Located steps from the sand on Mississippi's scenic Gulf Coast, St. Thomas the Apostle Catholic Church has a rich association with the city and community. Its beachfront location also boasts something of an ominous history; on August 29, 2005, the eye of Hurricane Katrina passed just west of the church, bringing twenty foot swells, rendering the main sanctuary, and its sound system, unusable.
As part of St. Thomas' restoration, the church reached out to Magnolia Music to design a new sound system. After an analysis of the room, Magnolia's Tony Strong and Rain Jaudon recommended Renkus-Heniz ICONYX IC24-R-II digitally steerable line array loudspeaker systems.
"It was apparent to me that, with the aesthetics of the room and the high vaulted and beautiful wood ceiling, a traditional speaker approach would not be in keeping with the design," said Strong. "A steerable array system using the Renkus-Heinz IC24Rs was the perfect solution."
While all agreed on the steerable array, budget conscious church officials opted to look for ways to cut costs. "Someone at the diocese decided to take the preliminary designs and put them out to bid," said Jaudon. "After some value engineering was done, the project was awarded to another integrator, and the new design called for a lower priced, digitally steerable array."
The budget system was mounted twelve feet above the floor, but ultimately did not deliver the intelligible, high quality audio that was promised. Next, a new, more powerful point source line array system was installed, which also proved unsatisfactory. "With the second system, the folks right in front of the arrays were being blown away with sound and intelligibility was poor in the rear of the room," said Strong.
Church officials once again reached out to Strong and Jaudin, and the consultants stood firm in their recommendation of the IC24Rs. "We demoed the IC24, and it was clear that we could cover the congregation evenly and consistently with the IC24Rs," said Strong. "Just to show the accuracy of the steering, I purposefully aimed the beam over the first couple of pews to show the comparison to the passive line arrays installed."
The speakers were mounted down-mic, just behind the pulpit and lectern - a placement that initially raised concerns about feedback from church officials. "All agreed that it was a better location aesthetically," said Jaudon. "However, there was concern about the mounting location being upstage from the primary microphones. I assured them that, based on our experience with the ICONYX arrays, we would be able to steer the main lobes over the microphones successfully, and that turned out to be the case."
Ultimately, the ICONYX system outperformed the previous two systems, proving that not all array systems are created equal, and that compromising quality to save costs can end up costing more in the long run.
"The bottom line of the story is that, with the ICONYX arrays, we selected the right tool for the job," said Strong. "Someone tried to value engineer and save the church money by purchasing two different systems that did not perform. After six years and thousands spent on other systems, they purchased the right system for the job - the IC24Rs. Now, the ministers are free to do what they do best - minister - without having to deal with complaints about the sound system."