LOUISVILLE, Ky. — When the Dominicans first arrived in the city, just as the Civil War came to a close, it was just 10 years later, that the building which St. Louis Bertrand Catholic Church still occupies, was dedicated. One hundred fifty years after its founding, St. Louis Bertrand now attracts more than 2,000 parishioners on major holidays.
The characteristics of English Gothic churches, such as St. Louis Bertrand are well known: They are very beautiful and have long reverberation times that complement choirs and pipe organs, but at the same time make it difficult to understand the spoken word. One hundred ten feet long, and 50 feet at its highest inside point, with lots of hard surfaces, St. Louis Bertrand is a prime example. Columns lining the interior and a choir loft with a pipe organ present further acoustical complications inside the church. Several unsuccessful attempts had been made to upgrade its sound system in recent years.
Fortunately, David Knight of Louisville-based Knight Audio knew of the appropriate solution for the church. "We're very familiar with Renkus-Heinz loudspeakers and had done a very similar room before," explained Knight, " I'd seen Renkus-Heinz ICONYX loudspeakers work in that situation." Knight installed a pair of ICONYX Gen5 IC24-RN digitally steered line array loudspeaker systems on the left and right, at the front of the sanctuary. In the back of the room, a pair of ICONYX Gen5 IC8-RN steerable loudspeakers mounted on columns provide rear fill, their signals delayed synchronizing with the IC24-RNs.
The architecture of St. Louis Bertrand's new sound system is simple. Priests use wired microphones, as "the priests don't like to wear wireless," Knight remarked, while a table mic covers the altar. The mics run into a Biamp TesiraFORTÉ processor, the outputs of which drive the loudspeakers throughout the building. Knight repurposed existing speakers, where he could to keep upgrade costs down, such as in the cry room and other spaces outside the sanctuary, but the four Renkus-Heinz arrays handle all sound reinforcement in the sanctuary.
The IC24-RN and IC8-RN feature multichannel audiophile amplifiers powering arrays of purpose-designed coaxial transducers, each with its own triple tweeter high frequency array. This triple tweeter "array within an array" design reduces the distance between high frequency sources for greatly improved high-frequency performance with consistent, broad horizontal dispersion. Up to 12 steerable beams can be individually shaped and aimed from a single IC24-RN column using powerful software-controlled DSP, while the IC8-RN can shape and aim up to four beams. This enabled Knight to direct the sound where needed, while keeping it off walls and ceilings.
It is rare when retrofitting a church, to be able to install speakers exactly where you want them, but with the ICONYX's beam steering, Knight was able to exact good coverage, even in some hard-to-reach areas. "The columns don't line up exactly on both sides," he said. "But even when you're standing behind a column, you're getting enough coverage from the speaker on the other side of the room that you don't notice you're behind a column."
The improvement in coverage was dramatic, so much so that at first it was a little disorienting. "The staff at St. Louis Bertrand suddenly were hearing the system so well, that they thought it was too loud," recalled Knight. "I said, 'The reason we put this system in was because people couldn't hear well enough to understand what was being said. If you can hear it now, then that means other people can hear it, too.' They got used to it."
While custom finishes are available, the parish chose standard white loudspeakers to go with the church's largely white interior. "The ICONYX speakers blend in pretty well," noted Knight. "In fact, I took another customer to St. Louis Bertrand to look at the system, and she didn't even notice the ICONYX columns. An IC8-RN was on a column ten feet in front of her and she asked me, 'Well, where's the speaker?'"