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Great Sound is Heard but Barely Seen at Chicago’s Union League Club

Chicago, IL – July 2013… The roots of Chicago’s Union League Club date back to the Civil War, when an elite group of northerners formed the Union League of America as a defense against radical Confederate sympathizers in the north. The Club, which boasts locations in several major cities, has evolved to become one of Chicago’s most prominent social clubs, playing a major role in establishing such cultural institutions as The Art Institute of Chicago, Orchestra Hall, the Field Museum, and the Harold Washington Library Center.

The historic 20-story building sits prominently on Chicago’s Loop, somewhat dwarfed by its larger skyscraper siblings but exuding an air of Old World class. Inside, the building’s Main Hall plays host to events ranging from formal dinners to addresses by heads of state and other national and international dignitaries. It’s an exquisitely appointed room with high ceilings and massive mahogany beams and columns. As David Hecht, Managing Principal at Wheaton, IL-based Sound Planning Associates explains, the room’s architecture is impressive to behold, but creates some rather interesting acoustical challenges. 

“The columns are literally around four or five feet square, and their size does make it a challenge to achieve uniform coverage everywhere in the room,” says Hecht. “In addition, the room is used for a range of different events, and the stage and seating setup can vary from one event to another. Inevitably someone will end up sitting behind a column.” 

To meet the challenge, Sound Planning Associates designed a multi-faceted audio system based around 28  Renkus-Heinz CFX81 8-inch two-way complex conic loudspeakers. The system offers several different matrixing options. “It’s essentially three systems,” says Hecht. “Depending on where the stage is set up, the speakers fire from that direction, and the others are delayed across the room. So different groups of speakers are set up to work together, depending on the event.”

DSP is provided by a BIamp Audia with RED-1 controller. “The Biamp DSP enables us to reconfigure the system for a variety of scenarios, depending on the event,” says Hecht. “They can just select a ‘stage setting’ – north, south, east, west – from the RED-1 touch screen, and it sets up the speaker delays and EQ, selects the correct mic inputs, sets input levels for the wireless mics, everything. It’s a very easy system to use.” A Yamaha LS9 console with wireless iPad control handles mixing duties, with Shure ULX wireless systems for the presenters.

Not surprisingly, aesthetics played a prominent role in specifying the system. “They wanted nothing that would be visually intrusive,” says Hecht. “Nothing around the windows or near the artwork, and anything below at least ten feet high wasn’t an option. That was one of the main reasons we chose the CFX Series – they offered great pattern control and they don’t have a ‘hot spot,’ so coverage is nice and even across the entire space.” The speakers were custom painted to match the beams, and all wiring is concealed. 

“This is a very distinguished club, catering to clientele accustomed to the best,” observes Hecht. “They wanted to know that they were getting the best. And they have been very, very pleased with the system. It sounds great, it looks great, and it does exactly what they needed it to do.”

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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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