Historic Alabama Cathedral Improves Sound Across An Acoustically Delicate Space

by | Aug 11, 2022 | Audio, Case Studies, Production

The Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception in Mobile, Alabama had long struggled with inadequate sound system performance due to the cathedral’s high curved ceilings, large stained-glass windows, wooden pews and other acoustically challenging design features. An upgrade to the sound system became a necessity, but to preserve the beauty and historical nature of the cathedral’s large sanctuary, the ministry leadership decided against acoustic treatment. Instead, they trusted a high-performance sound system that included Renkus-Heinz loudspeakers.

The cathedral’s sanctuary was plagued by a great deal of acoustic shadowing due to the building’s columns, with sound sources out of the sightline of the congregation, which significantly diminished levels and effective coverage. The previous attempt to redesign the sound system overcompensated with pairs of relatively short column arrays on each of the pillars, 18 in total. The large number of loudspeakers resolved the acoustic shadowing issue behind each column. However, each array was too short to effectively control the lower and mid frequency range. As such, they delivered a significant amount of unwanted energy into the highly reverberant space, resulting in harsh and unintelligible sound for many of the congregants.

When Reverend Monsignor William Skoneki was named Rector of the Basilica, he reached out to Joe Fulton, owner of Modern Sound and Communication, Inc., to improve the sanctuary’s audio performance. Richard Hembree, from Griffith Sales Associates, also met with Monsignor Skoneki to discuss the challenges of the space and collaborate on a solution.

After becoming familiar with Renkus-Heinz from his previous position at Saint Michael the Archangel Church in Auburn, AL, Monsignor Skoneki knew that Renkus-Heinz’ ICONYX systems would efficiently address the sanctuary’s complex acoustic challenges.

“Monsignor Skoneki’s familiarity with the quality of the Renkus-Heinz ICONYX line made this a pretty straightforward upgrade,” said Hembree. “We held a live demonstration of our proposed system for the ministry team and key leaders, and everyone was very impressed.”

The typical characteristic for a space like the Basilica’s sanctuary is a buildup of low frequency energy. Longer columns provide pattern control reaching to lower frequencies, and as such the team specified and installed a pair of ICONYX IC32-RN beam-steering arrays for the front of the nave. The arrays are supported by a pair of SA112-RN subwoofers on the far left and right. The altar area is covered by a pair of Renkus-Heinz DC12/2 steerable arrays that are time aligned with the mains for a seamless transition.

As the top intelligibility challenge had previously been spoken word, the Renkus-Heinz ICONYX system allowed Fulton and the team to address the architectural acoustic issues that had troubled the sanctuary.

“The first thing the team, including Lead Technician Travis Ashcraft, did was remove all previous system loudspeakers, which made church leadership very happy,” said Doug Brazeal, Systems Engineer at Modern Sound. “The new speakers have a compact design, and their color is such a perfect match, that they virtually disappear- creating an architecturally pleasing installation. With the greatly improved aesthetics and sound coverage, everyone is very happy.”

Fulton said the final system looks and sounds great and is very easy to use. An attendant now simply clicks the “go live” button on the computer, and the sound system automates, “They literally just turn on the sound system, walk up to a microphone and speak.”

“We first used the new system for our Archdiocesan Chrism Mass in late March,” said Monsignor Skoneki. “Afterward, one of our older priests approached me and said it was the first time he had been able to hear and understand the Archbishop at a Mass in the Cathedral. The spoken word through the new system is much clearer.”

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