Column Speakers

by Jamie Rio
in Sound Sanctuary

Happy New Year to all of you. By the time you read this I will either have been to the winter NAMM show or be on my way. The reason I am mentioning NAMM (other than the fact that it takes place in January) is that it is my favorite place to look at new gear for my sound business. I am particularly interested in column speakers this year. (I must mention that InfoComm would also be a great place to look for this type of speaker enclosure.) Anyway, I am specifically looking at architectural speakers that can be installed in a house of worship.

If you are not up to speed on today’s column speakers, I can tell you they are much improved from those of years ago. Many of you remember (or have heard of) the Shure Vocal Master. Each one of the columns incorporated four 8-inch and two 10-inch speakers. I had a pair of those column speakers in my first band. However, by the time I bought mine, they were very used and well worn.

A Godsend

Anyway, before I digress further, let me just state that modern column speakers can work beautifully in a variety of house of worship settings. The reason being is that these types of speakers produce a wide horizontal coverage and minimal vertical coverage above and below the enclosure. They offer very good clarity in the vocal range and, of course, their narrow profile is ideal for mounting on the walls or columns of your favorite house of worship.

If your worship house is all about singing and preaching you may find that some inexpensive column speakers can fill all of your needs. Should you have bigger musical demands requiring more dynamic range and greater bandwidth (keyboards, acoustic guitar, etc.), you will want to look for a 2-way design incorporating separate high frequency transducers.

Personally, I like the addition of a ribbon driver to my column speakers. It is just that a tall thin high frequency ribbon driver fits into the column speaker design brilliantly — especially when the alternative is to try to mount a high-frequency horn into a narrow column box. I am also a fan of the sound of a good ribbon driver. The highs always seem a little smoother and less brittle than a high compression horn.

Length Improves Bass

Another thing to keep in mind while you are planning your column speaker installation is that the longer the speaker column, the better your bass performance will be. A nine-foot column can provide pattern control down to 125 Hz. Of course, you can always add a traditional subwoofer to supplement a column’s low frequency response.

Another advantage of using column speakers is that you can provide lower volume and potentially higher quality audio for your specific audience. Let’s say you have a long, narrow house of worship. Using six or eight column speakers mounted at the appropriate interval, you can bring the word (or music) right to the intended listener. (Of course, you will have to consider placement and audio delay times, but that is a subject for another day.)

Visit and Listen

Before you jump into a new set of column speakers for your worship house, I suggest you seek out and visit houses of worship that are already using this type of speaker. Once you have had the opportunity to listen to some column speakers, you can gain a better perspective when it comes to purchasing and installing your own speakers.

Personally, I have installed only a few column speakers in houses of worship. However, two years ago, on a trip to Italy, I saw and listened to column speakers in almost every major church I visited (I think they are referred to as basilicas). The main basilicas in Florence, Pisa and Siena (to mention a few) all used column speakers to reinforce their audio. The speakers were either mounted on the walls of the churches or the huge marble columns that support the basilica ceilings. Speakers were mounted from 6 to 7 feet high at the bottom of the enclosure. In those enormous, very reverberant spaces, column speakers are the best way to get audio to the entire congregation at a low volume. And those big churches are all about the word, prayers and the occasional choral song. The reality is that you just can’t put a rockin’ worship band into a giant marble basilica.

Working in Tandem

Whether you are in a big reverberant church or a small house of worship, column speakers can work together in tandem. A variety of manufacturers design their column’s enclosures to couple together. In many cases, they actually bolt together so that two enclosures become one column. I have seen instance where two 3-foot columns were coupled to create a 6-foot box. (Remember, a 9-foot box enclosure will give you bass control down to 125 Hz).

Of course, architectural column speakers are easy on the eyes and can become almost invisible once they are installed. The narrow enclosures can (depending on the manufacturer) come in a variety of colors or can even be painted to match your house of worship colors. I field-tested a pair of K-array KR200 columns last year that could not have been more than 3 inches wide. Wherever I set them up, they literally disappeared into their surroundings. Of course, I had the advantage of some very powerful subs that came along with the columns, but my point is that the speaker enclosures just blend in because of their narrow profile.

Augmenting the Sound

Lastly, if you already have a big FOH speaker system in you worship house, columns can be used to supplement that sound. In a big room, columns can be placed further from the stage, or even in another room, if needed. There are so many possibilities with column speakers that you should consider checking them out before you jump into your next install or addition.