PRO AUDIO MIDDLE EAST July-August 2011
PLACE AT THE RIGHT TIME
Ten years working on the audio
systems at Mecca and Medina made Ahmad Tekin Topuzdag
a sought after consultant in mosque sound. However, it was a
fortuitous event that started his career.
While a great
deal of planning and forethought often goes Into the way people
develop their careers, there Is a lot that can be said for being
in the right place at the right time. Having studied at the SAE
In Glasgow In 1993, Ahmad Tekin Topuzdag had returned to his
native Turkey to set up ?TnT Sound Masters, Tesvikiye - an audio
consultancy in Istanbul, looking mainly at sound systems and
noise control for hotels and factories. Four years later, he
found himself presented with the opportunity of a lifetime when
on an Umrah pilgrimage to Al Madinah Al Munawarah.
years working on the mosque's audio systems has made Mr.
Topuzdag a global authority on mosque sound systems and his
services are regularly in demand across the Middle East. The
starting point for this however, was a common situation that
audio professionals often find themselves in ? visiting a venue
and thinking 'how would I Improve the sound here?' That question
set his career on a very different trajectory.
on his first visit to Medina's Prophet's Grand Mosque In the
late 1990s, Mr. Topuzdag recalls his first impressions of the
venue that would go on to define his career.
?As I am
from the industry, the first thing I noticed was the sound. As I
entered and joined the worshippers I heard a sound that was
pretty hard to describe, but unsuitable for the second holiest
mosque in the world. The constant reverberation, the unmatched
equalization, and random long feedbacks were just s few of the
As he went through his obligations that day he
assumed that there might have been a breakdown with the audio
system, but there was the same problem when he went back the
next day and again for the third.
?However, as I was
sitting there (in Rawda), one of the Harem's employees came by
and we started to have a conversation about the sound. I asked
him why the sound was the way it was, and he said there was s
problem and it was Impossible to fix.?
Much to his
surprise, this conversation led to Mr. Topuzdag sitting down
with the general manager of the Grand Mosque to discuss the
?He explained that they knew there were some
problems but experts and consultants from the several countries
had inspected the system and said nothing could be done due to
the architecture. They said the reflections were unavoidable,?
He explains; ?I was invited to have a meeting the next day with
the engineers. They were convinced that I knew the subject well
so they took me to the audio room in the heart of the Grand
Mosque. There, I saw the fundamental mistake. They had regular
analogue 31 band ? 1/3 octave graphic equalizers which had been
manually set. But at that time there were six Imams and 13
muezzins. Each of them obviously had different tones but there
was only one setting on the EQs rather then an individual
setting for each voice.?
With this problem Identified,
Mr. Topuzdag was set the challenge of improving the audio setup.
?The system was split into 23 domed sections and they
gave me one section to setup,? he explains, ?they listened end
they found the sound had improved dramatically. The main problem
was the enormous resonance in the Grand Mosque. As the Imam
spoke, sound would reverberate for almost 6 seconds, which meant
people couldn?t follow the sermon,? he recalls.
the test I was invited to the controller of the Mosque's office
and the general manager told me how happy he was that; by God?s
grace, someone had come and done this. He offered me a job to
improve the sound In the Grand Mosque for permanently.?
Following this, the head of Binladen Group -the company
responsible for the operation and maintenance of the Haramain
Mosques-, Sheikh Bakir Mohammad Binladin, came to inspect the
?The Sheikh said they had tried so many
ways but they Just couldn?t make it work efficiently.? says Mr.
Topuzdag. ?The Sheikh was extremely satisfied with results and
authorized me with an open budget to bring in any equipment and
any engineer or technician from anywhere in the world to make it
the best it could be. This was a shocking stop for me and I
happily accepted. The Sheikh Baker said he would make me the
head of the audio systems at Medina Haram and also Mecca Haram.?
While good fortune may have played its role In Mr. Topuzdag
landing this prize job, it was experience and knowledge that he
used to improve the sound system at Madinah. One of the key
factors for this was that as a Muslim, he understood how the
Quran should sound ? knowledge lacked by some of the previous
consultants who had been brought in.
?I am sure they
were very good companies and well-respected people in their
fields, but they are used to either music or straight speech
like a conference. They don't know what the Quran sounds like.
It is very rhythmic, yet very spoken.?
The main problem
with the audio within the venue was the same as can be found at
many mosques around the world ? the room resonance. Using an
audio analyzer and a signal generator, Mr. Topuzdag tested the
resonance at various frequencies. From this he found high levels
of resonance In the Old Building area at 212 Hz. and at 320 Hz.
in the Second Extension areas. As these frequencies correspond
to vowels In Arabic, the Grand Mosque was constantly ringing,
which made It Impossible to follow speech. The problem could not
be rectified with the existing equalizers, so Instead Mr.
Topuzdag installed Klark Teknik DN3600 EQs and used the two
notch filters to provide a solution.
The next technique
Mr. Topuzdag employed was to speak to all of the Imams and
muezzins in person to hear the specific frequencies in their
voices to voice map. The result was setting 19 individual
memories for the Imams and muezzins to EQs. However, as there
were no acoustic separators between the imam and muezzin, there
were still real feedback possibilities. As such, the system was
fine tuned until the perfect balance could be found. While
equalization proved useful It could only go so far in solving
the acoustic problems. The next stage was to look at the
equipment already in place and see what needed repairing or
replacing. This was an exhaustive process that saw Mr. Topuzdag
replace the microphones with types that suited their locations,
primarily Shure SM 58As and DPA 4006s, install new Midas
Heritage 3000 and Soundcraft Vi4 mixers and add gates, limiters,
compressors, reverbs (which were needed in some zones despite
the huge resonance) and exciters to the audio chain. Further to
this, the mic cables were replaced with over 6km of new cables
from Klotz as well as DN 1246 Plus microphone splitters.
One of the new additions that Mr. Topuzdag made was a third
microphone position for the Imam.
?At that time they
only had two microphone levels, one for standing up (Qiyam and
one for bending for prayer (Rukhu), but they didn?t have
anything on the ground (Sujuud -prostration). So the Imam was
disappearing from the audio for certain parts,' he explains. 'So
I Installed a third set of microphones.?
also set up an audio monitoring system by installing studio
quality microphones in various locations In the building. The
engineers could hear and measure the sound on location without
leaving the operation room, and could therefore adjust the
The end of the signal chain was also
examined. ?All the speakers were two-way custom built triangular
speakers from Altec Lansing. As I tested, I found that many of
them had failed tweeters that caused missing consonants and less
intelligibly,? Mr. Tekin Topuzdag reports.
?I ended up
replacing around 1,000 tweeters. I don' t know If it was from
the construction or because they didn?t set the compressors
properly beforehand ? maybe with the peak sound they burnt away.
But after the new compressors I replaced all of them and the
sound became even further intelligible.?
step from the consultant was to break the site down into
different zones so the system could be individually tailored for
?I set it up with seven zones ? one for
the Old Building, one for the Haswatain, one for the First
Extension, one for the Second Extension, one for the perimeter,
one for the rooftop, and one for the minarets,? he explains.
By doing this, the audio was divided to two separate signal
paths. This helped the overall audio quality by keeping the
sound from the dynamic microphone chain in the Old Building and
creating e new signal chain with s non-restricted frequency
bandwidth from the DPA condenser microphones and console
matrices for the New Building.
?Each zone was separately
adjusted, compressed, gated and equalised, after the set up and
fine tuning the sound became even more beautiful.? says Mr.
Topuzdag, but this is not just being proud of his own work. 'So
many people?officials and ordinary people ? said it became
something completely different from what it was before and they
were so thankful,? he explains.
The final touch came from
Mr. Topuzdag's experiences as a Muslim growing up in Turkey.
?We have these huge historical mosques in istanbul with
enormous domes and the sound acts so differently. If you put
together the Quran audio and the dome you get something new end
very touching,? he explains. ?As I had grown up in this culture
I know what the Quran sound was meant to be. However, the
Ottoman Building didn't have those sound properties, so I
ordered a number of Yamaha effects processors to replicate it.
?Rather than a flat and straight cut sound you had extensions
and worshipers liked it even more.'
response At the Prophet's Grand Mosque Is now 100Hz to 19kHz,
compared to the 500Hz to 6kHz found In most mosques. ?While this
was an extremely challenging task to implement due to room
resonance, high reverberation and feedback, this final audio
quality is superior,? Mr. Ahmad Tekin Topuzdag reasons.
After 10 years working on the audio systems at Medina and
Makkah, Mr. Topuzdag decided to return to his native Turkey.
However, his experiences In Saudi Arabia have deservedly made
him a sought after name In the Islamic audio Industry.
?This is a specific field because in some areas, non-Muslims are
not allowed to enter. Not many people are focused on this skill.
I have proven myself on this subject for more then a decade now
and my company is specially focused on Mosque acoustics.?
Islamic audio is certainly a specialized niche of the market,
but one that has provided Opportunities for the consultant to
build his reputation.
?I have become the name for any
acoustically challenging buildings that require a Muslim audio
specialist on site,? he admits. ?I have been invited to Saudi on
many occasions to look at Islamic buildings, as well as sites in
Turkey such as the Sabanci Mosque and the Suleymania Grand
Mosque at Istanbul to overcome acoustical difficulties. There
are same common acoustical problems In mosques which we go in
and fix for good.?
With the King of Saudi Arabia's
position as Custodian of the two Holy Mosques, It Is his
responsibility to constantly maintain and upgrade the sites at
Mecca and Medina including the audio systems. While much of the
work Mr. Topuzdag did at the sites will therefore be replaced
over the years, one of his achievements will remain in Saudi for
a long time to come. While working at Medina he began training a
team of Saudi audio engineers and technicians in the art of
Islamic sound. Many of these technicians have now gone on to run
the audio systems at a number of mosques around the Kingdom.
What may have started as a piece of incredible good fortune
for Mr. Topuzdag has therefore been passed back to the people
who gave him that chance. Through his knowledge and skill, not
only have the Grand Mosques been given sound systems to get the
best out of the space, a new generation of Islamic sound
specialists have been given a solid grounding in this unique
PRO AUDIO MIDDLE EAST July-August 2011