A virtual press conference from Sound & Video Contractor

New Sound System is Music to Sisters’ Ears

Renowned Domed Chapel Gets Major Upgrade

Sinsinawa, WI – November 2012…  Sinsinawa is said to be a Native American term for “rattlesnake,” or “home of the young eagle.” But Sinsinawa Mound, Wisconsin is better known as the home of the Congregation of Sinsinawa Dominican Sisters. Since 1847, more than 3,200 women have ascended the “Hill of Grace” to take their vows as Sinsinawa Dominicans. Today the village is still home to their worldwide headquarters, including more than 600 current and retired sisters of the Order.

In 1964 the campus, with its 1850s-vintage fort, was expanded with the construction of an 800-seat crown chapel, replete with massive 45-foot dome and transept wings. The building’s marble and plaster interior creates an acoustical environment that works magnificently to enhance the Order’s celebrated pipe organ. But as their needs have changed over time, those same acoustics have created a whole new set of challenges.

“It’s a beautiful facility that has always been renowned for its musical acoustics,” explains Scott Wright, President of Platteville, WI-based Lifeline Audio Video Technologies. “But in today’s world they’re using it more and more often for spoken word and piano-vocal recitals, and it simply wasn’t designed for that.”

“It’s a very large room, with a reverb time of more than four seconds,” adds Lifeline VP Mike Mair, “and as they’ve been doing more spoken word and piano-oriented services, vocal intelligibility has become more of an issue.”

To be fair, the room was not completely without sound reinforcement. But the original decades-old speaker system had never been adequate for the space. “The reverb time was markedly longer in the middle of the room, where the dome is higher,” Mair explains, “and as a result many of the sisters were seating themselves around the edges near the transepts, where they could hear a bit better, and leaving the center of the room pretty much empty.”

sinsinawa“They had talked to many contractors over the years in an attempt to find a solution, and everyone wanted to convince them to hang large speaker clusters and treat the room acoustically,” says Wright. “That just wasn’t going to happen. This is not your typical 1000-seat church – it’s a very special, very unique environment. Altering the aesthetics of the place was not open to discussion. It’s a beautiful, majestic space, and there’s simply no way you could hang a cluster of loudspeakers from this ceiling. From a structural perspective, it would have been problematic, to say the least. But beyond that, there’s simply no way they would have allowed it.”

One of the biggest challenges in designing an audio system for the space was the need to retain the room’s reverberant character. Acoustical treatment was simply not an option. “People from all over the world come to play organ recitals in this hall, and they were not willing to compromise the room’s acoustics as an organ recital facility,” says Wright. “But the majority of daily use for the space is really spoken word, and some choral singing with piano and organ. So we needed a very controllable, highly intelligible system that would address the room’s reverb issues without altering its character. The bottom line was, if we were going to achieve any intelligibility in that space at all, we had to control where the sound went.”

Lifeline’s solution was a simple and elegant one – a pair of Renkus-Heinz Iconyx IC24-R digitally steerable array loudspeaker systems. The Iconyx arrays, mounted on either side of the altar, addressed virtually all of the chapel’s long-standing issues.

“We’ve used Iconyx in a number of previous projects, and have always been successful with them,” Wright says. “They are without a doubt our choice for a steerable array, and we feel they are the best one on the market.”

A demo was arranged via Carl Schwartz of rep firm Frequency Sales. “We arranged a demo for about 70 people,” says Wright. “They were definitely skeptical, since they’ve tried so many systems over the years. But we’ve done a few projects with them in the past, and the results have always been successful, so they trusted us.”

“We just plugged a mic directly into the Iconyx, with flat EQ,” says Mair. “The results were remarkable. You could see eyes popping open all over the room. They were just astounded.”

“I got up at the lectern and read a few things, and they still couldn’t believe what they were hearing,” says Wright. “At first, several of the sisters were saying, ‘oh, it’s just because he’s got a very booming, male voice.’ So we had Sister Priscilla Wood get up and do a reading, and they all said, ‘yes! That’s what she sounds like.’ After that, the next question was whether we could we get it installed by Thursday.”

A Biamp Nexia presentation mixer provides microphone inputs for their wireless, pulpit and choir mics. “They’re very happy with the simplicity of the system,” says Mair. “It’s very easy for them to run.”

“They had waited many, many years to find the right solution,” says Wright. “Essentially, they waited until technology caught up with their needs. Finally, with Iconyx, we found a solution that really worked for them. They weren’t looking for a minor improvement; they were looking for a night-and-day difference. And that’s exactly what they got.”

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Headquartered in Foothill Ranch, California, Renkus-Heinz, Inc. is the worldwide leader in the design and manufacture of audio operations networks, digitally steerable arrays, powered and non-powered loudspeakers, system specific electronics and fully integrated Reference Point Array systems.

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