Lourdes Sacramental Audio Upgrades to APG Loudspeaker Solutions

APG has recently completed a milestone installation in an iconic church situated in what is arguably the most important place for Christians worldwide: The Sanctuary of Our Lady of Lourdes.

With over 6 million visitors each year – Lourdes has the second biggest hotel capacity in France after Paris – the 15,000 population French city sees dozens of services taking place every day across 22 separate worship buildings, most of which are recorded and broadcast live on the dedicated website.

Built in 1988, the Church of St Bernadette is the most recent addition to Lourdes’ three main sanctuaries, and the biggest church in France. Following a series of comments from preachers officiating in the church, which can accommodate 5,000 worshippers and 350 wheelchairs, the historical Lourdes team of AV engineers – namely Gilbert Noël, Denis Argentière and Daniel Pinout – decided that it was time for an audio upgrade which would live up to expectations.

APG has been providing the outdoor sound reinforcement right across the sacred site for as much as 25 years. “We get extreme temperature variations in this region, from scorching summer days to freezing winter nights. It’s quite amazing to think that we only ever had to replace a handful of diaphragms from the 80+ APG speakers over the years,” comments Lourdes AV technician Daniel Pinout.

The robustness and audio quality of APG’s old speakers left such a great impression that, according to M. Pinout, a competitor who visited the site confided in him with humour that it was “very urgent to do nothing” with the outdoor sound. This reliability probably also helped to tip the scales in favour of the French manufacturer when the Lourdes AV team received the green light to upgrade the Church of St Bernadette.

The AV team enrolled consulting firm Gamba Acoustique who applied a series of acoustical measurements in order to describe the different principles and sonic solutions for this complex venue.

“We established a spec sheet based on those requirements, and started looking for the best price-to-quality ratio from integrators. Everything needs to work flawlessly seven days a week here; Lourdes can’t afford any downtime, so it was also very important for us to get a local integrator involved, in order to get the best and fastest reaction,” recalls Pinout.

Many proposals were received, and only two were shortlisted. It was Biarritz based ACE Event who won the contract by going the extra mile: Headed by Stéphane Darrort, ACE Event built its reputation in the South West region of France, working for many local institutions as well as international brands. The AV local AV integration and rental staging specialist enrolled noted engineering consulting firm Grandmougin Conseils – who specialises in acoustics and electroacoustic – in order to commit on the results of the proposed solution.

Enter BLEV Organisation‘s founder and director, Bruno Le Vacon. An eminent figure in the pro-AV industry in France, M. Le Vacon was hired as project manager to ensure the successful audio deployment of the Church of St Bernadette. In the past, M. Le Vacon successfully deployed the AV equipment in the 25,000 capacity Saint-Pie X basilica and twice acted as managing director for the Pope’s visits to Lourdes in 2004 and 2008. The Lourdes sanctuaries entrusted him at the time for the logistics and technical management of the Pope’s visit, including the coordination of 50 international TV channels and over 1,000 journalists.

The Church of St Bernadette presented very specific sonic challenges, and therefore required an equally specific electroacoustic system according to M. Le Vacon. “This church is unique because of its modular design and the variety of hosts: Lourdes is a place of pilgrimage where exceptional events are organised, some very pious and some more festive. We are miles away from a simple traditional mass celebration, so it was simply impossible to achieve a good audio result with a standard audio system.

“The Church can host Christian rock orchestras, choirs, traditional masses and gospel concerts, sometimes all in the same day, so the key words for the selected sound system really were flexibility and versatility. The architecture of the Church is also atypical, it is a wide scenic space so we were looking for powerful speakers with a wide and constant coverage, as well as great intelligibility regardless of where you are standing.”

Indeed, the church has many configurations depending on usage: It can be used in its entirety or divided into two to make use of two areas simultaneously. Both parts can then also be reduced thanks to heavy curtains situated at the back of the church.

The consultants advocated a system that would not only be flexible but also evolve to host more front fills or bass cabinets depending on the requirements. Finally, because it runs from 7am to 11pm every day, the speakers had to be extremely reliable.

The system installed by ACE Event comprises 30 APG Uniline UL210D cabinets mounted on the ceiling in hangs of three and split evenly between the two sanctuary sections. Everything is connected via Dante and a digital mixing console, with automatic zonal configurations by pressing a single button.

A new control room was constructed at the back of the Benedictine sanctuary with the remaining backline equipment staying in the old control room which overlooks the sanctuary. It comprises four Powersoft Ottocanali 12K4 amplifiers, three APG DMS48 digital processors and a Furman M-10Lx power conditioner.

As an independent consultant, Le Vacon is brand agnostic. He was pleased however to see that APG was the selected speaker brand: “When I experienced the APG sound for the first time during an outdoor live event, I was impressed by their audio quality and modular design. APG is backed up by great acoustic experience, there are a lot of line array systems out there, and standing out from the crowd is quite an achievement. It’s refreshing to see that a manufacturer like them can stand up to the big speaker manufacturers.

“Their system is very precise; it provides a clear sound even when the priest isn’t very confident with a microphone.” Le Vacon reckons the superiority of the APG speakers lies in the mechanical conception which reproduces a smooth and consistent frequency band.

M. Grandmougin explains how the APG system is able to provide this level of intelligibility: “The superiority of the Uniline system lies in its ability to perfectly control horizontal directivity, even in the low mids. We noticed this both during the simulation process and when conducting the measurements on site. Thanks to the horn technologies used in the entire APG Uniline range, the speakers are able to achieve higher level of intelligibility, even in venues with important reverberation, a rare feat in line array speakers.”

ACE Event contributed greatly to the success of this project according to M. Le Vacon, who commented that the integrator submitted a discerning proposal. “The fact that APG worked very closely with the integrator was undoubtedly an advantage, it showed the end user and consultants that the brand cared. APG is different in the sense that they showed genuine interest in the project, they didn’t just take part in the recommendation and planning process. They actually came over to understand the challenges and make some measurements. When a manufacturer takes the time to visit the site, it really shows dedication.”

Inevitably, the success of a project is evaluated on the end result, and everyone is enthusiastic. M. Pinout commented: “We now have great intelligibility and the coverage is very wide and even throughout. There were other proposals with a much larger number of clusters but seeing that ACE Event achieved what they have with such a small quantity of speakers, the APG system has definitely exceeded expectations.

“All the prerequisites have been measured and attained. The client is more than satisfied and we keep getting great user feedback. In fact, we haven’t received a single negative comment.”