Cheap Fix for Church’s Acoustical Problems

By • on August 12, 2007 • Filed under: Church Acoustics

A local church recently moved into their new facilities. sanctuary is multi-purpose, with the permanent, and larger, sanctuary yet to be built. This multi-purpose space has a nice hardwood basketball court type flooring, a high ceiling and hard, flat, tall and parallel walls typical of multi-use space.

Like most similar spaces, the acoustics leave much room for improvement due in large part to sound bounce (reverberation). Sound from the speakers goes out nicely over the congregation, kits all of these nice hard surfaces and bounces (echos) all over the room. This echo greatly impacts the listening experience, making music less clear and vocals much harder to understand.

There are a number of solutions that will help remedy this, many of them quite expensive. I was quite intrigued by a number of posts on the internet talking about using Sonotubes(R) to diffuse sound to keep it from bouncing around. Sonotubes are not some magical acoustic treatment, they are the tubes contractors use as forms for pouring concrete pillars. Like a paper roll tube on steroids, these industrial grade cardboard tubes, when cut in half and mounted on the wall, diffuse the sound, scattering it instead of echoing it, greatly improving sound quality. Carefully cut in have and mounted to the wall, they look like architectural treatments. To see the concept, see www.jdbsound.com/work/art558.html.

While you can have an audio consultant come in and solve the problem, many churches have little money after a building program to spare, so here is the “poor man’s” solution.

Get a number of Sonotubes (new not used) and carefully cut them down the middle. Typically you will use either the 18″ or 24″ tubes. Dress the cut edges so they are straight and smooth. Working from the pictures from the web site above, place the Sonotubes against the walls directly across the room from the stage area and on the sides as needed. What you are trying to do is to break up the large flat wall areas with the diffusers. One church I read about placed the tubes on boards and leaned the boards against the walls, moving them around and experimenting to get the best sound. Once you know the location and spacing, then the church can permanently mount them to the wall, usually flush to the wall. Paint the tubes the same color as the wall and voilla, instant sound improvement and architectural treatment! It was even suggested by a friend that you could put lights in them like a large wall sconce to provide indirect lighting.

That said, the best way to solve these types of acoustical problems is to avoid them in the first place by getting an Audio/Visual engineer involved during the design process. However, if you have already built and need an inexpensive solution, this may work the trick.


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Comments

  1. Joseph De Buglio says:

    Hi Steve,
    Your suggestion is good but there is more to placing tubes on the walls in a random pattern. Size, patterns and placement are very important. Without a plan, most churches that use this method as a DIY project almost always create other problems while attempting to solve a problem they started with. Sure, Sono Tubes or even custom ordered tubes are very inexpensive and the physics on how it works is beautiful but the knowledge is very important. In some rooms, two 8 ft long tubes in the wrong place can give you a cheap sounding room and very low speech intelligibility or a room that is good enough for professional musical performances and excellent speech.

    Joseph De Buglio
    http://www.jdbsound.com

  2. SteveA says:

    Thanks Joseph. In my opinion sound design is about 2/3 science and 1/3 art. Getting a professional to give you some advice is a worthy investment. So many churches become frustrated with expensive buildings that have poor acoustics. It is much cheaper to do it right than to fix it. I highly recommend that the church consult with a A/V engineer in the design of their sanctuary, and the folks at jdbsound.com would be a good choice. Check out their message board an articles on church sound systems and acoustics.

  3. Sonotubes can be a great addition to an overall “acoustical fix” for existing spaces that lack diffusive elements, however they might not address many other issues. People like simple solutions, and dislike things they don’t understand. Our fear is that someone will read this and say voila(!), I’ve the solution to our problems, when it isn’t a solution. Worse yet is the church committee member who convinces everyone that acoustics are simple and that they can just go ahead and build a space and throw up some sonotubes.

    I’d also suggest that the recommendation of hiring a good A/V engineer often has little positive impact on room acoustics. Most A/V engineers aren’t engineers, nor are they well versed in acoustical issues. My recommendation is to hire a “designer” or consultant who has references that match the need!