UK mosque overhauls sound and video systems
Nial Anderson reports on AV systems at a new mosque and community centre that had exacting requirements including a discreet installation and good speech intelligibility. The project was a finalist in the 2018 InAVation Awards.
Birmingham is not only the second largest city in the UK, but it is also one of the country’s most diverse metropolitan areas.
Among the communities residing there is the Dawoodi Bohra, whose Islamic Shia roots can be traced back to Mumbai, India as well as Egypt and Yemen.
After years of fundraising, planning and preparation the group sought to establish a community centre in the city comprising a mosque, evening school and a sports hall.
Like any house of worship, the Anjuman El-Saifee Community Centre would need well thought out AV systems, including microphones for the imams and multitude of speakers to take their message clearly to the audience.
Pete Rutherford has owned and run Direct Audio Visual, based in Thurcroft in northern England, for the past four years.
“As a job this was a complete departure for us,” he explained, “Our background is retail, corporate and warehouses predominantly.
“So to be asked to come and do a mosque hadn’t really come across my radar before but we’re always up for a challenge. With the layout and events that are run there, it would require fairly standard installation equipment, but it’s installed equipment run as a live event. That’s the challenge - you have two worlds meeting. It’s like trying to do a nightclub venue with equipment you’d put in a retail environment.”
Unfortunately for Rutherford and his team, the building had already been constructed and part of the network already installed when is company was called in.
“The cabling had been put in by a previous installer that had gone bankrupt,” Rutherford recalled. “So we were trying to trace cables that had been put in but in some cases we couldn’t reach the wires behind the wall. Thankfully the client was very accommodating because they took a saw to the walls and chopped holes where we needed to run additional cables through.”
Even so, Rutherford was constricted as to what number of speakers could be put where because of the lines of symmetry in the building and the aesthetic. A further challenge, which many integrators can relate to, was the lack of time.
“This started to be talked about in April-May time, but we didn’t get the go-ahead to start until mid to late June, with very much a shifting deadline as to when we should be finished. So initially we had three weeks to finish the design, install and commission - that then extended out by another couple of weeks. But that was then moved by delays and then setbacks in terms of what we could do in the buildings at specific times.”
This in turn determined which equipment would be chosen for the install due to the time it took to source the equipment.
“It was a case of who’s got what and how quickly can we put it in there,” Rutherford said. “The volume levels needed to be high because we were dealing with less speakers than we’d ideally want to use. We also couldn’t put too much power through them otherwise it would be too loud for people to stand underneath them.”
“It’s fairly standard installation equipment but it’s installed equipment run as a live event. That’s the challenge; you have two worlds meeting.”
To power the Pan Acoustics steerable array and Audac loudspeakers fitted in the ceiling, a Powersoft Ottocanali 4K4 amp was used. Pete also installed Mipro microphones where the imams sit and used an Atterotech Dante networked audio interface.
“In these areas it’s definitely a case of using more speakers rather than less, and you’ve got to be careful that you’re putting the speakers in the right place,” Rutherford said. “This is the most unusual environment I’ve ever worked in. You’ve also got to be careful in terms of where they might potentially use microphones. The guys move around and you have to try and allow for those potential feedback issues. The rooms are difficult to manage in terms of reverberation and EQ-ing. What is really problematic is that when they have a service or an event the background noise levels are so high that the speaker system needs to be driving at almost its maximum, and that creates issues with feedback. It’s a balancing act on how to get it right. The opening night was an eye opener in terms of how potent the events can be so you have to understand that and try and design around it.”
Rutherford feels that ultimately the necessary SPL levels that they need at the community centre had been achieved.
“It’s probably not what we would have designed if we had been given a clean sheet, but I think we got it right within the constraints that we had,” he explained.
Moving forward, Rutherford plans to try and optimise the radio by using ambient microphones out of phase with the main microphones just to get rid of some of the ambient noise.
“It’s a question of whether we can create a program file that will allow us to do that almost on the fly as they move around the room,” he said.
Knowing that there was a fully structured cabling network and that the client wanted flexibility over here encoders and decoders could be placed, video over IP was specified for the project. The encoders and decoders for the project came from US firm Visionary Solutions.
“I was very happy that I made that choice because within half an hour of asking for support on the opening evening Visionary Solutions dialled in, sorted the problem out and we were up and running,” Rutherford recalled.
Despite the challenges, Rutherford is happy to report the client is very happy with the install, and Direct Audio Visual have been invited to turn their hand to new houses of worship the community is in the process of designing.
He said: “I have never had so many people coming up to me after an event or the opening of an event saying that sounded ‘great’, ‘thank you’, and ‘that sounds better than all of our other mosques’.
“We are working on their next new mosque in Leicester and we will hopefully be doing some upgrades to their mosque in Manchester. We’re also hoping to do the same for their main mosque in the UK which is in London. We’ve also got tenders out to work on two new Hindu temples - one in Birmingham and one in Manchester - and we’re also looking at some Church of England projects as well.”
Atterotech networked audio interface
Audio Technica mics
MiPro wireless mic receiver
Pan Acoustics steerable array
Powersoft Ottocanali amp
Symetrix Prism 16x16 matrix
Visionary Solutions encoders and decoders