Founded in 1916, the First United Methodist Church of Lake Wales built its current facility in 1949. While the building has been refreshed since then, it has long suffered from a less than adequate sound system. That finally changed when Lakeland, Florida, AV systems integrator MABE designed and installed a new Renkus-Heinz sound system.

“The original system was a single speaker in the middle, 24 feet up, and located behind the choir. They also used temporary speakers while they renovated their space,” offers MABE Account Manager David Bonilla. “Feedback was a big problem with the old system,” adds MABE Lead Engineer Richard Vaughan. “They could hardly turn the speaker up without getting feedback.”

Services at First Unified Methodist Church are primarily traditional, with piano, a Frobenius pipe organ, some orchestral instruments, and choir. “They use an electronic keyboard or two occasionally,” clarifies Bonilla, “and they’re starting to introduce a small drum kit and timpani. But they don’t have rock bands.”

The sanctuary seats 300 to 400 in a cathedral-style space, with columns and an arched ceiling that rises to about 25 feet. “The space isn’t bad acoustically,” asserts Vaughan. “The ceiling was not a problem. The major challenge is a 14-foot-high, flat back wall in front of the balcony that runs the entire width of the rear of the sanctuary. We put parabolic diffusor panels on the back wall, and the rear sides of the diffusors have absorptive properties, so they’re both absorbing and diffusing. The sound booth is on the balcony, which also has a flat wall in the back.”

Most of the sound reinforcement is handled by a pair of Renkus-Heinz IC16-RN digitally steerable line arrays, mounted on columns to the left and right of the stage. “The arrays are lower than I wanted to put them,” Vaughan confirms. “The bottoms are four and a half feet off the ground. Because of an ornate piece on the column, we were not able to mount the arrays higher and make it look right. The only way we could make this work was with Renkus-Heinz steerable column arrays, which let us raise the acoustic centre of the beams high enough to shoot over the top of the front row and cover all the way to the back of the room, without blowing out the front row.” “We use Renkus-Heinz loudspeakers quite a bit, and the ability to change the acoustic centres was a must in this project,” agrees Bonilla. “Most column arrays can’t do that.”

A podium microphone sits five or six feet behind the arrays, which also presented a challenge. “My concern was getting enough gain before feedback for the podium mic because the column array was really close to it,” professes Vaughan. “The ICONYX IC16-RN worked really well. There’s enough rear rejection off the back of the loudspeaker and enough column control that we were able to get plenty of gain before feedback.”

“Of course, the church leaders were concerned about how the arrays were going to look,” notes Bonilla. “After installation, they couldn’t find the speakers. We didn’t even need a custom paint job; the white speakers matched the walls really well.”

While the IC16-RN main arrays handled most of the house and minimised reflections off the back wall, the balcony needed additional reinforcement. Vaughan chose a pair of Renkus-Heinz TRX62H two-way Complex Conic point-source speakers for the balcony fills. The TRX62H fits two 6.5-inch heavy-duty low-frequency drivers and a 1-inch, extended-range titanium high-frequency driver into an extremely compact enclosure.

In addition, the choir needed monitors. “The choir loft is onstage, pushed pretty far back, and elevated a bit on risers,” Vaughan expounds. “One major issue with the old system was that the choir couldn’t hear properly. They couldn’t understand what that pastor said, and they couldn’t hear the piano well. We gave them two Renkus-Heinz TRX81 point-source speakers as stage monitors, and now they can hear clearly.”

A pair of Renkus-Heinz CF12S-5R self-powered, high-performance subwoofers sit on the ground below the IC16-RN arrays. “The stage wasn’t tall enough to put the subwoofers underneath, and there’s not much available real estate on that stage,” Vaughan explains. “We tried to conceal the subwoofers, but it just wasn’t going to happen. Fortunately, the church is okay with where we put them.”

Adjacent to the sanctuary is a 30 by 40-foot chapel with a lower ceiling. The chapel can serve as overflow for the sanctuary, with a view into the main space, or it can function as a standalone space. Here, the MABE team installed a pair of Renkus-Heinz TRX82s, a larger sibling of the TRX81.

The rest of the system is straightforward. A QSC Q-SYS Core 110f DSP distributes the audio signals, but all speaker processing is done with Renkus-Heinz RHAON II software. Connections are analog. The MABE team also installed 70-volt ceiling speakers in the lobby, nursery, and cry room, managed from wall controls. An additional wall control switches the chapel’s system between standalone and overflow operation. MABE also provided a system for the hearing impaired, wireless microphones, and a Yamaha digital console.

“The new sound system has been up and running for five months, and the congregation loves it,” attests Vaughan. “When people walk in the room, they’re in awe of how intelligible the system is; now they can understand what the pastor is saying. Everybody loves the results.”