MLA MINI: HIGH OCTANE SOUND AT HIGH KIRK BALLYMENA
High Kirk Presbyterian Church in Ballymena has upgraded its PA system with a Martin Audio MLA Mini Multi-cellular Loudspeaker Array, supplied and supported by Ireland distributors, Rea Sound.
After two years of research - visiting trade shows and suppliers, reading specifications and reviews, and listening to systems - it was going to take something special in a speaker system to please the church's technical team; and they found what they wanted in Martin Audio's award-winning MLA platform.
The requirement had been for a complete replacement of the PA system in the 600-capacity church. According to Rea Sound's account manager, Roger McMullan. 'Shifting emphasis to modern worship music meant that the old system, which was 20 years old, could no longer cope.'
Its replacement needed to provide not only excellent speech reproduction, but also a wide range of music - from classical instruments to rock bands, soloists to choirs - and also be aesthetically discreet. The acoustic environment in itself was challenging - a wide asymmetrical building with a relatively shallow seated area, and a gallery with a low roof, coupled with a high clerestory, all contributing to a fairly reverberant, boomy listening space. Furthermore, there were few choices for speaker locations.
However, the church's AV team admits that its path to MLA had come about almost by accident. Visiting Rea Sound primarily to discuss mixers, they auditioned MLA and other speakers while they were there. What they heard surprised them. 'We didn't really expect that a system as small as MLA Mini would produce the sound that they did, and we left the showroom determined to hear them in our own premises,' said one of the team leaders, Brian Adams.
Determined to hear the speakers as they would be installed, the AV team built a temporary rigging system, and spent a full day listening to the MLA's and one other shortlisted system. At the end of this process, the team came down unanimously in favour of the MLA Mini.
Restricted ceiling height meant limiting the hangs to four elements per side. 'But in any case, software modelling demonstrated that this would provide near perfect coverage,' said Roger McMullan. Since head height at the rear of the gallery is above the highest hanging point at the front of the church, Martin Audio DD6's have been used as fills in the upstairs gallery.
The church did however, depart from the normal installation methods for MLA Mini - partly due to aesthetic requirements, and partly due to physical constraints. With this limited headroom, flying the subs along with the Line Array was never an option, and although a variety of solutions were considered, in the final analysis the existing subs (situated below the floor) fitted perfectly, and have more than enough power handling to complement the MLA Mini.
This did lead to a new problem however - where to locate the amps, which normally reside in the rear of the MSX Power Plant. Fortunately adapting the amps to fit in a 19' rack was an easy option - unusually the team decided to mount them in the back of the rack, behind other shallow depth equipment, rather than use up valuable space at the front of the rack, which is located in a room beside the main church sanctuary.
Installation was carried out by the in-house team, but only after one of them spent a considerable time with Rea Sound working on Martin Audio's Display software to determine the optimum position. 'We were quite surprised to find just how little movement in the speaker location made a very big difference in the predicted coverage of the audience area - fortunately Display let us try various positions in advance of installation, and determine within millimetres, where they should be hung! There was a temptation to simply hang the new speakers at the same point as the old ones, which would have been much more convenient – the time spent with Display demonstrated however that this would have been a mistake, so we moved the hanging points - albeit by only 500mm!' Via Display they also managed to 'hard avoid' the gallery fascia which would have caused unwanted slapback.
Fortunately the High Kirk team has an established track record for 'getting it right', and they were not disappointed. 'After two years of research, and several weeks of installation work, we knew we had finally made it on the first Sunday; the sound was excellent and we didn't need to try any other [Martin Audio] VU-NET settings other than the original, ' said Adams.
'The system is everything we could have expected and more,' he added. Speech has brilliant clarity, both with lectern and radio mics, and music - there really is no noticeable difference from the front to the back of the listening area.
'Our mix position is at the back under the front edge of the gallery - far from ideal, but the MLA Mini has such precise cut-off that it presents no problems - a few steps back behind the desk, and levels drop off dramatically, just as Display predicted! At the front, it's the same story - the first row of seats hears the PA perfectly, yet we can use lapel radio mics only a few metres in front of this position.'
In conclusion, Brian Adams confirms that everyone is delighted with the implementation. 'Undoubtedly our decision to go with the MLA Mini was made so much easier because of the co-operation we received from Rea Sound, who were clearly committed to making sure we made the right choice; we would be happy to recommend both Rea Sound and MLA to any church in a similar position to ourselves!'