St. Mary Magdalene Parish’s first mass was held at the Apex Middle School in 1999,
and until recently, the school gymnasium remained the congregation’s makeshift
sanctuary. While grateful to its host, the congregation needed a home of its own. At
last, after two years of construction, the lovely new St. Mary Magdalene Catholic
Church opened its doors this year, welcoming a capacity crowd of about 1,450
congregants. To worshippers’ delight, every word spoken from the pulpit and every
note performed by the band and choir could be clearly heard, thanks to a new
Renkus-Heinz ICONYX IC2 sound system designed and installed by Cary, North
Carolina, design/build AV systems integration firm AVCON Inc.

The sanctuary features 30-foot-high ceilings, granite walls, plenty of stained glass
windows, tile floors, and other hard surfaces. Although not as “live” as many classic
cathedrals and older churches, it has plenty of reverberation and the potential for
sonic mayhem if the sound were not properly managed. The church has transepts as
well, so covering the entire sanctuary required multiple loudspeakers.

Services are a blend of contemporary worship, with electric and electronic
instruments, and traditional worship, featuring a variety of acoustic instruments
(except drums) and anywhere from 4 to 35 singers. Delivering clear, intelligible
speech as well as acoustic and amplified music in such a space was a major challenge.
With a beautiful new building, aesthetics were another major consideration in
selecting and placing loudspeakers.

“We need a steerable loudspeaker that could focus energy on the floor and keep it off
the walls and ceilings, and that could deliver high speech intelligibility, as well as good
music playback,” begins AVCON design engineer Eb Strickland. “The Renkus-Heinz IC2
provided all of that. We have used ICONYX loudspeakers before but this was our first
use of the IC2, and we were very pleased with it. Renkus-Heinz column line arrays on
the walls might have worked in the space, but we could not find places to mount
them. We needed a loudspeaker with a small form factor so it wouldn’t be obtrusive
hanging from the ceiling. The IC2 is quite compact, and Renkus-Heinz custom painted
them to match the decor. Up in the ceiling, they’re out of sight and out of mind.”
AVCON installed six IC2s in St. Mary Magdalene Church’s sanctuary. “We have two in
the centre that cover the main seating and the nave, from the front all the way back
to the hall,” recounts Strickland. “Then we have left and right corner arrays that cover
the sides and far left and far right speakers to cover the transepts.”

“There’s always a fine line between trying to maintain a traditional worship space with
high reverberation and having clarity of speech,” adds AVCON founder, president, and
CEO Frank Yarborough. “That creates a conflict, almost a contradiction, in the
approach. In a space like this, you have beautiful reverberation and warmth, kind of
like singing in the shower. People love that feel of openness and airiness. But
intelligibility is an issue.”

Yarborough adds that hearing speech clearly can be challenging to begin with because
the Catholic Church enjoys a multicultural range of priests, bishops, and others who
often speak different dialects, making it difficult for some parishioners to hear and
understand. “Add to that the acoustical challenges of a big, majestic space,” he posits.
“Renkus-Heinz ICONYX loudspeakers provide excellent clarity, as well as the directivity
and control needed to keep the sound on the congregants and off of walls, ceilings,
and other hard surfaces. The custom-painted IC2s don’t conflict with the beauty of the
worship space, and they complement the room with their technology.”

So far, the Renkus-Heinz system has been every bit as successful as the AVCON team
expected. “We’re well pleased with the IC2’s coverage, performance, and clarity,”
Strickland praises. “Being able to focus energy on the floors and keep it off the
ceilings and walls is extremely important in an environment like this, with the
reverberation as high as it is.”

The system even exceeded church sound engineer Scott Todd’s expectations. “At first,
I was not optimistic when AVCON wanted to put a bunch of speakers up in the ceiling,
30 feet up in the air, with granite walls and lots of glass and other hard surfaces,”
Todd recalls. “But after working with the Renkus-Heinz sound system in the church for
weeks, I am very impressed. The way AVCON set the system up, it sounds great, and
you get an almost identical sound no matter where you are in the room. The speakers
steer the sound where it’s supposed to be, which helps us keep the volume and
reverberation at the right level. We’ve been extremely pleased with how everything
has come together. I’m a Renkus-Heinz IC2 convert; I love it.”