Sound Technology Ltd, distributor of the Harman Pro brands in the UK and Eire, are pleased to announce installer About Sound had given the medieval St. Bene't's Church a Harman Pro upgrade, including the latest JBL CBT Constant Beamwidth Technology column speakers.

Take the oldest Saxon building in arguably the UK’s most famous medieval city, and the task of equipping it sensitively with a 21st century sound reinforcement system may sound like the contract from hell. Add to that the fact that the pulpit in St. Bene’t’s Church, which dates back to 1025, is situated in front of the speaker position and you will understand why installation contractor Matthew Dilley of About Sound had more than English Heritage and the Diocesan Council to contend with when fitting the new JBL CBT (Constant Beamwidth Technology) columns; these form part of a major sound system upgrade using brands from the Harman Pro portfolio.

In the event, the installer turned the situation to his advantage. “We welcome challenges and restrictions such as this,” he stated. “I derive no satisfaction in trashing historic buildings! But what you don’t want to see is a pulpit ahead of where you want to place your speakers.”

Angela Tilby, vicar of the Anglican Franciscan Church and well-known broadcaster (eg Radio 4’s Thought For The Day), had long been aware of the shortcomings of the old omni-directional system. It was when she was appearing as guest preacher at nearby St. John’s, where About Sound had installed a webcast system, that she remarked on how refreshing it was to be heard, and asked the Dean for the name of the installer.

Two years ago she contacted Matt Dilley — but the long journey to get the speakers and mics replaced in the 100-seat church, with its famous tower, was only just beginning.

“The architects in the 1980’s had installed these pendulum, omnidirectional spheres — they were cleverly disguised but of course better technology had come along since.”

Dilley’s task was to combine form factor with performance — always aware that feedback suppression would be an issue. “I short-listed several and carried out demos, all the while knowing they would never have been acceptable to the architect on the grounds of being too obtrusive.”

He was pleased he waited, for at last year’s PLASA Show he saw the newly-launched JBL CBT Series. “It seemed just right, combining good looks with quality. A lot of these old columns contain multiple drive units which roll off at 250Hz, whereas the CBT’s are full bandwidth.

The challenge was to get the same size of box but sounding better, he said. “The only ones I had seen in the form factor I wanted weren’t good enough, however these sounded good, they were acceptable visually and they were signed off at a Diocesan hearing.”

In fact the CBTs’ 150° horizontal dispersion was so impressive that rather than adorn all four columns with loudspeakers he was able to restrict the imposition to two, with a pair of CBT 50LA’s inward and outward facing, the cabling carefully concealed via white mastic.

As a broadcast engineer, Dilley takes a fastidious approach to his craft, attending services before and after the installation process in order to survey, and evaluate performance. He also takes a progressive approach.

“We like to future-proof our installations where we can so that iPod’s can be connected to the concealed XLR plug-in points near the lectern.” Although the system is intended primarily for speech it will easily cope with background music and the future will see sermons recorded live with the aid of an SD card recorder.

But About Sound have dipped further into the Harman Pro catalogue, specifying a pair of Crown XLS 402 stereo amps to drive each channel of the system individually, a BSS SW3088 Soundweb Lite DSP, configured for four Mic and four Line inputs, to handle the routing matrix, and wired AKG mics.

He explains, “I always specify the best and we prefer the much-underused AKG GN 155 floor-standing lectern gooseneck mic, which we’ve used before, with a CK47 capsule mic on the top; this matches the C747 on the pulpit.”

The customization of the C747 shotgun mic represents a stroke of genius on behalf of the installer. “We knew we couldn’t drill into the pulpit so I built a slab and painted it the same colour; the detachable C747 is rubber-mounted — so it also gives us shock-resistancy.” Added to this is a full range of top-spec wireless systems.

Ease of use was also a prime criteria and Dave Bradshaw, from Sound Technology’s newly-formed Project Support Team, helped the installer programme simple presets into the Soundweb, via a local BSS 9012 volume select and source panel, concealed behind the front pew.

“We have different presets for different types of service, including delays — for instance one for evening prayer and another for a full Sunday service.”

Matt Dilley adds that with the speakers positioned where they are “an intelligent matrix where you can mute and dip accordingly, is essential to avoid feedback.” Via the AKG mics and Soundweb processing the aim has been to make the amplified voice sound as natural and recognizable as in real life.

“It’s the attention to detail I care about and I would like to think that I could not have done this any better,” he assesses. Happily, the church also believes that to be the case — and Angela Tilby is said to be delighted with the results.

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