Founded in 1861 with close ties to Wheaton College, College Church has achieved a reputation as one of the most influential churches in America. It recently received a sound reinforcement upgrade with Renkus-Heinz Iconyx digitally steerable array loudpeakers.
The stunning Georgian Revival-style building that the church calls home was built around two decades ago and boasts high glass ceilings, soaring columns, and a U-shaped wrap-around balcony. The room’s acoustics provide a wonderful complement for the piano, pipe organ, and choir that typically accompany most services but are very challenging for spoken-word intelligibility.
“It’s a gorgeous building, but problems with intelligibility and consistency of coverage have plagued them since the beginning,” says Greg Dieckhaus, President and CEO of Bolingbrook, IL-based Practical AV Solutions. “It’s not just the high ceilings. The room itself is somewhat U-shaped, with gallery seating along the sides and back, covered by a balcony level. The resulting acoustics tend to cause some odd reflection patterns.”
The church’s original under-the-pew system was solid in concept but didn’t perform as required. “We abandoned the under-pew system within a matter of months,” says Tim Hollinger, the church’s Technology Manager. “We experimented with several alternative options over the next year, eventually settling on a more traditional center cluster design. That served us for about 18 years, and was considerably better than the original system.”
Eventually, though, it became clear that the main issues were with the building’s acoustics, which needed to be addressed before the audio system itself.
Recognizing that, Acoustician Gregory Miller of Chicago-based Pin Drop Acoustics was brought in to evaluate the space. Miller designed a system utilizing diffusers, rather than absorption, to treat the room’s excessive reflectivity. “The musical aspect of our service is very important, and the sound of our organ and choir in particular,” says Hollinger. “Sound absorption was never an option for us, so Greg Miller’s approach of using diffusion was really the right one for us.”
“Greg determined that the best solution would combine acoustic treatment with a redesigned sound system, and brought us in to look at revamping the speaker system as well,” says Dieckhaus. “The first thing that came to mind for me was the Iconyx IC2 digitally steerable array from Renkus-Heinz. I had used Iconyx in many other churches and knew it worked well in very challenging acoustical environments. I had educated myself on the new IC2 model and was confident it was the right system for this application. This particular church has a rather wide chancel stage, without a lot vertical elements to position a column array.”
The IC2 system, comprising a two-box array mounted above the chancel platform, was installed by Pentegra Systems of Elmhurst, IL. The IC2 system is augmented by four Renkus-Heinz SGX81 two-way 8-inch cabinets, installed to provide coverage to the over-balcony seating. Another pair of SGX81 boxes are installed as monitors for the chancel choir.
Dieckhaus says the IC2 proved to be the ideal choice for controlling the sound within the space. “It was clearly able to place the sound where we needed it and keep the directivity under control without firing at the walls, ceiling and other reflective surfaces.”
For Hollinger, the challenge of treading the fine line of improving the room’s intelligibility while retaining its signature acoustics has indeed been met. “Spoken word intelligibility is vastly improved, and as our organist put it, we’ve done no damage to the music. Given that he’s one of our most discerning listeners, that’s perhaps the ultimate compliment.”