Fohhn Audio column loudspeakers are just the ticket to bring clarity and coverage to Vine Church’s traditional sandstone building.
Story: Preshan John
Looking at the old architecture and heritage-listed features of Vine Church’s building in inner suburban Surry Hills, you wouldn’t think its pews are filled every Sunday with mostly young adults and families.
By the way, those pews have since been replaced with plastic chairs. That was one of the many alterations made at Vine Church over the past 18 months to make the long-established building feel fresh, modern and contemporary, yet without robbing it of its charm.
Vine Church hasn’t always called this building home. For a long time services were held in a pub, then a library, then a school, each with a makeshift PA system that would be set up on the day. When pastor Toby Neal was offered to lead the existing parish at the Albion St location, he had a vision to make the traditional precinct feel the way he wanted Vine Church to be perceived – relevant and approachable.
This vision was realised through a radical renovation. The extensive refurbishments included an upgrade to the front of house loudspeakers for the main auditorium which seats up to 200.
OUTSIDE THE BOX
Pastor Toby understands how the right PA system can impact a worship service. “People feel anxious singing in church. When you can surround them with immersive sound they’re more likely to sing loud and feel comfortable singing. We wanted the volume up but not for it to be sounding loud and strident. And we obviously want the spoken word each week to be very clear so people can understand what’s happening.”
Open Box Technology is a Sydney-based AV integration business specialising in church fitouts. Director Nick Utber has assisted Vine Church for many years and was approached again to manage the full audiovisual upgrade at the Surry Hills property. This meant finding and installing the right PA system to bring the auditorium to life every Sunday. The challenge was twofold. Firstly, the winning system needed to produce sonic clarity and precise coverage within the acoustic chaos of the sandstone-walled environment. Secondly, the loudspeakers had to satisfy the aesthetic and mounting regulations of a heritage-listed building.
Sound tech Jeremy Kuan explains the criteria in finding a worthy upgrade. “With our old system, if you were sitting on the sides, it was noticeably softer than if you were sitting in the middle, and if you were sitting at the back it was much softer than if you were sitting at the front. So having that even spread was one thing we really wanted. Also we used to get a lot of feedback with our old system. Solving that problem was really big for us.”
LOST & FOHNN’D
Nick’s first encounter with Fohhn Audio loudspeakers was at a tradeshow. “I was at ISE in Amsterdam in 2020 and walked past the Fohhn booth and heard this amazing sound coming out of these small column speakers,” he recalls. “In the Vine Church application, we were looking for something that would provide great coverage, great performance, but also manage the space acoustically and limit the amount of reflections in the church. Fohhn was really able to deliver on all of those metrics across the space and do it in a small aesthetically-pleasing footprint.”
The system is made up of two Fohhn Linea LX-220 hybrid line source loudspeaker columns as main left and right; two Fohhn Linea LX-150 column loudspeakers to fill the sides; and two Fohhn ARC AS-31 passive subwoofers floor-mounted on stage to provide the low end.
The heritage-listed status of Vine Church’s building prohibited the Fohhn loudspeakers from being mounted onto the sandstone walls. Instead, “we had to ask Fohhn how to fly these speakers with a single stainless steel wire,” explains Nick. “Fohhn was able to create a custom solution from their own rigging products and adapt them to suit the LX220 which doesn’t have an off the shelf fly bracket option. That gave us the hang and the toe we needed which allowed us to then proceed with the design.”
FULL BAND, FULL WIDTH
Nick explains how the structural properties of the Fohhn LX-220 matched the Vine Church application to a tee. “The acoustic centre of the LX-220 main speakers is at the bottom third of the column allowing us to direct the HF energy from the front of the seating plan right to the back without hitting the back wall and minimising the amount of reflections we have off the surfaces. It also provides a great coverage from front to back – you don’t lose a huge amount of volume toward the back and you still have the clear HF coverage.”
Column speakers of this nature are often designed for high speech intelligibility, which can be at the expense of musicality or the ability to reproduce lower frequencies. With Fohhn, it’s the best of both worlds. That’s especially important when live music is a big part of a Vine Church service.
“The Fohhn system is really great across the full spectrum,” says Nick. “From a PA perspective, we were able to get the high bandwidth performance we wanted from the acoustic properties of a column speaker.”
IN WITH THE NEW
Compared to the outgoing loudspeakers, the Fohhn system now offers Vine Church a rich and enveloping audio experience. Feedback, dead spots and excessive acoustic reflections have been virtually eliminated, resulting in even coverage and tighter mixes.
Nick: “The headroom available in the Fohhn system is great, the coverage is second to none, and the low profile of the speakers mean that they’re aesthetically pleasing and they look great in the space.”
“With the old system I found that it was echoey — sound would bounce around the building and it was really hard to mix,” says Jeremy. “With this new system it’s much cleaner. It’s much easier to mix. It’s a much more intuitive process.”
Toby is pleased with the result too. “I’ve noticed with the new Fohhn system we are getting this immersive sound, so rather than the speakers blaring at us, it is a more immersive environment where the sound is embracing you. And that makes it much more comfortable to sing.”