Sanctuary of Sound: House of Worship Inavation Awards Winner 2024

Audiomaster Technologie delivers a sublime audio solution for one of Catholicism’s most iconic sites. Reece Webb reports.

Hailed as one of the most important Catholic pilgrimage sites in the world, the Sanctuary of Lourdes’ Basilica of Our Lady of the Rosary welcomes more than six million pilgrims per year from all over the globe. Built between 1883 and 1889, the basilica can accommodate 1,500 worshipers within its 2,000 sq m space.

Divine worship and sound go hand in hand; however, the basilica’s existing sound system was lacking the intelligibility necessary for such an important site.

Enter Audiomaster Technologie, a subsidiary of ACE Event Group, and the local integrator tasked with overhauling both the sound and lighting system within the basilica and its outside areas, while strictly adhering to the client’s €300,000 budget.

This was no small task – Audiomaster Technologie needed not just to create a system that is reliable, completely automated and digitised when possible, but also meet the unique challenges of Lourdes’ architecture. The system also had to be installed carefully to minimise disruption to worshippers.

Loïc Bourgain, technical design office, Audiomaster Technologie, explains: “The client asked us to change the speakers in the basilica, as some were broken or didn’t work properly. Outside, we needed to address the speakers that we had installed 30 years ago; the enclosures were either broken, open, or the wood had degraded. For the lighting, the client wanted to switch the old lamps and transition to LED technology, adding the option to bring colour to the buildings and for special events.”

Stepping through the doors into the beautiful basilica’s interior, visitors are greeted by stunning architecture and beautiful mosaics covering more than 2,000 sq m of space with a discreet AV system blending seamlessly into the architecture. This is no simple space to work in; with a central dome stretching 24m up, directivity control had to be perfect to avoid the focusing and echo effects that can impair speech intelligibility within the space.

The sound system had to be crystal clear without compromising on the aesthetical experience of the basilica, meaning that the number of loudspeakers had to be kept to a minimum.

Audiomaster Technologie tested and compared various manufacturers for use in the space; after testing, it selected ActiveAudio column loudspeakers that could cover the entire basilica with six column loudspeakers even when the basilica is packed with more than 1,000 worshippers.

Four Active Audio StepArray 180 column loudspeakers were installed, alongside two StepArray 250P column loudspeakers at the altar level to offer directivity control while respecting the layout constraints of the basilica.

Two StepArray 180Ps are located in the 30m long nave behind the area occupied by the dome, covering a more favourable acoustic environment. An additional two 180Ps were installed on the transepts to bring control and directivity while limiting reflections on the curved walls of the chapels.

The speakers are powered by Active Audio MPA82000 amplifiers and a NUT audio processor, supported by a Powersoft Mezzo 322A amplifier used for speaker monitoring. Delay and equalisation settings are handled by a Xilica Solaro processor with an Allen and Heath SQ5 console and Dante card used to manage live broadcasts.

Ultimately, this system provides quality intelligibility with an STI of >0.5 despite the challenging acoustic environment within the space.

The outside area’s audio system also required refurbishment after thirty years of service. The outdoor system had to be able to endure extreme temperatures (-10 degrees Celsius in winter and more than 40 degrees Celsius in summer), standing up to high humidity and daily use.

Audiomaster Technologie provided 70 AKG iX8-o outdoor loudspeakers, with 36 speakers fitted to lighting poles along the 421m long driveway. Sixteen loudspeakers are installed along the basilica’s Rosary esplanade, with an additional 16 units positioned along the riverside and the sacred grotto.

All speakers installed outside are supported by six Powersoft Quattrocanali 2404 DSP amplifiers coupled with a Xilica Solaro processor.

Sound reinforcement outdoors is achieved through several points, mirroring the positioning of the 140 Robe Lighting Anolis LED spotlight lighting fixtures around the grounds, enforcing a large distance between the loudspeakers.

The sound system is tuned using presets designed by Active Audio and APG, using APG’s dedicated preset for Powersoft amplifiers in the outdoor areas, enabling sound that can be adapted based on requirements for pilgrims.

Environmental concerns sat front and centre of both the client’s and Audiomaster Technologie’s concerns, with the objective of limiting power consumption as much as possible. The pre-existing three racks of 42U amplifiers ran 24/7 and were replaced by just six Powersoft amplifiers. Each of the Powersoft amplifiers generates 251 watts when in use, compared to the former 410 watts used by each of the 15 previous amplifiers, representing a fourfold reduction in energy consumption.

Instead of stripping out and simply throwing away the old equipment, Lourdes kept its old working AV equipment to be used in areas where no audio was present, with the remaining equipment recycled. Additionally, Audiomaster Technologie used speakers in this installation that were produced in France, with 95% of the Step Array elements manufactured in the same region. Moreover, Audiomaster Technologie itself is located only 30 minutes away from the Sanctuary, keeping C02 emissions to a minimum.

“French manufacturing also means less shipping, and it is better for the environment. This also reduces consumption, which is a good thing too,” explains Bourgain.

Reflecting on the challenges of this project, getting the acoustics right in such a challenging environment proved to be a significant hurdle to overcome.

Bourgain explains: “The biggest challenge was the acoustics in the basilica, which is very complicated. Because of the distance between the speakers, we chose controlled directivity for this project.

“The second challenge was the wiring – we have made big efforts to hide the cables, sometimes by scratching joints, and hiding cables in them. The architectural side of the sanctuary forces us to take the time for these things, it is very important.”

Today, the Sanctuary of Lourdes is home to a modernised audio system fit for a new generation of visiting pilgrims that is as discreet as it is comprehensive and efficient.

Bourgain closes: “We are proud of all the work that we have done here. The balance between the  great relationship with the client and the great work is the goal I want to achieve on each job. For me, it is the only way to have the best quality in the installation and the service that we can provide.

“The lighting is the most visible thing, for sure, but personally, I love when the people hear the preachers, and start looking around for the speakers.”

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