Natchez, MS—October 2017…Organized in 1817, the First Baptist Church is as old as the State of Mississippi itself. In the two centuries since, the congregation has worshipped in several locations, dedicating its current facility in 1984. The sanctuary features a high, curved, plaster ceiling that measures 43 feet from the front of the stage up to the beginning of the ceiling curve—a beautiful but acoustically challenging design—and is enriched by 13 beautiful, one-inch-thick, stained glass windows. A full-sized balcony includes the front-of-house mixing position, and a broadcast suite lurks behind the choir loft, enabling recording of sermons, services, and special events that are later posted to the Web.
The old late-1980s-vintage sound system employed good-quality loudspeakers but they were flown in a center cluster 40 feet above the floor. “The old system sounded okay but getting clarity was not easy because it was exciting so much of the room,” observes Trooper Hales, cofounder of AV contracting firm MS Audio of Clinton, Mississippi. “Intelligibility was an issue. The further back you went in the space, the better it sounded but the imaging was such that the sound was coming from 40 feet above. But lowering the old system would have created major aesthetic problems.” It was time for a fresh approach.
MS Audio had a longstanding relationship with the church leaders, and last year, they began discussing the new sound system. Hales recommended Renkus-Heinz IC32-24-RN digitally steerable line arrays, part of the ICONYX Gen5 series. “Aesthetics were a major concern,” he recalls. “None of us wanted a large speaker cluster hanging down in the room. The steel structure would have held it but the ceiling that attaches to the structure is plaster, and I did not want anything to touch that ceiling, pass through it, or vibrate it. And we needed to improve imaging and clarity.”
By mounting IC32-24-RNs to columns, Hales’ MS Audio team achieved the church’s aesthetic goals while averting potential issues with the ceiling. Renkus-Heinz’ steerable beam technology enabled Hales to focus the energy on the congregation, not the walls and cavernous ceiling. “We almost cut the room in half horizontally by focusing the energy where it needed to be, as opposed to exciting the entire room,” he details. “Bringing the arrays down and mounting them to columns brought the imaging a lot lower. It made a big difference. IC32-24-RNs are long columns, and I wanted that to get pattern control as low as I could. The IC32-24-RNs get down in the 200 Hz range with real pattern control.”
Services at First Baptist Church Natchez partly rely on traditional piano, organ, and choir but also include music with drums, bass, keyboards, and the like. For this reason, Hales considered the more powerful Renkus-Heinz IC Live series loudspeakers—”it’s the hard-headed rock ‘n’ roll guy in me,” he laughs—but concluded that the IC32-24-RNs provided excellent clarity and ample power when paired with two Renkus-Heinz PN212-SUB dual 12-inch subwoofers.
“The PN212-SUB subs are painted white, and they’re low profile,” Hales relates. “Nobody even notices them sitting on the floor under the columns. The church has vases with big plants on heavy pedestals, so we set the pedestals on the subs and the vases on the pedestals, and everybody’s happy.”
Hales retained a few small speakers from the old system to fill the choir loft. “We’re leaving those because they sound okay, and it’s not a high-intensity choir-monitoring situation,” he notes. “They run a little piano through them, and that’s about it.” He is still considering fills for the front rows, in the center. “But even without that,” Hales avers, “the church is extremely happy with what they’ve got.”
The system employs a Biamp Tesira DSP for signal routing and monitor EQ but all DSP for the Renkus-Heinz loudspeakers is done with Renkus-Heinz’s RHAON II software. “It’s a pretty straightforward PA,” assures Hales. “We don’t even have a highpass filter on the Tesira. There’s a Midas M32 digital console at front-of-house and another M32 in the broadcast suite. Those drive the Tesira, which drives the loudspeakers. We created a couple of presets: one for the standard Baptist service and one for more youth-oriented events that has a little more bottom end. We kept patching into the system simple too.”
The new Renkus-Heinz system is already a major success. “I’ve gotten nothing but positive remarks from the church,” Hales confirms. “We’ve heard a couple of comments through the music director that some of the older people in the church are hearing things they haven’t heard in years. It boils down to the Renkus-Heinz system’s superior intelligibility.”