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Basic Acoustics for Worship Environments

Excellence in the Arts, Technology - by - March 3, 2010 - 17:58 Etc/GMT+5 - 1 Comment

The acoustics of a space affect the ability to understand speech clearly (intelligibility), the blends of the sounds as they are mixed, sound captured and recorded, and the perceptions of the music quality. All these elements of the sound are important in a worship environment.  A definition of room acoustics includes the size and shape, the construction and finish, and what is in and out of the room.  Because requirements vary for each room and its own purpose, acoustics needs to start with a facility still in the planning stages. Acoustic Engineering will typically focus on three variables: controlling background noise, creating noise isolation, and designing the acoustical environment.

Background Noise Control

For the production spaces, Noise (or Room) Criteria need to be established.  These Criteria are standard measurable levels of acceptable background noise based upon the proposed uses of the room.  Background noise is generated by mechanical, electrical, environmental and structural elements in a room or shared walls with another room, including but not limited to plumbing, transformer or light fixture hum, HVAC fan and compressor noise and elevator mechanics. Mechanical and electrical systems can be designed to meet the recommended Noise/Room Criteria in order to have a space appropriate for clean, high quality speech intelligibility and worship.

Noise Isolation

Once the acceptable background noise level in a space has been established, the space must be designed to limit how much sound from outside that room is transmitted into the room. Sound Transmission Class (STC) ratings are set for walls, floors, ceilings and doors; these ratings describe the ability of the building element to reduce the level of noise transferred through it.  Noise Isolation Class (NIC) should be established defining the isolation level between two spaces based upon the usage of those spaces, and then the STC ratings of the building elements between those spaces can be determined and provide design recommendations for walls between worship space and multipurpose area, children’s area and other use spaces of the building to prevent outside noise from becoming a distraction to the worship services.

Room Acoustics

The size, shape and finish materials of the production room affect what happens to sound generated in the room.  The space is designed to support its function. Sound recording, playback, editing, mixing or listening–each has unique requirements to allow successful media production. Room size and shape play a large role in the overall acoustic properties of the room. The additions of the non-parallel walls and other design features help reduce the “slap-back” echoes and can even out the bass response of the room. Reflections from the sound system or sound originating on the platform should be controlled to provide a clear acoustic environment for the congregation. This will often require some acoustic treatment panels on the back and sidewalls of the room, which will need to be designed appropriately for this space.

The acoustical environment is designed to perform appropriately across the entire frequency range. Appropriate Reverberation Time coefficient (RT) determines the liveliness (or deadness) of the worship space.  Appropriate liveliness in the congregation area should be allowed to encourage participation, singing and create the atmosphere of excitement. One key area of acoustics, the reverberation response of the room at different frequencies, can help us determine the acoustics to match what the room needs. We will design the final package to work with the P.A., allowing the congregation to worship in a “live” feeling space where they can hear themselves sing, while minimizing room excitement and slap back to the platform to reduce feedback and improve the musicians’ performance space and the audio picked up by the microphones.

Acoustic Design Process

Our Acoustic design process builds a three-dimensional computer generated model of your worship space. We then add all the characteristics of the room that affect acoustic success; seating style and layout, floor and wall coverings, window treatments as well as platform layout. We then position the selected speakers in this model to see the response of the room. We adjust the speaker positions, as well as any proposed acoustic treatments to electronically ‘tune’ the room before it is built.

Through this process we are able to adjust the room responses to achieve the acoustic goals of the congregation. We are able to make the music from the platform to be alive, precise and to carefully implement the acoustics of the room to allow the congregational singing and involvement to be an important part of the experience for all. We also insure that the spoken word is clear and understandable, without unintended echo’s and unintelligibility common from a room or audio system that is not properly designed through this process.

Also see this article: Church Acoustics: Reverberation in a Room


  1. Melissa says:

    Good article – maybe one day I will understand it better – a little at a time. :>)

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