It was frustrating. Highland Baptist Church in Meridian, Mississippi contacted several nationally known audio consultants and contractors to help solve their sound reinforcement woes, but all of them wanted to kill the beautiful acoustics in their 600-seat sanctuary and slap up line arrays. That might not be so bad, except that Highland Baptist regular Sunday services include a live orchestra, a large electronic organ, and lots of congregational singing, all of which would have suffered tremendously if the room's nice, 1.2-second, flutter-free reverb were knocked back to nothing.

Will Roland of local firm Gracenote Consulting, Inc. got his foot in the door by singing a different tune. As much an acoustics consultant as a sound reinforcement consultant, Roland recognized and praised the sanctuary's unadorned sound and proposed to improve the reinforcement situation by designing a system with excellent pattern control to avoid over-energizing the walls and ceiling in the first place. The tight, low-frequency pattern control of the full range Danley SH-50 and the rich subsonic response of the Danley TH-50 proved integral to his success.

The sanctuary typifies traditional Southern Baptist architecture, with a sloped main floor, a balcony, stained glass windows, and an arched ceiling with exposed beams. It is 105-feet front-to-back, 60-feet wide, and roughly 30-feet tall. The old system splashed sound all around the room, which seriously degraded intelligibility and cut the gain before feedback to annoyingly low levels. The choir, for instance, which needed to be reinforced above the live orchestra and electronic organ, could scarcely get a dB without generating a spirit-crushing squeal.

The solution was, in Roland's words, to "bring sound to the folks, not the walls." The problem was that most full-range loudspeakers only maintain their pattern control above 500 Hz, leaving plenty of mid-low energy to splash around and muck things up. Roland had read about Danley Sound Lab's remarkably tight pattern control, which extended well below 500Hz, and tried the SH-50 in a model of the room. "It modeled perfectly," he recalls. "But I had never actually heard a Danley. I asked everyone I knew in the industry, from Los Angeles to New York, if they had heard Danley. Without exception, the reviews were glowing. They came from people I respected, and that, coupled with the way the SH-50 modeled, made me confident enough to specify them sight unseen."

MS Audio, LLC of Jackson, Mississippi installed the system from Gracenote Consulting, Inc.'s design drawings. As the room has two aisle's with a center seating section and two side sections, Roland used two Danley SH-50s powered by Lab Gruppen C48:4 amplifiers to cover each seating section with a tight split cluster in a far/near configuration. Although it would have been impossible with different loudspeakers, the SH-50s made it possible to cleanly cover the balcony without going to a distributed system. "In the model, the -6dB seam ran right down the outside aisle, between the pews and the wall on either side," Roland explained. "I was amazed that when the system was up and running, you could really hear the seam, both at the aisle and in the front where the coverage drops just before the stage steps."

"Even without subwoofers, the SH-50s have plenty of low-end," he continues, "but I wanted to supplement that with some true subsonic energy - Not to give it an audible subwoofer 'bump,' but to give them something they could feel even at the relatively low 80-85dBA of their typical service." Also, during special productions, when levels exceed 90dBA, they will have plenty of SPL. He added two Danley TH-50s, each also powered by Lab Gruppen C48:4 amplifiers, to provide 20Hz to 70Hz coverage. "If you go in there, you'd have a hard time hearing the seam between the arrays and the subs. The transition is very musical, unlike many contemporary systems where the presence of subwoofers as obvious. The whole system sounds like one smooth full-range cone loudspeaker."

A Yamaha LS-9-32 console provides the input for the house system as well as an extensive live broadcast feed and a Peavey Architectural Acoustics Digitool MX DSP provides modest processing for the system. Some months from now, a second phase of the project will add additional ancillary equipment, a new technical mezzanine and modifications to the stage platform.

"The room is +/-2dB across the entire audible spectrum and rail flat from 50Hz to 18kHz, at nominal levels," said Roland. "It sounds astounding and provides the operators with extremely accurate response to EQ and dynamics at the FOH console. Their old sound system wasn't even close to being this good!"

He continues, "Highland Baptist emphasizes the point that not all churches need to be acoustically dead. There is a tendency among some to take the easy approach, killing the acoustic space and relying on the sound system, but this is not always a wise choice. We were able to take a nice acoustic space and add premium sound reinforcement. So now, reinforced audio works seamlessly with the room acoustics, and the blend of live orchestra, pipe organ, and congregational singing with the reinforced audio is amazing. The tight pattern control of the Danleys put sound where we needed it and kept sound off the walls and ceiling. It was the perfect solution."