and they didn’t stop there – they added a marble topped altar and podium, and they ended by building a façade surrounding the entire altar area. It was gorgeous, but it was just so reflective. The entire church became one giant sound mirror.”
Lusk describes the most challenging part of the process was that the changes were done in phases – the marble first and then the changes to the altar area and then the new façade. And after each phase of adjustments, he would return to the church and tighten down the frequencies on the speakers as much as he could to manage the additional reflections that the cosmetic changes had made. “To begin with, after they’d installed all the marble and services were still being held outside because of Covid, it wasn’t until people were allowed back in the building that they realised how bad everything was. But they kept making changes and after about three visits to try and retune the Active Audio system, we got to the point where we couldn’t do any more with the speakers and sound absorption on the walls and ceiling became the only option.”
“Around that time, we were posed with nearly a 4s reverb time,” adds Jeff Miranda, national sales manager at Allied Professional Technologies, the exclusive US distributor and importer for Active Audio. “The changes had made the space more live – you could be in one corner of the church whispering to someone and a person on the opposite side could hear what you were saying. The church even suggested that we move the speakers or go back to having overhead units, but that would’ve just made things even worse. So, we talked about adding on to create a larger system as well as doing acoustic treatment of the room.”
The solution involved panelling the whole soffit area across the back of the church and also around the glass on the right side. On the left side, ceiling panels were also fitted to the large rectangular choir area, which was also adding to the reverberation time. “By hitting those spots, we got rid of a lot of the reverberation, down to about 2.5s,” explains Lusk.
“It was noticeably better,” adds Miranda. “The sound was much more natural, even just coming down by a couple of seconds. They did a really good job. If someone hadn’t pointed out that the panels were there, you really wouldn’t notice them. They blend in seamlessly – it looks like the architect had intended them to be there.”
However, what did change was the position of the RMS subwoofer. Originally, the sub was flown above the centre of the Active Audio speakers but when the whole altar area was redesigned and the ceiling was opened up – creating even more reflections – the sub needed to be relocated. “We had to put it down low and hide it in the pillar that they had built into the façade and it became a side-firing subwoofer,” describes Lusk. Two custom-built subwoofers from RMS Acoustics were built to fit within the space beneath the side pillars.
“Looking back on it now, this was a fun church,” laughs Lusk. “It was constantly changing and incredibly frustrating because we weren’t aware they were making these changes until they’d ring me up and ask me to come back and fix the sound. They wanted a very ornate church – they want people knowing that they’re in God’s house. And the greatest thing is that you can hear the spoken Word now. The speaker design along with the sound panels made a huge difference. So, in the end, it’s looks and sounds stunning.”
“We always felt from the start that the room required acoustic treatment,” concludes Miranda. “The Active speakers did their job of providing smooth and consistent SPLs throughout the space – with everything that happened, minor adjustments to the StepArrays, paired with acoustic treatment, have provided the church with a sound system that blends right into the space and provides consistent sound pressure levels throughout the entire sanctuary. The acoustic treatment helped with the acoustical anomalies and made for a much better intelligibility. Having gone through so many changes, the StepArrays worked flawlessly, which speaks volumes about the flexibility and power of the Active Audio system. The parishioners are incredibly pleased with how everything has turned out – it’s such a beautiful space now.”